Demons, Pigs, and an Unlikely Missionary

At the end of Mark 4, Jesus had been teaching and healing, and He and His disciples took a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.  A huge storm blew in, but Jesus was a heavy sleeper.  (Remember, when someone says, “Be more like Jesus,” napping on a boat is a legitimate option.)  The frightened disciples woke Jesus, He spoke to the storm, and the sea became calm.

So the disciples have had this terrifying and harrowing experience on the sea, and they’re freaked out because Jesus just spoke to the weather and it listened, and where do they come ashore?  A graveyard.  It is probably still night.  And they begin to hear screams in the darkness. And out of the tombs comes a naked man with superhuman strength who is screaming and gashing himself with stones.  This is some creepy stuff!

The wild man comes running up to Jesus, and Jesus, sensing that the man was demon-possessed, commands the unclean spirit to come out – like He has many times before.  But the man claps back at Jesus, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torment me!” (Mark 5:7).  (Notice that what he doesn’t do is come out of the man.)

So Jesus commands the man to identify itself, and the man responds that he is called “Legion”, because there were so many demons possessing him. (A legion was a Roman regiment of 6,000 troops.)  This cadre of demons is clearly powerful.  They do not come out immediately.  Instead, they beg Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of pigs; Jesus permits, and the herd of 2,000 pigs runs into the lake and drowns.

No one was more surprised by the mass suicide of pigs (sooey-cide?) than the herdsmen, and they ran and reported all over the place what had happened, and the people came to see for themselves.  And when they came, they saw this wild man – whom they called “Legion” because of all the demons in him – sitting down, clothed, in his right mind.  Amazing!  And then the herdsmen told how the pigs all jumped in the lake.  And the people’s response was to worship and follow after Jesus, right?  No, they begged Him to get out of town!

What a tragedy!  The Savior of the world is right there in their midst, and they’re crying over lost bacon!  And you know what?  When they said, “Jesus, we don’t want you here,” He got back in His boat and left.  What a tragedy.  Who knows who all may have been healed, who may have been saved by Jesus’ ministry in that region. We may never know the ripple effects of rejecting Jesus instead of receiving Him.

As Jesus was getting into His boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged Jesus to take him with them.  But Jesus said no.  Instead, He tells the man who was once called Legion, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (v.19).

Mark tells us the man’s home was the Decapolis, a region that was essentially Greek in population and culture – they had Greek gods and Greek temples and Greek art, and they were devoted to the Greek way of life.  And here comes the man who was called Legion – who roamed the graveyard naked, screaming and cutting himself – and he is clothed and in his right mind, telling the story of how Jesus radically redeemed his life.  And the people were amazed. 

I have heard all my life the stories of great missionaries – Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Amy Carmichael, E. Stanley Jones.  Can you believe that the first missionary Jesus sent to the gentiles was a wild man called Legion?  Now that is a great missionary story.  And if Jesus can take the man called Legion and commission him to carry the Gospel, surely He can use you and me.

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

It had been a particularly rainy spring. The farmers were well behind in getting hay in for the winter. There had been precious few sunny days in a row when hay could be cut, dried, and baled. At last, the weather forecast called for several consecutive day of sunshine. There was a flurry of activity in the hay fields on area farms. The old adage ‘make hay while the sun shines’ came into clear focus.

Experts believe the phrase came from medieval English farmers hundreds of years ago. A similar notion is expressed in The Bible, in Proverbs 10:5: “He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.” The Message paraphrase provides a modern flare: “Make hay while the sun shines—that’s smart; go fishing during harvest—that’s stupid.” In any case, the the meaning is clear – make the most of opportunities while you have the chance. Certainly, we should utilize opportunities in the physical realm, but it is doubly true that we must do so in the spiritual realm.

Procrastination and delay in seeking salvation can be disastrous. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the principle is clearly established in the account of Noah. Many Bible scholars believe the Ark took decades to complete, perhaps 120 years (Genesis 6:3). Across all of those years Noah and his work bore witness of impending doom. When ‘the fullness of time’ came, Noah, his family, and all the animals were directed by God to board the Ark. The Lord then closed the door. (Genesis 7:16, NKJV). All human flesh perished except for Noah and his family. God’s day of grace was missed. Across the pages of God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture, He has warned us not to neglect our salvation.

  • “For He says: ’In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2, NKJV)
  • “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7, NKJV)
  • “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20, NIV)

Conclusion: Today, the Son of God offers us the opportunity to come into His Ark of Salvation before the door is shut.

We need to make hay while the SON shines.

~ Brother Roy

The Apple

apple treeI have always been a student of the simple truth often found in folk sayings and proverbs. One of the most common such phrases is, ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.  Scattered around the bottom of an apple tree is the fruit it produces. This fruit falls off the branches and drops to the ground, remaining close to the tree it came from. Eventually, this natural occurrence turned into a metaphor and today it means that a person is a lot like their parents. The phrase is typically used in connection with children who show qualities or talents similar to their parents.

Long ago, Solomon recognized children do indeed manifest the characteristics of their parents. Both inherited and learned behaviors emanate from the home. The time-honored concept of the ‘the apple falling close to the tree’ is rooted in one of the Solomon’s best known proverbs. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it(Proverbs 22:6, NIV). We should keep in mind that this proverb is a principle, not a promise.

Solomon was obviously aware that children are not only capable of training, but they will be trained with or without parental direction. I believe it is the God-given responsibility of parents to purposely intervene in the lives of their children in order to facilitate learning in a positive Biblical direction. The impressions made in childhood years will remain, unless some extraordinary cause occurs to erase them. Parents should begin instruction as soon as a child is capable of understanding. It is important to nurture them in Christian principles and virtues before they begin to receive other impressions. If we do, it is highly likely they will grow up in the faith, and when they are older they will not forsake it, but retain it as long as they live.

However, parents must surely know that even the very best training by the wisest parents in the world cannot positively guarantee goodness and wisdom in their children. Scripture teaches us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. We are wonderfully made because God created us with intelligence and free will – we are free to choose our relationship with Him. We are fearfully made because…God created us with intelligence and free will – we are free to choose our relationship with Him. Our children may choose to reject the truth we teach them, to slight the example we set for them, and to spurn the counsel we give them. In the will of every child there is a power which cannot be forced, which can only be won. When parents have done everything in their power, there will remain that element of individuality which will choose its own course and form its own character.

There is but one gate of entrance into life (Matthew 7:14). That gate is the personal, individual acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Parents may lead a child up to it, but that child must pass through it of their own accord.  The good news is that there are countless examples in scripture and the witness of a great host of fellow Christians that provides assurance that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

Show Your True Colors

true colors

Some years ago, I was privileged to preach a revival in a small town in Northern Ireland. It was during the period know as ‘the Troubles’. It was a time when violence frequently erupted between Protestant and Catholic factions. The conflict was not only at the national level, but also spilled over in bitter conflicts at the local level.

Early one crisp, cloudy morning, I donned my heavy sweatshirt jacket and walked the half a mile up the hill to the center of town. At the top of the hill was a beautiful Church of Ireland. I stood by the church and peered down a street leading the opposite the direction from which I came. I saw a street sign hanging over the side walk that read – ‘Black Thorn Gift Shop’. I had long wanted a walking stick made from a Black Thorn tree. I walked to the shop and found it open. The elderly clerk scarcely acknowledged my presence. I took my liberty and looked through the small shop. I rooted through a bin of dusty canes and found exactly what I wanted. The proprietor was not as enthusiastic as I was about my ‘find’. In silence, he collected the purchase price and handed me the black thorn cane and walked away.

Returning home, I showed the pastor my purchase. He wanted to know where I found it. I shared the location and he gasp. You weren’t wearing that jacket were you? You are lucky you didn’t get shot. You crossed over into the radical Catholic (IRA) side of town. Your jacket is a Protestant color and the UK (University of Kentucky) logo would be seen to represents the hated United Kingdom. It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Duly noted, the next day I put on a windbreaker of a different color. I then set out in the opposite direction from the day before. When I returned, the pastor was anxiously waiting. When I told him where I walked, he informed me that I had walked into a radical Ulster Unionist neighborhood wearing IRA colors. A risky walk, indeed.

The phrase ‘showing one’s colors’ suddenly took on a deeper meaning for me. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms defines the phrase as: to show what one is really like or what one is really thinking; to show whose side one is on. I found a life lesson in this experience.

Christians are finding the world increasingly critical and even hostile to people of faith. In part, I believe this is due to people who pretend to be something they are not. Although they may try to appear to be Christian, careless living, behavior unbecoming a true follower of Christ, and lack of commitment to Biblical principles reflects something different. Jesus alerted us to those who don’t ‘show their true colors’. Here are two examples:

  • “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16, NKJV).
  • “He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Mark 7:6).

Jesus issued a stern warning to believers whose profession does not match their possession: “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV). Dear bothers and sisters in Christ, we can only show the true colors of a Christian when Christ resides within. Are you showing the true colors of a Christian?

Prayer: Lord, as we move among family, friends, and fellow church members, may the colors we show truly be the colors of a pure heart.

~ Brother Roy

I Believe – Help My Unbelief!

There was a man who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples.  The demon sent the boy into seizures, and it tried to destroy the boy by throwing him into fires or water.  The disciples tried to cast the demon out, but they could not do it.  And Jesus was clearly disappointed with them: “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19).

Jesus had the boy brought to Him, and immediately the demon cast the boy into convulsions, and he fell to the ground, rolling around and foaming at the mouth.  The boy’s father pleaded with Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (v.22).  And Jesus replied, “If you can?  Anything is possible to him who believes” (v.23)

Do you think this father was discouraged by the failure of the disciples?  It seems almost certain that he would be.  Maybe some doubt was creeping in – I’ve heard this guy and his followers can heal and cast out demons, but when I brought my son to them, they couldn’t help.  I don’t think we should be too critical that his plea was prefaced with an “if you can”. 

We see time and time again throughout the Gospels that Jesus responds to demonstrations of faith – the paralytic’s friends (Mark 2:5), the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:34), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:29).  But this man clearly has doubts, so Jesus encourages him – if you will just have faith, anything is possible.  And the father responds in a way that is a great pattern and example for us.  He says, “I do believe – help my unbelief!” (v.24).

If doubt has never crept into your spiritual life, then you have never seriously considered things.  And there will certainly be times when we are tempted to doubt or take things into our own hands or think God is dragging His feet or be alarmed at God’s silence.  But we must have faith, so we cry, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”  We admit that our faith is shaken, but we trust God and rely on Him to give us the grace to endure.  But how do we find that grace to believe?

Jesus casts the demon out of the boy, and later when He is alone with His disciples, they ask Him why they were unsuccessful – why they couldn’t cast out the demon.  And Jesus says simply, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (v.29)

Prayer is what connects us to God.  Perhaps the disciples had begun to feel that the power to heal and cast out demons was within them, and they were no longer connecting with the real source of their power.  This is true of any ministry: if we fail to maintain contact with God – the source of our gifts and abilities – our ministry will have no power behind it.  It is so important to stay connected through prayer to the true source of our spiritual strength.

“I believe – help my unbelief!”

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

Reaching out to Jesus

Within a crowd gathered around, pressing in on Jesus, we are told that there was “a woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” (Mark 5:25-26), and she pushed through the crowd, thinking, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well” (v.28).

Though the symptoms may not have been the same, I’m sure that many of you have experienced or have had someone close to you experience the kind of frustration that this woman had experienced – your body is tormenting you, and you go to the doctor, and the treatment for the torment is nearly as torturous as the infirmity, and nothing seems to help.  And we know that in this particular instance the social stigma must have been awful for this woman to endure – the condition would have rendered her continuously unclean under the Levitical law, shutting her off from the worship of God and the fellowship of her friends (Leviticus 15:25-27)Twelve years of pain and weakness, stigma and separation.  And the doctors only made it worse.

Then she hears about Jesus. She hears that He has healed people.  So in desperation, she fights the crowds to get near Him, and she thinks if she can just touch His garment, surely she will be healed.  So she covertly touches His garment, and the healing is so immediate and so powerful that not only does she know instantly that she is healed, but Jesus, in that same instant, feels that healing power has gone out from Him. 

Jesus turns around and says, “Who touched my garments?” (v.30).  And the disciples think he’s lost his mind: “This crowd is pushing in all around you, and you say, ‘Who touched me?’”  But Jesus knows, and the woman comes forward in fear and trembling.  She thinks she’s in trouble – she thinks she has gone too far.  She’s ashamed of her body and its affliction. She thinks she has imposed inappropriately on Jesus. 

The woman falls down before Jesus and tells Him the whole truth.  But Jesus isn’t angry.  Jesus is impressed by the faith of this suffering woman – “And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well’” (v.34).

Don’t ever be ashamed to come to Jesus.  So many people are afraid that if they make that move – if they reach out to the Savior – they’ll be met with condemnation or revulsion or criticism.  They are ashamed of who they are or what they’ve done, and they are afraid of rejection.  You are not going to find rejection from the one who said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)

The King James Version identifies the suffering woman in this account as having “an issue of blood”. Well, we all have our “issues”. And anyone who brings their issues to Jesus in faith with a humble heart will be met with compassion.  And may we, the followers of Jesus, follow His example when such folks come to us.

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

Missing the Kingdom in the Name of the Law

Jesus and His disciples were passing through grainfields one Saturday, and as they were making their way along, they picked the heads of grain for a little snack, because they were hungry.  The Pharisees, who were traveling along behind Jesus waiting for Him to misstep, rebuked the disciples, because their actions violated the religious law of not performing work on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was a story from the Old Testament – how David and his men, hungry while fleeing for their lives, ate consecrated bread from the temple, which under Jewish law only the priests could eat (I Samuel 21:1-6).  And Jesus instructed the Pharisees, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (v. 27-28).

We know that God created and ordained the Sabbath as a day of rest – He blessed it and made it holy.  And in the Ten Commandments, God instructed the Hebrews to keep it holy – to set it apart – by abstaining from their labor.  And this observance was very beneficial – it gave bodies and minds much needed rest, it limited exploitation of servants, it provided a recovery period to animals, it allowed men opportunity to attend to spiritual needs.  But it seems that for the Pharisees, the strict observance of the Sabbath law was more important than the wellbeing of the person, for whom the Sabbath was created to begin with.

Next, Jesus goes into a synagogue – still on the Sabbath – and there’s a man with a withered hand.  And the Pharisees are watching Jesus to see if they could catch Him in the act of breaking the Sabbath again (Mark 3:1-2). But Jesus knows what they’re thinking, so He cuts right to the chase: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” (v. 4).  They don’t answer.  And Jesus’ first response, Mark tells us, is anger.  But His second response is grief – He’s grieved at the hardness of their hearts (v.5).  So Jesus heals the man, and the Pharisees immediately begin conspiring as to how they can destroy Him.

If you go too quickly past Jesus’ question to the Pharisees here, you might miss an important point.  Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?”  And what is implied here is that not to do good is to do harm.  The question that is most important isn’t whether Jesus will work or not work on the Sabbath, but whether He will heal, or (by not healing) harm.

Matthew 25:31-46 spells out Jesus’ philosophy more explicitly.  In that well-known account of the Judgement, what is the difference between the sheep and the goats – between eternal life and eternal death?  The righteous are the ones who saw need and responded to it.  The wicked were the ones who did nothing; and they thought by doing nothing that they were doing nothing wrong.  But by doing nothing, they were really doing something – they were neglecting their fellow humans, and were thus neglecting Jesus Himself.  “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (v.45).

At first the Pharisees’ prioritizing the letter of the law over the spirit of the law makes Jesus angry.  But then He is struck with grief, because He sees what is in store for those hardened hearts: “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (v.46).  It breaks His heart that the Kingdom is here, and they’re missing it.

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

Dinner with Sinners

In Mark 2:14-17 we are told how Jesus passed Levi the tax collector, whom we know better as Matthew, and called him to follow.  Matthew agreed, and Jesus and His other disciples went over to Matthew’s house for dinner.  Matthew’s friends came over, and Matthew’s friends were not church people – “tax collectors and sinners,” Mark identifies them. 

Jesus’ choice of dining companions shocked the religious scribes – “Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked.  And for this critique, Jesus had a simple answer: the healthy don’t need a doctor.  “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (v.17).

Now Jesus’ greater point there that the Pharisees no doubt missed may have been there is no one who is righteous – we all need Jesus.  But it is clear that Jesus had no problem socializing with sinners – in fact, He said these are exactly the kind of people for whom He came.

There is a book on Christian hospitality titled The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield.  The author was once a deeply anti-Christian unbeliever who would never have darkened the door of an evangelistic rally, church service, or Bible study.  But an invitation to dinner by a humble Christian couple who practiced a vibrant hospitality eventually drew her to faith in Jesus.  In this book about practicing the kind of “radically ordinary hospitality” that drew her to the faith, the author shares how she opens her house every evening to whomever will come for dinner. 

It’s a challenging book.  Not least of all in that hospitality is not a gift that comes naturally to me.  And furthermore, there is a tendency among Christians to avoid associating with the world for fear of being corrupted by the world.  But if we are to emulate Jesus, we must welcome those who look, think, believe, and act differently than we do.  Evangelism can’t all be done within the walls of a church or in the context of church programming, or there will be so many we will miss.  Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.  So we shouldn’t be surprised to find Him where the sinners are.

I am reminded of a little poem the missionary C.T. Studd was fond of quoting:

Some want to live within the sound
Of Church or Chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop
Within a yard of hell.

Are we carrying the love of Jesus to those who are in need of it? Are we inviting them to our table? Or are we waiting for them to come to us?

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

An Elijah Kind of Day

approaching stormAlthough I’m a mountain boy from the hills of Eastern Kentucky, few people on earth enjoy the sea shore more than I do. I delight in the occasional opportunities I get to spend a few days on the shore. On one such an occasion, I was high above the surf on a condo balcony in Destin, Florida. I was mesmerized by an approaching storm.

A strong wind was driving powerful waves on shore. The rumble of thunder and the roar of breaking waves filled the air. Menacing dark clouds rushed toward me.  Seemingly out of nowhere, the words of a song erupted in my heart:

Behold He comes, riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun at the trumpet’s call
Lift your voice, (it’s) the year of Jubilee
Out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes.

I had heard the words from Robin Mark’s “Days of Elijah” in student gatherings at Asbury University where I taught. Now, as if God wanted to graphically illustrate the words, I was watching a powerful storm approach.

In an article by Robin Mark titled ‘The Story Behind Days of Elijah’, he provided the following explanation: “The chorus is the ultimate declaration of hope – Christ’s return. It is paraphrased from the books of Revelation and Daniel and the vision that was seen of the coming King and refers to the return of Christ and the year of Jubilee. Theologians and Bible commentators believe that Israel never properly celebrated this particular 50th year jubilee, and that it will only be properly celebrated when Christ returns. That might be true, but I reckon that a Jubilee is an apt description of what happens when Christ comes into anyone’s life at any time; debts are cancelled and a captive is set free.”

I vividly recall my personal day of ‘Jubilee’. Although it has been six decades ago, it still remains the signal event in my life! I thank God that from time to time, like this day, He sends an explosion of joy – an Elijah kind of day. My heart trembles with anticipation as I look forward to the ultimate Day of Jubilee.

A Promise: Behold He comes, riding on the clouds!

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

~ Brother Roy

A Precious Time Piece

illinois bunn specialMy father was an engineer on the C&O Railroad. He worked out of the yards at Russell, Kentucky. For many years, these yards were the largest individual-owned rail yards in the world. Fifty-two sets of tracks wide, the Russell Yards was a transportation marvel in the 1950’s and 60’s.

With hundreds of trains moving in, out, and through the yards on regular schedules, precise timing was critical.  The watches that the engineers carried had to be exact. Only company-authorized watches could be used. These watches had to be inspected and certified on a regular basis. A few seconds could make the difference between safe passage and disaster. One of our family’s most precious treasures is dad’s ‘Illinois Bunn Special’ railroad watch.

Scripture serves as God’s precision timepiece for mankind. God’s word accurately reports what was, is, and shall be. “He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind” (Ecclesiastes 3:11ESV).

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV)

Are you living in God’s time frame for your life? “For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV).