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Friday, February 23, 2018

This is what I mean

Posted by Gary on October 31, 2008

John 18:4-6;12-13 “So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground…So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas…”

In recent weeks at our church we have been studying the doctrine of total depravity. By total depravity we mean that at the Fall of Adam, man became depraved in every facet of his being: mind, heart and soul. It is only when this doctrine is understood that Bible verses like these make sense:

Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

I try to be understanding with people who grapple with the Reformed faith for I struggled with it for quite awhile myself. If we understand total depravity then we must believe that man left to himself would never turn to God, he would only react toward God according to his sinful nature and would always and only reject God. The only reason that anyone seeks God or desires Him is because God frees us from the bondage of sin and draws us to Him:

John 8:34-36 “Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Still I find that people grapple with what we mean when we speak of total depravity and so perhaps it is just best to point to it at work. In the first verses listed above from John 18 we see the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is with His disciples on the night He will be betrayed. We are told that a large crowd led by Judas comes to arrest Jesus. But before the arrest Jesus asks the crowd whom they are seeking. When they respond, “Jesus of Nazareth” Jesus replies, “I am” (the “he” included in English translations is not found in the original Greek).

Upon hearing Jesus say “I am” the crowd falls backward to the ground. No what is this? Well first when we consider the extreme importance of “I am” (Exodus 3:14) we know that Jesus is declaring that He is God. As God, Jesus is making it clear to the mob that they are not going to take Him but that He is deciding He will go with them. This event is a tremendous show of power in which Jesus makes it clear that He is in control and that His life will not be taken from Him but that He will lay it down of His own initiative (John 10:17-18).

Now here is an amazing thing, Jesus levels a Roman cohort (estimated between 500-1000 soldiers) and an untold number of religious leaders and others. At His word they fall down to the ground. What would one think would be the response to such a show of power? Wouldn’t it seem that perhaps they would rethink what they were doing? Wouldn’t one imagine fear in response to this power? But what do we find? When Jesus allows them to get up they arrest him, lead him to judgment and we must assume that many found their way to the cross to watch and support the crucifixion of Jesus.

Do you have trouble understanding total depravity? You shouldn’t, just look at it in action. What the Fall brought about for us is a spiritual condition that will reject God even when He is standing in front of you, indentifies Himself as God and knocks you to the ground by His power. The response of fallen man is still to get up and rebel against our holy Creator and God. The Bible tells us that mankind will still refuse to repent even as God sends His judgment on the earth at the end of all things:

Revelation 16:9-11 “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.”

Apart from God’s grace, left to yourself, you would have done the same thing the mob did in the garden of Gethsemane and I would have also. Immediately the ranks begin to thin, not many will embrace the doctrine of total depravity for very few want to acknowledge that this is how evil they are. You and I are not able to come to God unless He enables us to do so because we are totally depraved.

John 6:65 “He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

God-a Father to the fatherless

Posted by Gary on September 25, 2008

While we are so very concerned about our economy we are blind to the fact that in the ways that really matter we have already collapsed, blind America, your house is left desolate. We fear bankruptcy and do not see that we are already bankrupt. Our financial sickness is only an indicator of our spiritual sickness:

Revelation 3:17-18 "Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see."

If you can bring yourself to, read this story about a father who abandoned his nine children at a Nebraska hospital. This was possible through a Nebraska law which promises freedom from prosecution to parents and was initially intended to protect infants but was then changed to include children through their teens. This father abandoned nine children ages ranging from 1 to 17.

Now, let’s start the stream of all the reasons we should feel sorry for this father…this is where we are aren’t we? Every person’s situation is the exception, we have no right to expect anything from anyone.

It may be that these children are better off than being with a father who in the end will abandon but that does not negate the fact that our nation is increasingly a people who kill their children or abandon them, if not at hospitals then to the streets, gangs, hours of television and video games or to any relative who will carry our responsibility for us. After you get done saying all you might to exonerate this father imagine the hearts of these children as they watched their father walk out on them. It is in the hearts of children to love even scoundrels.

Nine young children, we grieve for you. There is One who will never abandon you, may you come to know the Father of fatherless:

Psalm 27:10 "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up."

Psalm 68:5 "A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation."

Be careful what you lay at the door of the Lord

Posted by Gary on September 18, 2008

Recently Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) artist Ray Boltz declared his "coming out" as a homosexual. The exclusive story printed by the Washington Blade reveals that Boltz’s marriage of 33 years (four children) is now over and he is pursuing a "normal gay life."

I want to reflect for a moment on something Boltz says at the end of this article, it is vital for our day:

“This is what it really comes down to…“If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”

This of course is the frequent statement made by people who are gay and who claim a belief in God, the claim is that God must have made them the way they are. Now what is it that leads them (or us perhaps with our particular sin) to believe that God made us a certain way? This claim is always attached to our desires, because we desire something we immediately assume that the desire must have come from God. But is this so? That God creates desire is undeniable. The question is, does God create all desires and are all desires honoring to Him and permissible in His sight?

I remember a line from a Biblical film about Joseph in which Jacob warns his sons "Be careful what you lay at the door of the Lord." Though this statement is not found in the Bible it is true and applies here. Can we rightly claim that every desire we have has been given us by God?

Please take a moment to read this sampling of verses from the Bible that mention our desires and decide for yourself:

Galatians 5:24  "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

Ephesians 2:3 "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

1 Timothy 6:9  "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction."

Titus 2:11-12  "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…"

2 Peter 2:18  "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,"

2 Timothy 4:3 "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,"

For the sake of brevity let me mention some important facts: Some of our desires according to the verses above are called lusts and result in wrath from God, some desires are called "harmful", others are called "worldly and we are told to "deny" them. Perhaps the most interesting verse in light of our topic is 2 Timothy 4:3 in which the statement is made, "…in accordance with their own desires". Here very clearly the Bible tells us that some will want to find teachers for themselves who will tell them what they want so that they can fulfill "their own desires" not God’s desires, their own.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

God help us-what our speech says about our life with God

Posted by Gary on July 16, 2008

In recent weeks I have been thinking about and stressing the Bible’s teaching about our speech. It is very easy to claim to love God and be close to Him but God has multiple diagnostics that He runs on us to reveal whether our claim of love for Him and claim to spiritual health is true. Perhaps one of the most revealing areas of our lives as it touches love for God and spiritual health is the use of our mouths. Here is a sampling of verses from God’s Word on the use of our mouths, they require no further elaboration:


Proverbs 12:18-19 “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment.”

Proverbs 15:4 “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.”

Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Proverbs 21:23 “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.”

Proverbs 26:28 “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”

Matthew 12:33-37 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Matthew 15:18 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

James 1:26 “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

Listen to most people and they will insist that they have a good heart. First, does the Bible ever tell us that our heart is good? No, it tells us that our hearts are deceitful and wicked beyond even our own knowledge of them (Jeremiah 17:9).

Beyond this, now we have Jesus teaching us that what comes out of our mouths is the true revelation of what is in our hearts. We gossip. slander, curse, boast and lie and then insist that we are people with “good hearts.” Here the great majority leave the narrow way, only a few by God’s grace will acknowledge that their mouth is the undeniable test of where they are with God and will humble themselves in repentance and seek God’s grace. The majority take the broad path of denial and justification, “Yes, I know that the Bible forbids what just came out of my mouth but my heart is still good.” Every man’s way is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 21:2).

Nothing should cause us to see that we are sinners and in need of redemption more than our mouths. May God grant us the grace to face the truth about ourselves as revealed by our speech.

By God’s grace we need to get into the practice of thinking and praying before we speak. Sin leads us to say whatever enters our heads but grace enables us to think and when needed, to pray before we speak. Here are a few things for us to think about before we speak:

  • What am I about to say?
  • Why am I going to say what I am about to say? or What is my motive for saying what I am about to say?
  • Is what I am going to say true?
  • Is what I am going to say helpful?
  • Is what I am going to say honoring to God?
  • Am I about to talk about someone or something that is not my business or my listener’s business?
  • Could more good come from me leaving it unsaid?

Desperate fathers (assorted thoughts on temptation through imagery)

Posted by Gary on February 8, 2007

Along the major route I must take from my house into the town of Millsboro is a billboard. On it is an advertisement for the television show “Desperate Housewives”. As you might imagine it is more than provocative, I will not describe it believing that the description itself would prompt imagery in the mind that is displeasing to God. Each time I drive by this area my mind goes into battle mode and I am angry. When it comes to enticement there are only two options: succumb or militant opposition. When it comes to the area of sexual temptation especially, pause is lethal, neutrality is not an option, we must either fight or sin.

The anger I mentioned flows from the knowledge that this sign and the magazines at the check out stand at the grocery store and the imagery in a million other places is placed there by the enemy of our souls, Satan. When by God’s grace we see as we should see, we see behind such enticements the reality of spiritual warfare and the potential harm of our souls and the souls of others:

1 Peter 2:11 “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”

My strength against such temptation is the reality that my soul in these moments is under attack, this is spiritual, this is eternal. God, help us to remember that what is at stake every day as we live in this fallen world is our eternal souls. Temptations like this billboard are an undeniable reality, they force a reaction, they demand a response. Here are some further thoughts I have had when driving by this sign…

I know that this battle cannot be avoided in this sinful world and that those who seek to cause others to stumble will come under the severest judgment from God:

Luke 17:1-2 “He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

When I put on the spiritual glasses of God’s Word, this billboard immediately is changed. The women are still on it appearing as they have chosen to but now I see something that I couldn’t before, they have ropes around their necks with large stones tied to the other end. I do not wish this end upon them, I hope they find the forgiveness I have found but if unrepentant, they will experience the wrath of God who has reserved His severest punishment for those who cause others to stumble and fall.

I also think of the fathers of these women. I wonder if this billboard is in their city or town? I wonder what it must be like to drive by and see your daughter posing as a whore? Perhaps I am being romantic, I imagine they must be grief stricken, desperate. But the truth of Scripture tells me that sin is so deceitful and evil that it is quite likely some of these fathers could be glad for their daughter’s fame because of what it means for them personally. How blinding sin is.

A billboard like this makes me think of fatherhood. As things should be the fathers of these women would be the ones who are desperate, desperate for the spiritual welfare of their daughters, desperate to rescue them from being drown in the sea with rocks around their necks, desperate to save them from hell. Would that their fathers would walk onto the set of their program, drag them out of their beds by the hair, cover their nakedness and weep before them.

As a father, I can imagine nothing worse than seeing my daughter on the path that these women are on. If I truly mean this than it makes something incumbent upon me, I must be a man of God. With the aid of my wife I must teach my daughter what Godly womanhood is. I must also teach her what Godly manhood is so that she will know what to look for in her future husband. I do not want my daughters to marry men who would watch Desperate Housewives or look at a billboard with such women on it. I want my daughters to marry men of holiness and integrity. If I truly want this, I must be one myself.

Ultimately I believe that much of the reason the desperate housewives are on this billboard and on television wallowing in sin is because of the failure of fathers. Girls and young women need Godly fathers, fathers who will strike a blow against this sinful imagery by refusing to view it, fathers who will raise their daughters in Godliness.

Dead in trespasses and sins

Posted by Gary on May 29, 2006

The congregation I pastor is made up primarily of retirees and the community our church ministers to likewise has a large senior population so it was with some interest (and great disgust) that I read this article out of central Florida. It appears that there is an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) within a local retiree villa including a woman in her 80’s.

Mankind’s great claim to goodness usually stems from both extremes of our existence, infancy and old age, everyone agrees that young adulthood and midlife are filled with sinful pursuits. Any honest parent will acknowledge that sin resides in the heart of their young child, selfishness, rebellion and anger can be seen in a child within their first year. Perhaps senior man can redeem us, his many years of experience and the wisdom gained with age will reveal that goodness does reside in the heart, it just takes some time to manifest itself.

The reports from this senior community reveal that sin rules man heart from conception until they shovel dirt over us unless Christ sets us free:

John 8:34-36 "Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

The Bible speaks to us plainly about the condition of our hearts since the fall and the behavior of these individuals who should be leading the way in fear and reverence for God prove that God’s diagnosis of our problem is correct:

Ephesians 2:1-3 "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. "

Look at man, when he should be at his best, certainly at the time he should know better, in his old age, he is the slave of lust and his flesh, he is behaving like a beast and is by nature a child of wrath.

The other epidemic of our day with seniors is their willingness to live together unmarried so that they don’t have to forfeit the pension and/or health care coverage (usually the woman) is receiving from a deceased husband. Don’t in any way think those who claim the name of Christ are above this, in my first two years at my church I have had to confront two such cases. The message these people declare to those who are younger in the faith is that God can’t be trusted to provide when you seek righteousness first, God will leave you in the lurch, we are left to fend for ourselves like those who don’t know God.

Pondering these things makes me think of the young man Elihu in the book of Job and his disgust with the failure of those older than he to provide wisdom and the way of truth:

Job 32:4-9 "Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were years older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of the three men his anger burned. So Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite spoke out and said, "I am young in years and you are old; therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think. "I thought age should speak, and increased years should teach wisdom. "But it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding. "The abundant in years may not be wise, nor may elders understand justice."

May God help us to come to terms with the truth about our hearts, they are enslaved to sin and must be made free by Christ. May He also help us to finish out our days in Godliness so that those who come behind us might see Christ in our actions and be compelled to follow Him.