Let’s Feast

   My grandma is a really good cook. I love her roast beef meals…her chicken and dumplings… and of course turkey meals are loved all year long. I must admit, it is really hard to pick a favorite meal, but I know what my favorite side dish is…her mashed potatoes. They are so good!!! What does this have to do with anything? I am afraid when it comes to the Bible, we just go for the mashed potatoes, we avoid the meat. Maybe we are scared of misunderstanding the meaty truths? Maybe we truly need some more mashed potatoes to help us ingest the meat. Or maybe, you don’t have the time or don’t have an interest. I hope the last option is not the case. 

   Regardless, I want to go on a theological deep dive that gives your brain a workout. Recently, in one on one conversations, two of you have asked me great questions. One of them, I did not have time to answer thoroughly; the other, I gave my best attempt. These questions have stayed in my mind and I started thinking about how they are beneficial to everyone when thinking about the important truths of Scripture. So, we are skipping the mashed potatoes and going straight for the meat. Are you ready? Here we go.

Question #1=What are the five points of Calvinism? 

   Surely many of you have heard of the great theologian John Calvin who played an important role during the reformation. But, have you ever heard of Jacob Arminius? He was a theologian in the late 1500’s. After his death, some of his followers wrote five statements of faith in 1610 to summarize his teachings. His teachings were widely debated and eventually condemned in 1619 at the Synod of Dort. The five points of Calvinism emerged as a response against Jacob Arminius’ teachings.

   The five points of Calvinism are as follows: Total Depravity-Unconditional Election-Limited Atonement-Irresistible Grace-Preservation of the Saints.

  Let me briefly define those statements because I believe the five points paint a Biblical picture of salvation. 

Total depravity: Sin has affected us so completely that we cannot turn to God on our own. 

   We as human beings are soaked in sin. Sin penetrates everything we do. Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins. Romans 3 reminds us that no one is righteous. In our sinful state, we don’t delight in God or His holiness. We are slaves to sin. We are unable to save ourselves. We are unable to reach out to God. We are dependent on Him for our rescue.

Unconditional Election: God unconditionally elects whom He will bring to salvation before the foundation of the world. 

   God chooses the people whom He will deliver from their bondage to sin. The important thing here is that election is modified by a very important adjective, without which the entire meaning changes. Unconditional. God elects people because of His grace. His choice is free. It is not based on what people do, but it is in spite of their rebellion and evil against God. It is not based on any foreseen faith…as in, God looking ahead down the corridors of time, sees that someone in their own power chooses to have faith in Jesus and then God says okay, I will elect you.  It is based on His grace alone because like I mentioned above we will never choose Christ in our sin.

Limited Atonement: Jesus specifically died and atoned for the sin for the elect. 

   This is probably the most debated and misunderstood of all the five points. It raises the age old question…did Jesus die to save His elect or did Jesus die with the potential of saving everyone? For whom did Jesus die? Jesus could not die for all people in the same way. If He died for everyone then no one would be in Hell. If the death of Jesus did not decisively save anyone and only made it possible for people to be saved that presents a problem; that makes people their own saviors and not God, because then the person would be the decisive factor of their salvation. So, Jesus did not die for everyone. His death accomplished an actual purpose, not a mere possibility.  I like how John Piper says “the love of God is sufficient to save the world, but efficient to save those who believe.  Efficient means His love actually saves believers. It is effective in saving them from perishing.”

Irresistible Grace: God overcomes our resistance and changes our hearts through regeneration so that we want and love Jesus. 

   God does not force anyone to be saved or make them do something for which they have no desire. Rather, God graciously changes the disposition of their nature. He removes the dead unresponsive heart and regenerates it by giving the heart new life. This act causes a person to want and love Christ; their natural response then is one of faith. 

Preservation of the Saints. Believers are secure in their salvation all because all who are justified and covered with the blood of Christ will be saved in the end. 

   Once saved, always saved. If a person is truly born again, then they can never lose their salvation. No sin can separate them from God. Jesus died for that sin and canceled its legal demands against them. He secures believers’ salvation by His blood. They are eternally secure in Christ. God will see to it that they reach their glorious destination in heaven. Believers are eternally secure.

   There is a lot more that could be said about each point, but I hope this general overview is helpful. Truth be told, the five points are actually a great segway into our next question. 

Question #2=Do we have free will?

   Personally, I am not a huge fan of the term free will, because I think it can be misleading. I like the term moral agency. Regardless, the underlying topic remains: human choices under a sovereign God. Are we able to make choices? Yes. And we will choose what we want most at the moment. But going back to the five points, there is something we must remember. Before faith in Christ, we are soaked in sin. Sin affects everything we do. So even our ability to make choices is saturated with sin. Outside of Christ, we will choose what we want. That choice is not God. We don’t want God. We won’t choose God. In the deadness of sin, we don’t have either the capacity or desire to love Him. Romans 3 reminds us that no one is righteous and no one seeks God. Ephesians 2 highlights that we are dead in sin and outside of Christ we carry out the passions of our sinful nature. That is why our will has to be changed

   God must remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. This is the miracle of regeneration. When this happens, our natural response is that we see the beauty of Christ. We want Him. We recognize what He has done on our behalf. We respond in faith. Again, we cannot make this response apart from God changing our wills. 

  Now that’s a discussion of “free will” in response to salvation. What about everyday choices? Yes, we make those. Our choices are real and God is sovereign. God cannot be God if He is not sovereign. Then something else would be more powerful than God. So God, by definition must be sovereign. 

 God determines and designs all things by orchestrating trillions upon trillions of factors so that everything, past, present, and future, happens according to His perfect goals. Nothing, past, present, or future is outside of God’s providence. That includes good things, bad things…it includes everything. The red lights you get stuck at in traffic, when one of your hairs fall out,  every breath you breathe. 

   So, God’s sovereignty permeates all life events and that does include all human decisions. There is a way in which God is the primary and first cause of everything while, at the same time, God nevers sins and does not tempt people. Humans are still morally responsible beings who make choices. God’s choosing and willing, does not negate real, human decisions. God governs human choices and preferences in a way that does not turn people into mindless robots. God made us beautifully with individual gifts and talents, with feelings and emotions. Right now on earth, those gifts are tainted with sin. In heaven, our emotions and personalities will be perfected into the person God designed us to be. Then we will truly be free and our wills, free from sin, will have the ability to enjoy and love God in fullest measure.

  Wow, I just fed you a lot. I believe I painted a Biblical perspective of a God centered salvation and of a human’s will. Regardless of whether or not you agree, go to the Bible. Look this up for yourself. Saturate your mind with the truth of Scripture. Let God’s Word sink into your heart.  Don’t just live on mashed potatoes truths. Enjoy your mashed potatoes with meat and let’s feast on the nourishment of God’s Word.


Purposeful Life


   God made you on purpose with a purpose. I love this saying by Max Lucado. I believe it highlights something very important. God’s sovereignty touches every part of our life experience. I want to highlight two passages in Scripture that really showcase this point. Jeremiah 1:5 says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Second, Psalm 139 reads “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” If you pause for a second you can certainly feel the wonder of that. But let’s dive in deeper to think about this truth so that you can marvel with awe and joy that the God of the universe is involved in the intricate details of each and every second of your live.

   God made you on purpose. Think about that. GOD MADE YOU! Now I will restrain my inner AP biology nerd, but I will give you a scientific fact. In the creation of a human life, did you know that there are over 8.3 million different genetic combinations; only one combination makes you. Any other genetic combination would result in an entirely different human being. So, that means God in His sovereignty placed your parents together at the right time and made sure the right genetic combination came together to create you. God’s sovereignty penetrates the molecular level. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. As the verse in Jeremiah reminds us, God knew you before you were born. But it’s more than that. God does not just know what will happen, but He causes and wills all things that take place. God never acts on the fly or responds to things in the spur of the moment. So, God did not just know you would exist; He planned your existence. The fact that you would exist in a certain place at a certain time is something God designed before the world was made, before time and space and material reality existed. And, if you are Christian, God also ordained your salvation in eternity past. God made you on purpose.

   God also made you with a purpose. Psalm 139 proclaims that all the days ordained for you were written in God’s book before one of them came to be. The beautiful truth is that God has planned out your life for His glory and our ultimate good in Christ. Days and life seasons are not random. Nothing in your life is random. Every moment happens for a reason. Every moment is part of God’s great plan specifically for you. While we are not consecrated prophets like Jeremiah, God has appointed each and every one of us with a task to do. He has gifted you uniquely to accomplish your God-given tasks. No matter your skill set, your vocation, your hobbies, your gifts, God made you with a purpose. 

   I hope this encourages you. No matter what season of life you may be in right now, rest in the truth of these verses. Rest in the fact that God, the all powerful, sovereign God made you on purpose with a purpose. 


Christmas Light


   Picture this. You walk into your dark family room. No lights are on. You can’t really see anything. So, you walk over to the stepper and turn on your Christmas tree.Instantly, beautiful light fills the room, making the ornaments visible, reflecting on the walls, the ceiling. Now you can see. And for the next few seconds, all you want to do is look at the pretty tree in front of you. I don’t know about you, but I love doing this, either early in the morning or in the evening. Now, you might ask, why would I give this example? This description, this simple action of turning on a Christmas tree, can redirect our attention to a greater truth. This beautiful picture reminds us of what God does to the human heart in salvation. 

   Jesus is light and He makes the darkness of sin flee. Before Christ, the darkness of sin fills our hearts. It is only through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit…it is only through the light God shines in our hearts that brings us to saving faith. Scripture often makes this connection between light and spiritual life. In Jesus “was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:4-5)For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)  His light that gives life brings us faith and belief. He is “the light of the world, Whoever follows [Him] will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) 

    This is the miracle of the Gospel and this is what Christmas reminds us: We receive the greatest gift ever when God shines the light of salvation into our hearts. So, don’t celebrate Christmas in the dark. As you celebrate Christmas, celebrate the Savior, the Light of the World. Don’t let the long to-do lists take your focus away from God. Let simple reminders direct your heart to the saving faith that the light of Christ’s birth brings into a dark world. 


Who Do You Say That I Am?


Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

   Who do you say that I am? This is the most important question all of us must answer. Your eternal destiny relates to how you respond to Jesus and the Gospel. Who is Jesus? Most people in Jesus’ day had expectations that the Messiah would be a great prophet. And Jesus is a prophet, but Jesus is not just a prophet. So again, who is Jesus? Fully God, fully man. Son of God. Perfect sacrifice. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Savior. Redeemer. Lion of Judah. Son of Man. Lamb of God. Alpha. Omega. I AM. Light of the World. Mighty God. The eternal Word. Emmanuel. Messiah. Prince of Peace. Wonderful Counselor. Good shepherd. Living Water. Bread of Life. Cornerstone. 

   This is Jesus. This is who Peter confesses, the Christ, the Son of the living God. But, sadly, not everyone sees Jesus this way. When a person is dead in their sin, Jesus is just another good person or good teacher or great prophet. It takes God to know God. For us to rightly know who Jesus is, God has to reveal Himself to the human heart. God has to take that which is spiritually dead and bring new life. This causes a person to respond to Jesus in faith and love and see Him as He truly is. That’s what Jesus tells us; God revealed Himself to Peter so that Peter had an understanding of who Jesus is.

   Jesus tells us something else, something very important. After Jesus points to God’s revealing power, He talks about rocks. Yes, rocks. And Jesus does an interesting wordplay in Greek that we don’t notice in English. He says, And I tell you, you are Petros (a piece of a rock or stone), and on this Petra (an immovable rock, a massive boulder) I will build my church. So, what is Jesus talking about here? Many people think Jesus refers to Peter as the rock on which the church is built. But He does not say, you are Peter and on you I will build my church. As we see, Jesus makes a distinction between the types of rocks. Along with many other commentators, I believe that Jesus is referring to Himself. He reveals that He is the Rock of the church. Jesus is pointing out that He will build the church on Himself, on what Peter confessed…the church is built on Christ, the Son of the Living God. 

   This is not the first time in Scripture Jesus is referred to as a rock or foundation.

-Isaiah 28:16: Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ 

-Acts 4:11: This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

-1 Corinthians 3:11: No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

   I hope we get the point here. Jesus is the immovable Rock. Jesus is the foundation of the church. Jesus is the one whom Satan can never stand against. The church will advance, succeed, and overcome through their confession that Jesus is the one and only Savior, the perfect Son of God. Peter plays an important part in this…after Jesus’ ascension, he proclaims and preaches Jesus before many. That’s what we need to do as well. In our words and in our actions, we need to proclaim Jesus. And this is the God given responsibility of the church: to proclaim the name of Jesus. So, who do you say that Jesus is? Is He your God? Is He your Savior whom you will boldly proclaim? May God enrich our understanding of who Jesus is and embolden us to proclaim the Gospel.  


God Moments


   Don’t you love God stories…you know, the moments only God could have orchestrated. As in, there is absolutely no logical explanation other than God worked an amazing miracle!  When your car fails and you are able to get off the highway before it completely breaks down. When you randomly have a conversation with an acquaintance about an online high school homeschooling program right when you are thinking of switching away from traditional schooling. When you go to the orthopedist for a routine check up. Your crooked spine is expected to stay the same, or get worse; but the x-ray shows that your spine got a little better. When you email out your resumė to Presbyterian and non-denominational churches who do not list a worship leader on their website. One pastor emails back and says that RiverTree is in the early stages of discussing having a worship position and would love to meet up and talk.  

   What if we viewed all of life in that lens? What if we recognized and praised God for His involvement in all that happens. To do so, we have to remember God’s providence and sovereignty. Everything in our lives happens under God’s providence and sovereignty. What exactly does that mean? Let’s go over some of the basics. 

   God’s sovereignty and providence means that God upholds, preserves, sustains, governs, orders, and causes all things. He did not set the world in motion and then step back and let things happen randomly by chance. He is actively involved in all things. God’s active involvement, God’s providence, is anchored in His eternal plan for His glory and the good of His people. God never responds to things on the fly, because nothing surprises Him or catches Him off guard. So, God’s sovereignty is more than just Him knowing what’s going to happen in advance. He not only knows, but He wills and causes what will happen in the future. That includes creation, good things, bad things…it includes everything. That can be hard to wrap our minds around, so let’s break it down. God’s providence includes all spheres of life. Let’s explore that. Let’s start with creation as a whole and work our way down to human sin and salvation. 

   Throughout the Bible, especially in the Psalms, we see that God Himself makes a blade of grass grow, causes snow to fall, and sends wind throughout the earth. His sovereignty extends to sustaining the smallest molecule. So every drop of rain, every breath-taking sunset, every crashing wave is governed by God. 

   God’s sovereignty goes well beyond the realm of creation. His sovereignty permeates all life events, all human decisions. Nothing, past, present, or future is outside of God’s providence. We don’t often think like this. So let it soak in. Every nation, every person, every human action, and even every sin falls under His sovereignty. How can that be? There is a way in which God is the primary and first cause of everything while, at the same time, God nevers sins and does not tempt people, and humans are still morally responsible beings who make choices. This is a mystery that we as finite people will never fully understand. Even theologians have a hard time putting this Biblical truth into words. I think Joseph said it best in Genesis, “As for you (his brothers) you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” So even in the midst of human sin and human decisions God is working behind the scenes to accomplish His great purposes. Think of Jesus’ crucifixion. Men abused Him and sentenced Him to a criminal’s death on the cross. Yet it was God’s eternal purpose from before time began that Jesus would be our sacrifice and pay the price for our sins through His death. This is God’s providence writing history.  

   God in His sovereignty also orchestrates our salvation. We often like to give ourselves credit for our salvation. But we can’t. Salvation is 100% God’s sovereign work from start to finish. He specifically chose a people whom He would rescue from their sin. He makes sure they hear the gospel. He changes their hearts to give them new life. He enables them and causes them to respond in faith to His Son. As Scripture says, For it is by grace that we are saved, it’s not our own doing it’s a gift of God. So our salvation is a God moment, our response to Jesus is God’s providential work in our lives to bring about His desired outcome.

   Why talk about providence and how we think about our life experience? Because it helps us with anxiety. God’s providence is a great comfort for us. Nothing is outside of his control. If something were not under God’s control, then God would not be God. Then something would be greater than God. But that is not the God of the Bible. That is not the God we serve and worship. Our God is all powerful, all knowing and fully sovereign. So, we know that God is working out all things for the good of His chosen children who love Him. We can trust that He is providing the best thing for us at any moment. 

   That is true of our trials as well. Jesus tells us that in this world we will have troubles. Being a Christian does not exempt you from problems. We live in a fallen broken world where evil and Satan seem to win. But we know that all evil and even Satan himself is fully under God’s control. When troubles happen, we know God governs their duration; He knows how they will help us grow to be more like Christ and He will stop them at the right time. Sometimes we see the results in this life; other times God will sustain and provide for us through an ongoing trial until we reach heaven where all troubles disappear. We know God cares about our hurts and pains. He will be our source of hope and surround us with His eternal love. In the midst of our hardships we can trust that He is painting a bigger and better picture than we can ever imagine. 

    So, we need to remember to look back on God’s providence over our lives. It is really helpful. It helps us have hope for the future. Looking back at our God moments and miracles helps to fuel our worship and praise even when the future seems uncertain.  But we know that God’s faithfulness never fails; as He was faithful before and provided before, so he will be faithful and provide just what is needed again. He will never stop providing what is best for His children. So take time. Think of your God stories, your God moments and rest in the God who sovereign and loves you more than you can imagine. 


First Grade Grammar Lesson


Okay, we are going to take a trip back to first grade for a grammar lesson. Verbs…they describe actions. That seems simple enough; in fact we use verbs constantly everyday without thinking about it. But now I want to challenge you to think about verbs….God’s verbs. God always has, always is, and always will act. God did not create the world, set it in motion, and then stand back and watch things unfold. Quite the opposite. God acts. God acts in time. He acts in human history all of the time. There is not one sphere of life, one activity you can do where God in his providence is not acting or working. Let’s walk through some Bible verses and see just how God acts in salvation, real human decisions, and creation.


God’s Saving Work in Israel

Acts 13:16-33 Godchose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm He led them out…He put up with them in the wilderness….He gave them their land as an inheritance…. He raised up David to be their king, …this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as He promised. He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.

God’s Action in Saving People from Start to Finish

Ephesians 1:4-5 He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…He predestined us for adoption 

Titus 3:5  He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to hHs own mercy,

Romans 8:29-30 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined…And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.

God’s Action in Believers Good Works

Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you, [He] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Ezekiel 11:19-20 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then [because of God’s action] they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 


God’s Action Over and Through Real Human Decisions

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Daniel 4:35 He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”

Ezra 1:1 The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom  

Psalm 23:2-3 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

God’s Actions Over Kings and Kingdoms

Romans 9:17 Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you”

Isaiah 45:13 I have stirred [Cyrus the King] up in righteousness and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free,

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;  He turns it wherever He will.


God’s Action in Creating and Sustaining Every Molecule in the Universe

Psalm 147:8-9 He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth;  He makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food,

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth

Hebrew 1:3 He upholds the universe by the word of his power. 

Nehemiah 9:6 You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness;  I make well-being and create calamity;


Wow, that really is an eye-opener. In those few verses, there were 55 God verbs. God always purposefully acts for the sake of His glory and the good of His people. So, I challenge you… as you do your Bible reading, don’t mindlessly look at the verbs. Revisit first grade. Look for the God verbs and let your heart fill with awe and praise as you see how God is always in action.


Party With A Purpose


   Have any of you ever heard the song, “Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you, party pooper, party pooper.” I think someone wrote that song for me. To put it mildly, I am not a big fan of parties at all. I will do what I can to avoid them. As an introvert, parties are the exact opposite of what I like. For group settings, I appreciate one on one gatherings or getting together with a very small number of people. Maybe some of you are like me, total introverts who know what I’m talking about. Maybe some of you are the opposite, maybe you are an extrovert, a people person, or the life of the party. Maybe you are somewhere in between. I don’t know. So how can we, as introverts, extroverts, and middleverts, if you will,  think together about the RTCC habit “throw a party once a month”?

   Well, we have to remember that the point of the party is really spiritual in nature. We do it for God’s glory. We do it for the Gospel. The Gospel means everything. So many people need to hear the good news that Jesus died and rose again and with Him there is abundant forgiveness to those who place their faith in Him alone. Normally, we don’t have conversations like that off the bat or with people we don’t know well; you are most likely going to share the Gospel with people you know, people you have a relationship with. 

   That’s why building relationships is so important. That’s why we have “parties”. These “parties” provide a place for conversations. They create safe spaces that foster a relaxed environment where people can speak freely about their life, their triumphs and their hurts. So really, these “parties” can show people that you truly care about them. Once relationships are built, these “parties” give you opportunities to share about Jesus and the Gospel or to move up one conversational gear with unbelievers. Also, they create time to fellowship about spiritual things with other believers. 

   These parties can be large group gatherings or they can be as simple as you meeting with someone one on one. There is no fixed mold. Do something you love to do.  But, remember we need to be intentional about this. Put something on your calendar. Schedule a “party” before life pulls you a million different ways. Keep in mind one last thing: don’t lose sight of God in the process. Don’t have a party just to have a party. Have a party with a purpose. Have a party for His glory. 


The Graveyard of Sin


  If a pastor preached in a graveyard, what would happen? What? What kind of a question is that, you may be thinking. But seriously think…what would happen if a pastor preached the Gospel in a graveyard? The obvious answer is nothing. Dead people cannot do anything, so they could not respond to a sermon. Again, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with anything. I merely want to use this common analogy to describe the state of our own souls before Christ comes in and rescues us from our spiritual deadness. Because when we understand the depth of our depravity can we explode in worship for the gift of salvation and regeneration.

   Throughout the Bible, we get a pretty clear picture of our total moral depravity. Psalm 51:5 reminds us that we are sinful at birth: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Paul, speaking to believers, illustrates in Titus 3:3 the Christian life before Christ: For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Romans 3:11-12 describes our unrighteousness and our refusal to seek God: 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. I believe Ephesians 2:1-3 sums all of this up well: And you were dead in the trepasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

   Those Scripture passages provide a good summary of the picture the Bible paints of the unsaved soul. So we may be physically alive, breathing and moving, but in regards to spiritual things and the things of God, we are dead and unresponsive. In our natural state, we don’t seek God; in fact, we run away from Him and His perfection. Our unregenerate heart does not love God; it does not want God. The unsaved soul does not, indeed cannot, delight in God’s holiness; the mind is set on the flesh and does not submit to God and His ways. Theologians use the word total depravity to describe how this sinfulness and falleness affects every aspect of human life. Now, a person will not commit every wicked thing under the sun or sin as much as they possibly could. Total depravity rather means that ever since the fall in the garden our human nature is completely and totally against God. After Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, humans are incapable of not sinning. Our natural bent is to do that which does not please God.

   Wow, that’s a very hopeless picture. But understanding the seriousness of our spiritual disease should make us run to our great physician. Jesus’ death on the cross and his sovereign saving grace is our only hope of coming to God because we don’t want God…we don’t seek after Him…we are children of His wrath. How does God rescue us from this and change our desires? 

   It is God’s sovereign grace alone that saves us from our sinful state. He takes our unresponsive heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh that loves Him. He mercifully regenerates us and gives us faith in Jesus. So, our morally hard hearts, darkened by sin, through the grace of God, become alive in respect to the things of God. This is good news because we do not deserve it and can do absolutely nothing to earn this gift. It is by this sovereign grace that we are saved through faith. He regenerates our dead hearts. Regeneration is a monergistic work, which basically means it is all God’s doing; it’s all His initiative. His regenerative grace is given freely with no mixture of human merit. Isn’t that amazing! And that’s just skimming the surface of everything God gives us through salvation! He has eternally loved us and chosen us so that we are no longer children of wrath but rather his own children. 

   I hope we can see how amazing this transformation is! Our sin requires a Savior. And Jesus through His death on the cross serves as God’s life changing, saving instrument. He takes us from our graveyard of sin and gives us everlasting life. Doesn’t this cause your heart to explode in worship! When we hear sermons and hear the Gospel we can respond with rejoicing because we have been forever changed by our omnipotent God. 


The King is on His Throne


“God is on the throne. No one is kicking Him off. And you can trust Him.” This is something I heard my theology professor say multiple times. And what an encouraging phrase it is! Jesus is in control and we can rest in His sovereignty. But, I know we live in a challenging time and it is hard to put that truth into practice. Sadly, we are tempted to seek encouragement and comfort from many sources. But, when we hear about God’s wonderful nature and His incredible power and immerse ourselves in Biblical truth, we find the encouragement we need. 

    Revelation 1:4-8 says: John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

   In the Bible, John, through the Holy Spirit, begins his words in the book of Revelation by encouraging believers not to succumb to fear in the midst of the challenges and hardships they were facing. And what encourages the soul more than turning our gaze upon God and learning about His character. Who God is and what He has accomplished on our behalf helps to give us a redirected perspective from our problems to the Lamb who has overcome. 

     So, John starts out his letter by greeting his recipients, the seven churches of Asia. Mentioning seven churches is symbolic; the number seven is really a way to indicate completeness, wholeness, and perfection. So, all churches, all believers throughout history benefit from this encouraging message. Then, John turns His attention to God’s nature, and in doing so proclaims the saving work of the Trinity. He starts with God the Father, the God who is and who was and who is to come. This statement reminds us that God is eternal. He rules over all of time, past, present, and future. Nothing is outside His realm. He is not bound by time or history; He is sovereign over all of time and history and human activity. After mentioning the Father, John turns to mention the Holy Spirit. He mentions the seven spirits before God’s throne, which again is his symbolic way of referring to the Holy Spirit. Here, John emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s glorious perfection. 

   John’s words then point to the Son, Jesus. He places a great deal of emphasis on Jesus and what He has done for believers. As a faithful witness, He preached God’s message and proclaimed His truth faithfully throughout His earthly life, remaining faithful to death.  John also mentions Jesus’ preeminence. Jesus is preeminent over every being. He is the firstborn of the dead. He is the One who has the authority and power to save those who believe in Him. He is our mighty Savior. John continues this theme by reminding us of Jesus’ power and love demonstrated on the cross. He showed us His love by removing our sin and freeing us from sins’ bondage, giving the ultimate sacrifice of His life by dying on the cross. And notice the word order here. It starts with God’s love. God’s love, like His being, is eternal. He loved us before the creation of the world, before there was time and space and matter. This changes the trajectory of our lives forever and ensures our future with God in Heaven. And through His power and saving work, Jesus makes believers priests. Priests have access to God, which allows them to offer sacrifices in His presence and give God all worship and glory and dominion. 

   John then shifts his focus to Jesus’ second coming. This promise is so amazing! Jesus will come to earth again, completely vanquish evil, consummate salvation, bring about the fullness of His kingdom, and restore all of creation. This will be a joyous, happy reality of those all over the world who have believed in Jesus. But for all who rejected His name and hated Him now wail and cry in fear as they behold King Jesus. Nothing will stop his event. In verse 8, John closes by referring once again to God’ eternality: He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega over all things. He is almighty: completely supreme in power over everything, which erases the need to be fearful.

   What encouragement can we take away from this? By remembering God’s nature, we are encouraged not to fear or worry about the unknown things in our life or the crazy things happening in the world. God knows all of our moments and will perfectly carry out His good and loving plan in our lives. Second, Jesus’ faithfulness serves as a good reminder to us today, to stay true to the Gospel in all situations. Also, God is holy and perfect, very much unlike us. So, we can be thankful for Jesus shedding His blood and atoning for our sins. We can be thankful that the all knowing, all powerful, triune God made a way to bring restoration to this broken world and to our fallen, sinful souls. Also, while it is very true that God deserves our worship because of the things He has done for us, God warrants worship simply because of who He is. He is the almighty, faithful, triune, loving, perfect, holy, eternal, glorious King of the universe. So, let us be encouraged that: God is outside of time. God is all powerful. And we have every reason to trust Him.


Always Choose Joy

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

No doubt these are favorite Bible verses of many. In fact they are often popular go tos on Christian t-shirts and coffee mugs. That is all well and good but it is important that we  simply not stop thinking of these verses as a quick “feel good” message. Paul, through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words to the Thessalonian church to convey a specific message. Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time on one of his missionary journeys but, due to persecution, was forced to leave the city earlier than planned. Later, he wrote a letter to the church to help fix a few theological misunderstandings about Jesus’ second coming. He wrote to encourage the Christians to continue in the good work they were doing as well. Toward the end of his letter, Paul encourages the people of the church to continue in their godly behavior in three areas: loving one another, building each other up and seeking to do good to everyone. Then, Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Let’s take a look at what this means for us today.

Rejoice always. First, this reminds us that our joy is not circumstantial. At the root, our joy comes from God. No matter what we face or what circumstances we experience, we can have joy in God. We can rejoice in who He is. We can rejoice in the blessing of salvation. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. To paraphrase Dr. John Greever, grumpiness is not a spiritual virtue. However, sometimes things can make us sad; sometimes joy is a process. As Psalm 30 reminds us, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Sadness is a real emotion and we should not feel like failures when we experience that emotion. As Christians we can feel sadness over our ongoing sin. Also, anxiety, fear of the future, and health scares can all trouble our souls. So, we may experience a nighttime of sadness but gradually God can move in our hearts and bring us to a place of joy. Our joy in the present is rooted in knowing that God works all things for good for those who love Him. Our joy in the present grows as we commune more and more with God, and focus on who He is. Also, our joy can come as we look forward to our eternal joy with God in Heaven. So, even in this life, our eternal, constant, true joy is rooted in God.Our circumstances will always change, but God is unchangeable and God is always good, whether we see or understand His ways or not. 

Pray without ceasing. Spending time with God in prayer is a continual activity. Prayer implies that our hearts and minds are occupied and satisfied with God. In prayer, we engage in loving fellowship with our heavenly Father. Prayer is not something we should do exclusively before we eat or before we go to sleep. We should be communicating with God throughout our day. We should have a prayer-ward bent in our hearts. Before we undertake any activity, before we think, before we speak etc. we should say Lord help me, Lord empower me, Lord be with me in this. All of our daily tasks, no matter how small or time consuming or repetitive or frustrating, we can bring God into the moment. Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God. Honestly, can we think of one area of life where we don’t need Him? 

Give thanks in all circumstances. Notice what this verse does not say. It does not say give thanks FOR all circumstances, it says give thanks IN all circumstances. That’s a big difference. We may not be thankful for all circumstances. Some circumstances are not good. But we can be thankful in all circumstances. Like we have seen earlier in this passage, we can thank God for the blessings He gives us everyday. He gives us countless spiritual blessings. He gives us many temporal earthly blessings as well. We can thank Him for the situations He prevents. We can thank Him for His beautiful creation. We can thank Him for the people we love. We can thank Him for every breath and heartbeat. We can thank Him for things in the past, as we look back and see God’s sovereign hand graciously guiding us. We can see past challenges as ways God used to get us to joyful places. We can look to the future and thank God knowing that He is working out a perfect plan for us.We can also look to the future and think about the joys of Heaven. So, IN all things, we can give thanks to our loving Heavenly Father.

It would take a pretty big coffee mug to truly capture Paul”s message in this passage. However, Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians how prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving are connected. The more we pray and focus on God, the more we can rejoice in how amazing God is. And the more we pray and rejoice, the more thankful we become. Maybe we face persecution or trials or maybe life is carefree; but no matter what, we always have a reason to rejoice, pray and be thankful.