Tim Challies

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right man, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

I enjoy a good war movie every now and again. I’m not talking about the senselessly violent ones that exist only to find new and creative ways of showing splatter and gore, but the realistic, or at least mostly realistic ones. There is something useful about those movies, I think, and something helpful about seeing war for what it really is, provided that the point is not glamorizing violence or brutality, but exposing us to the reality and the horror of human depravity along with the redemption that can be found in the midst of it.

Some of my favorite movies are the ones that show a remarkable feature of certain armies, and perhaps especially the American military: the resolution that no matter the circumstances, every soldier will be accounted for.

Many armies devalue human life, and devalue their own soldiers, by caring more for the group than for individuals, more for the army than for the soldiers. They will leave their soldiers in captivity, or allow their bodies to remain on the field. But the American military, and others like it, promise this: No man left behind. Whether you are alive or dead, your army will do all it can to ensure that you, or your remains, are accounted for. When you walk into battle, you do not need to fear that you will be abandoned, neglected, or forgotten. Your brothers-in-arms will fight for you, your superiors will battle on your behalf. They will risk their lives for yours. I can only imagine the comfort and security this brings as soldiers march toward the battlefield. After all, what could be more intimidating than the thought of being forever abandoned and forgotten?

On my flight to Australia they were showing Lone Survivor . I didn’t watch it all, but I have read the book and got the point of the film: one man had been left behind and U.S. military might was deployed to rescue him. (Spoiler warning!) The movie culminates in an American soldier busting into this man’s hiding place and assuring him that he is now safe, that he will not be left behind. The soldier, and the audience, then breathes a sigh of relief, knowing that he, too, is accounted for.

And as the credits rolled I found myself thinking about the church, another place where I hope no man is left behind (or no woman, or no child, for that). We should expect no less from ourselves.

If your church is sharing the gospel and reaching out into tough places and difficult situations, it seems likely that it has become involved in all manner of problems. Your church will attract people who struggle with every kind of sin and they will bring sin and addiction and heartbreak into the church with them. They will be vulnerable, they will sometimes sin in big and blatant ways, they may well wander off for a time. The temptation will be to allow people to fall by the wayside, to allow the wanderers to wander indefinitely, and to go on sharing the gospel despite so much attrition. Sometimes it is far easier to go about your convenient life than to risk your time, your attention, or your comfort for one of them. Months later you find yourself asking, “Whatever happened to…?” They are gone, and you barely noticed.

No man left behind. I think of Jesus and his great prayer as his life and earthly ministry drew to a close. He prayed to the Father to say about the people that had been entrusted to him, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost…” He knew his mission and he carried it to the very end. They could have wandered. By all rights they should have wandered and should have been lost. But he cared for them and he protected them to the end.

As Christians, we are charged with caring for one another—the shepherds first and every church member after them. It brings all manner of joy, comfort and security when we affirm, and when we insist, that we will not leave even one person behind. We will guard them, we will guide them, we will pursue them, we will pray for them, we will love them, we will pursue them to the very end. No man will be left behind.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day eighteen, which comes courtesy of a guest and friend: Dave Harvey.

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)

We hear it all the time, practice “protected sex”! But for the Christian man, protected sex means something much more significant and wonderful than birth control. Enjoying your wife sexually (and inviting her to enjoy you!) is a God-installed sentry for guarding your heart in the fight for purity. Think of it as one of your first lines of defense. God says, “because of the temptation to sexual immorality,” I’m giving you protection—it’s called your spouse. Rather than squandering your sexual desire in pornography and lust, fulfill it by having wonderful, God-honoring sex with your wife. Love her sacrificially and enjoy her often!

And to the unmarried man – “God’s divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), including the power to overcome “the temptation to sexual immorality.” You have not been left without ammunition in the fight! God’s divine power includes the grace to wait patiently for her arrival. Isn’t it just like God to create something we savor and then use it as a shield!

Lord, your ways are magnificent! You gave us marriage to display your character and your care. [For the married man: You gave me a bride so she could be well-loved. You gave me a wife because you care about my weakness. Help me, O God, to cherish this gift and enjoy it often, even today! Not simply because sex protects me, but because the purity of your people glorifies you.] [For the unmarried man: I may not understand why you have given me a sexual appetite without giving me a wife, but I do trust that your power has granted to me all I need for life and godliness. I trust that this includes the powerful to overcome the temptation to sexual immorality. So until the day I can enjoy sex with the wife you provide, I ask that I would be pure.] Amen!


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Todays devotional was prepared by Dave Harvey. Dave serves as Pastor of Preaching at Four Oaks Church in Tallahassee, Florida. He is the author of Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry, Rescuing Ambition, and When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage.

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, sermon number 2,027, “The sluggard's farm.”

“If you are slothful, friend, look over the field of your heart, and weep at the sight.” 

May I ask you to look into your own house and home? It is a dreadful thing when a man does not cultivate the field of his own family.

I recollect in my early days a man who used to walk out with me into the villages when I was preaching. I was glad of his company till I found out certain facts, and then I shook him off, and I believe he hooked on to somebody else, for he must needs be gadding abroad every evening of the week.

He had many children, and these grew up to be wicked young men and women, and the reason was that the father, while he would be at this meeting and that, never tried to bring his own children to the Saviour. What is the use of zeal abroad if there is neglect at home? How sad to say, “My own vineyard have I not kept.”

Have you never heard of one who said he did not teach his children the ways of God because he thought they were so young that it was very wrong to prejudice them, and he had rather leave them to choose their own religion when they grew older?

One of his boys broke his arm, and while the surgeon was setting it the boy was swearing all the time. “Ah,” said the good doctor, “I told you what would happen. You were afraid to prejudice your boy in the right way, but the devil had no such qualms; he has prejudiced him the other way, and pretty strongly too.”

It is our duty to prejudice our field in favour of corn, or it will soon be covered with thistles. Cultivate a child’s heart for good, or it will go wrong of itself, for it is already depraved by nature. Oh that we were wise enough to think of this, and leave no little one to become a prey to the destroyer.

 


The people and their leaders all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against him. They said, “We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxesto be paid to Caesar, setting himself up as Messiah-King.”Pilate asked him, “Is this true that you're ‘King of the Jews'?”

“Those are your words, not mine,” Jesus replied.

Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, “I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me.”

But they were vehement. “He's stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He's a dangerous man, endangering the peace.”

When Pilate heard that, he asked, “So, he's a Galilean?” Realizing that he properly came under Herod's jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days.

Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him, he'd heard so much about him. He hoped to see him do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn't answer–not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.

Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.

Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, “You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It's clear that he's done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I'm going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

But they kept shouting back, “Crucify! Crucify him!”

He tried a third time. “But for what crime? I've found nothing in him deserving death. I'm going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. Pilate caved in and gave them what they wanted. He released the man thrown in prison for rioting and murder, and gave them Jesus to do whatever they wanted.

As they led him off, they made Simon, a man from Cyrene who happened to be coming in from the countryside, carry the cross behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed, along with women weeping and carrying on. At one point Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don't cry for me. Cry for yourselves and for your children. The time is coming when they'll say, “Lucky the women who never conceived! Lucky the wombs that never gave birth! Lucky the breasts that never gave milk!' Then they'll start calling to the mountains, “Fall down on us!' calling to the hills, “Cover us up!' If people do these things to a live, green tree, can you imagine what they'll do with deadwood?”

Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.

When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.

Jesus prayed,

“Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing.”

Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let's see him save himself! The Messiah of God–ha! The Chosen–ha!”

The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: “So you're King of the Jews! Save yourself!”

Printed over him was a sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”

But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You're getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him–he did nothing to deserve this.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

He said, “Don't worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”

By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours– a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly,

“Father, I place my life in your hands!”

Then he breathed his last. When the centurion there saw what happened, he honored God: “This man was innocent! A good man, and innocent!”

All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, along with the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil.

There was a man by the name of Joseph, a member of the Jewish High Council, a man of good heart and good character. He had not gone along with the plans and actions of the council. His hometown was the Jewish village of Arimathea. He lived in alert expectation of the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Taking him down, he wrapped him in a linen shroud and placed him in a tomb chiseled into the rock, a tomb never yet used. It was the day before Sabbath, the Sabbath just about to begin.

The women who had been companions of Jesus from Galilee followed along. They saw the tomb where Jesus' body was placed. Then they went back to prepare burial spices and perfumes.

They rested quietly on the Sabbath, as commanded.

I suppose it has always been difficult to teach boys about sex. The trouble is that you need to begin those talks while they are still quite young—probably too young to handle the information with the maturity it deserves. This may be especially true today when pornography and other blatant sexuality is so prevalent that we have to address these things at younger and younger ages. Still, every parent does it and blunders through it one way or another.

I sometimes read a magazine called The Walrus. It is a Canadian magazine that exists on the left—just about as far left as you can go, I think. Still, it features some skilled writers and presents a perspective that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to, so I rather enjoy reading it. In the current issue there is a column called “The Talk” that discusses teaching boys about sex. I realized as I read it that the way I have been teaching my children about sex and gender and sexuality is very, very different from the way society around us would teach them if given the opportunity. We use similar terms, but mean very different things by them. As a Christian, and as a Christian parent, I found it very helpful to have this alternative view so clearly laid out.

The article begins in a ninth-grade classroom on the far side of the country where an organization called WiseGuyz is leading an opt-in sexual education class. The article explains that these teachers face the “radical act of teaching them to question all they have been told about what it means to be a man.” Men from the organization are teaching boys about sex and sexuality and, not surprisingly, the boys are responding with confusion and wisecracks. One of the instructors has just spoken about intersexuality, being born with a combination of male and female physical characteristics.

A few boys nod, but the rest look baffled. Stafford Perry, another facilitator, speaks up. “It helps if you understand that for many people, gender is not just two possibilities but many,” he says. “Being a man or a woman exists on a scale, so it’s not either/or. You don’t have to be one or the other.”

This is key. Much of what used to be considered binary now exists on a scale. When I was a child I was taught that sex and gender are binary—you are male or female, and your gender identity and gender expression will accord with it. There may have been some small scales—with tomboy to princess representing different scales of femininity and rough-and-tumble to sensitive representing different scales of masculinity—but the categories were clear: You were a boy or a girl and if you were a boy you were expected to behave like a boy and if you were a girl you were expected to behave like a girl. Today, though, children are taught that every aspect of sexuality exists on a scale with no either/or. They are taught that this is the normal and natural state of humanity.

The instructor then takes a whiteboard and draws a figure shaped like a gingerbread man. This gingerbread man has a smiley face, a heart, and a starburst at the crotch. And he uses this figure to teach some important lessons—some important terminology.

The head refers to gender identity. This is the way you define yourself, either as a man or a woman, or as something between the two. I presume the fact that this accords with the head shows that it is something you can think about and determine for yourself.

The heart stands for sexual orientation—your attractions which can be for men, for women, for both, or for something in between. Because it is the heart, I assume this is something you feel and know more than it is something you think about and decide.

The starburst covering the crotch accords with sex, your physical characteristics. We are all born a certain sex, but this, too, is adaptable with modern techniques, and may shift and change throughout life.

Finally, the external shape of the figure points to gender expression, the outward choices you make—the clothes you wear, the tone of your voice, the way you walk, and so on. This, too, is meant to be personalized and may often shift.

Each of these things, too, is on a scale, and each of them can be mixed and matched. Your gender identity may tend toward male, your sexual orientation toward gay, your sex female and your gender expression hyper-masculine. The possibilities are absolutely limitless. We can custom-craft ourselves to our heart’s content. What I find particularly interesting is that so little is said about the actual sexual act. The sexual act must then be an individualized expression of all of these, but with no greater meaning or no greater significance.

They apply no morality to any of this, beyond the gross immorality of judgement and the intrinsic good of tolerance and autonomy. I look to the Bible as my standard, my foundation, and look there for the meaning, the significance, and the purpose that holds it all together. And this, I think, is where what I teach my children is so very different from what WiseGuyz and others are teaching: Their standard is intrinsic, what they desire and feel and believe. My standard is extrinsic, what God desires and what God commands. Our authority is as different as different can be, and, therefore, so too is what we believe and what we teach. We are worlds apart.

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, sermon number 2,031, “David dancing before the Ark because of his election.”

“A sense of electing love will render you base in your own sight.”

I cannot exalt myself, nor talk of my works, my prayers, my desires, my seeking of the Lord, or anything that is my own; for my salvation was all of grace, and the Lord wrought all my works in me. The doctrine of distinguishing grace sinks us, and our experience in connection with it sinks
us; we cannot lie low enough before the Lord.

David’s high position must have made him feel lowly when he knew to whom he owed it all. When a man prospers little by little he may become used to it and grow proud; but when the Lord heaps on his bounties, we become like Peter’s boat, which was so filled with fish that it began to sink.

Well may we be humbled by the great mercies of the Lord. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” A little while ago we were heirs of wrath even as others. How could the Lord adopt such poor creatures? I cannot make it out.

I that once loved sin am now made to hate it. I that was a stranger to God and to his service, am enriched with access to the throne of God. I that was without strength have now grace to do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me. Oh the greatness, the unspeakable greatness of almighty love!

Brothers and sisters, if this does not humble you, then you are not really believers. If you have really obtained the mercies of the covenant through the Lord’s gracious choice of you, the knowledge of this fact will lay you low and keep you there, your cry will be, “Why me, Lord; why me?”

I once had a dear friend, a man of God who is now in heaven, a clergyman of the Church of England, his name was Curme, and he used, with a pleasant smile, to divide his name into two syllables, and say—Cur me, which in the Latin signifies, “Why me?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice,
And enter while there’s room;
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

All the while David had a deep sense of his personal unworthiness. He did not know his own heart fully—no man does so. But he knew enough of himself to make him base in his own sight; for he could never think himself worthy of the choice of God, and all that it involved.

Our heart adores and wonders as we think of the election of God. As we rise in the assurance of the divine choice, we sink in our valuation of ourselves.