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The Christian Mindset: Proverbs 3 Study

November 24, 2020 Leave a comment

When Christians think of the term ‘worldview’ or ‘mindset,’ it’s common to associate this with the objective truths of the gospel, of a set of Christian truths and their application — possibly encompassing apologetics, a Christian “worldview” conference, or a church class on the errors of CRT or other false teachings infiltrating the evangelical church.  But there is another way to think of this, not in terms of the objective, external doctrines of Scripture, but the inner life, the “orthopraxy” that is manifested outwardly from the inner heart attitude, the fruit of biblical wisdom. 

The general, national evangelical scene of recent years, and the trials that the country and world have faced, have revealed a disconnect, with widespread shallow thinking and lack of discernment among many in professing Christendom. In response to this, the current local church recently taught a 12-part Wednesday night series on “The Christian Mindset.”: a study in Proverbs 3:1-12 and its five key teachings, as a helpful study to improve one’s biblical focus and discernment.

These 12 verses in Proverbs 3 start with an introduction (verses 1-2), the setting of Solomon teaching his son, imploring his son to remember his father’s teaching, for the benefit of keeping his commandments:  long life and peace.  Then, verses 3 through 12 come in five sets, or stanzas, key ideas, such that this scripture passage can be seen as a meta-narrative on the Christian life.

  • REMEMBER God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 3-4)
  • Trust in the LORD, acknowledge God (verses 5-6)
  • Humility:  Fear the LORD, turn from evil, do not be wise in your own eyes (verses 7-8)
  • Honor the LORD with your wealth (verses 9-10)
  • “Kiss the rod” and submit to the LORD’s chastening and pruning (verses 11-12)

Several lessons emphasized the foundation, the significance and importance of remembering God’s great steadfast love (Hesed) and Faithfulness (Emet) to us.  These terms appear in scripture, and frequently together, throughout the Old Testament.  Hesed, which translates to seven different English words including the words mercy and steadfast love, occurs about 250 times total and over 100 times in the Psalms.  God’s love is also compared to a rock — rock-like stability and protection to His people — such as in Deuteronomy 32:4.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Love, Ahove, is the term that describes sentimental love, from one person to another, also referring to the human love of things, such as Esau’s food that Isaac loved.  Yet steadfast love is a different word with a much deeper and stronger meaning.  

Other Old Testament texts expand the picture of what is taught in Proverbs 3:3-4, such as the importance of remembering what God has done, as shown in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  The Israelites were to rehearse before the priest their history and what God had done for them. and to praise God for His goodness and the bounty that God has given—the land flowing with milk and honey. 

The next two verses (5-6) about trusting in the LORD:  additional verses include Isaiah 12:2, Psalm 112:7, and Psalm 125; Those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion, which cannot be moved.  The study here also referenced John Piper’s “Future Grace” teaching:  gratitude works for past events, but “malfunctions” as a motivator for the future.  Thus, our primary motivation for living Christian life, is confidence in future grace.  Cross-reference also James 4:13-16, “if the Lord wills,” along with “lean not on your own understanding.”

Verses 7 and 8 , on humility: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less. There is a proper fear of the LORD, and even a proper dread (see Isaiah 8:13), as we are to fear God, the one who has power to throw both body and soul into hell.

Then comes the part about money and stewardship, verses 9-10:  honor the LORD with your money.  It’s not a particular quantity or percentage, but the heart attitude and sacrificial giving.  Again, Proverbs 3 is supplemented with many other scripture texts:  1 Timothy 6 about the love of money, Jesus’ words that we cannot serve two masters.  It’s about honoring the LORD in this way, and here we can also reference 1 Samuel 2:30, the LORD’s words to Eli the priest:   for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

The fifth, last stanza is the topic of discipline, also referred to as discipline, chastening, or pruning, a topic I recently explored in this recent post, a look at a Charles Spurgeon devotional and Hebrews 12:7-8.  This truth is likewise addressed in many places, including here in the Proverbs 3 “summary statement.”

The full “hymn” here in Proverbs 3 is a great summary of these five key emphases that we should all aim at in our daily Christian walk, as the Christian mindset.

Transgenderism, and Christian Resources

December 30, 2019 3 comments

Fred Butler at the Hip and Thigh blog recently shared a link to a set of recent messages from Don Green, done at his church on the topic of Transgenderism.  The full set of audio files as well as transcripts are available at this link.  It’s an informative set of seven lectures on this topic, dealing with worldview issues, scripture, and the medical news.

As several others have noted, the ‘next stage’ of cultural decline, transgenderism, has become prominent in the national news in just the last few years, accelerating quickly to the point where it’s even impacting women’s sports.  Another recent resource I’ve appreciated is the Mortification of Spin’s recent podcast on this issue.

Though transgenderism has come to the national level recently, as many probably realize it has been building up for many years.  Don Green’s first lecture notes the overall ‘macro level’ historic trends, from the enlightenment era through modernism and post-modernism.  At another point he mentions the people with signs about ‘break the binary’.  Reference also this previous post, from Dr. Peter Jones’ conference lectures (at the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology) on binary thinking versus paganism (and paganism’s connections to homosexuality and transgenderism).

I recall the late S. Lewis Johnson, in the early 1980s, commenting on what was then showing up in society, the early days of homosexuality being openly discussed.  He noted that many people (at that time) were saying that judgment must soon be coming because of this; no, he said, the fact that we’re seeing this—this itself IS the judgment.  Romans 1 describes the progression from bad to worse, and God’s removal of the restraints when people continue down this path.  Almost 40 years later, we are seeing the further downward spiral of the culture.

Related specifically to transgenderism, in the mid-1980s I saw the college Sociology textbooks that praised the then apparently successful “John/Joan” case of gender reassignment, a story that turned out quite differently from what was then being promoted; this link is one of several articles regarding the aftermath of that experiment, and the sad ending to that young man’s life.

The 2011 news story about the couple raising “Baby Storm” as a gender-neutral child (reference this article and this one) mentioned the couple’s inspiration for their parenting method– a book published in 1978 with that very theme of a child named “X” and how the child was raised without anyone knowing its gender (with a very positive ending to the story).  This brought back my elementary-school memories; a short-story version of what would later become that 1978 published book, was read to my 5th grade public school class in the mid-1970s.

I also came across a young cross-dresser, and one adult “transgendered woman” (born a man) in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Denver area.  So, as noted, the transgender issue has been there for many decades now, gradually building, but now suddenly gaining great prominence in the national news.  It is sad to see the trend continue to the point it has, but it is good to see more resources becoming available, to address the issue from the Christian worldview.

Ecclesiastes, The Crook in the Lot, and Vexation (Dr. Philip Ryken Series)

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Following up on this previous post, here is a good study series on the book of Ecclesiastes:  Dr. Philip Ryken’s 26-part Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals).  The study also exists in book form (and Kindle $9.99).

In this great study for Christian living, the great contrast is between life “under the sun” and the higher, Christian reality, how to live in this fallen world in light of the gospel message of the Bible.  Ryken often references other commentators, including the “cynical view” taken by some, while showing the realistic and positive perspective that the author (Solomon) likely intended, the biblical-focused view of verses that can at first glance be thought of in a more negative way.

Especially interesting ‘food for thought’:  Ecclesiastes 7:13, “Consider the work of God:  who can make straight what he has made crooked?” and the lecture “The Crook in the Lot.” Ryken here expands from his study of Puritan (early 18th century) Thomas Boston and his exposition of this verse in The Crook in the Lot; Boston’s work is available in e-book format as well as MP3 audio format from Monergism.  The Crook in the Lot is whatever trouble, whatever suffering and tribulation, that God has decreed for each of us individually to experience.  From Boston:

“Consider the work of God,” namely, in the crooked, rough, and disagreeable parts of your lot, the crosses you find in it. You see very well the cross itself. Yea, you turn it over and over in your mind and leisurely view it on all sides. You look to this and the other second cause of it, and so you are in a foam and a fret. But, would you be quieted and satisfied in the matter, lift up your eyes towards heaven, see the doing of God in it, the operation of His hand. Look at that, and consider it well; eye the first cause of the crook in your lot; behold how it is the work of God, His doing.

Another interesting part is Ecclesiastes 11:10, Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.  The verse here is directly addressed to young people (referencing those in their youth) yet applicable at all stages of life.  It also relates to both physical as well as mental health.  How can we live wisely, in ways that increase our overall well-being?    Remove vexation – stress, anxiety, negative emotions, and look to God who provides for us.  Ryken mentions a few practical things for Christian living, such as healthy eating, rest, and prayer.  Here also I consider Brad Hambrick’s 50 Good Mental Health Habits, which includes these and many more points, good to print out and keep around to refer to on a regular basis.

Ryken’s teaching on Ecclesiastes is a great Christian living series, relating this wisdom book Ecclesiastes, to how we live in everyday life.  This study considers the verses in Ecclesiastes and their depth of meaning (beyond the superficial worldly life, to speak to the real difficulties in this life) as well as in relation to other scriptures of the Old and New Testament –in verses that teach the same truth as well as the contrast (living “under the sun” versus “set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2).  The content in Ecclesiastes is part of the whole Bible, relating to other parts which uphold the unity of scripture—not some outside “Old Testament” thing irrelevant to us in our age.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life (2018 Release)

May 31, 2018 2 comments

The topic of Charles Spurgeon — books published by him, and about him — continues to hold great interest, from the renewed interest begun in the second half of the 20th century and increased especially in our day via the Internet.  The distant future (from Spurgeon’s day) has arrived, and it has vindicated Spurgeon:

I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years,” Spurgeon said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Crossway’s “Theologians on the Christian Life” series includes an offering, published this spring (2018), about Spurgeon’s theology:  Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ — a book I received from a free book giveaway (from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; Meet the Puritans blog).  With a series preface by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor, this book considers Spurgeon as a theologian.  True, Spurgeon is known best as a preacher, with great evangelistic zeal and pastoral concern; he never wrote a systematic theology, and shunned speculation and peripheral matters.  Yet for all that, his many writings cover theology in its many aspects and its relevance and application to Christian living.

… Spurgeon was, quite self-consciously, a theologian.  Avid in his biblical, theological, and linguistic study, he believed that every preacher should be a theologian, because it is only robust and meaty theology that has nutritional value to feed and grow robust Christians and robust churches. … That combination of concerns, for theological depth with plainness of speech, made Spurgeon a preeminently pastorally minded theologian.  He wanted to be both faithful to God and understood by people.  That, surely, is a healthy and Christlike perspective for any theologian.

After a basic overview of Spurgeon’s character and personality (biographies have already been done on Spurgeon’s life), the focus soon comes to actual points of theology (on the Christian life), and Spurgeon’s views are described with numerous quotes from him, making this book also a great source for Spurgeon quotes on various doctrinal topics.    Spurgeon’s theology is presented in three parts: Christ the Center (the Bible; Puritanism, Calvinism; Preaching), the New Birth, and the New Life.  These sections include chapters on topics including the new birth and baptism, sin and grace, the Holy Spirit and sanctification, prayer, pilgrim army (the Christian as a soldier), suffering and depression, and final glory.

Much of the material was already familiar to me, from my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last several years (starting in volume 1, 1855, and now I’m currently in the 1868 volume) – presented in summary fashion rather than a complete exhaustive concordance of everything Spurgeon said on every topic.  Spurgeon’s textual preaching style is also well described.

Among the interesting points brought out — from previous sermons I had come across Spurgeon’s variation on trichotomy: that the believer has a soul, spirit and body, contrasted with the unbeliever having only two parts, soul and body.  Spurgeon on the Christian Life adds that Spurgeon’s view here, a unique one, is similar (probably unintentionally so) to that of Irenaeus of Lyon; Michael Reeves also briefly deals with the actual theology, noting the problem with Spurgeon’s idea here:

Yet, in order to underline human inability and God’s grace, he [Spurgeon] also developed a more peculiar opinion with greater similarities (almost certainly wholly unintended) to the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons.  As Spurgeon saw it, man naturally consists only of a body and soul, but when he is regenerated, there is created in him a third and wholly new nature: the spirit.  This is a higher nature, beyond anything in creation; it is a supernatural, heavenly, and immortal nature… Such a spiritual nature must be the gift of God.  Yet is this redemption?… To be sure, we gain more in Christ than ever we lost in Adam, but Spurgeon seems to overstate his case here, temporarily losing something of the restorative and reconciliatory aspects of salvation.

I especially appreciated the chapter on Spurgeon and “Suffering and Depression,” a feature of Spurgeon that has often been observed and discussed (reference, for example, this recent post and also this post).  This chapter includes a good summary of Spurgeon’s personal suffering, his seeking to understand theologically the reasons for his suffering —  along with explanation of the reasons for suffering, replete with many excellent Spurgeon quotes about suffering, including this selection (from sermon #692):

In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing. “Ah!” says one, “but suppose you have fallen into some great sin—what then?” Why then the more reason that you should cast yourself upon Him. Do you think Jesus Christ is only for little sinners? Is He a doctor who only heals finger-aches? Beloved, it is not faith to trust Christ when I have no sin, but it is true faith when I am foul, and black, and filthy; when during the day I have tripped up and fallen, and done serious damage to my joy and peace—to go back again to that dear fountain and say, “Lord, I never loved washing as much before as I do tonight, for today I have made a fool of myself; I have said and done what I ought not to have done, and I am ashamed and full of confusion, but I believe Christ can save me, even me, and by His grace I will rest in Him still.

The last chapter, “Final Glory,” touches on Spurgeon’s eschatological views, correctly noting that Spurgeon held to historic premillennialism and that he did not value the time spent on speculative matters of prophecy.  Here I would only add, from my observations of actual Spurgeon sermons, that Spurgeon did not consider premillennialism itself to be a matter of speculation.  It was his frequent practice (within the textual style sermon) to first speak to the literal, plain meaning of a text before turning aside to his own exploration of the words of a text.  So here, too, Spurgeon’s sermon introductions — to texts such as Revelation 20, and Old Testament prophecies about the regathering of national Israel — included very strong affirmations of his beliefs: a future millennial age, Christ’s premillennial return, and a regathering of national, ethnic Israel, to be saved at the time of Christ’s return.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life is another great addition to the collection of material about Charles Spurgeon, a good reference for quotes from Spurgeon as well as to showcase Spurgeon’s theology on Christian living.

Christian Living and ‘Self-Help’ Reading

March 6, 2018 2 comments

Over the last year and a half, my reading journey, and especially in the yearly Challies Reading Challenge, has included several books in the category of Christian living, and specifically the area of counseling and what could be called ‘Christian self-help.’ Beginning with Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic work, Spiritual Depression and a David Murray conference series, additional lectures, articles and books have explained and expanded on the topic: the Christian identity, and proper handling of our emotions and dealing with the trials of life.

Recent books in my Challies’ Reading Challenge include Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker,  Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a past free offer from ChristianAudio), and Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Ed Welch.  Some recent helpful online articles include these:
• From TableTalk Magazine February issue, Who Defines Your Joy?
10 types of thinking that undergird depression-anxiety
In defense (somewhat) of self-help

Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You looks to the underlying heart issues behind phone use, including our tendency to distraction, and our need to feel accepted and to be part of the “in” crowd and not left behind. Though the main point has to do with the current technology (smart phones), the broader issue is how we use technology. Technology itself is not bad, and has been around since the early chapters of the Bible. Also, distraction is a tendency of our fallen nature, regardless of time and technology, as seen in the story of Mary and Martha, and Martha’s being distracted with the work of serving. Distraction is a way to avoid quiet and silence, the time needed to think about our soul and eternity, time to spend with God, for deep meditation.

Running Scared also provides good insights, to what is really behind our fears. What we’re afraid of reveals what we hold dear, such as money and what it provides, or fear of man (desire to not be persecuted; to be liked and loved). Such fears show that we are seeking this world and kingdom, not God’s kingdom. Welch points to the root behind many fears, and notes the answer; logical reasoning, or simply not thinking about the fear, does not really work. Instead, we replace the fears by focusing on what is more important—the fear of the Lord:

They [fears and anxieties] topple from their lofty perch and are replaced by what is more important. Whatever is most important is the thing that rules us. …You treat worries by pursuing what is even more important. Fear still reveals our allegiances, this time in a positive way. If we have a mature fear of the Lord, it means that we value and revere Him above all else. That’s how we fight fear with fear.

Regarding the transformation needed, to rely on the God of Rest:

Your task is not to transform into a superficial, sunny optimist. It is to grow to be an optimist by faith…. As for me, I want to watch and endure, not worry. I want to be like the night watchmen who are waiting to see first light. God is the God of suspense, but it is a suspense that teaches us peace. He is the God of surprises, but the surprises are always better than we could have dreamed. I can’t put Him in a box and assume that He should act according to my time schedule and according to my less sophisticated version of what is good. I need the mind of Christ. I can do with nothing less.

Wisdom often mentioned in these books, to continually remember—especially in response to the world’s way of reasoning: the Christian life is not about results, about seeing and achieving (what we think is) the right outcome.  The Christian life is about being faithful to God in the situation He has put each of us in; God is the one who determines the outcome. David Murray’s lectures about the LER (legitimate emotional response) versus SER (sinful emotional response) expand on this as well, explaining the importance of how we respond to disappointing life events.

These books (and articles) are helpful, providing good reminders along with great Bible application (such as from the lives of Bible characters) for dealing with the trials and discouragements of daily life.  My 2018 Challies Reading list includes two more books that should also prove interesting:  Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, by Bob Kellemen, and Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community, by David Powlison, both oft-recommended Reformed Biblical counseling authors.

Challies’ 2018 Reading Challenge: Autobiography (Steven Curtis Chapman)

January 30, 2018 4 comments

In my ongoing Challies’ 2018 Reading Challenge, I’ve enjoyed some “freebies” and sale books, including ChristianAudio.com’s free monthly audio book deal, which has offered several good books, including two I read last year–Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word and Steven Lawson’s The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones (reference this blog post).

One recent free Christian Audio monthly offers, Steven Curtis Chapman’s autobiography – Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story – is well-written and quite interesting.  In my early Christian years I bought a few of his albums, and saw him in concert twice (in Denver, CO):  his first New Years Eve concert there, and then, two years later, a concert on the first Tuesday night in November, Presidential Election day 1992; we learned on the radio while driving home afterward, that Clinton had won the election.  Among the trivia from those years, I recall one time that he paused to tune his guitar; he remarked that his wife had said that Phil Keaggy tuned his guitar while he played, and that ‘I tried to explain to my wife that Phil Keaggy is not human.’  Some time later I also saw Phil Keaggy in concert, and noticed that, sure enough, Keaggy was adjusting the guitar tuning pegs while very animated, playing and jumping around on the stage.  In later years I did not follow CCM as much, though I recall the local church (Memphis area) youth group in ’96 doing a music program that included Chapman’s then-hit song ‘King of the Jungle.’  And I remember hearing in the news, almost ten years ago now, about the tragic accident in which his adopted 5 year old daughter was killed, hit by a vehicle driven by their teenage son.

Chapman’s autobiography is lengthy and detailed, almost 450 pages, yet reads well as an audio book (and rates close to 5.0 on Amazon user ratings).  It includes interesting history about the 1980s Christian music scene, the time I can relate to from my conversion in 1989 and the music CDs then available in the local Christian bookstore.  Over the years my theology and Christian music tastes have changed, such that I have come to prefer Michael Card, Steve Camp and other more Reformed music, and I probably would not have chosen to read this, but that it was a free Christian audio offering.  This book exceeded my expectations, and I have not regretted the time spent reading it.  Covering his full life since early childhood, Chapman’s auto-biography brings out and agrees with my recollections and impressions from his early concerts: basic evangelical Christianity and a love for Jesus, the importance of his family, and a tendency to self-righteousness.  He was saved at age eight, and was one of those people who get their act together (the Lord working in them since childhood) while young (thus a successful career), married with young children by his late twenties; it wasn’t exactly what us singles in our mid-to-late 20s could relate to, but we still enjoyed the music.  His autobiography includes interesting background related to some of the songs from those years; I liked the story where he performed “His Eyes” for others in the Nashville CCM group, and Michael Card gave him a standing ovation; Chapman as a young performer in the business appreciated that, noting Michael Card’s standing in the business as ‘a song craftsman.’

Chapman’s theology is general evangelical, non-Reformed, noted in his references to his friends and Christian-teacher influences.  One family conflict (from his early career and marriage days) he relates, soon turned into a heated argument—which ended when he suddenly shouted aloud to Satan, declaring to Satan that ‘you will not have my family’; a less mature response, as contrasted with the Christian growth and sanctification process, learning God’s preceptive will including how to resolved conflict viz Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker approach.

Where Between Heaven and the Real World gets more interesting, and more spiritually in-depth, is the later years–the full story concerning the family’s adoption of Chinese orphans, the details of the terrible accident, and the consequent effects of that great affliction.  As with all of us, great trial and affliction brought about the Christian growth and sanctification, the growth that God will accomplish in His ways in His people.  Through the grieving process and counseling, Chapman relates his new appreciation for the Psalms, with reference to some of the very same things I’ve learned through reading books and articles on the overall topic of spiritual depression and biblical counseling and coping with my own trials, including Psalm 13, and David’s talking to himself in Psalm 42, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?’; also the great need to study and work out one’s theology, expressing emotions to God instead of the stoical approach, and relying on God day by day through the emotional pain.

It is easy to be a Christian and love God when everything is going well in your life.  Chapman’s story, along with other biographies and autobiographies of believers, brings home the truth of our very different personalities and experiences, and that God perfectly measures out the particular trials and problems we will have, fitted to each of us individually.  Some people may have more relational problems early in life – resulting in other types of trial later in life.  Chapman did not have a perfect, ideal upbringing but overall a life with fewer difficulties, financial success, and a strong, close family life, with that family very important to him; thus the great God-ordained trial for him and the family, came in the tragic loss of one of the children, five year old Maria.

This book demonstrates the truth behind the Challies’ reading challenge, the value of reading a variety of different types of books.  I would not read Steven Curtis Chapman’s story for its theological value within the normal scope of ‘Reformed’ Christian reading, yet it is an interesting story to broaden the perspective of the lives of other Christians.

Random Thoughts: Michael Card, and Studying the Psalms

October 18, 2017 1 comment

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been listening a lot to Christian music artist Michael Card, years after my first acquaintance with his songs in the early 1990s.  The September 2006 Tabletalk issue (recently read from back-copies) included an article by Michael Card, and he has published book commentaries in addition to many songs.  Through youtube I have discovered many “new” songs (to me), from later years, including these songs now among my favorites:  Poem of your life, The Book, To the Overcomers, Starkindler, Morning Has Broken (Card’s recording in a Celtic music style, on the same album with Starkindler), The Promise, and The Edge.

Along with reading a Psalms commentary (“Be” series, Psalms 1-89), I am enjoying this sermon series done in 2016 (from Fred Pugh at Grace Covenant Church), which looks at Psalm 119 in some detail.  The 22 lessons include an introduction plus separate lessons on each of the 21 stanzas.  Particular themes and “key” verses stick out within each stanza, as with these:

  • verse 18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from Your law”
  • verse 25, “My soul cleaves to the dust” … verse 31, “I cling to Your testimonies” – how we are so drawn to the world and the things of this world, and the need to look up and above this world
  • verse 57, “The Lord is my portion”

Psalm 119 includes many themes addressed throughout the Psalms, such as trusting in God, delighting in God, and proper response to affliction.  Pugh often references previous commentaries including quotes from Charles Spurgeon, and mention of Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” (see this previous post).

Michael Card’s song “The Edge” also relates to the topic of Lloyd Jones’ work, with a verse that describes one type of depression – the Elijah experience:

I’ve found that as I’ve traveled
through the inscape of my land,
That mountaintops make valleys in-between.
And when that nameless sadness
Like a cloud comes over me
I look back on all the brightness I have seen.

Both the Psalm 119 study (this lesson, on verses 65-72; “before I was afflicted, I went astray”) and a Spurgeon sermon from my recent reading, reinforce another common theme: affliction and its role in the believer’s life, and as contrasted with the effect of affliction on unbelievers.  Spurgeon’s sermon #774 (now 150 years ago, October of 1867) well states that:

It is generally thought that our trials and troubles purge us: I am not sure of that; they certainly are lost upon some. Our Lord tells us what it is that prunes us. It is the word that prunes the Christian; it is the truth that purges him; the Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit, which effectually cleanses the Christian. “What then does affliction do?” you ask. Well, if I may say so, affliction is the handle of the knife; affliction is the grindstone that sharpens up the word; affliction is the dresser which removes our soft garments, and lays bare the diseased flesh, so that the surgeon’s lancet may get at it; affliction makes us ready to feel the word, but the true pruner is the word in the hand of the Great Husbandman. … you think more upon the word than you did before. In the next place, you see more the applicability of that word to yourself. In the third place, the Holy Spirit makes you feel more, the force of the word than you did before. Ask that affliction may be sanctified, Beloved, but always remember there is no more tendency in affliction in itself to sanctify us than there is in prosperity; in fact, the natural tendency of affliction is to make us rebel against God, which is quite opposite to sanctification. It is the word coming to us while in affliction that purges us.

Here again, as happens so often, the various materials I read or listen to often overlap in content, addressing similar scriptural themes.  Yet that is how real learning occurs: repeated exposure to the same biblical truths, presented in different ways, whether recent audio sermons, printed sermons or books.

Saved from Human Opinion, Decisions and Consequences, and the Christian Life

September 13, 2017 2 comments

From my studies this summer, including various sermons and readings, comes a common theme that relates to recent personal experience.  David Murray’s sermon Saved from Human Opinion really hit home in a convicting way.  Beyond the obvious intellectual understanding about how we are to please God and not man, comes the point that when we actually act in ways that are to please man (and it really doesn’t work; to please one person ends up causing problems with someone else), it reveals our own self-love: wanting to be more comfortable, wanting to avoid criticism or persecution from others, for instance.

Recent blog posts from David Murray have expanded on the remedy to this: the fear of God.  See this post (also this follow-up) which includes links to several resources including a book by Arnold Frank, and the nine-part sermon series behind the book; the sermon series is now on my list for future sermon series listening.

Along with this, I’ve been enjoying back-issues of Tabletalk magazine (thanks to the ‘cleaning house’ collection from a friend), and since 2006 was the same calendar year as 2017, each month I am going through the daily and weekend devotionals from the 2006 issues.  I especially like Tabletalk for its great content that provides both solid, rich Bible study plus great application to our daily lives.  The ones for early September also relate to this overall topic: the decisions we make and their consequences.  (Note: Tabletalk magazine’s new website now provides back issues as far back as 2006; the 2006 issues can now also be read online here.) The first weekend devotional, ‘Decisions, Decisions’,  makes a good point about our life decisions and the negative consequences that last for years afterward – while pointing out the hope we still have:

Whether or not we always consider them, every decision we make has consequences. Perhaps they are relatively incidental …  Maybe they are more consequential, such as that decision to move to a new town that ultimately resulted in finding a spouse. Whatever the case may be, we will have to deal with the outcome of our choices. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  … Despite the various hints that Sarai must give birth to the covenant child, her impatience moved her to substitute Hagar for herself and, with Abram’s acquiescence, produce Ishmael.  The consequences of this decision would haunt the covenant community for centuries. Even though the Lord did bring good out of Joseph’s situation, it was the sons of Ishmael who took him away from the promised land (Gen. 37:28). Later, Amasa the Ishmaelite commanded the armies of David’s wicked son Absalom when his coup d’etat temporarily sent the son of Jesse into exile (2 Sam. 17:25). Moreover, Islam, the greatest religious adversary of the church today, holds Ishmael in high esteem.

…But our Lord is eager to forgive, and He worked through their faith to make their pattern of decisions bring about wonderful consequences for His people.

The next devotion (for Monday, September 4) continues the study:  ‘Sarai Took Hagar’ and the lessons learned.  Particularly noted here is a parallel between the Abram-Sarai story, and the account of the fall in Genesis 3:

Even more telling, the exact wording of the Hebrew for “listened to” used of Abram in 16:2b is used elsewhere only in 3:17 where God chastises Adam because he “listened to” his wife. Clearly, Moses wants us to understand that these events are parallel in that both are accounts of transgression. Matthew Henry perceptively says this story shows Satan’s policy “to tempt us by our nearest and dearest relations.” Right after a visible confirmation of the Lord’s promise (chap. 15), Abram yields to his wife’s suggestion to lay with another when his earlier sojourn in Egypt (12:10–20) should have told him that God intended to provide his heir from Sarai’s loins. May we hear the wishes of those closest to us, but may we also take care to give God’s wisdom priority.

The ‘Coram Deo’ follows-up on this important point, one also learned by experience:  Our enemy is cunning and will often try and deceive us through those closest to us.  As John Calvin comments, “We must be on our guard against his wiles; lest by any means he should undermine us.” … Be careful not to let another close to you convince you to do something God forbids.

From recent reading of Charles Spurgeon sermons (1867 volume), sermon #764 also provides the needed reminder, that we are to view the Christian life with much patience, and as a warfare that will never let up in this life:

Life is indeed a “warfare,” and just as a man enlists in our army for a term of years, and then his service runs out, and he is free, so every believer is enlisted in the service of life, to serve God till his enlistment is over, and we sleep in death. Our charge and our armor we shall put off together. Brothers and sisters, you are enlisted soldiers, when you believe in Jesus. Let me remind you that you are a soldier, you will be always at war, you will never have a furlough or conclude a treaty. Like the old knights who slept in their armor, you will be attacked even in your rest. There is no part of the journey to heaven which is secure from the enemy, and no moment, not even the sweet rest of the Lord’s Day, when the clarion may not sound. Therefore, prepare yourselves always for the battle. “Put on the whole armor of God,” and look upon life as a continued battle. Be surprised when you do not have to fight; be wonderstruck when the world is peaceful towards you; be astonished when your old corruptions do not rise and assault you. You must travel with your swords always drawn, and you may as well throw away the scabbard, for you will never need it. You are a soldier who must always fight, and by the light of battle you must survey the whole of your life.

and

waiting means enduring with patience. We are put into this world for one appointed time of suffering, and in sacred patience we must abide steadfast the heat of the furnace. The life of many Christians is a long martyrdom—they are to bear it patiently. “Here is the patience of the saints.” … herein they fulfill their life’s design, if through abundant grace they learn to bear their woes without a murmur, and to wait their appointed time without repining.

 

Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Christian Living, ‘A Life of Character’

February 24, 2017 1 comment

jrmiller-lifeofcharacterContinuing in the Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge, I now find that I’m well ahead of the schedule for the 13 books, so I may very well add a few more along the way – not to the 26 book level, but adding and reading more books from the remaining categories from the light reader and avid reader lists.  I’ve come across a new, free e-book this month, to add to the “light reader” category of a book published in 2017:  Sam Waldron’s “The Lord’s Day:  Its Presuppositions, Proofs, Precedents, and Practice,” 138 pages and available free from the Chapel Library  in several formats including PDF and Kindle.

For the Christian Living selection, I enjoyed reading J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character.  I first learned of this author from the daily Grace Gems devotional email, which sometimes features short devotional thoughts from Miller, who wrote in the late 19th century.  The Grace Gems site features the online text of several of his books; in their list of authors and brief summaries, J.R. Miller is listed as the best for this topic, Christian living.  ‘A Life of Character’ is an easy, straightforward read, not too long but covering many different topics with great devotional thoughts.

The overall topic reminds me of similar treatment in Jeremiah Burroughs’ Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, which I read at the end of 2016. Like Burroughs, this book includes the use of many metaphors, such as how our life should be like a song or a musical instrument.  Here I remembered an old poem, set to music years ago by Wayne Watson in the song Touch of the Master’s Hand.  Throughout, the reading is simple but to the point and often convicting.  Christian living, personal holiness, is so much easier to read about, but as noted in Burroughs’ work, takes a lifetime of practice.

Here are a few selections from Miller’s work:

We need the patience of Christ also, in our mingling with others, in our business associations and contacts, in our social relations, and in all our dealings with our neighbors. Not all people are congenial and patient to us. Some want their own way. Some are unreasonable. Some fail to treat us right. Possibly in some cases—the fault may be ours, at least in part. Others may sometimes think of us—as we do of them. However this may be, the patience of Christ may teach us to bear with even the most unreasonable people, sweetly and lovingly. He was patient with everyone, and we are to be like Him. If we are impatient with anyone, we fail to be true to the interest of our Master, whom we are always to represent.

and

We forget that heaven is not far off yonder—but begins right here in our everyday lives, if it is ever to begin at all for us! Isn’t that what the prayer means, “May Your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven”? “On earth,” that is—in our shops, and our drudgery, and care; in our times of temptation and sorrow. It is not a prayer to be taken away out of this world into ‘heaven’, to begin there the doing of God’s will; it is a prayer that right here and now on earth—we may learn to live—as they do in heaven.”

also

We cannot make the people about us so loving and sweet—that we shall never have anything to irritate or annoy us. The quietness must be within us. Nothing but the peace of God in the heart—can give it. Yet we can have this peace—if we will simply and always do God’s will—and then trust Him. A quiet heart—will give a quiet life!

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” Book and Series

August 16, 2016 2 comments

I have often heard Martyn Lloyd Jones recommended, though in my studies so far had not yet read anything from him.  Recently I revisited a link to the MP3 collection of his “Spiritual Depression” series.  As noted at the beginning of the first message, the audio quality is not that great, restored as best as possible from old recordings – and so I’m reading the Kindle book version instead.

Dan Phillips provided a helpful review of this work a few years ago, and the ‘chronological qualifier’ comment is spot on, in reference to Lloyd Jones for the 20th century and Spurgeon from the 19th century.  I too have found Spurgeon helpful in this area, one he was so well acquainted with.  The foreward included in the edition that Phillips reviewed, can also be read here (Banner of Truth article).

The introductory chapter, General Consideration, is quite helpful.  As MLJ pointed out (and no real surprise here), some of us have the personality-temperament (of introverts) that is naturally more pre-disposed to depression.  He observed that sometimes depression has a physical cause—and attributed the well-known case of Spurgeon’s frequent depression to his physical problem of gout.  A closer look at Spurgeon’s life, though (see this article), tells us that Spurgeon’s experiences with depression began several years before the gout.  It is generally recognized today that Spurgeon’s depression came from a combination of factors, not just the  gout.  Another cause of depression is the “reaction” that comes after an especially intense moment: the familiar story of Elijah victorious over the priests of Baal, and then downcast and running away to hide is a classic example of this.  (I can also relate to this situation at various times in my life.)

From the biblical material, as well as Lloyd Jones’ experience as a pastor, the problem of spiritual depression is fairly common.  Psalm 42 is a guide to the experience, and provides the key to the cure.  When feeling down, I often sing the familiar scripture words to a well-known praise song, “Why so downcast, oh my soul?  / Put your hope in God.”    Going beyond just a simple song tune, though, the real point here is that “we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us.”

This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?  Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning.  You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.  Somebody is talking.  Who is talking to you?  Your self is talking to you.  Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks.  His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a  moment.  I will speak to you.’

The following chapters (different sermons) consider many different types of people that experience spiritual depression, relating each to a passage of scripture.  For some, the problem is due to an incomplete knowledge of the doctrines of God, or imbalance in the doctrines, and along the way Lloyd Jones makes strong statements regarding the sufficiency of scripture and the Christian faith, such as the following samples:

The gospel is not something partial or piecemeal: it takes in the whole life, the whole of history, the whole world.  It tells us about the creation and the final judgment and everything in between.

and

It is doctrine first, it is the standard of teaching first, it is the message of the gospel first.  We are not concerned simply to attract people emotionally or in the realm of the will, we are concerned to ‘preach the Word’. …. Truth comes to the mind and to the understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Then having seen the truth, the Christian loves it.  It moves his heart.  He sees what he was, he sees the life he was living, and he hates it.  If you see the truth about yourself as a slave of sin you will hate yourself.  Then as you see the glorious truth about the love of Christ you will want it, you will desire it.  So the heart is engaged.  Truly to see the truth means that you are moved by it and that you love it.  You cannot help it.

This work is well worth reading, for all Christians, as a great book about Christian living and appreciating the truth and greatness of the Christian life.