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Depression is such an awful battle. Be assured, in Christ, you can experience mega-joy. — Last week I preached the first sermon in our new series, Leading Our Emotions Through the Holidays. You can listen or read the below summary.

How do we battle depression and sadness during the holidays? We need a series on leading our emotions during the holidays. The season amplifies our emotions. To be sure, most experience more joy at Christmas. But we can also battle depression, fear, wistfulness, and grief. For example, given elevated expectations for the holidays, family disappointments can hurt much worse.

We should avoid being simplictistic about leading our emotions. The relationship between the physical body, spirituality, and the emotions is complex. Without question, illnesses and other physical conditions affect our emotions. At no point in this series, is the goal to dispense medical advice nor is it to downplay the need to see a physician. One of the first strategies those struggling with their emotions should employ is to see a medical doctor. We must also seek to eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. Having stressed the importance of the medical, our spiritual lives and our relationship with God also affect our emotional state. The objective of this series is to outline spiritual strategies for leading our emotions in Christ-centered – Spirit-enabled ways.

Last week we began our series on emotions by first reviewing an overall framework for understanding our emotions.

  1. Our loving heavenly-Father gives us the good gift of emotions. As image-bearers, our emotions allow us to experience life in ways that are consistent with the circumstances of life. Who would not want to know joy at the birth of a child? Or to weep at the loss of a loved one?
  2. The fallen-ness of our world – our own transgressions — but also the situations into which we are born — twists or distorts our emotions. Emotional struggles – such as fear or anxiety — take place when God’s good gifts of emotions are distorted into something God never morally intended. And when such a twisting of our emotions takes place, God’s beautiful gifts of affective experiences morph into cruel tyrants.Last week, I illustrated this point with a consideration of “anger.” God gives humans the gift of righteous anger so that as his special representatives (image bearers) they can be righteously and zealously indignant. For example, anger is a gift God gives to mothers in the face of what threatens her children. However, sadly, we must acknowledge that parental anger can be distorted and misdirected into all sorts of abuse including child-abuse.
  3. Emotions are redeemable. As we believe in Christ, and grow in Him, we are liberated from the bondage of sin and in Christ enjoy the freedom to lead our emotions in the way God intended. Said another way, in leading our emotions, we begin with the gospel and from there grow by grace to be more like Jesus (sanctification).
  4. Jesus modeled how we should lead our emotions. If we desire a more concrete example of how to lead our emotions in a fallen world, we should meditate on Jesus. The more we prayerfully meditate on his beauty, the more we will become like him in all ways, including how we lead our emotions (2 Cor 3:17-18).

We should not expect all our emotional struggles to immediately end. Jesus said that we need to come to him and learn from him, for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). We might compare the journey of leading our emotions to getting in shape physically. On a given day we may learn principles for taking care of ourselves —- less sugar, more exercise, etc. But if we are to see any results, we must adopt a new rythym of life —- likewise, if we are to lead our emotions we must walk with Christ in the warp and woof of life: be in church with other believers, worship Christ every day, pray, rinse our minds with the Word.

We then considered the area of depression or sadness of the soul. (1) Being sad is a gift from God. It is a way that our affections are consistent with the reality of a fallen world. There are times when grief is entirely appropriate. (2) Depression on one level or another is a common experience. That given the brokenness of relationships, our physical struggles, the short days, this is a time of year when our struggle can be particularly intense. (3) Thankfully, we see so much in the Bible about how to deal with our struggles. (4) Indeed, with Jesus we see that he faced the greatest sadness ever known.

We then expanded our meditation on Jesus with eight observations about how Jesus led his sadness (Matt 26:36-46): (1) Accept that we battle sadness in world. (2) Know that the situation of sadness is complicated. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (3) Seek the help of the community of the redeemed. V. 38: remain here, and watch with me. (4) Pray. 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed – (5) Understand that everyone else will (family included) will let us down at points. Do not allow the shortcomings of others to lead your emotions during the holidays. 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? (6) Submit to the will of the Father. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (7) Get moving. Brush your teeth! Staying in bed will not help you lead your emotions.  45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (8) Anticipate mega-joy (Heb 12:1-3).

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“The essence of this matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control. The devil takes hold of self and use it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why art thou cast down? Why art thou disquieted within me?’ Stop being so! ‘Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance,’ He, ‘who is the health of my countenance and my God.’” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[2]

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“And it must be remembered that in all places where God is mentioned, we are to understand God in the promised Messiah, typified out so many ways unto us. And to put the more vigour into such places in the reading of them, we in this latter age of the church must think of God shining upon us in the face of Christ, and our Father in him.” Richard Sibbes, 1635

[1] Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Pyschology Proposal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 301.
[2] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 21.

A Gift Idea for a Leader in Your Life

Chris —  November 10, 2017

Give this Proverbs journal (Pass It On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation) as a gift and ask for it back when the recipient is through. You will both be blessed: eternally

The book of Proverbs is a gift that God has given to help us find our way through the maze of life. In a complicated world, we all need wisdom. As Tim Keller has written, Proverbs is a mini-guide for life. For examples of how Proverbs can be applied, see the links at the end of this post. 

Proverbs is designed to be a teaching tool for parents and leaders. The idea is not that we simply read Proverbs once and are done. Rather, we roll Proverbs around in our minds for decades — and then discuss it with those we influence.

We all desperately need to meditate on wisdom with wise people. We need to hear wise people comment on Proverbs in ways that are personal to us.

Some may counter, “Well, I’m not sure where to get started in studying Proverbs.”

I have a recommendation this gift-giving season!

Champ Thornton has written a new book that introduces the book of Proverbs and then guides readers through a series of questions that become a journal. From the official blurb:

In Pass It On, readers are guided through the book of Proverbs and given the opportunity to write a personalized wisdom journal with their own thoughts and stories, creating a legacy of faith for the next generation and those they love. The perfect gift book to pass down through the generations.

Here’s the gift idea:

  • Give this book to your dad and ask him to use it for months or years to come. Encourage him to jot down his thoughts and share his take. I’ve already started jotting notes in my copy . . . the question is: will anyone be able to read my writing? 
  • Or give this book to your husband to complete for your children.
  • Or give it to yourself and start making notes for those you know and love.

See also:

Reads Proverbs 43% of the time — the Rest of Your Life

Dig for Wisdom Like Its 1849 (Prov 2:4-5)

What Questions Did You Ask Yourself Today Based on Proverbs 12?

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom (Prov 9:10)

Why Grooms Should Make the Wedding Dresses (Prov 24:3)

Be Thankful for Your Wife on the 31st  (Prov 31)

Derek Kidner on Understanding the Genre of Proverbs

We Know You Don’t See Your Blind Spot. Duh. It’s a Blind Spot. (Prov 17:10)

Even in Laughter the Heart May Ache (Prov 14:13)

A Chapter of Proverbs Today the 29th (Fear of Man Will Prove to Be a Snare) (Prov 29:25)

On Not Grabbing the Dog’s Ears (Prov 26:17)

The Sluggard is No Freak

If Your Boss is Atilla the Hun (Prov 27:18) 

The Meaning of Proverbs 17:6 – On the Beauty of Grandchildren

Two Classic Pillars of True Old Testament Religion (per Derek Kidner) (Prov 2:5)

Feeling Overwhelmed and Undermotivated? (Prov 6:6-10)

Where There is No Fear the People Perish: One of the Most Misapplied Verses in the Bible (Prov 29:18)

Who Are You? Don’t Be Too Sure You Know! (Prov 16:2)

Tim Keller on Proverbs

Before You Make this Loan, “Ask How God is God’s Credit?”  (Proverbs 19:17)

Dream Big and Be Excited to See God Direct Your Paths in Unexpected Ways (Prov 3:5-6)

A Guide to Proverbs Within Proverbs (Prov 3:3-12)

Why the Circle Doesn’t Always Remain Unbroken (Prov 16:28)

Leaders Know How to Pick Up a Crumb and Carry It Into the Next Room (Proverbs 30:25) 

Don’t Let Failure Give Way to Failure (Prov 24:16)

Sharpen Your Wisdom Saw Today (Read Proverbs 18)

Frame On Why We are Sometimes Contentiously Foolish (Prov 20:3)

There are Two Ways to Deal With a Lion

The Fear of Man Lays a Snare (Prov 29:25) 

A Time to Use the SW Word (Prov 10:19)

Ever Fall on Your Face Like Kurt Warner? (Prov 16:18)

Mark Twain: A Lie Can’t Get Half Way Round the World Before the Truth Even Gets Its Boots On (Prov 26:20)

Gossip Affects Your Spiritual Waistline (Prov 18:8)

Facing Some Orcs in An Adventure You Didn’t Ask For? Persevere (Prov 24:16)

If All Your Friends are Named Beevis, Guess What Your Name Is (Prov 13:20)

Set the Bar for Spiritual Disciplines Low 

Teaching Our Children to Work 

If you’re unpacking forgiveness — and we all are in a broken world — then I highly recommend Colin Smith’s sermon, “When God Can’t Forgive.”

Colin Smith: When God Can’t Forgive Part 1

Colin Smith: When God Can’t Forgive Part 2 

Consider:

  • His explanation of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation. 
  • How much repentance is needed for forgiveness to begin.
  • The Calvin quote on repentance and the Christian life. 

See also:

The Forgiveness Quiz – This will get you started thinking about forgiveness.

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross? – One of the first questions that comes up when we talk about the truth that Christians should not always forgive.

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness – This is a collection of quotes from others who interact with the subject of conditional forgiveness.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness – Numerous problems arise when we encourage cheap grace. Here are 5 examples

Should I confront an offender or just get over it? – What should be confronted? What should be let go? This post will help you work through the question of when to confront.

How can I stop thinking about it? – The “mental gerbil wheel” is one of the most difficult aspects of deep offenses.

How can I forgive myself? – This is another forgiveness question people often raise.

Chris Brauns Review of Totally Forgiving God by R.T. Kendall – Is it okay for Christians to forgive God. Some authors argue there are times it is appropriate. In this review for The Gospel Coalition I interact with R.T. Kendall’s book.

Christians in the Land of Lincoln (and elsewhere!) will be interested in Dr. Albert Mohler’s 10/5/17 podcast that summarizes what has Archbishop of Chicago calling out Governor Rauner of Illinois. 

I would encourage our church family to listen to Dr. Mohler in an ongoing way. He provides clear, Christian analysis of current events and equips believers to understand the framework of a Christian worldview.  

If you have questions about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our sharing of the gospel, I highly recommend J.I.Packer’s classic, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

Below I have outlined J.I. Packer’s summary of the gospel message. Keep in mind, this is abridged. But it offers a basic outline of the Christian message. For more, read Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God It’s only 126 pages long.

I. The gospel is a message about God. It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His Standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures . . .

II. The gospel is a message about sin. It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard; how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. . . Not till we have learned our need to get right with God, and our inability to do so by any effort of our own, can we come to know the Christ who saves from sin.

a. Conviction of sin is essentially an awareness of a wrong relationship with God: not just with one’s neighbour . . .

b. Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sins: a sense of guilt for particular wrongs done in the sight of God . . .

c. Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sinfulness: a sense of one’s complete corruption and perversity in God’s sight, and one’s consequent need of what Ezekiel called a ‘new heart’ . . .

III. The gospel is a message about Christ – Christ the Son of God incarnate; Christ the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ the risen Lord; Christ the perfect Saviour.

a. We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work.

b. We must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person.

IV. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance.

a. The demand is for faith as well as repentance.

b. The demand is for repentance as well as faith.

See also:

What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News

A Football Illustration: Ron Brown Shares the Gospel

Which column describes your approach to the Christian life: religion? or the Gospel? 

The below table taken from Tim Keller’s, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, page 65). 

If you have more questions about what is meant by “the Gospel” see this post: What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News? 

RELIGION

GOSPEL

“I obey; therefore I’m accepted.” “I’m accepted; therefore I obey.”
Motivation is based on fear and insecurity. Motivation is based on grateful joy.
I obey God in order to get things from God. I obey God to get God — to delight and resemble him.
When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends, that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life. When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.
When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs. When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ.
My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in need. My main purpose in prayer is to control circumstances. My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with him.
My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to people who fail. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident — I feel like a failure. My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am at once sinful and lost, yet accepted. I am so bad he had to die for me, and so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper humility as well as deeper confidence, without either sniveling or swaggering.
My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to others. My identity and self-worth are centered on the One who died for his enemies, including me.  Only by sheer grace am I what I am, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. I have no inner need to win arguments.
Since I look to my pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols — talents, moral record, personal discipline, social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them, so they are my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I say I believe about God. I have many good things in my life — family, work, etc., but none of these good things are ultimate things to me. I don’t absolutely have to have them, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despair they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

 

 

2 Corinthians 8-9 offers a gold mine of teaching on giving.

Help with sermon prep by making observations on giving found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Share those with me via the comments or via email. Together let’s clear up some misconceptions about what the Bible really teaches about giving. 

Sunday I begin 2 Corinthians 8-9 and Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians to take up a collection. This is one of the richest sections on giving in the New Testament. 

We need to be taught on giving for any number of reasons.

  • People in our culture are loaded down with debt.
  • Despite being one of the wealthiest cultures in history, American Christians give away a low percentage. (See 6 Facts About the Giving of American Christians)
  • Many Christians are influenced by the Prosperity Gospel.
  • Yet other Christians fail to recognize the blessings God gives to those who give.
  • The Church of Christ has an unprecedented opportunity to store up treasure in heaven. Our opportunities for sharing the joy of Jesus have never been greater!

So here’s my challenge to our church family — and anyone else who wants to help. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and make as many observations about what is taught about giving as possible. For example, 2 Corinthians 9:7 teaches, “God loves a cheerful giver.” What would happen if we really meditated on that principle?

Here are a couple of parameters for the exercise:

  • Share your observations about the biblical text. Don’t quote someone else. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and consider what the Spirit impresses on you!
  • For this exercise, use only 2 Corinthians 8-9. The Bible says a great deal about money. But for now, let’s focus in this one section. 

Again: It’s a simple exercise. Read 2 Corinthians 8-9 and make observations about what this section of Scripture teaches about giving.

See also:

Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money

Christian Smith on Why Americans Give So Little Financially

Don’t Store Up Treasure on Earth: John R.W. Stott on What Jesus Doesn’t and Does Mean

Sunday (6/4/17) Jamie and I were blessed by a sermon from Pastor Bruce McKanna on Sabbath rest. Bruce gave this beautiful challenge: “Don’t give yourself permission to rest so much as hear God’s permission.”

The first Sunday of my sabbatical, I preached in the GSOI. June 4th was my first opportunity to sit in the pew.  We attended Evangelical Free Church of Mt. Morris and In God’s conspicuous providence, we heard a sermon on Sabbath rest.

The entire sermon was excellent but the point I continue to reflect on is the reminder that God’s work and rest in creation serves as a pattern for his people.

In response to the sermon, I am memorizing Exodus 31:17:

It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

The pattern of work and rest is rooted in creation. Work followed by rest is a rhythm that should be part of all our lives.

 

One of my summer sabbatical goals is to read widely. Below is a book I would recommend for those looking for Christian beach reading. It is written at a level that is easily followed and offers a fresh look at apologetics.

Skeel, David. True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2014.

Skeel argues that the Christian worldview offers the best explanation of significant areas of human experience.

Specifically, Skeel compares Christianity to materialism where materialism or naturalism is the belief that the material is the ultimate reality and that there is no supernatural God, gods or spirit(s) (13).

Skeel focuses on five different phenomena or paradoxes as areas in which to compare Christianity and materialism.

  1. Idea Making / Human Consciousness – Human beings have a consciousness and the ability to think abstractly about ideas. How did we come to be creatures who think abstractly? What is the origin of the “ghost in the machine”?
  2. Beauty and the Arts – “This perception that beauty is real and that it reflects the universe as it is meant to be, but that it is impermanent and somehow corrupted, is the paradox of beauty (65).” Why are we so moved by beauty?
  3. The Problem of Evil – “If a good God oversees, the universe, why would he allow [suffering] (90)?” If there is nothing more than the material and the evolution of life, why are people concerned about evil?
  4. The Justice Paradox – Humanity devises systems of law they believe they can follow, but then societies fail to follow those laws. Marxism is one infamous example. Why do we view justice as so important?
  5. Life and Afterlife – “Christians believe in both a life and an afterlife (137).” Yet, other worldviews argue that once the physical lights go out, existence ceases. Which view best fits the data?

Skeel is a law professor and this shows in his ability to outline clear, well-reasoned positions. Indeed, his explanation of the lawyer’s vocation as “navigating complexity” offers a fascinating insight into the legal profession (148).

Skeel is not a trained theologian. He does not attempt sophisticated theological explanations nor does he interact a great deal with the biblical text. That is not his purpose. Rather, his goal is to encourage people to think deeply about human experience and the worldviews that make the most sense of life.

Skeel’s lack of theological depth is most notable in the chapter 5, “Life and Afterlife.” There he seems to give N.T. Wright more credit than he deserves asserting that “the contemporary theologian who has done more than any other to explain [the hope of the new earth] is N.T. Wright.”  At the same time, Skeel unfairly characterizes dispensationalists as believing that only physical bodies will be resurrected (155).

Skeel’s offers four excellent strategies for people interested in thinking deeply about life after reading his book:

  1. Keep reading. Investigate more.
  2. Attend church.
  3. Find a Christian whom you respect and who is willing to answer questions you have about Christianity and what Christians do and do not believe.
  4. Read the Bible itself.

For those wishing to consider apologetics (the case for Christianity) on an introductory level, Skeel’s True Paradox offers a worthwhile place to begin.

See also:

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Do You Ever Hum, What’s Forever For?

One of the first videos every parent should watch — whether their children are three or thirty. The audio is available here.