Sunday, December 23, 2012

What do the ancient Mayans and Harold Camping have in common?

Neither are any good at predicting the end of the world. Perhaps this is a good time to remember what Jesus said to His disciples just before His ascension, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7 NKJ).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Blog Update

I just wanted to let the blog's readers know what has been going on lately, especially since my posting has been so sparse. I have been battling recurrent bouts with diverticulitis, so I have not been keeping up with things as I normally would have. Soon, however, I should be able to begin posting again at least once a week, as I have tried to do over the years.

I appreciate the loyalty this blog's readers have shown over the years, and I want to thank you for your patience. May God bless you!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Robert Gagnon on Homosexuality and the Bible

Dr. Robert Gagnon - What Does the Bible Teach About Homosexuality? from Pure Passion on Vimeo.

Some of the blog's readers may be familiar with Robert Gagnon as the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which is an in-depth defense of the traditional Biblical view over against modern objections. In the above video he deals with some of the common objections or questions about the Biblical teaching.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Gay Christianity" Refuted by James White

Matthew Vines has been gaining quite a following with his video entitled "The Gay Debate - The Bible and Homosexuality," in which he tries to argue that homosexuality is not actually sin according to the Bible. But James White has offered a thorough response to his arguments, and he has made the audio available for download free of charge at the Alpha & Omega Ministries website. Here is a brief description of Dr. White's response from his website:
The complete response to Matthew Vines is now available as a single program. Yes its five hours and nine minutes long, (72meg in size), but the world needs to hear this message. We believe this so much that we have decided to make this publicly available to be distributed for free. Share it with your friends and relatives. We've titled it "Gay Christianity" Refuted and only ask that you not change it or sell it. All fair use rules apply for criticism too.
I strongly encourage the blog's readers to take this opportunity to listen to Dr. White's defense of the Scriptural view and to tell your friends about it as well. Dr. White plays and responds to the entirety of Matthew Vines' presentation. Again, you can download the audio at the Alpha & Omega Ministries website here.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Bob Gonzales on the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel

If you aren't already familiar with Dr. Gonzales' series of posts regarding the "well-meant offer" of the Gospel, I encourage you to check them out. The first article suggests an update to the Baptist Confession of 1689, followed by a series of articles explaining the issue, the objections to the doctrine, and a defense of the doctrine. For you convenience, here are links to the articles in the order in which they were written:

You can also find the articles listed on one page at Dr. Gonzales' blog here. You will see them listed with the most recent at the top and the oldest at the bottom of the page.

I continue to find Dr. Gonzales' writings some of the most helpful and readable offerings on important theological subjects that are available on the internet. Let me know what you think.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ronald Nash on Reformed Epistemology

I think Dr. Nash does a good job of explaining Reformed Epistemology, especially over against Evidentialism. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

James White on the Reality and Blessing of Apostasy

I'm sure none of this blog's readers would be surprised to see a message posted here entitled "The Reality of Apostasy," but you may be surprised to see a message entitled "The Blessing Apostasy." Well, I encourage you to listen to both of these messages from Dr. White, who offers both strong warning and great encouragement to God's people regarding the issue of apostasy. And, if you are not already familiar with Dr. White's ministry, I urge you to check out Alpha and Omega Ministries, where he writes an excellent blog, as well as his YouTube channel.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Intolerance of Those Who Preach Tolerance

Why is the gay and lesbian community so proactive in preaching tolerance for their homosexual lifestyle? Why do they seem so easily offended by those who do not agree with them? Why do they preach love and acceptance, but many of them seem to get so hateful and angry with those who are committed to traditional values? Why do they preach tolerance, but often seem so intolerant and hateful to those who disagree with them?
The gay community is seeking ‘equal rights.’ Homosexuals only want to live open and peaceful lives unashamedly in a community without fear of rejection or discrimination. This I am sure is true, but I do not believe that this is all they want. The reason that they are so easily offended is because deep down they know that their lifestyle is unnatural. They know better, and are constantly looking for justification and affirmation for their unnatural desires. They have inward guilt, yet they desire to free themselves from this guilt by having others tell them that they shouldn’t feel bad for feeding and indulging in their unnatural passions. Equal rights are not all they want. What they really desire is for others to reassure them that it is okay to be homosexual.

In an attempt to ease their inward guilt, they seek to obtain the outward confirmation and approval of their friends, peers and society. To obtain the approval of society the homosexual community is attempting to carry out these seven steps below:

1. Seeking to Convince Themselves that their Unnatural Desires are Natural

First, they desire to convince themselves that they were “born this way.”  By a simple observation of the design of the male and female body, it is easy and natural to see that men and women are designed for each other. This is easy to learn, and even children do not need any external instruction to come to this conclusion. Furthermore, the world would not continue past the next generation without men and women procreating. Men and women are made for each other and everybody knows it. God’s Word forbids homosexuality, but even if it didn’t, nature itself teaches us that homosexuality is unnatural (Rom. 1:26-27). In fact, even straight people who support homosexuality cannot deny that homosexual acts are something that they find inwardly disturbing. Homosexuals, I believe, know that their desires are unnatural, and therefore they feel the need to convince themselves otherwise. Otherwise, why would it even matter if they were “born that way” or if they simply chose to live that way? I do not feel the need to justify to myself or to others that I prefer Dr. Pepper over Pepsi. Why do they feel the need to justify their desires for the same sex (as if they can’t help how they feel), if their desires are natural? One of my gay friends admitted to me that he had to work past the shame that he felt the first few times he engaged in a sexual relationship. His partner told him that his feelings of shame were a natural experience, and the key to move past this feeling of shame was to dwell upon the fun and excitement rather than upon the shame. "To not think about it", was the counsel. The point is that homosexuals know that their lifestyle is shameful (at least for those who are not completely hardened), and it is because of their guilt that they feel the need to blame their passions upon something other than their choice.

2. Create Support Groups to Ease Their Conscience

Those who practice any sin seek to find others who do the same to provide some level of comfort (Rom. 1:32). These support groups are designed to suppress guilt by the group reassuring its members that they are not alone. There is comfort in numbers. The larger the support group the better. Thus, it is natural for homosexuals to group together to find comfort in a network of peers that does not pass out judgment, but rather helps smooth over their guilty conscience.

3. Blame their Inward Guilt upon External Norms

If homosexual desires are natural, and if homosexuals cannot help the way they feel, then where does the guilt come from? The third step for the gay community is to blame their guilt upon something outside of themselves—such as the traditional norms that have been shaped by Christian values. They claim that their inward guilt stems from the external social norms that have been imposed upon their conscience. ‘I wouldn’t feel guilty if my conscience wouldn’t have been shaped by society’s unwritten rules,’ so they think. ‘Christianity and traditional values are to blame for my inward shame.’ Thus, they seek to blame their guilt upon man-made external norms rather than upon their own innate knowledge of what is right and natural.

4. Attempt to Change Public Perception

Therefore, the goal is to change the values and norms of society. This is the fourth step. In an attempt to deliver themselves from their guilty conscience, rather than repenting before God, they seek to change social perception and create new and more tolerant social norms. It is not sufficient, for many of them, that they convince themselves that homosexuality is natural; they feel that they must convince the rest of society. If they can change public perception, then they can change the social norms of society. If they can change social norms, then they believe that then they can live out their desires without any sense of guilt or inward condemnation. This is why they are so proactive.

5. Condemn and Hatefully Judge the Opposition

To justify themselves and speed up the process of changing the norms of society, the gay community will condemn those who disagree with them as haters and bigots. They have effectively done this by labeling and grouping all opposition as ‘homophobes.’  Some would even consider this article as propagating ‘hate speech.’ But why? Why do they want to call this hate? I do not hate homosexuals, and I do not want anything bad to happen to my homosexual friends. In fact, whatever I could do to help them I would seek to do. Even with my love for them, I believe homosexuality is unnatural. Why would they condemn me as being full of hate because I disagree with their lifestyle? Why are they so ready to call those who disagree with their lifestyle haters? I believe it is because they desire to hush their own conscience. They feel that the only way to do this is by hushing and censoring those who disagree with them. Therefore, they are attempting to turn the table around and blame those who publicly condemn homosexuality as the guilty and hateful party. If they can make it politically correct to support homosexuality, then heterosexuals will not only feel pressure to support gay marriage, they will be scared not to because they do not want to be labeled as a homophobe. In essence, they want to throw their own guilt upon those who oppose them.

6. Seek to Place God on Their Side

For the homosexuals who remain religious, they realize that they will never have a clear conscience until they are convinced that God sanctions their lifestyle. It amazes me how many professing Christians are seeking to condone homosexuality by only focusing upon the doctrine of the love of God—as if the Bible had nothing to say about homosexuality. If I said, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error", these professing Christians would call me hateful. But this is what God has said in Romans 1:26-27. In response, some say that the Bible has human error, but if that was the case why do these same professing Christians use the Bible to convince themselves that God accepts their lifestyle. How any homosexual can say that he or she believes in the God of the Bible and at the same time hold to a Christianity that sanctions unnatural sexual passions is beyond me, but this is exactly what many have sought to do. Even worse, some churches, who are willing to tickle people's ears to gain a larger following, openly tell homosexuals what they want to hear. Regardless, making homosexuality acceptable within Christianity is another means of artificially easing one’s guilty conscious.

7. Censor the Opposition

Last of all, because of the inward guilt that comes from their unnatural passions, it only takes one person to oppose their lifestyle for some of them to be offended. The problem, when they are honest with themselves, is that their conscience agrees with those who disagree with their lifestyle. Therefore, the gay community will not be content with merely obtaining equal rights, but will forcefully push their agenda until they obtain universal acceptance, and legally censor all opposing voices. It’s their guilty conscience that is the problem, and they will do anything to suppress the truth—even to the point of suppressing others who oppose their lifestyle. Let’s not fool ourselves, the censorship of free speech is where this battle ends. Canada is proof of this, and America seems to be following right behind.

To answer the question of why the gay community seems so intolerant towards those who disagree with them, it is because they so desperately desire to live their unnatural lifestyles without experiencing the inward guilt. And it seems that the gay community will go to any length to remove their guilt while hanging onto their sins.

Thankfully, God has provided all of us a real answer to our guilty conscious—repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Christ died for sins, even the sin of homosexuality. Homosexuals, along with liars and adulterers, can have a guilt free conscious because of Christ—but only if they are willing to acknowledge their sins and seek forgiveness and deliverance from their sins by trusting in the full atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Friday, August 03, 2012

Conviction & Peace

I was honored to be the camp pastor of the Sovereign Grace Youth Camp in Conway, Missouri this past week. What happened over those few days will be something I will never forget—God graciously brought conviction of sins, and then forgiveness and peace upon several young souls. These campers came as sinners and under the wrath of God, but happily went back home forgiven and justified in the sight of God.

It seems that many of them were under a measure of conviction at the beginning of the week, but came under heavy conviction at the Wednesday evening service. After the sermon, there was quietness and weeping throughout the assembly. For fifteen minutes, no one moved or said anything. The common cry of those who were broken, when asked what was wrong, was: “I am so guilty.” When the service was dismissed, some under conviction remained for counsel, while others left the building only to return for prayer and counsel. Some found secluded places to pray alone, while others remained weeping in their seats. Some cries turned to tears of rejoicing as professions of faith followed. Two young ladies, feeling physically sick, left to go to the dorms and refused to come out the next morning. After one broke down in repentance, the other young girl soon broke down as well—which after receiving a clear conscious before God they realized that they no longer felt sick. One young man, who traveled to the camp with my wife and I, came to faith, with his burden of sin removed, the following night. Still others were seeking God and praying for God to save their souls even as the camp ended. Many people made public professions of faith, while other campers would leave camp to go back to their homes under conviction. Only time will tell if these professions are a result of true conversions, but the counselors and I have good reason to believe that they were a byproduct of not mere human emotions or manipulation, but a result of God’s supernatural and sovereign grace.

As I reflect upon what took place, here are a few of my thoughts.
  1. It is important to have a burden for our lost children and to pray for them daily 
Their parents and church family had faithfully prayed for each of these young people prior to their conversions. Nine of the young ladies who were converted were mentioned by name that very morning in the counselors prayer meeting. The young man who traveled to the camp with my wife and I, was placed on our church’s prayer list because a month earlier I had asked him if he was a Christian—he responded by saying, “No sir, but I want to be.” Immediately I was burdened for his soul, and would have our church (Grace Bible Church in Conway, AR) pray specifically for this young man’s salvation at this youth camp. A prayer that was graciously answered. I also learned after returning that my father’s church (Grace Baptist Church in Batesville, AR) had prayed Wednesday night for God to move mightily upon the service. This prayer too was answered. The ladies prayer group from Bible Baptist Church (St. Louis, MO) prayed for the youth camp, the pastor’s wife of Bridgetown Baptist Church (Nesbit, MS) held an impromptu prayer meeting and sent out a list of all the campers and counselors to so that every person at the camp would be lifted up to God by name. Only the Lord knows how many prayers were ushered up to God on the behalf of these young people—and not a single prayer went unheard by our Lord. Thus, we should never grow weary of praying for lost souls and for God to move upon our services. God works through prayer—may we continue to pray without ceasing.
  1. The Messenger is only a Vessel—and the Work and Glory is to God Alone
Evangelists who use emotional pressure and tactics to talk people into making a public profession have room to boast in their accomplishment—they, and not God, produced an outward profession. Yet, those who simply preach the Word and see people converted afterwards know that they did absolutely nothing. Every sermon that I preached this last week was a repeat. No conversions followed the first go around. Yet, it pleased God to use these messages, at least in part, to convict lost souls. God alone is responsible for bringing true repentance and faith. I felt like an empty vessel. I felt like a spectator. I was given the privilege, along with the other counselors, to be an eyewitness of God’s power and grace that night. It was as if God showed up mightily and all that we did was watch the grace and power of God at work. To God alone be the glory is not just a nice thing to say, but for those who eyewitness the grace of God know that it is the only thing that can be said.

With this in mind, those, who like Spurgeon, are used by God to bring many souls out of darkness by their preaching, are not necessarily any more important or godly than those who faithfully preach week after week with no conversions. Although one sermon alone by Peter was used by God to convert five-thousand souls, Peter was no more able to impart saving faith than Jeremiah who saw no conversions under his whole ministry. Although we all desire to be used by God for the salvation of many, the important thing for all of us is to remain faithful.
  1. The Importance of the Objective Truth
After counseling with those under conviction, I have come to a higher appreciation of the objective truth and certainty of the gospel message. Salvation is not based upon feelings. Thank the Lord for that. Some under conviction seem to complicate faith. It seems that some think that they need to experience conversion before they can place their faith in Christ. They have a hard time believing God’s promise of salvation, and thus they think that they need to experience God’s forgiveness, as evidenced by some form of conversion experience, before they can trust God. This seems to be based upon a false notion that our emotional and spiritual experience is what brings us peace with God, rather than peace being obtained by faith in God’s Word. It is not a matter of how we feel, but a matter of if we believe and trust God. In essence, putting too much stock in our feelings is placing our faith in our faith, rather than placing our faith in Christ. Christ has said in His Word that all who believe shall be saved—it comes down to if we believe this or not. This promise is given to us, and faith in the promise should be enough to give us the assurance that our sins are forgiven. It is not faith in our faith that saves us, but it is faith in the promise of God. This is why the objective word is so important. Faith looks to Christ, and not to itself, and understanding this truth is vital when counseling lost and broken souls who are seeking God’s forgiveness.
  1. The Importance of the Subjective Emotions of Guilt and Peace
Without contradicting my last point, I have come to appreciate the subjective and emotional side of conversions better as well. Our emotions or experiences are not what save us, but it is impossible to be saved without a measure of guilt and then a measure of peace to follow. Experiencing the feeling of guilt is vital because there is no salvation without repentance of sins. And, is there such a thing as repentance without feeling guilty, sorry and remorseful for our sins? How can sinners desire a salvation from sin if they do not inwardly feel guilty and sorry for their transgressions against God? They can’t. Conviction and guilt is a part of the conversion experience. Not only guilt, but also assurance is important in our conversion experience. As we noted above, faith in God’s promise, at least in part, brings some measure of assurance and peace within the heart. How do we have faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins if we do not truly believe that Christ has forgiven us from our sins? Not all Christians are blessed with the same degree of assurance, but all Christians at least have enough assurance in God’s promise for them to cast themselves upon the mercies of Christ. Otherwise, if they had no assurance or confidence in the gospel promise they would not believe it. So, although guilt and assurance do not save us, they are common feelings for those who repent and believe the gospel.

With all this in mind, I believe that it is very dangerous to seek to give troubled souls an artificial assurance that does not come by their own inward faith in Christ. It is dangerous to tell those under heavy conviction and guilt to find relief in any other thing than looking to Christ in faith. Some churches tell those battling with guilt and doubt to look to their baptism, others churches tell them to look at their past or present experiences, and still others seek to bring assurance to troubled souls by pronouncing absolution upon them. Guilt and assurance are both subjective experiences and are a part of the common conversion experience. Only present faith in God’s word should bring those under conviction the assurance that they need. Man cannot do this—only God can impart saving faith and the assurance of salvation from their sins. So we must be careful not to rush those under conviction to the waters of baptism until they themselves have apprehended the peace which comes from believing in Christ for themselves.

In conclusion I am just thankful for the mercies of God who is able to draw sinners, even young sinners, to Himself by granting them repentance and faith towards God. My prayer now is for those who left the camp still under conviction that God may grant them faith in Christ Jesus and the peace that follows.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Church Is For Children Too

I recently read a very good article arguing for the importance of adults bringing their children into the regular worship services with them. It is a practice that we have been following for many years at Immanuel Baptist Church (a Reformed Baptist Church where I am privileged to serve as the primary teaching elder), and we have both reaped and extolled the benefits over that time. But I doubt we have ever put the case so well as our brethren at Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. The following is an article entitled Ministry to Children, which has been copied from their website:
Psalm 78:1-8 "Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God."
Perhaps the most natural impulse of the redeemed sinner is the desire to communicate to his children the wonderful things which he has learned of God. This psalm of Asaph shows us that our desire to communicate saving truth to the next generation is not only natural, but also it is correct and biblical; it is the command of God. Christians must communicate “the glorious deeds of the Lord” to their children. For a church to lack a plan to instruct the young in the things of God would be more than a trivial oversight.
Since this is a duty we must not overlook, we ought to give close attention to what Asaph is attempting in his song. He is going to tell “dark sayings from of old.” His message will not be simple and easy, nor will it be up-to-date and trendy. He will instead focus on those things “that our fathers have told us,” old truths which bear repeating even if they are not the simplest. Asaph does not focus here on finding an opening with his children, some way to be “relevant” with them, but on communicating to them an old message which has lost none of its true relevance. 
Asaph would communicate four specific details to his children and to all those of Israel. First, he would speak to them of the character of God. They will learn the glory of His deeds, and they must understand that He is mighty. He is beginning to teach them the basics of theology. Do we pay enough attention to the theological needs of our children?
He also intends to teach them the history of God’s work among men. The stories of the Bible are full of wonder. In fact they are more fascinating than the best works of fiction. Their appeal is greater because they are entirely true. What is more, these are stories about God, so we must understand.
Asaph will further explain to his children the covenant, which is the “testimony” which God established with Israel. One of the difficulties encountered in teaching the Bible is that so many children know the stories but do not understand how they fit together. It is important for them to understand something of the rules according to which God dealt with His people.
That brings us to the fourth element of Asaph’s instruction: the law which God appointed in Israel. He recognizes that his children must understand what God requires of them. Do we share this concern? The teaching of the law may not be popular, but what greater lessons can our children learn?
These criteria present a tall order to those who would organize a program for the instruction of children in a church. Is it likely that a youth group or children’s church would pursue such lofty goals? Perhaps more to the point, would they succeed? One can easily imagine the criticism that would be leveled against such a program. It would seem old fashioned and stuffy. It would fail to relate to the kids where they are. It would be ill suited for a generation of video games and virtual reality. In fact, it would be scarcely distinguishable from church itself!
We would quickly discover that the aims of modern children’s ministry are rather different from Asaph’s goals. Children’s church has become the realm of games, pep-talks, and other amusements. Churches engage in a futile attempt to keep up with a massive and well-funded entertainment industry in order to keep kids plugged in to Christianity. Their priority is clear: church must be fun. Doctrine must be kept very simple; there can be no “dark sayings from of old.” Stories should be juiced up to attract wandering minds. The covenant is a complex subject best left to adults. The law? Kids have enough rules as it is.
If our children’s ministry plan is to meet the goals established by the psalmist, we clearly need a whole new paradigm. The multitude of websites dedicated to CM does not yield an answer. The church that would educate its children as Asaph educated his may need a fresh perspective. Before we pursue new trails, though, one thought merits further consideration. The type of instruction Asaph was talking about does sound an awful lot like church. The very idea of children’s church embodies the assumption that church is not suitable for children. Perhaps that assumption requires reexamination.
The nature and character of God, the great works of God in history, the covenant and laws of God: these are the subjects of sound biblical preaching. If these are the topics pursued and examined in our worship services, and if they are also the very type of instruction which our children require, are we trying too hard to reinvent the wheel? Do we not already have in place exactly what our children need?
Keeping children in the regular worship service is an idea become radical in recent years. Christians have accepted the verdict of the skeptic Samuel Clemens. They assume that any child forced to endure grown-up worship will spend his time like Tom Sawyer: counting requests in the pastoral prayer and playing with flies, waiting for the agony of the service to end. No one could expect a child to benefit from such an experience! Yet for countless generations children did participate in the regular worship of the church, and the perseverance of the church through the ages testifies that some, at least, did benefit.
Yet we must certainly acknowledge that a children’s service focused on the young minds will do a better job of communicating the truths of scripture to them! Must we? An examination of the practice of children’s church tells us that it communicates very little. Emphasis on relational ministry necessarily banishes doctrine. Once children are extricated from the tedium of regular worship, the content of the message must be extracted from children’s church lest the tedium be replicated. If we assume that content such as Asaph prescribes for children is too complicated and not to their liking, then any program we propose for them will necessarily fall short of the scriptural standard.
Our church is firmly committed to ministering to our children. We are determined to give them exactly the type of instruction which Asaph prescribes, and we know where they will receive it. The things “that our fathers have told us” concerning the character, works, covenant and laws of God are being proclaimed weekly in our worship services, and “we will not hide them from [our] children.” Perhaps we will supplement this ministry with Sunday School classes and like ministries aimed at furthering their spiritual education, but never at the expense of their participation in worship.
We are not opposed to allowing the parents of the very young an opportunity to participate in worship without the added duty of caring for an infant. In fact, we encourage parents to make use of a nursery. However, we find that in the great assemblies of the Bible, such as the time when Ezra read the law to Israel, the congregation included “all those who could understand.” We realize that babies do not understand, but we have observed that children begin to understand worship at a very early age. We will not deny children old enough to understand the opportunity to accompany their parents in worship.
In the regular service fathers may lead children and instruct them in the things of God. Some may respond that this is not so since in the worship only the preacher speaks. We find, though, that when fathers bring their children with them to worship, they are able to further instruct their children and apply the message which they have heard together. Otherwise families are stranded in often fruitless inquiry: “What did you learn today?” How much better it is for children to observe the piety of their parents and to see their faith acted out in worship.
We must ensure that our children are well taught, not just well entertained. Rather than dismiss them for an hour of amusement, we are committed to bring them to the place where God’s word is preached. Asaph suggests three reasons why they must know and understand that word.
First, they must know if future generations are also to know. Our hope is that “children yet unborn” will “arise and tell [these truths] to their children.” The great message of the gospel of Christ is yet alive in the world today because Christians of ages past have taught their children the truth. We would not fail in our responsibility to those generations following ours.
The second reason is for the benefit of the children themselves. Asaph writes, “so that they should set their hope in God.” We pray to see our children acquire true saving faith, and we must not forget that faith begins with knowledge of the truth. So also does obedience, and we desire to see our children “keep His commandments.” If we would see our children trusting in God and living their lives in His service, they must be taught His law and His gospel. We must not, then, shield them from His worship.
Finally, we wish to see our children participate in worship so that they will not be like the “stubborn and rebellious” generation that preceded them. What American Christian has not bemoaned the lack of biblical morality and true faith in our day? Who has not observed the dwindling influence of the church or longed for the day when God would shake the earth with His voice and call our nation to Himself? Do we not pray that our children will see greater results than we have? Do we not wish them to avoid our mistakes, to be greater than ourselves? Then let them begin now. Let them hear the voice of God while they are young, that they might follow it when old. Let them grow strong in the things of God now, that they might not be weak when their day is come. 
I hope you will agree with me that this is a Scriptural perspective on ministry to children in the local church. May God bless us with the courage and faithfulness to follow such Scriptural advice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Anger at God is Never Right

The following advice comes from an article entitled Go Ahead, Be Angry at God! by a liberal writer named R. Adam DeBaugh:
Too often I hear people talk guiltily about feeling anger toward God. More often than not, we get angry at God over things over which we have no control. If we don't control it, God must - someone has to be in control! It may be a failed relationship. Or the death of a loved one. Or our cumulative grief over the on-going HIV/AIDS crisis. Or financial worries. Or any number of things about which we feel we have no control. So we are angry. And since no one else seems to be available to be angry at, we get angry at God. And we feel guilty. We feel we shouldn't get angry at God! We worry that God's feelings will be hurt. Or worse yet, God will return our anger - and we all know how much better at being angry God could be! Nonsense. I say, Go ahead, be angry at God!
Later in the same article DeBaugh goes on to assert again, “So go ahead, be angry at God. God can take it. There won't be any retribution from God. And you might be able to do some clear and constructive thinking about what made you angry after venting your emotions.”

I couldn't disagree more with this writer! First, I strongly question whether simply venting our anger is ever really helpful. The words of the Apostle James quickly come to mind here:
NKJ James 1:19-20 “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Second, I disagree with DeBaugh that it is alright to be angry at God because anger toward a person typically assumes that the person has wronged you in some way. Consider, for example, these basic definitions of anger:
“belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong” (WordWeb)

“a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire” (Dictionary)

“a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism” (Merriam-Webster)
Now, even supposing the softer definition given by Merriam-Webster, which describes anger as a “strong feeling of displeasure,” one must wonder how a person could ever justly feel such displeasure against God unless he assumes that God has done something worthy of such displeasure and thus something that we would call wrong.

John Piper hits the nail on the head when he writes:
What is anger? The common definition is: “An intense emotional state induced by displeasure” (Merriam-Webster). But there is an ambiguity in this definition. You can be "displeased" by a thing or by a person. Anger at a thing does not contain indignation at a choice or an act. We simply don't like the effect of the thing: the broken clutch, or the grain of sand that just blew in our eye, or rain on our picnic. But when we get angry at a person, we are displeased with a choice they made and an act they performed. Anger at a person always implies strong disapproval. If you are angry at me, you think I have done something I should not have done.
This is why being angry at God is never right. It is wrong – always wrong – to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God does only what is right.  “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7). (Is it Ever Right to Be Angry at God?)
I agree with John's reasoning and have often offered essentially the same response myself. God cannot sin. He can do no wrong. To the Scriptures cited by John to this effect we could add many others. For example:
NKJ Isaiah 6:1-5 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!' 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 So I said: 'Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.'”
The holiness of God always exposes our sin, just as it did the sin of Isaiah. In fact, that God is holy means that he does not sin and is separated from sin.

Wayne Grudem has offered a good definition of the holiness of God in his Systematic Theology, where he writes:
God's holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God’s own honor or glory). (p. 201)
The holiness of God also provides the basis for His commands for us to be Holy. For example:
NKJ 1 Peter 1:13-16 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'”
It is because God is holy – and thus desires that we be holy – that He disciplines us as His children:
NKJ Hebrews 12:10-14 “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord ….”
In fact, God is so holy that he cannot even be tempted to sin:
NKJ James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.”
Again, it is clear from Scripture that God can do no wrong and that He is the very standard of righteousness for us. It is also clear, therefore, that any response to His decisions or actions that assumes that He has done wrong is itself wrong! Indeed, given such evidence from Scripture that God can do no wrong, the thought that a person could ever justly be angry at Him immediately appears ridiculous, doesn't it?

But what about the clear examples in Scripture of believers who were angry at God? Let's examine two such instances and see what we can discover.

Example #1: Job
NKJ Job 19:6-7 “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net. 7 If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard. If I cry aloud, there is no justice.”
After initially refusing either to curse God or to accuse Him of any wrong (1:20; 2:10), Job eventually succumbed to the pressure of his circumstances and the resulting despair, and he accused God of wrong. His anger toward God is easy to detect in his complaints, and the reason for his anger is clear enough as well: He believes God has wronged him by treating him unfairly.
Such anger at God has been the temptation of many a depressed and sorrowful soul. Thankfully, though, Job never did curse God and turn away from Him, no matter how bitter and angry he became. And later in the book we find that Job regretted having spoken such rash and angry words about God. For God Himself confronted Job for what he had said:
NKJ Job 40:1-5 “Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: 2 'Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.' 3 Then Job answered the LORD and said: 4 'Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. 5 Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.'”
NKJ  Job 42:1-6 “Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2 'I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3 You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, “I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” 5 I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. 6 Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'”
It seems clear to me that Job recognized that he had been wrong about God and that he was wrong to say the things about God that he had said. He recognized that his attitude had been sinful and offered God his most sincere confession and repentance. I must say, then, that I continue to be dumbfounded at the way so many cite the case of Job as evidence that it is alright to be angry at God. I think Job himself – if he were here – would vehemently disagree. In fact, he might just get angry at the people who say such things!

Example #2: Jonah
NKJ Jonah 4:1-11 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, 'Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!' 4 Then the LORD said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?' 5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the LORD God prepared a plant  and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.' 9 Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?' And he said, 'It is right for me to be angry, even to death!' 10 But the LORD said, 'You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?'”
Yes, Jonah was angry at God. But he was also wrong to be angry at God! And God made this clear to him, didn't He?


So, in each of these two classic exampels of men who were angry at God, it is clear that they were wrong to be angry at Him. But what if we are angry at God – however wrong it may be – what should we do then? I think John Piper again offers good advice here:
But many who say it is right to be angry with God really mean it is right to express anger at God. When they hear me say it is wrong to be angry with God, they think I mean "stuff your feelings and be a hypocrite." That's not what I mean. I mean it is always wrong to disapprove of God in any of his judgments.
But if we do experience the sinful emotion of anger at God, what then? Shall we add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of anger? No. If we feel it, we should confess it to God. He knows it anyway. He sees our hearts. If anger at God is in our heart, we may as well tell him so, and then tell him we are sorry, and ask him to help us put it away by faith in his goodness and wisdom. (Is it Ever Right to Be Angry at God?)
Again, I have frequently offered essentially the same advice to struggling believers. It is never right to pretend with God. In fact, to pretend with Him assumes negative things about Him that are just as bad as assuming He can do wrong, for it assumes that God does not really know what we are thinking and cannot figure out why we are acting the way we are acting! The best thing to do, then, is to accept God for who He says He is and to be honest with Him. Admit your anger and repent as Job did, and be assured that He will forgive you.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

James White - Explanation and Refutation of Middle Knowledge

This video is from the second session from the Bible Conference at the Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, California, October 23, 2009. In it Dr. White does an excellent job of describing and responding to the doctrine of Middle Knowledge, also historically known as Molinism. The most influential and outspoken adherent of the view today is William Lane Craig, to whom Dr. White responds directly in this presentation. This is the single best explanation and response to Middle Knowledge that I have ever seen.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: The Joy of the Lord

Although we could derive much teaching from the Old Testament about the joy promised to believers (e.g. Deut. 12:12; Ps. 16:11; 51:12; Isa. 61:10; Jer. 15:16), for the sake of brevity I am going to restrict our study here to the teaching of the New Testament, and even then I will only be able to scratch the surface. Let's begin, then, with Jesus' teaching about joy.
NKJ  John 15:8-11 “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. 9 As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Jesus knows the joy of walking in the Father's love and keeping the Father's commandments in a way that we could never know it, at least not without Him. That is why He speaks of His own joy that He wants to share with us as we learn to abide in His love and to obey Him. He wants His own joy both to remain in us and to be full in us. In other words, He wants us to have joy that doesn't go away and that is not hindered in any way.

But what about the depressed person? Can a depressed person know such joy? Well, according to Jesus, anyone who is His disciple and who thus abides in His love may indeed have such joy. To exempt the depressed person from the expectation of joy here would also entail exempting them from the ability to abide in Christ and to obey Him, wouldn't it? Yet, many Christians assume such an exemption, apparently thinking that, although Jesus still requires depressed people to abide in His love and obey Him, He does not grant them the joy that He says will come with such abiding and obedience.

Here is the point: Anyone who has entered into a genuine relationship with Christ should expect to have the joy that comes with knowing and following Him. And because it is His joy that is shared with them, they should expect to experience it even in their trials and even in the midst of the challenge of depression. The implication of Jesus' teaching here is that we will have our joy hindered only if we fail to abide in His love and to obey Him.
NKJ  John 16:16-22 “'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.' 17 Then some of His disciples said among themselves, 'What is this that He says to us, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me”; and, “because I go to the Father”?' 18 They said therefore, 'What is this that He says, “A little while”? We do not know what He is saying.' 19 Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask [ἐρωτάω, erōtáō] Him, and He said to them, 'Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me?” 20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. 21 A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.'”
Here Jesus was thinking of His coming death and resurrection when He said, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” And He was telling the disciples that their joy would be interrupted because of His death but that later – after His resurrection – when they would see Him again, their joy would return and that no one would ever take it from them. No one can take away a joy that God promises and gives to us as a result of Christ's death and resurrection on our behalf!
NKJ  John 16:23-24 “And in that day you will ask [ἐρωτάω, erōtáō] Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” [But see also 1 John 5:14-15, which makes explicit what Jesus assumes here, namely that to ask in His name is to ask in accordance with the Father's will and that we can expect to receive only that which is in accordance with His will.]
I think William Hendriksen is on the right track in his explanation of verse 23 when he points out that:
In order to grasp the meaning of this passage we must first of all connect it with verse 19 where the same verb inquire [ἐρωτάω, erōtáō] is used …. The disciples had been searching each other to find an answer to Christ's dark saying about the little while. They had been filled with a desire to inquire of him, but they had not dared to interrupt him again. Now, in verse 23 Jesus declares that in the dispensation of the Spirit these men would no longer be at a loss what to do, desiring to ask questions and yet not having the courage to do so. In the light of Christ's resurrection, as interpreted by the Holy Spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost and present with the Church ever afterward, the meaning of all such matters would become perfectly clear. Then these men would know why Jesus had to die, why his death was advantageous for the Church, in what manner the source of gloom had been turned into a source of joy, etc. Peter would no longer have to ask, “Where art thou going?” (13:36); nor Thomas, “How can we know the way?” (14:5); nor Philip, “Show us the Father,” (14:8); nor Judas the Greater “Lord, what has happened that thou art about to manifest thyself to us and not to the world?” (14:22); nor any of them, “What is the little while?” (16:18). (BNTC, e-Sword)
Keeping this in mind, Jesus must be referring in verse 24 to the disciples' questions about the meaning of His teaching, and He assures them that the Father will always give them the answers they need  to these questions so that their “joy may be full.” This means that Jesus connects fullness of joy not only to obediently abiding in His love (as in John 15:8-11 above) but also to a right understanding of spiritual things. This is why Jesus earlier promised that the Holy Spirit would come to be their teacher, when He said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). And, of course, the Holy Spirit then inspired the Apostles to write the New Testament Scriptures that we possess today, and these Scriptures provide us with the knowledge we need to have the fullness of joy Jesus promised. Indeed, it was this same Spirit who had inspired the previous authors of the Old Testament Scriptures as well, as Peter was sure to express in his epistles:
NKJ 1 Peter 1:10-12 “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us  they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.”
NKJ 2 Peter 1:20-21 “... knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
This is one reason why we have spent so much time going through so many parts of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) in our endeavor to ascertain how we should think about the issue of depression. It should be a great help for those who are depressed, for in this way they too can have fullness of joy with the answers the Father provides them in His Word.
NKJ  John 17:12-13 “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Here again Jesus spoke of the fullness of joy that His followers may have as a result of His Word, only this time He was praying to the Father on behalf of the disciples. He was praying for their fullness of joy, and He wanted both them and us to know that He was thus praying, which is why we have it in our Bibles. But doesn't He still intercede for us as well? And can't we assume that He still asks the Father for the fullness of joy that He has promised us? (See, for example, Rom. 8:34 and Heb. 7:25.)
NKJ Galatians 5:22-25 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Notice that part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy (vs. 22), which is one of those traits that will be manifested in those who know Christ and who “live in the Spirit” (vs. 25). This means that any and all Christians should experience this joy, just as they should experience the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit such as love, peace, kindness, or self-control. Why, then, do so many depressed Christians assume that such joy is not for them? Why should we ever assume that this particular fruit of the Spirit just isn't available for a person who has been diagnosed as being clinically depressed, for example? Is our faith to be in the diagnoses of modern psychologists and psychiatrists or in the promises of God? Or does our joy in the Holy Spirit ultimately depend upon some *pill rather than His power? I think not!
NKJ  Romans 14:16-17 “Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
This verse is significant for our study because in it Paul associates the experience of joy so closely with the experience of God's reign in one's life that he can actually say that “the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (italics mine).

William Hendriksen is again helpful in his commentary on this passage:
The essence of God's royal reign, the evidence of that blessed reign in your midst, says Paul, as it were, is not affected by the kind of food a person consumes, whether ceremonially clean or unclean, whether only vegetables or also meats, but is attested by one's possession of the state of righteousness before God, consciousness of peace with God, a peace resulting from reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:1, 10). It is characterized by the experience of Spirit-wrought joy, a joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:18). (BNTC, e-Sword)
If a depressed person is truly a member of God's kingdom, then wouldn't he also experience the joy that belongs to that kingdom and is a fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence and work? Of course he would! And to expect it of the depressed person is no more nor less than to expect it of any other Christian, for in any case such joy is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit! To assume that the depressed person should not expect to experience this same joy is to disbelieve God's Word and to assume that He is unable to do for them what He has promised to do for all of His children.

Now, moving right along, we have already seen that both Paul (in Romans 5:1-5) and James (in James 1:1-17) connect our experience of joy to our enduring trials and sufferings for Christ. So here I would just like to add Peter's testimony to theirs.
NKJ  1 Peter 1:6-9 “In this you greatly rejoice [ἀγαλλιάω, agalliáō, “as feeling and expressing supreme joy be glad, rejoice exceedingly, be very happy,” Friberg #25, BibleWorks], though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice [ἀγαλλιάω, agalliáō] with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.”
Peter agrees wholeheartedly with Paul and James that we believers may experience great joy even in the midst of – indeed even because of – great trials, for it is through these very trials that we discover the genuineness of our faith. And this fills us with joy because, as we see the genuineness of the faith that God has given us (for faith is a gift of God), we are also receiving with it the ultimate goal of such faith, the salvation of our souls. In other words, we are witnessing God's work of salvation in our lives as we see the genuineness of our faith, and this brings with it great assurance. No wonder Peter says that we “rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory”!

Simon Kistemaker is quite helpful in his discussion of the importance of this assertion:
Already in this present life believers experience indescribable joy; they do not have to wait until they leave this earthly scene. Even now they are filled with joy that is “inexpressible and glorious.” The emphasis in this part of the verse is on the joy that fills the hearts of Christians. A literal translation conveys this concept in both verb and noun: “You greatly rejoice with joy” (NASB). This is the second time in this first part of his epistle that Peter introduces the subject joy. Peter repeats the word he used earlier, “you greatly rejoice” (v. 6). The word depicts shouting for joy that cannot be contained.
Besides, Peter qualifies the noun joy with two unusual adjectives: “inexpressible” and “glorious.” The first word, “inexpressible,” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Peter uses it to describe the activity of a person who possesses great joy. That person cannot express his joy in human terms. In fact, he copes with not only an inability but also an impossibility to convey the depth of his joy. The second word, “glorious,” signifies that which has been glorified and continues to be glorified. It connotes the presence of heavenly glory that characterizes this particular joy (compare 2 Cor. 3:10). (BNTC, e-Sword)
Now, if depression be regarded as a trial – as I think it should be – then it too is a chance to discover the genuineness of our faith and to be filled with inexpressible joy. Seen from this perspective, then, depression is actually an opportunity for a deeper joy than we might otherwise experience!


This brings us to the end of our attempt to discover a Scriptural framework within which to understand how believers should think about and react to depression. Along the way we have examined a number of Scriptural case studies of depressed people (whether they all would qualify as what we would refer to as "clinical depression" or not doesn't matter). We have examined a number of passages that speak directly to the issue of depression. We have examined a number of passages that teach about trials in the Christian life, among which depression in all its forms may be included. And, finally, we have examined a number of passages that teach about the joy God promises to believers even in the midst of the most difficult trials.

I hope it has become clear to all of us that depression is not viewed in Scripture as a problem that should rob us of our joy or even necessarily diminish our joy. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Depression can actually be a tremendous opportunity for growth in our walk with Christ and for a greater and deeper experience of the joy of the Lord than we might otherwise have known. It is also thus a tremendous opportunity to be a better witness for Christ as people see in us a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) and a joy that is “inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8), one that does not depend upon our circumstances.

In fact, because we are created in God's image we are also at times capable of experiencing a number of emotions at once, such as when we experience a mixture of both sorrow and joy upon the death of a loved one in Christ. Because we do not sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13), we may experience the joy that such hope brings even in the midst of great sorrow. So it shouldn't surprise us that a depressed believer may know peace and joy in spite of or in the midst of his or her battle with depression.

Now, all of this will no doubt sound like nonsense to unbelievers – or perhaps even to believers who take their cues more from pop psychology than from Scripture – but it is true nonetheless. And the sooner believers begin to realize this the better it will be for them as individuals and for the Church as a whole.

*Note: I do not intend to imply that there is no proper role for medication when dealing with people who suffer from depression due to some physical problem, whether it be a physical problem with the brain or a chronic ailment which may bring depression in its wake (such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, for example). I am, however, suspicious of many diagnoses of depression and of the overuse of medication. And I do not believe that a Christian should ever substitute mood altering drugs for dependence upon the Spirit in any case.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Carl Trueman on Celebrity, Authority, and Authenticity in the Church

I saw this video interview with Dr. Carl Trueman over at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog and just had to post it here as well. Dr. Trueman has a lot of very insightful and helpful things to say about the dangers of celebrity in the Church. But the interview is actually a wide-ranging discussion of many issues facing the Church in America today. I highly recommend listening closely to it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: James 1:2-17

In my last post on this subject I wrote about how we can become more capable of ministering to others in their trials when we have first been comforted by God in our own trials, and I emphasized that such trials would include even the worst sorts of depression. In this post I want to us to focus on the wisdom we may receive from God and the joy we may experience even in the midst of trials, and such trials would again include depression. The Apostle James discusses these themes in his epistle, so let's take a look next at his teaching on the subject:

NKJ James 1:2-3 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [πειρασμός, peirasmós].3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”

When James says that we should “count it all joy” when we fall into various of trials, he doesn't mean that we should like hurting, or act like we don't feel bad when painful things happen to us. He is saying that we should consider, regard, or view our trials with all joy or full joy (vs. 2), not with a view to how they feel when we are going through them, but because we know what they are for (vs. 3). They are for the testing of our faith so that we can learn patience, which is a good thing. Thus the source of our joy when enduring trials comes from the knowledge God has given us about their purpose in our lives.

It is a curious thing that the Christian can experience joy even in the midst of pain. For example, when the Apostles were taken before the Sanhedrin and ordered to be beaten, they were able to rejoice, Luke tells us in Acts 5:

NKJ Acts 5:40-41 “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

No doubt the Apostles were still in a great deal of physical and emotional pain from the beating and rejection they had endured, but this did not stop them from having joy! This is because their joy stemmed from what they knew to be true, that they were simply sharing in the sufferings of Christ. And they knew what this meant, that they would also share in His glory (such as we have already seen in our previous study of Romans 5, which we understood in the context of 8:17, e.g.).

The Greek term translated trialsπειρασμός (peirasmós) – is a key term in the first chapter of James, so it is important to understand it. It can have several meanings, two of which appear in this passage. For example:

(1) as God's examination of man test, trial (1P 4.12); (2) as enticement to sin, either from without or within temptation, testing (LU 4.13); (3) of man's (hostile) intent putting (God) to the test (HE 3.8 [See also Deut. 6:16]). (Friberg # 21267, BibleWorks)

It is the first meaning – a test or trial – that James has in mind here, although he will change to the second meaning – a temptation to sin – later in the chapter (vs. 12f). Here the word has a positive meaning, referring to a good thing, but there it has a negative meaning, referring to an evil thing.

This same kind of positive connotation is intended by James when he refers to the testing of our faith in verse 3. There he uses the Greek word δοκίμιον (dokímion), which could be used to refer to the testing of gold, by which it was determined to be without impurities. It too can be used with slightly different connotations. For example, it can refer to::

1) means of testing, criterion, test; (2) as the act of testing trial, proving (JA 1.3); (3) as the result of testing proof, genuineness (1P 1.7). (Friberg # 7060, BibleWorks)

So both of the term used by James in verse 2-3 refer to trials or testing in a positive light, as something good. In fact, the Scriptures often speak of God as testing His people. For example:

NKJ Genesis 22:1 “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested [נָסָה, (nāsāh, test, try, prove); LXX πειράζω (peirázō, verb form related to the noun peirasmós used by James)]Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'” [The test was to ask Abraham to offer his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice.]

NKJ Exodus 20:18-20Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, 'You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' 20 And Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear; for God has come to test [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX πειράζω, (peirázō)] you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.'”

NKJ Deuteronomy 8:11-16Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 lest-- when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; 15 who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX ἐκπειράζω, (ekpeirázō) to test thoroughly] you, to do you good in the end ….” [Note the good purpose of trials as in James 1.]

NKJ Deuteronomy 13:1-3 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying,`Let us go after other gods'-- which you have not known -- 'and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX πειράζω (peirázō)] you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

NKJ Judges 2:20-23 “Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, 'Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX πειράζω (peirázō)] Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.' 23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.”

Again, it is in this same positive sense that James speaks of trials and testing in this passage under study. He assumes, in fact, that God is at work through them, for it is God who tests our faith, as He tested the faith of our father Abraham, and it is God who seeks to produce patience and maturity in us. This is why James can tell us to count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that trials are not in themselves bad things, since they serve a good purpose, to help us to attain to spiritual maturity.

This leads directly into the next verse.

NKJ James 1:4 “But let patience have its perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] work, that you may be perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] and complete, lacking nothing.”

Here James is talking about spiritual maturity, and he once again uses a term that can have different connotations, employing these different connotations in order to make his point. For example, téleios can mean:

complete, perfect, whole (ἔργον τ. full effect, successful results Jas 1.4 [in the first part of the verse]); [or it can mean] full-grown, mature (of persons) [in the second part of the verse]; τελειότερος more perfect (He 9.11). (Friberg # 6023, BibleWorks)

So, in order for us to become téleios in the sense of mature, we need to learn patience, and we learn patience through trials and the testing of our faith. But we must let patience have its téleios work, that is its perfect work – or its full effect – in our lives. Sadly, we live in a culture that is so focused upon feeling good and being comfortable that far too many Christians refuse to let patience have its perfect work. Through our impatience we thus often simply refuse to grow! But we need to rethink the whole issue of trials and get a Biblical perspective on them. Indeed, if we are to consider them all joy, we need to learn to embrace them, even to welcome them into our lives, should God choose to bring them – which He will! So, if you haven't yet experienced many trials as a believer, but you really do want to grow in Christ-likeness, then be prepared for trials, because God has some testing for your faith on the way!

It is also worth noting that James uses this Greek term téleios (perfect, mature] as a catchword later in this passage, when he refers to God as the giver of “every good gift and every perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] gift” (vs. 17). This is James' way of indicating that it is indeed God who is at work through the testing of our faith, and it is His perfect work that is being done in our lives. And this should bring us great comfort and joy in our trials.

As Charles Spurgeon once said:

It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity. (as cited by John Piper in a message entitled Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity)

Thank God that He is sovereign over all our trials – even the terrible trial of depression – and has a good and glorious purpose in all of them! When you encounter the trial of depression, do you count it all joy? Do you see God's purpose in it? If not, then you need the wisdom taught here by James. And if you can't seem to get a handle on this wisdom, all you have to do is ask the Lord, as the next verse says.

NKJ James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom [not just knowledge, but how to use knowledge], let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

It is telling that James brings up our need for wisdom here. He knows that we cannot and will not have joy in our trials without the wisdom to see them from God's point of view. And he knows that only God can give us this wisdom, a wisdom he is sharing with us in this very passage – and that I am sharing with you now.

James tells us that wisdom is available from God Himself and can be had just for the asking. And he wants us to be encouraged to ask God for wisdom with confidence that He will indeed give it. He gives us two reasons for such confidence:

  1. God is gives wisdom liberally – that is, “wholeheartedly, generously, without reserve” (Friberg # 2824, BibleWorks). The point is that God wants to share His wisdom with His children, especially when they encounter trials (which is what the context is about). As John later tells us:

    NKJ 1 John 5:14-15 “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

    Well, James tells us that it is the will of God that we ask him for wisdom, especially when we encounter various trials, so we can be confident that He will indeed give it as necessary! This is an important reminder, since we may be tempted during trials to wonder if God does indeed care about us. But if we have His wise perspective about our trials, we will see that just the opposite is true! God brings trials into our lives precisely because He does care about us so much.

  2. God gives wisdom without reproach – that is, “without chiding a man for his previous sins,” as James Adamson puts it in his commentary (NICNT, p. 56). When we struggle and ask God for wisdom, He is not going to give it to us with an attitude that says, “I wouldn't have to keep giving you wisdom if you weren't such a dolt!” On the contrary, He is going to give us wisdom without reproach of any kind.
But not only does James give us encouragement to be confident in asking God for wisdom, He also warns against asking without faith.

NKJ James 1:6-8 “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

In the context, the doubting James has in mind must be doubting God's purposes for our trials. We must ask for the wisdom that He wants to give us in sincerity. We cannot ask for God's perspective – His wisdom – regarding our trials while at the same time refusing to believe what He teaches us about them!

Some Christians simply refuse to believe that God could ever have any good purpose for suffering or difficulty in their lives, and thus they ask for wisdom they are predisposed to reject. But any such Christian is double-minded, wanting perhaps to have the spiritual maturity and joy that God offers, but refusing to accept that it will come through great difficulty. He is like “a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind,” “in constant agitation without making any progress to any result” (James Adamson, NICNT, p. 58). This man will receive nothing from the Lord, not the wisdom he needs in order to endure trails, nor the joy this brings as one endures trials, nor the maturity these trials are designed to produce.

The author of Hebrews makes a similar point when he writes:

NKJ Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

If you struggle with depression, you may also be tempted to think that it cannot possibly be God's perfect will for you, and you may find it difficult to ask for wisdom with the kind of faith James is talking about. Well, then, perhaps you should begin instead with another prayer, such as the one the poor father of a demonized boy once employed with Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

NKJ James 1:9-11 “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich [brother] in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”

These verses may at first seem out of place in James' teaching about trials and about asking God for wisdom as we deal with trials. But it makes sense when we consider that trials, and wisdom as we endure trials, are necessary for both the poor [the meaning of lowly in this context] and the rich. In fact, we may say that – for James – trials are a kind of leveler that destroys class distinctions. The rich man, who may seem to have advantages over the poor man where certain trials are concerned, is not for all his riches exempt from them. And his riches cannot get for him any more wisdom than is available to the poor man. Nor will the rich man's pursuit of riches gain him any lasting benefit that is not also available to the poor man in Christ. Therefore the poor man may glory or boast in his exalted status as one who may posses the wisdom of God, and the rich man may boast also in the humbling knowledge that he too must rely upon God alone for the wisdom he needs.

But James also knows that we will often be tempted when we are tested, and this is why he picks up this theme in the following verses.

NKJ James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures [ὑπομένω (hupoménō); recall ὑπομονή (hupomonē, patience, endurance) in vss. 3-4] temptation [πειρασμός (peirasmós)]; for when he has been approved [δόκιμος (dókimos); recall δοκίμιον (dokímion) in vs. 3], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Notice that here the NKJ translates peirasmós as temptation rather than as trial (as in vs. 2). I think this is incorrect here. While I agree that James does shift the meaning of the terminology in this passage, I think that he doesn't do so until verse 13 (as in the ESV, NASB, NET, and NIV). Here he still has trials in mind, and this sentence is meant both to emphasize the ultimate good that comes from such trials and thus to sum up the intent of his teaching regarding their necessity.

That this is the correct view is reinforced by the way that James uses catchwords to recall his earlier statements in verses 2-4, such as his refernce to approval after testing (dókimos hearkening back to dokímion) and patience (hupoméno hearkening back to hupomonē).

Also, previously he was explaining why it is that we can have joy when we encounter trials. And now he says that we are “blessed” when, with the help of God's wisdom, we endure trials. The Greek word translated blessedμακάριος (makários) – refers to a state of happiness that does not depend upon earthly circumstances, but rather upon knowledge and experience of the salvation that God offers and works out in our lives. It may or may not be felt consistently, but it is the actual state of the believer who trusts in the Lord.

Earlier James referred more to the joy we can know as we contemplate trials that we will face or that we are in the midst of, and how this joy is dependent upon remembering what the end result of trials is intended to be. Now in verse 12, however, James is referring to the happiness we may possess from the standpoint of having already endured a particular trial (note the singular).

When we we endure a particular trial by God's grace, we grow in our understanding and experience of just how blessed we are in the Lord, and this, in turn, reminds us of the ultimate goal, the future life that God has promised us. This is what the “crown of life” is referring to, as Jesus also later reminded the church at Smyrna:

NKJ Revelation 2:10 “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested [πειράζω (peirázō)], and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

This crown of life is promised by God not only to those who endure trials, but also, James says, “to those who love Him.” These are just two different ways of referring to genuine Christians, and they are interrelated. We will not endure trials as we should if we do not love God. It is love for Him – in response to his having first loved us (see 1 John 4:19) – that will help us to endure trials for His sake, and it is through trials that we will deepen in our love for Him.

Doesn't it make a huge difference when we view the trials we face in the context of a love relationship with our Heavenly Father!? We might even say that how we endure trials is a good gauge of how much we really do – or really don't – love God. And this is no less true of the trial of depression.

At any rate, as we see God keeping His promises and preserving us through various trials, we are encouraged to be confident that He will take us to the ultimate goal of our salvation as well. So, through trials we grow in patience/endurance, in spiritual maturity, in faith, and in happiness.

NKJ James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted [πειράζω (peirázō)], 'I am tempted [πειράζω (peirázō)] by God'; for God cannot be tempted [ἀπείραστος (apeírastos)] by evil, nor does He Himself tempt [πειράζω (peirázō)] anyone.”

Now we arrive at the point where James shifts the meaning of the Greek verb peirázō in order to indicate that the trials that serve the good purpose of testing our faith can become for us occasions for temptation. This is assumed by James, who does not want us to be confused by this and think that these temptations come from God. While it is true that God does test our faith in order to mature us as Christians, the temptation to sin that we may experience in the process does not come from Him!

The New Geneva Study Bible note on this verse is very helpful in this regard:

1:13 tempted. There is an important difference between the concepts “test” and “tempt.” God tests people, but never tempts them in the sense of enticing them to sin. Jesus, in the wilderness, was tested by God and tempted by Satan. There is also a difference between temptations that arise from our own sinful inclinations (internal) and those coming from without (external). Jesus, being free of original sin, was tempted externally but not internally. The testing of our faith may be the occasion for temptations to come, both internal and external, yet the temptations never have God as their author. (p. 1959)

Now, although I appreciate the reasoning behind the distinction between the terms internal and external in the above cited note, I am not sure I am completely satisfied with them. For example, although Jesus was not tempted by any sinful internal inclinations, didn't he experience hunger, for example, when He was tempted by Satan, and wouldn't this be an internal factor that may have made it more tempting to turn a stone into bread (Matt. 4:2-4)? Still, however, the New Geneva Study Bible is right to see the temptation of Christ as instructive for us. And it rightly sees such an example in His wilderness temptations. For example:

NKJ Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Note: Mark says the Spirit “drove” Him into the wilderness [1:12].)

This passage is striking, in that it tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He would be tempted by the devil. The Holy Spirit led Him into a situation of great hunger and weariness, into a situation of testing, but it is the devil who tempted Him, not God. And Matthew sees no difficulty at all in stating the situation in this way. He sees no problem in acknowledging that God is sovereign over our lives and over evil in such a way that He does no evil Himself and is not the author of sin or temptation. Evil – and the temptation to evil – comes from Satan and from us, not from God! And this is the very point James will make in the next two verses.

NKJ James 1:14-15 “But each one is tempted [πειράζω (peirázō)] when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Temptation comes from our own evil desires. It is a result of our own inherent corruption. And when we allow these desires to entice us into sinning, it is entirely our own fault.

Thomas à Kempis described the process of temptation in a passage that is undoubtedly based upon this text:

At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colours; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent. (Cited by James Adamson, NICNT, p.72, footnote 101a)

Remember that God tests our faith in order to mature us and ultimately to grant us the crown of life. But James here describes a process of temptation and sin that ultimately results in death, which most likely refers to eternal death, given that it is the opposite of the future, eternal life mentioned in verse 12. Aside from God's grace, this is the end result of giving into temptation to sin.

NKJ James 1:16-17 “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

The only way that a person could make the mistake of attributing temptation to God is that he is deceived and has forgotten that God is good and does not change. Such a person has failed to realize that God can give only good and perfect gifts.

In fact, the Greek word James uses here to describe God's gifts as perfectτέλειος (téleios) – is a catchword that alludes back to verse 4, where he admonished the reader to “let patience have its perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] work, that you may be perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] and complete, lacking nothing.” Thus, the trials that test our faith are good and perfect gifts from a good God, who has only what is best in mind for His children, however difficult it may be for them to see it sometimes. It is just such a perspective, according to James, that enables us to have joy in trials, or as he put it in verse 2, “to count it all joy.”

It must be possible, then, to have joy in the midst of any trial that we endure, including the trial of depression, however oxymoronic that may at first sound! It must be possible to experience the joy of knowing that God is at work for our good even when we struggle to feel good at all. I know it sounds crazy to many of you, but I can attest that it is true not only from Scripture but also from my own experience. God really can miraculously work in our hearts in such ways, and if we fail to believe it, then we need to see that we are guilty of the very double-mindedness about which James warns, and we need to ask God to forgive us and to give us His wisdom on the matter, believing that He can work in ways that we cannot understand in earthly terms.

At any rate, James' teaching on the joy we can have in trials leads us to our next major Biblical theme as we think about how to view depression in a Scriptural way, and this is the theme of Christian joy. I will take up this theme in my next post on how we may move toward a Biblical perspective on depression.