Podcast: Ezekiel & Daniel

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Having been unable to record a podcast last week, you get a double dose today, as we look at some of the questions raised in R.C. Sproul’s lectures on Ezekiel and Daniel.  A number of the questions center around how to interpret the highly symbolic language in these books. Spoiler alert: no Tim Challies this week! Please don’t hate me.

An alternative to “Meh”

God praises people. Far-from-perfect people. Sinful people. Amazing isn’t it? There may be bad things in their past, their present or their future, and yet God praises them and inspired the biblical authors to record that praise.

  • Noah: “You are righteous before me in this generation.”
  • Job: “There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”
  • Roman Centurion: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
  • Nathaniel: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
  • Canaanite woman: “O woman, great is your faith!”

Part of being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, is imitating Him in praising and affirming others, especially when they share good news with us. The popular writers in the Positive Psychology movement have identified four different kinds of response to someone who shares good news with us:

  • Active Constructive: We feel the joy of the person sharing the news and respond enthusiastically by asking for more details and by helping them savor the news. Example: “That’s wonderful news. I’m so happy for you! Tell me more about it”
  • Passive Constructive: The response is supportive but quiet and understated rather than excited and interested: Example: “That’s nice dear.”
  • Active Destructive: Here the responder demeans the person or quashes the news by making critical, negative, or pessimistic remarks about the information that was shared.” Example: “That’s never going to work out. It’ll probably add a lot of stress in your life.”
  • Passive Destructive: Ignores the news and fails to acknowledge the feelings of the person. Example: “So anyway…Guess what happened to me at work today.”

God is an active constructive responder! And so should we be. And not only because it helps us imitate and represent God to others, but because it will do us good too.

Research shows that people who rate their partners as active and constructive responders feel more intimacy and trust, are more satisfied with the relationship, report fewer conflicts, and engage in more fun and relaxing activities together This is because active constructive responding makes people feel validated, understood, and cared for (Jessica Colman, Optimal Functioning)

So next time you’re tempted to “Meh” someone, or worse, remember: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

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Erik challenges us to glorify God in love, confession, and distinction of roles.

Christians can’t ignore the uncomfortable reality of mental illness.
Amy Simpson examines our usual responses to depression, schizophrenia, etc., and calls us to better responses. When suicide strikes in the body of Christ is another helpful piece. I don’t agree that “taking one’s own life may well be a sin.” It is always a sin. But I agree that it is not the unforgivable sin. The Grace Alliance, an organization I greatly respect, has Four ways for the church to respond to depression. Paul Tautges provides an excellent suicide assessment tool.

5 Ways to avoid the drain of busyness
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Point 1
Three quickfire ways to improve our sermon points.

3 Principles for Preaching the Pentateuch
Preach expositionally, plainly, and Christologically.

5 Times we tend to overspend
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Pastoral Thoughts on Depression

John Koopman, pastor of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church in British Columbia,  sent me this helpful piece explaining how he has learned to avoid extremes in dealing with depression. I’m very grateful to John for taking the time to write this and for doing so in such a compassionate, balanced, and brief manner.

There is a great deal of debate in biblical counseling circles on how depression should be addressed.  On the one extreme there are those who claim that depression is simply a disease like cancer – and expressions have been used like ‘cancer of the mind’ and so on.  On the other extreme are those who claim that it is simply a lifestyle choice; a lack of discipline; stressful circumstances – and they usually point out that this is the result of sin – perhaps not exclusively but for the most part sinful.

Two extremes
The individuals in these two extremes – often godly and caring people – want us to choose either one or the other extreme. As a result they are often intolerant to individuals who are of the other extreme.  Most of us don’t fall into either of these extremes.  Those who have personal experience with depression – either themselves or their family members – tend to be more sympathetic to the medical model.  Those who have little or no personal experience tend to be attracted to the “it’s a sin” model.  We do need to recognize that it is often our own personal experience which taints our perspective on this issue.  However, as a pastor I don’t want to choose either extreme – nor does either have a huge impact on how I care for someone pastorally.  Pastoral care of them doesn’t depend on the reason for their depression.

Personally, I think we need to be very careful and look at each case individually.  Further, I don’t like to be forced to take an either/or approach but prefer the both/and approach when dealing with someone who is depressed.  Even with sickness like cancer there are always spiritual aspects to this physical disease.  The reality is that regardless of the reason for their depression (and we often can’t determine this absolutely) the person needs help.  What do I do when someone calls me that they are depressed?  Actually they don’t usually call but I become aware through a family member or friend. How should we pastorally respond to someone who is depressed?

First, we need to be compassionate regardless of the reason (or reasons!) for their depression.  For arguments sake, even if the depression is a result of someone’s sin or circumstances (even if those circumstances are of their own making) we need to show compassion.  Unfortunately some who have taken the “sin model” have used the approach of the Pharisees in addressing the woman caught committing adultery (John 8). We must show compassion to all individuals who are suffering from depression regardless of its origin.

Second, we need to recognize that man’s various parts (physical, spiritual, emotional) cannot be compartmentalized but must be considered as one whole person.  Therefore, I always recommend someone who suffers from depression to make an appointment with their family physician.  In the case where it is a “disease of the mind,” medication may be necessary to give stability for the rest of their life.  This is clearly the case where genetics are involved – where because of man’s fall into sin the mind has fallen as well.  Hopefully, these treatments will become more precise over the years as they continue to study the brain.  In the case where there the depression is largely the result of personal sin (and I do believe there are such cases) medication is often needed to give stability so that the depressed person will begin to hear counsel that is given to them.  To try to counsel someone who is depressed is very ineffective if their mind is not functioning well.  These individuals may only be on medication for a period of time until stability is restore in their lives.

Gentle Promises
Thirdly, when there is stability continue to show pastoral concern and give appropriate counsel in a kind gentle manner.  Often the promises of scripture are most helpful in this regard rather than the exhortations.  To lay further obligations on someone who is already depressed will only lead to a heavier burden being laid upon them and actually increase their depression.  There may be times that sin needs to be addressed (regardless of the origin of their depression) but that is best done by showing them a better way – the way of life in the gospel!  Be on guard because our natural tendency is to judge.  Be very careful that you understand their life!  Some of these people have struggled for years with something you have only heard second hand.  Think about living in their situation – and be compassionate!

Double nonsense
In conclusion I’d say that the fact of the matter is that some depression can be mainly physiologically (although perhaps include sinful responses) since depression very clearly runs in families who members live in different settings.  Therefore, to deny a link to physical causes in all cases is absolute nonsense in my view.  However, to make the argument that depression is always physiological is equally nonsense.  I have frequently dealt with people whose sinful circumstances or responses to their circumstances have led to depression.  Both are cases that require our pastoral care and sensitivity.  The one may be the “blind man” of John 9, while the other might be the “woman caught in adultery” of John 8.  Both need our help, although in a slightly different way.   As a pastor I often cannot distinguish into which of these two categories a depressed person belongs – but I don’t need to put them in one category or the other in order to help them pastorally.  Each requires our pastoral compassion, sensitivity, and counsel.

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The Pastor’s Family by Brian Croft
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Christ is not just another theme in the Old Testament
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Marbles, Soup, and Beef Stew
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Maggie won’t jump
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Blood Work

I’ve been luxuriating in the precious blood of Christ while reading Anthony Carter’s wonderful new book on the atonement, Blood Work. Come and join me, via my favorite quotes:

  • Even though my blood could potentially save the temporal life of one, how many more can be saved unto eternal life by the precious blood of Jesus?
  • Life is truly in the blood. Temporally it is in the blood running through our veins. Eternally it is in the sin-breaking, guilt removing, incomparable, inestimably valuable blood of Jesus Christ.
  • Christianity is a bloody religion not because of the blood shed by people in wars and inquisitions, but because of the blood shed by Jesus Christ.
  • At the very heart of our Christian faith is a precious red substance; the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (R Phillips)
  • If the history of redemption is a story told in pictures, the blood of Christ is the paint with which that story is portrayed.
  • The shedding of his blood was the highest and most excellent part of his obedience (Phil. 2:8)(Stephen Charnock)
  • The blood of the Old Testament spoke, but Christ’s blood speaks better. In speaking, it also satisfies.
  • The blood of Christ is significant, not for the blood itself, but for what it represents – the perfect, sinless, life of Christ poured out in death for us.
  • The redeemed do not receive a blood transfusion from God. We receive a life transfusion – He death for our death, his life for our life.
  • Christ bought us and therefore owns us. He did not purchase His people on credit He paid in full. We are his.
  •  Jesus will not return or exchange what he has bought.
  • The only currency that is of value in heaven and throughout eternity is the blood of Chist.
  • Sin is not just breaking the rules., it’s making one’s own rules.
  • God has more right to be angry at the sin of the world than we have at a thousand terrorists.
  • The Gospel in five words: Christ died for the ungodly.
  • Jesus’ blood pleads for us. He is the Advocate and His blood is the plea.
  • The Trinity is a love triangle. But unlike the love triangles we know, this one works, bringing joy and delight to all.
  • Apart from Christ, life is nothing more than a march from the womb to the tomb.
  • Selfish Christian? There is no self at the cross, only Jesus. Stingy Christian? The cross is the greatest motivation for giving there ever could be. Proud Christian? The ground at the foot of the cross is the humblest in the history of the world. Racist Christian? At the cross there is no Jew or Gentile, black or white, Arab or Asian.
  • Racial and ethnic bloodlines are not omnipotent. The blood of Christ is.
  • The blood of Christ says not only that we can get along with each other; more important, it says that we can get along with God.
  • Pilate proposed to wash the blood of Christ away from himself, while Paul knew himself to be washed in the blood of Christ.
  • Sin is more destructive than an atomic bomb; more menacing than a terrorist plot; more ruinous than a plague of locusts; more devastating that ten tsunamis; and more horrible and scary than a thousand bogeymen.
  • “Had I the guilt of all the world, He’s able to forgive.”