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Posts Tagged ‘pastoral theology’

sadface

I’ve heard it from a few people now… stories of depressed friends going to their GP and at some stage being asked, “Are you, by any chance, an evangelical Christian?” Have you heard similar tales?

I’m not sure whether we’ve ended up on any official lists of “predisposing factors” but it certainly makes you think.

So let’s ask a tough question: Is there anything about evangelicalism (as opposed to other kinds of Christianity) that makes depression even harder? Or even, perhaps, more likely?

Is it worse to be an evangelical Christian when you’re depressed?

I can think of two reasons it shouldn’t be and two reasons it might be…

READ THE WHOLE POST ON EMMA’S BLOG

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I’ve been thinking about Job a lot recently (see yesterday’s post). When I consider the miserable comforters, I’m often reminded of this…

The interviewers and those phoning in were undoubtedly well-meaning. But so were Job’s comforters (Job 2:11). They do want to fix him. But again, that was the motivation of the comforters too.  Yet, after endless rounds of “Do this and be healed”, comfort becomes torment.

Interestingly, Chris Sands was eventually cured because a brain surgeon was watching one of these interviews. He wondered whether a tumour pressing on a nerve was the problem. It was. And so Chris went under the knife for drastic surgery. That was the answer and it went so much deeper than all our home spun remedies.

The true answer to suffering is so much deeper than our little platitudes ever acknowledge. In our pastoral care, let’s have true compassion on people, admitting our own helplessness and pointing sufferers away from their paltry efforts to the true Doctor of our souls.

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Book by Book 1
For the last two days we’ve been filming Book by Book’s study in Job. Here’s me with Richard Bewes and Paul Blackham – what a privilege to be involved! I think the DVD and Paul’s insanely good study guide (best resource you’ll find on Job!) will be available later in the year.

In the past I’ve blogged my way through Job on the King’s English:

The LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away

Miserable Comforters

Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward

Escaped by the skin of my teeth

I know that my Redeemer liveth

Gird up thy loins

Repent in dust and ashes

Old and full of days

…And given this sermon on the whole book…

But it was great to look in more depth at the book. Some new thoughts I’ve had as we’ve studied this more together:

1) So much of Job is about knowing Christ – the Mediator.  His mediatorial work comes up at key points – Job 9:32-35; Job 16:19-21; Job 19:23-27; Job 33:23-28; Job 42:7-9.  Whenever Job is doing well, he has his eyes on Christ. Whenever he’s doing badly, he has his eyes back on himself.

2) The great problem with the miserable comforters is a total ignorance of Christ. Eliphaz, the prosperity teacher, thinks you can get your best life now without Christ and His future. Bildad, the works righteousness preacher, thinks you can become just by your own efforts. Zophar thinks you can be spiritual, without Christ, just by your own devotional commitments. From their christlessness flows their terrible theology – in their various ways they basically believe ‘you get what you deserve.’  And from their terrible theology flows their terrible pastoral care.

3) The comforters don’t intend to be tormentors. They come in chapter 2:11 to sympathise with Job. They spend a week sitting in silence with him – what commitment!  It’s just that having miserable theology means – necessarily – giving miserable comfort.  Application: If you don’t know the gospel, don’t you dare do pastoral care!

4) Elihu is a good guy. Once you grasp this, it really helps you a) to take his own wisdom more seriously, but even more importantly, b) to reappraise Job as someone who errs as well as speaks rightly (cf 32:1-4). Job errs (especially from chapter 30 onwards) in continually justifying his own uprightness to the friends, and even to God. Job is certainly a believer and he hasn’t brought his suffering on himself through any particular sins. However, he ends up insisting on his innocence almost as much as the comforters insinuate his guilt.  In his better moments he forgets about either innocence or guilt and looks to Christ. But when he doesn’t, he invites the critique of Elihu (and then the LORD).

5) Job’s insistence on his innocent suffering – while correct on one level – tips him, at times, in the direction of a miserable-comforter-style theology of glory. Towards the end, he begins pitting ‘knowing God’ against ‘experiencing suffering’. He becomes nostalgic for times of intimacy with God. But he loses sight of the intimacy he can have in suffering.  This is a key truth Elihu brings.

6) I’d never really noticed them before but Elihu’s words in Job 36 are some of my favourite in the book:

“But those who suffer the LORD delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.” (Job 36:15-16)

Beautiful!

7) Job asks for answers throughout the book.  But he never gets them.  Instead he gets an experience of the LORD in suffering (Job 16:19-21; cf Job 38-41) and a promised hope after it (Job 19:23-27; cf Job 42).  It’s the same with us.  Who cares about answers?  We need the LORD Jesus Himself and the future He will bring.

8) When James looks back on Job, his take-home message is: “Job’s perseverance and… what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11) Job’s ending is crucial.  It’s a happily ever after that pictures the good purposes Christ has for all our suffering.  When we read Job all the way through, our response should be: “Hallelujah, the Lord is so full of love and grace!”  If we’re not saying this, we haven’t understood the book (and we won’t cope with suffering as we should).

Book by Book 3

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PornScars4A while back The Big House asked Emma and I to come up with some resources for a conference called Porn Scars. It’s material to help foster discussion of porn among teens.  We came up with a fictional story, some discussion questions and a bible study in Colossians 3.  The Big House turned it into a very attractive pdf which you can download here.

It’s billed as an evening’s worth of material, but if you did everything it would take 2.5 hours easy.  Feel free to download the attractive pdf and use in your own context.

Below is the text:

FREDDY’S STORY:

Finally, Freddy’s parents got him a smartphone. And not just any smartphone – it was 4G, with dual core processor and unlimited internet. It was faster than his dad’s laptop. He wasn’t allowed it at school, but as soon as he was home he was surfing the net, messaging friends and playing games. As far as Freddy was concerned this was the best present ever.

One day he was watching the latest viral video on Youtube. It was pretty funny – something about sneezing pandas dancing to Korean pop songs. At the end there was a link to another video. It was a compilation of girls in bikinis falling over. Pretty funny too. Then there was another link. This one was basically just the bikini girls.

At this point, Freddy plugged in his headphones. He didn’t want anyone to hear. When the “bikini girls falling over” finished there was another link – this one from a porn site. He swallowed hard, locked the door and clicked again. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before on TV but there was an address on the video. He typed it in and instantly his screen flashed red. Freddy almost jumped out of his chair. It was a massive sign saying “Restricted Access. You must be over 18 to enter this site.”

In a fit of honesty Freddy clicked the box saying saying “No I am not 18”. Suddenly he was returned to Youtube. “Oh!” he said, surprised by how loud he said it. It felt like he’d come to the borders of a mysterious land but instead of exploring, he had turned back to boring normality. Nothing on Youtube seemed remotely interesting now. He took a deep breath and hit the back button. This time he clicked “Yes, I am 18+”. In an instant he had a dozen naked women in the palm of his hand. His heart was pounding so hard it felt like it might beat a hole through his chest. (more…)

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job miserable comfortersI’ve just blogged over at A New Name (Cos, you know, the author and me. We Have A Thing.)

Anyway, it begins thus…

Here’s the story: Job loses his wealth, his health and his family in a series of extraordinary calamities. The reader is aware – though Job is not – that the whole thing began in heaven with a kind of wager between the LORD and Satan. The LORD is proud of His servant Job and so permits truly diabolical attacks which He knows Job will endure. But the suffering is intense. Job himself sits down in the ashes and wishes he was dead, his wife tells him to ‘curse God and die’ and his three friends – who are meant to be comforters – end up tormenting him in the most grotesque way imaginable.

Twenty times Job asks what we all ask when we suffer: “Why?”  Why me? Why now? Why this? In Job, the reader knows the answer – or at least, knows more than him.  But Job is in the dark and the why question remains conspicuously unanswered, even when the LORD shows up for an almighty happy ending. Apparently the question which Job asks most is one the LORD was content to ignore.

What do we learn? Let me give five observations…

Read more here…

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Matthew11vs28Last night our home group loved exploring the fascinating contrasts of Matthew 11.

The one who ‘prepares the way’ for Jesus, has a wobble when the ‘way of Jesus’ (suffering) hits.

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah 61, but doesn’t release the captives (i.e. John!)

The Lord of new creation does not fix everything in the old.

John the Baptist is the greatest of men and least in the Kingdom.

Those most prepared for the King are least responsive to His coming.

The Kingdom is too serious and too joyous for the ‘children’ of Christ’s generation.

One kind of ‘child’ is fickle (v16), but Jesus wants us to be ‘little children’ in a different sense (v25)

Joy-filled Jesus (v19) shows He is a Jealous Judge (v20)

The best of the best according to the flesh (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) are the worst spiritual Sodomites.

They reject a Jesus who is only bringing life, healing, blessing, restoration!

Judge Jesus turns instantly back to joy in v25.

God delights to hide Himself… on full display to the world. (v25-27)

Jesus is God’s open secret, inviting the world into the most intimate family mystery.

Jesus Himself is unknown to any but the Father, even as He freely reveals the Father.

Jesus claims to hold all divine power and to be ‘lowly in heart.’

He has mighty hands (v27) and a meek heart (v29).

There is a “yoke” that gives “rest”

The Judge of all has come to give the world an easy life.

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lutherEmma’s just written a stonking post on combating the lies which threaten to overwhelm us. She quotes an example from Luther’s Galatians commentary:

“Sir Devil,” we may say, “I am not afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I believe. He has abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and destroyed hell for me. He is bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and holds you down. You cannot hurt me.” This is the faith that overcomes the devil’.

Here are some other brilliant moves from the same Kung-Fu Master – let’s learn how to comfort ourselves, and each other, with gospel hope:

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds. (1:4)…

…Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for trifling and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. (1:4)…

…If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin. (1:4)…

…When you see a person squirming in the clutches of the Law, say to him: “Brother, get things straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your flesh. Wake up, and believe in Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of Law and sin. Faith in Christ will lift you high above the Law into the heaven of grace. Though Law and sin remain, they no longer concern you, because you are dead to the Law and dead to sin.” Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress. He can talk. He can say: “Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don’t talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and better law, the law of grace.” (2:17)…

…True Christian righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. We must look away from our own person. Christ and my conscience must become one, so that I can see nothing else but Christ crucified and raised from the dead for me. If I keep on looking at myself, I am gone. If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. We must turn our eyes to the brazen serpent, Christ crucified, and believe with all our heart that He is our righteousness and our life. For Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom we live, who lives in us, is Lord over Law, sin, death, and all evil. (2:20)…

…When we look at ourselves we find plenty of sin. But when we look at Christ, we have no sin. Whenever we separate the person of Christ from our own person, we live under the Law and not in Christ; we are condemned by the Law, dead before God. Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person. As such you may boldly say: “I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.” On the other hand, Christ may say: “I am that big sinner. His sins and his death are mine, because he is joined to me, and I to him.” (2:20)…

…Read the words “me” and “for me” [in Galatians 2:20] with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. (2:20…)

…We comfort the afflicted sinner in this manner: Brother, you can never be perfect in this life, but you can be holy. He will say: “How can I be holy when I feel my sins?” I answer: You feel sin? That is a good sign. To realize that one is ill is a step, and a very necessary step, toward recovery. “But how will I get rid of my sin?” he will ask.  I answer: See the heavenly Physician, Christ, who heals the broken-hearted. Do not consult that Quackdoctor, Reason. Believe in Christ and your sins will be pardoned. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and your sins will become His sins. (3:6)…

…Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil from ourselves to Christ; and Christ’s righteousness and blessing from Christ to ourselves. (3:14)…

…We ought to feel sure that we stand in the grace of God, not in view of our own worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we sin, God’s mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ, that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils. So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear from the anger of God. (4:5)…

…Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and write of Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ’s Gospel be known throughout the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him.” (4:5)…

…This is sweet comfort for us (5:5) . And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted. We are to say to them: “Brother, you would like to feel God’s favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord’s own time. Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.” (5:5)…

…Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: “O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners.  This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for my teacher, O Satan.” (5:8)…

…When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: “You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing.” If at that time I had understood this passage, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” I could have spared myself many a day of self-torment. I would have said to myself: “Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh.” (5:17)…

…When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh. (5:18)

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