Month: April 2014

Is it Biblical to be a Gloomy Christian?

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Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. James 4:8-9

At the church where I serve as pastor, we emphasize joy a lot. We are not a church that stresses “morbid introspection.” We believe that spiritual growth happens when we focus on our Savior, and not our behavior. That being said, we do not believe in passivity. We believe that sanctification is a battle where we are called to know, think about, understand, and make an all-out war on our sin. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We believe that. And that’s why we believe that there is a place for mourning, weeping, and being “gloomy” over our sin.

James 4 can help us here. In this section of his letter, James is dealing with relational conflicts. I think the Greek word for that is “drama” (or, it should be!). Because we are all sinners who have relationships with other sinners, we inevitably experience drama and conflict (and it is often compounded by our trials and hardships). But when conflict ensues, we typically focus on our hurts and the wrongs done by others. We become selfish (see James 4:1-3). We easily see the sins of others but often are blind to our own. And that’s where a dead Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs can help us out-

Many times in a family, when any affliction befalls them, Oh, what an amount of discontent is there between man and wife! If they are crossed in their possessions at land, or have bad news from across the seas, or if those whom they trusted are ruined and the like, or perhaps something in the family causes strife between man and wife, in reference to the children or servants, and there is nothing but quarrelling and discontent among them, now they are many times burdened with their own discontent; and perhaps will say one to another, It is very uncomfortable for us to live so discontented as we do. But have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have you ever got alone and said, ‘Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls before God together, let us go into our chamber and humble our souls before God for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God has taken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us charge ourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.’? Have you tried such a way as this? Oh you would find that the cloud would be taken away, and the sun would shine in upon you, and you would have a great deal more contentment than ever you had. (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, pp.48-49)

The next time you experience relational conflict (that gets compounded by trials and hardships) in your marriage, family, neighborhood, work, dare I say your church (!), then get alone with God and ask him to expose the sin in your heart that you brought to the table. Be wretched. Mourn. Weep for your sin. Let your joy be transformed to gloom. Let your laughter be turned to mourning. That means, don’t take your sin lightly. It is no laughing matter. Own up to your sin. Admit that you are sinner in desperate need of a grace that is ready and willing to help you (see James 4:6).

And then embrace the forgiveness that the Gospel provides. And then revel in the fact that Jesus was perfect for you. And then focus on your Savior and not your behavior. And then turn your mourning back into laughter and your gloom back into joy.

Benji

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

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Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

Are you content? Do you like where God in His sovereignty has placed you? Do you sometimes suffer from the delusion of the “Greener Grass Conspiracy?” I’m sure we all struggle at times to be content. I’m sure Paul did too. Notice that he says that he learned the secret of being content. That means that God had to put Paul in places and situations that were not ideal in order that Paul would learn how to be content. That’s just how God works. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take a pill every morning and you would be content? It would be, but that’s not how God works. And that’s why Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) titled one of his books, “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”- precisely because contentment is rare and it doesn’t come easy. There’s not a pill (or an app!) for it.

Burroughs describes our struggle well-

A carnal heart thinks, I must have my wants made up or else it is impossible that I should be content. But a gracious heart says, ‘What is the duty of the circumstances God has put me into? Indeed, my circumstances have changed, I was not long since in a prosperous state, but God has changed my circumstances. The Lord has called me no more Naomi, but Marah. Now what am I to do? What can I think now are those duties that God requires of me in the circumstances that he has now put me into? Let me exert my strength to perform the duties of my present circumstances.

We deceive ourselves when we think that we can only find contentment when we get our “wants.” But the gracious, Gospel-centered heart asks, “What does God want me to do where I am? What does God require of me now- in my marriage, in my parenting, in my family, in my church, in my neighborhood, in my workplace, in my city, etc?”

Instead of dreaming of wants think about the work God has for you where He has placed you. Learn to be content. When things are going well, learn. When things aren’t so great, learn. Do the things that you are called to do where God has placed you. You can do all those things because Christ strengthens you.

May God give you strength to perform the duties of your present circumstances!

Benji

Theology Vs. Practice

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And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

Jesus knew the importance of prayer. Even though He was the Word become flesh, even though He was the God-man, He knew the importance of prayer and it showed in His life. Mark records that at the beginning of one of His busiest days of ministry, Jesus got up early, while it was still dark, and went out into the desert to pray. If Jesus was desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit and He often sought the face of His Father in prayer, then how much more do we need to pray?

Too often we either make excuses or simply don’t realize that we are in a war. And because we have lost sight of the war that we are in, we are then prone to not pray. Or, we may say that we are too busy. I like this title to a book on prayer: Too Busy Not to Pray. We are too busy and life is too hectic not to pray. That seems to be what Jesus is teaching us in Mark 1:35. His theology of prayer coincided with his practice of prayer.

Tim Challies captures how I feel (and probably how you feel too)-

“As is the case with so many Christians I speak to, my theology of prayer is much stronger than my practice of prayer. I know so much of what the Bible says about the privilege, priority and practice of prayer, yet struggle mightily to pray fervently and consistently. Putting that theology into practice remains a daily battle.”

Prayer is a daily battle. And it is a daily battle precisely because we are in a battle. Our enemy does not want us to pray. But pray we must! As H.B. Charles, Jr. says-

“Prayer is our Christian duty. It is an expression of submission to God and dependence upon Him. For that matter, prayer is arguably the most objective measurement of our dependence upon God. Think of it this way. The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.”

Ouch! Prayer is the most objective measurement of our dependence on God? That’s getting a little too close for my comfort! But it’s true. I don’t mean to “guilt” any of us into praying, but how much we pray does show how much we depend on God. Therefore, let’s become a church that increasingly connects the dots between our theology of prayer and our practice of prayer.

Benji

Enduring Cantankerous Church Curmudgeons

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…be patient in affliction, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

Life is hard. Charles Simeon (1759-1836) knew this throughout his pastoral ministry. He served 1 church for 54 years! Pretty remarkable, if you ask me. What’s even more remarkable is that he pastored a church so faithfully in spite of some very “cantankerous church curmudgeons.” Many people did not even want him to be the pastor when he was called. The church refused to let Simeon be the Sunday afternoon preacher, so for 5 years they had the assistant pastor do it. When he left, they hired out another man to preach for 7 more years before they asked Simeon. The church was so resistant to his leadership that for 12 years the church hired out 2 individuals to keep him out of the pulpit on Sunday afternoons. But Simeon persevered. He was patient in affliction.

Simeon tried to start a Sunday evening service but the churchwardens locked the doors! When Simeon tried to visit church members at their homes, hardly a door would open for him. What a bunch of cantankerous church curmudgeons! But Simeon loved them and kept serving his flock. In his day the rich and influential could “purchase” pews in the church (think ‘reserved seating’). They hated Simeon so much that they locked their pews, refused to show up on Sunday morning for church, and would not let anyone sit in their seats. Simeon then bought chairs out of his own pocket money so that people could sit in the aisles, but the churchwardens threw the chairs out into the church courtyard. Simeon eventually got a legal decision to unlock the pews but he refused to use it. He relentlessly loved his flock, prayed for them, and preached the word of God to them. He was patient in affliction.

How many of us would have quit if we were in Simeon’s position? John Piper says, “We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters.” I can honestly say that I probably would not have responded the way Charles Simeon did. So how did he endure? What kept him from quitting and moving on to another congregation that might love and appreciate him? One of Simeon’s friends lived with him for several months and he recorded the secret to his ability to be patient in affliction-

“Simeon invariably arose every morning, though it was the winter season, at four o’clock, and after lighting his fire, he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures…Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength. Deriving instruction from such a source, and seeking it with such diligence, he was comforted in all his trials and prepared for every duty.”

The secret of Simeon’s strength was his commitment to prayer and the word of God.

How do you demonstrate patience in affliction? Be constant in prayer. That was Simeon’s secret. I’m not saying you have to get up at four o’clock in the morning, but I am saying that you must pray. I’m not saying that you have to pray and study for four hours every morning, but I am saying that you must pray. If you are ever to endure (with a soft heart) hardship, affliction, trials, or cantankerous church curmudgeons, then you must pray. Be patient in affliction and be constant in prayer.

Benji

* This post was adapted from John Piper’s book The Roots of Endurance. You can find a free pdf here.

Quick Strike on Your Idols

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…pray without ceasing… 1st Thessalonians 5:17

How do you pray without ceasing? Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, recently shared how he preaches the Gospel to himself throughout the day through prayer. This was so helpful to me that I just had to share-

I try to do petition in the morning. I try to do repentance in the evening. So I try to pray in the morning and in the evening. In the evening I look back on what I did wrong and repent.

But in the middle of the day I try to catch myself and I look for four kinds of emotions.

I always pray in the morning, “Lord make me happy enough in the grace of Jesus to avoid being proud, cold, scared, and hooked.”

Now, by proud I mean what you think, too self-congratulatory. And maybe disdainful of people who I don’t think have it together.

Cold means I’m just too absorbed in my concerns to really be compassionate and gracious and warm and joyful to the people around me.

Scared means I’m just obviously too anxious and worried.

Hooked means…when you’re overworked, it means for me…eating. Eating things I shouldn’t eat just because it’s a way of keeping my energy up, and also because it’s a way of rewarding myself. Or looking at women more than once.

So: proud, cold, scared, hooked.

Now, in the middle of the day I get it out and say, “Have I been proud, scared, cold, or hooked in the last 3-4 hours? And the answer usually is ‘Yeah.’ And then I say, “How do I bring the Gospel to bear on that? How does the grace of God deal with it?” And you try to catch yourself in those feelings. So basically finding problem feelings and inordinate desires, catch them when they’re happening, try to deal with them with the Gospel right there.

I call that “Quick Strike” on my idols around noon, if I can remember it. And repentance at night and petition in the morning. So I try to get into God’s presence three times a day.

This is a great way to rehearse the Gospel throughout the day through prayer. May we become a church that is happy enough in the grace of Jesus that we avoid being proud, scared, cold, or hooked!

Benji

Putting Promises to Work

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For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2nd Corinthians 1:20

Life can be discouraging. Ministry can be discouraging. The apostle Paul wasn’t immune to this. Just read the first chapter of 2nd Corinthians. How did Paul overcome discouragement? He clung to the promises of God. And that’s exactly what William Bridge (1600-1670) suggests we do in his book A Lifting Up for the Downcast-

Are all your comforts gone, and would you fain have them restored? Then read and read the Scriptures much. If you cannot read them yourself, get some others to read them to you… The more full a man’s mind is, the more free from temptations and fears. Now Scripture matter is the most filling matter. The more you see Christ walking in the sweet shades of divine love toward poor sinners, the sooner will your faith revive, and your comforts be restored. And where can you see Jesus Christ walking, and taking His turns with poor sinners under the shades of divine love, but in the Scriptures? Stand there awhile, and you shall see Him, and your heart will say, And why not one turn of love with me, oh my Saviour? Study, read, and read much the Scriptures.

But, say you, if I do read the Scriptures, and read them much, I shall then meet with some promise, possibly many, and now I cannot apply them, discouraged as I am; I shall see the promises indeed, and say, There is such and such an old friend of mine, but it is now mine enemy; the promise will not own me, and I cannot apply it, and so it will do me no good.

You cannot tell what the promise will do till you come to apply it. The promise never yields its power and strength till it is applied; it works when it is put to work, and not before… It may be you look upon such and such a promise at a distance, and you say, Oh, there is my enemy; now it will not help me, it will sting me, it will undo me; but put forth your hand again to it, and it will become a promise, a rod in your hand, as comfortable as ever it was before.

And if the promise does not come to you, go you to it. Sometimes the promise comes to us, sometimes we go to it. When the promise comes to you, you have joy; when you go to it, you have peace, and this peace may last longer than the joy. But remember this as an everlasting rule, that your very relying upon the promise makes it yours.

Are you discouraged? Are you downcast? Then read God’s word. And keep reading it. Find a promise and hang on to it. God’s promises work when you put them to work.

Ashamed, But Not Ashamed to Beg

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For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16

It is amazing that we have access to the throne of God. It’s amazing because of who God is and who we are: God is holy; we are sinners. Puritan Thomas Boston helps paint the corners of the Gospel for us-

Believing that however great the mercies are, and however unworthy we are, yet we may obtain them from God through Jesus Christ; Heb. iv. 15, 16. There can be no praying in faith without this. If we do not believe this, we dishonour his name, whether our unbelief of it arise from the greatness of the mercy needed, or from our own unworthiness, or both. For nothing can be beyond the reach of his infinite merit and never-failing intercession.

Seeking in prayer the mercies we need of God, for Christ’s sake accordingly. So we present our petitions ” in his name ;” John xvi. 24. We are to be ashamed before God in prayer, ashamed of ourselves, but not ashamed to beg in the name of his Son. Our holy shame respects our unworthiness; but Christ’s merit and intercession are set before us, as a ground of confidence.

However you have sinned and however far away His mercy seems, it is available. However low you feel because of your sin and rebellion and however high He seems because of His holiness, grace and mercy are available. Nothing can be beyond the reach of His infinite merit and never-failing intercession.

So don’t think that God can’t or won’t forgive you, Christian. When you think this way it dishonors Him. You are unworthy of His grace and mercy, but you can be confident before His throne because of Jesus. All you gotta do is go there and ask. It’s free!

Ashamed, but not ashamed to beg-
Benji