Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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David Murray blogs on ministry, leadership, preaching, counseling, technology, and theology.
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Expedition 36: Foolish Sheep and a Good Shepherd

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 2:00am

Here’s the video for Expedition 36 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Is an Elephant Running Your Life?

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 1:00am

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.

Yesterday we looked at the first Great Untruth that our culture has embraced in recent years:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Today, we will look at what the book teaches about the second Great Untruth:

  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

This chapter sets out to dismantle this Great Untruth by insisting that while feelings are always compelling, they are not always reliable. “Often they distort reality, deprive us of insight, and needlessly damage our relationships. Happiness, maturity, and even enlightenment require rejecting the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning and learning instead to question our feelings.”

The authors illustrate the struggle between reason and emotion by the image of a small rider on an elephant.

“The rider represents conscious or “controlled” processes—the language-based thinking that fills our conscious minds and that we can control to some degree. The elephant represents everything else that goes on in our minds, the vast majority of which is outside of our conscious awareness. These processes can be called intuitive, unconscious, or “automatic,” referring to the fact that nearly all of what goes on in our minds is outside of our direct control, although the results of automatic processes sometimes make their way into consciousness.

The rider-and-elephant metaphor captures the fact that the rider often believes he is in control, yet the elephant is vastly stronger, and tends to win any conflict that arises between the two…The rider generally functions more like the elephant’s servant than its master, in that the rider is extremely skilled at producing post-hoc justifications for whatever the elephant does or believes.

Emotional reasoning is the cognitive distortion that occurs whenever the rider interprets what is happening in ways that are consistent with the elephant’s reactive emotional state, without investigating what is true. The rider then acts like a lawyer or press secretary whose job is to rationalize and justify the elephant’s pre-ordained conclusions, rather than to inquire into—or even be curious about—what is really true.:

What’s the answer to this? The authors propose CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

CBT was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. Beck saw a close connection between the thoughts a person had and the feelings that came with them. He noticed that his patients tended to get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs caused powerful negative feelings, which in turn seemed to drive patients’ reasoning, motivating them to find evidence to support their negative beliefs. Beck noticed a common pattern of beliefs, which he called the “cognitive triad” of depression: “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless.”

Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counter-evidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs. It takes some skill to do this—depressed people are very good at finding evidence for the beliefs in the triad. And it takes time—a disempowering schema can’t be disassembled in a single moment of great insight

The book does not suggest that everyone needs to get a therapist and start CBT. Just learning how to recognize cognitive distortions and challenging them is a good intellectual habit for all of us to cultivate. With a little training, people can be trained to question their automatic thoughts on their own, every day. With repetition, over a period of weeks or months, people can change their schemas and create different, more helpful habitual beliefs.

The authors summarize this chapter as follows:

  • CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
  • Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
  • By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
  • Students, professors, and administrators should keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.

The Coddling of the American Mind

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 1:00am

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.

Our culture has embraced three Great Untruths in the past ten years or so:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

That’s the claim that forms the foundation of The Coddling of the American Mind. The authors’ criteria for an idea to be classified as a Great Untruth are:

  • It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  • It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  • It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

They make the case that all three criteria are met in the three Great Untruths of our culture, especially on American High School and College campuses.

Why are the three Great Untruths so damaging? Let’s take the first one

The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Here are some quotes from the book to explain this Great Untruth.

“Teaching kids that failures, insults, and painful experiences will do lasting damage is harmful in and of itself. Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate.”

“By shielding children from every possible risk, we may lead them to react with exaggerated fear to situations that aren’t risky at all and isolate them from the adult skills that they will one day have to master.”

“If we protect children from various classes of potentially upsetting experiences, we make it far more likely that those children will be unable to cope with such events when they leave our protective umbrella. The modern obsession with protecting young people from “feeling unsafe” is, we believe, one of the (several) causes of the rapid rise in rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide.”

“A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”

“Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions.”

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.

Upcoming Speaking & Teaching

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 1:00am

Various conference organizers have asked me to let you know of the following upcoming opportunities for teaching and fellowship.

Reformation Conference, Boise, ID: Nov 9-10, 2018. 

The conference addresses will be focused around the chapters in John Calvin’s Little Book on the Christian Life. More info here.

Magnify Conference, Lansing, MI: Nov 30-Dec 1, 2018
This conference will be on the subject of the God of Rest and the three addresses will be:

  • God Gives Spiritual Rest
  • God Gives Physical Rest
  • God Gives Emotional Rest

Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC: 13-16 December, 2018
I’ll be giving an address on grieving, speaking at a men’s breakfast, and preaching on the Lord’s Day.

First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA: 8-10 January, 2019.
A couple of addresses on depression.

Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, PA: 14-18 January, 2019.
I’ll be teaching a D.Min. course on Sustainable Ministry.

2019 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders, Minneapolis. MN: 26-28 January
Shona and I will be speaking on The Joy of Living a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.

Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: 15-17 March
More details here.

Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA: 15-17 March
More details here.

But God

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 1:00am

Here’s the Covenant Christian School choir that my daughters are privileged to sing in. The students love their choir director, Eric Gritters, who wrote this moving song. It begins with the Christian in darkness, but then moves into powerful exclamations of triumphant faith.

O now I lay me down to sleep
— I can’t find words for prayer.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
— but does my Shepherd care?
Who will watch me through the night,
in darkness as in light?
Who will wake me in the morn?
In whom can I delight?

My tired eyes, they look above
— they fall and look below.
Yet there is none who seem to care
— My pain they do not know.
I hear no voice. I feel no touch.
I see no glory bright.
His promises are not seen
— I do not see his might.

But God, He will never leave me!
But God, he is my strength!
But God, my faithful Shepherd!
He is my Rock, my only Hope.

O now I lay me down to sleep
— I know the Shepherd’s near.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
— I have no need to fear.
Gently watch me through the night
— And when the morning breaks,
Walk beside me down life’s pathway,
and all for Jesus’ sake!

But God, He will never leave me!
But God, He is my strength!
But God, my faithful Shepherd,
He is my Rock, my only Hope.

But God, He will never leave me.
But God, He is my strength.
But God, my faithful Shepherd,
He is my Rock, my only Hope.

“Because they lovingkindness is better than life
My lips shall praise thee!”
My Rock. My Hope. My God.

Expedition 35: Lost and Found

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 4:50pm

Here’s the video for Expedition 35 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Stop Reading the Bible?

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

One of the strangest steps of faith I’ve ever taken as a pastor was telling a depressed Christian to stop reading the Bible. This Christian was in a terrible dark hole of depression and was tormenting herself every day by spending long periods ransacking the Scriptures for a verse that would cure her depression. She was frantic and desperate in her search and every day her “failure” only deepened her depression as she concluded that she must have been abandoned by God. It also left her mentally and even physically exhausted. Bible reading seemed to be harming rather than helping her.

I felt that her mind needed a rest and that she would never recover unless she stopped this daily self-torture. That’s when I said that she should stop reading the Bible for a short time to let her mind rest and to rebuild her emotional reserves. Then she would hopefully be able to read the Bible again with profit. I wasn’t 100% sure it was the right course of action but it seemed like the only option. I did make sure her husband read a verse or two of Scripture to her every day but insisted that she was simply to listen during these seconds and then not think about it any more. Thankfully this strange strategy seemed to work within a couple of weeks. She gain a measure of mental relief, and before long she was able to read the Bible again for herself, just a verse a day to begin with, and not suffer for it.

This was a rare situation, of course. It’s not the norm. But I was intrigued by similar advice Richard Baxter gave to depressed Christians concerning the duty of meditation:

Meditation is not a duty at all for a melancholy person, except for the few that are able to tolerate a brief, structured sort of meditation. This must be on something furthest from the matter that troubles them, except for short meditations like sudden, spontaneous prayers said out loud. A rigid and protracted meditation will only frustrate and disturb you, and render you unable to perform other duties. If a man has a broken leg, he must not walk on it until it is set, or the whole body will suffer. It is your thinking faculty or your imagination that is the broken, hurting part. Therefore, you must not use it to reflect upon the things that so trouble you.

Perhaps you will say, “That is profane, neglects God and the soul, and lets the Tempter have his will!” But I answer, “No, it is simply to refrain from what you cannot presently do, so that by doing other things that you can, you may later do what you cannot do now. It is merely to postpone attempting what (at present) will only make you less able to do all your other duties. At present, you are able to conduct the affairs of your soul by sanctified reasoning. I am not dissuading you from repenting or believing, but rather from fixed, long, and deep meditations that will only hurt you.”

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

The Most Common Trait in Great Men

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 2:00am

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World by A. J. Baim.

This is a captivating and beautifully written book about the first four months of Harry Truman’s presidency, which the author argues were the four most world-changing months in American history.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Truman’s early life is its sheer ordinariness, and yet God placed him in an extraordinary office during an extraordinary time. There was nothing in his education, his family background, his finances (or serious lack of them), or his working life that would have given the slightest possible hint as to his future role.

Looking back, however, his biographer highlighted one pivotal period in his life. Truman took seriously ill with diphtheria while in first grade and was packed in snow to try and reduce his dangerous fever. He ended up being paralyzed for a year, but it was during that year when he took up reading. He read the Bible, especially Matthew and Exodus, but he also read a set of books, called Heroes of History. As he read about Moses, Cyrus, Hannibal, the Duke of Wellington, Ulysses Grant, and many others, he noticed one common trait in them all. Here’s how he put it in his diary:

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves . . . Self-discipline with all of them came first.”

It was a trait that he himself quietly cultivated and strengthened over many years and through many difficult providences, never realizing the greatness he was being prepared for.

Who knows what God is preparing you for. Sometimes, like Truman, all the self-sacrifice seems to lead nowhere. It’s all pain and no gain. But God may be preparing you for a great task many years down the road. In the meantime, keep building that muscle of self-discipline, which, of course is made even stronger by Spirit-discipline.

Like Truman, you may find that there’s nothing accidental in God’s plan.

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World by A. J. Baim.

Six Spiritual Causes of Depression

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 1:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

As we’ve already noted, Richard Baxter understood that there was often a physical cause in depression and recommended medicine in such cases. But he also recognized that there were often spiritual causes of depression. For example, he mentions:

1. Most commonly some temporal loss, suffering, grief, or worry that has affected them too deeply.

2. An excessive fear of common if nevertheless dangerous situations.

3. Too strenuous and unremitting intellectual work or thought, which has confused and strained the imagination too intensely.

4. Fears, too deep or too constant, and serious, passionate thoughts and cares about the danger of the soul.

5. The major predispositions to it are a frailness of faculty and reason, joined with strong emotions .

6. In some cases, melancholy is ushered in by some heinous sin, the sight of which those guilty of it cannot bear, once their consciences are finally awakened.

J. I. Packer; Michael S. Lundy. Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life (Kindle Locations 1175-1181). Crossway.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

35 Spiritual Symptoms of Depression

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 1:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

After introductory essays by J. I. Packer and Michael Lundy, this book the presents modernized text of Richard Baxter’s writings on depression. The first is “Directions to the Melancholy about Their Thoughts,” the second is “The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith,” and the third is on “The Duty of Physicians.”

In the first, Baxter lists no less than 35 symptoms of depression, all of which are related to the spiritual aspect of depression. It’s an astonishingly detailed and accurate insight into the spiritual dimension of depression. I’ve never come across a more insightful x-ray of the depressed mind and soul of the depressed Christian.

Some of the most striking are:

19. Their perplexed thoughts are like unraveled yarn or silk, or like a man in a maze or wilderness, or one who has lost his way in the night. He is looking and groping about, and can make little of anything. He is bewildered, confused, and entangled even more, filled with doubts and difficulties, out of which he cannot find the   way.

22. [Depressed] individuals have lost the power of controlling their thoughts by reason. If you convince them that they should reject their self-perplexing, unprofitable thoughts and turn their thoughts to other subjects or simply be at rest, they cannot obey you. They are under a compulsion or constraint. They cannot push out their troublesome thoughts; they cannot redirect their minds; they cannot think about love and mercy. They can think of nothing but that on which they do think, as a man with a toothache can think only of his pain.

34. Few of them respond positively to any reason, persuasion, or counsel. If it does seem to satisfy, quiet, and cheer them for the moment, the next day they are just as bad as before. It is the nature of their illness to think the way they do. Their thoughts are not cured, because the underlying disease itself remains uncured.

35. Yet in all this distress, few of them will believe that they are depressed, and they hate being told that they are. They insist it is merely a rational sense of unhappiness from being forsaken and under the heavy wrath of God. Therefore, they can hardly be persuaded to take any medication or use other means for the cure of their bodies. They maintain that they are well, being confident that it is only their souls that are distressed.

What’s so helpful about Baxter’s list is that depressed Christians can so readily identify with it. It rings true in their experience. They read it and say, “He gets it. He understands me,” thus making them willing to consider his prescriptions and directions. He obviously had sat with many depressed people and listened so long and so carefully that he could eventually articulate their experience even better than they could. What a door-opener to the reception of his counsel!

How should we respond to Christians with depression? Baxter urges pity and sympathy.

This is the miserable case of these unfortunate people, greatly to be pitied and not to be despised by anyone. I have spoken here only what I myself have frequently observed and known. Let no one look down on these individuals; persons of all sorts fall into this misery: educated and illiterate, high and low, good and bad, as well as some who previously lived in decadent self-seeking and sensuality until God made them aware of their foolishness.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Expedition 34: Wonders of the World

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 8:57pm

Here’s the video for Expedition 34 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Richard Baxter’s Balanced Approach to Depression and Anxiety

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 1:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

In his introductory essay, Michael Lundy argues that denial is a common response to mental illness and that this is often accompanied by peculiar assertions that attributed it either to sin or to the direct working of the Devil. But , he warns, “misdiagnosis leads to mistreatment, and that to a cascading set of problems.”

What happens if someone’s symptoms and behaviors and wrongly attributed to willful and sinful decisions?

1. “It absolves the observing community of the responsibility of coming alongside the individual in a supportive capacity” and it may serve to allow the community (i.e., local church), “to pressure the afflicted member until he has ‘repented’ or ‘gotten serious’ about his faith.”

2. It leads to the individual repenting of sins that can be identified but produces no relief, which then leads to the repenting of imaginary sins which is also ineffective in relieving mental and emotional distress.

While sin has a role in the general condition of mankind, there is not necessarily “a logical causality between a particular sin or patten of sinful behavior and a particular malady.” Lundy cautions:

“So this whole business of sin and sickness should make for a great deal of humility. We should be very hesitant either to blame others’ sickness on their particular sin or to hold them entirely blameless when we are short of the sort of vision allotted to Christ.”

So, in answer to the question, “Are psychiatric illnesses the result of sin or not? Are individuals to blame, or are they not responsible for their fate?” Lundy insists, “For the most part, we are left with the much more general sense that sickness and suffering in the world are distributed in ways that defy our comprehension.” Lundy points to Richard Baxter’s treatment of depression as exemplary:

Cognizant of the tension between loosely linked causes and effects, he seems to refuse to blame people for what they cannot help, while simultaneously refusing to acquit people of certain duties they can and must discharge. In the middle, he requires friends and family to do what the ailing souls cannot be expected to do themselves, yet demands of them what they alone can deliver. Baxter is at the same time gentle and difficult, generous and demanding.

Lundy encourages a similar balance in trying to repair broken humanity:

The rush for “the right medication” is just as overreaching as have been prior purely psychological formulations, or purely “spiritual” ones. A naïve optimism is unlikely to weather the difficulties of the repair work, and that can lead in turn to despair. An informed understanding of what must be attempted, and perhaps accomplished, better positions patients, physicians, pastors, family, and friends for what often proves to be “enduring to the end.”

This is what Lundy finds in Baxter. As such he paraphrases Baxter’s opening words in Advice to Depressed and Anxious Christians: “See to the condition of your own soul, and consult with your own pastor and your own physician, and apply their advice as appropriate.”

Having summarized Packer’s and Lundy’s introductory essays, we’ll look at Baxter’s own teaching over the next week or so.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Puritan CBT

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 1:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

The past couple of days I’ve highlighted some of the Puritans’ teaching on depression that J. I. Packer and Michael Lundy explore in their introductory chapters of Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical WisdomBut where did they get this wisdom, asks Lundy, wisdom that is remarkably accurate when compared with modern knowledge.

On the basis of his research he identifies three general sources of Baxter’s wisdom in these issues: an undergirding biblical theology, his metaphysical philosophy, and his personal and professional experience. Lundy goes on to explain the details of Baxter’s holistic approach

The Puritans Borrowed Widely

While the Bible is the absolute, carefully examined basis for faith and life among Baxter and his many colleagues, in practical terms he and they borrowed widely from many sources, and used Aristotelian principles of logic, which they made to conform to Christian theology.

The Puritans held all truth was God’s Truth

The Puritans unabashedly took what they could from a variety of sources, holding that all truth was ultimately from God, and that such truth as was revealed to ancient pagans through general revelation could be legitimately recycled, with care, and applied in an explicitly Christian context.

The Puritans found truth in anti-christian sources

What emerges in Baxter’s material is a curious and compelling mixture of sound Christian doctrines and general holistic medical principles, applying reframed Stoic concepts to those doctrines and principles, and formulated as irrefutable logic. Baxter’s use of logic was characteristic of the highly educated clergy of his day. The Stoics had numerous ideas that were antithetical to Christian belief and practice, such as suicide; that did not keep the Puritans from appreciating those elements of the Stoics’ philosophy which were general and adaptable to Christian thought.

The Puritans saw that distorted beliefs led to wrong actions

Belief and behavior were inextricably linked for Baxter, as they were for the Stoics. What you believed determined how you thought about matters and predetermined how you would respond to possible choices along the path of life. Distorted beliefs would inevitably lead to wrong interpretations of circumstances and so to wrong choices and unethical behavior.

The Puritans addressed Depression and Anxiety with early CBT and medication

What Baxter employed was a clear forerunner of what we now call cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). His version of CBT would be deemed rudimentary and highly tailored to his relatively homogenous clinical population. Yet, it must still be recognized as a forerunner of a very powerful and highly respected tool for dealing with many otherwise intractable clinical problems, particularly those of a severe and chronic nature, including the aforementioned ones. Baxter begins by advising his readers to get their personal theology straight, goes on to tell them how practically to do that using his own antecedent to CBT, and makes sure that his readers understand that their problems have somatic as well as emotional and spiritual dimensions. Then he concludes by telling his readers to trust their physicians and to take their medicines! Describing this as a confluence of belief, behavior, and medicine oversimplifies Baxter’s approach but is a good synopsis for those willing to explore the sort of advice he so freely gives.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

What can the Puritans Teach us About Depression?

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 2:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

The Causes of Depression

In his introductory essay to this book, J. I. Packer discusses how the Puritans understood the body-soul connection in depression and how problems in one can lead to problems in the other. Referring to Richard Baxter in particular, he viewed depression as “a psychophysical reality, a ‘diseased craziness . . . of the imagination’ that might be caused by the body being out of sorts (“sorrows that come from your spleen”), or by overload or overstrain on the mind, or perhaps both together.”

The Condition of Depression

In addition to spiritual symptoms such as terrors of hell and temptations to blaspheme and commit suicide, “Melancholics characteristically could not control their thoughts; they were unable to stop despairing about everything, or to begin a discipline of thanksgiving and rejoicing in Christ, or to concentrate on anything but their own hopelessness and felt certainty of damnation. They would cultivate solitariness and idleness; they would spend hours doing nothing. They would insist that others did not understand them, and that they were not sick but only realistic about themselves, and they would prove perversely obstinate in the matter of taking medication.”

The Cure of Depression

Baxter’s prescription included

1. “Never letting melancholics lose sight of the redeeming love of God, the free offer of life in Christ, and the greatness of grace at every point in the gospel.”

2. “Not attempting to practice the secret duty of meditation and prayer on one’s own, but praying aloud in company.”

4. Cultivating cheerful Christian community

5. Avoiding idleness;

6. “Making good use of a skilled physician, a discerning pastor, and other faithful Christian mentors and friends, for support, guidance, and hopefully a cure.”

“Baxter wrote about the care of the soul and the care of the body as if they were indivisible if not indistinguishable components of the same person.”

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

J. I. Packer’s Definition of Depression

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 1:00am

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Three Authors

J. I. Packer writes a chapter introducing Baxter. Michael Lundy is a clinical psychiatrist who has modernized two texts of Baxter on the subject of depression. Richard Baxter was a Puritan with many pastoral interests, but one of his primary concerns was to relieve depression, as reflected in two of his addresses on the subject published together in this book, together with a shorter essay in the appendix.

The Authors’ Definition

The books provides a dictionary definition of depression:

A recent dictionary defines depression as “a state of extreme dejection or morbidly excessive melancholy; a mood of hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy, often with physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, insomnia, etc.”

But it then supplies J I Packer’s extensive and vivid definition:

Fretful heaviness seizes the mind, sometimes slowing it down to a point of virtual paralysis where thought ceases, sometimes driving it into unfruitful randomness, or a fixed attitude of gloom, or an incessant harping on things felt to be incurably wrong. Depressed persons feel themselves isolated and distant from others— even their nearest and dearest— and from projects in which hitherto their hearts had been fully engaged. Conduct may become eccentric, randomness or inaction may set in, focused creativity may fade away, or sadness may become habitual. Feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and hopelessness develop, and defensive pessimism takes over. Upset by others’ cheerfulness, the depressed may seem cross-grained and combative. Some depressions are cyclical, low points in bipolar mood swings, where they may be followed by bursts of energetic overconfidence. What medication can do to modify these extremes varies from person to person.

The Authors’ Aims

Why did Packer and Lundy write this book? They wrote it for two reasons.

1. They want Christians “to live as far as possible in the outgoing love, stability, and joy— along with patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control—that form the moral profile of Jesus Christ in his disciples. We see such living as true human flourishing, and the promotion of it as central to all forms of pastoral care, church worship and fellowship, personal therapy, and Christian family life. And we see depression in all its forms as a prima facie obstruction to this, in which Satan regularly has a hand.”

2. They believe that mental and emotional thorns in the flesh, such as depression, “may become means of spiritual advance that would not otherwise take place..”

3. “We believe that greater wisdom in this matter than we are used to is found in the pastoral heritage of seventeenth-century Puritanism. Supreme here is the wisdom of Richard Baxter, who in his day was viewed and consulted as a top authority regarding ministry to Christians afflicted by what was then called “melancholy,” but would today be labeled depression. Our hope is that by presenting what Baxter wrote in this field we may contribute to wise pastoral care in Bible-believing, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring churches at this time.

The Authors’ Rejection

Packer and Lundy reject the idea of some Christians that depression in Christians is always a sign of unbelief or some other major sin.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Expedition 33: Water in the Desert

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 9:23am

Here’s the video for Expedition 33 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Tolerating Uncertainty

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 2:00am

Summary of Chapter Six in The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller. Will is a  pastor working in London and Rob is a Christian psychiatrist. Both are recovering worriers.

1. Although we love to be certain about things, we must learn to accept and live with uncertainty.

2. People who worry have unhelpful positive beliefs about worry (see the golden worry beliefs), and unhelpful beliefs about certainty. They maintain worry by setting such high standards for certainty that they are quite unachievable. These include:

  • Being uncertain is an unpleasant experience
  • You should act only when you are absolutely certain.
  • Better safe than sorry
  • I can’t be safe when I’m not sure
  • If I am sure, then I can predict bad things and so prevent them.

3. These beliefs about certainty create a desire to control any uncertainty, creating more worry when they can’t, and so on.

4. Present contemplation is the gold-standard technique for overcoming worry. Two lesser techniques that will train us for that are “thought records: and “making new appraisals.”

5. “Thought records” help us to recognize the irrationality of worry thoughts and the link between thoughts and feelings. An example of a “thought record” can be seen here. The general format is:

  • Situation: The moment when you had a worry thought.
  • Mood: Your feelings in response to your worry thought (rate intensity out of 10)
  • Automatic thoughts (and images): The thoughts that result from your worry.
  • Evidence for: The evidence that supports the likelihood of your worry coming true.
  • Evidence against: Evidence that opposes your worry thought.
  • Alternative thought: Review original worry in light of the evidence.
  • Review and plan: Re-read your original worry and review your mood/feelings (rate intensity out of 10)

Thought records can really help us familiarize ourselves with worry and help us see that most of our worries are poorly founded.

6. “Making new appraisals.” This is a less controlled version of thought records that operates in our thoughts not on paper. It involves the assumption that we are overestimating our worries and starts to consider a range of more probably alternative outcomes and conclusions. We look at our predicament from different angles and produce alternative conclusions.

7. Unhelpful techniques for worry include:

  • Trying to get more information. Looking up stuff on the internet usually increases worry and keeps you on the “I-must-be-in-control” treadmill.
  • Journaling. Unless you keep it to a couple of paragraphs a day, this can set your mind racing when you are trying to sleep.
  • Phoning a friend. This is often a way of avoiding responsibility for decisions and only produces short-term reassurance.
  • Alcohol. And any other addiction like shopping, eating, self-harm.

8. Experiment with losing control. Try a mini-experiment by not trying to control what you usually demand control over. Before doing it, predict what will happen. Then write down what did happen. Keep trying this with various control issues until you learn that there really is nothing to worry about.

The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller.

Check out

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

When Depression Makes Church So Hard
“Having struggled with severe depressive illness for over twelve years, I can tell you that I never (never!) want to go to church on a Sunday morning. It is an exhausting battle every single time, and I don’t always make it.”

Why CEOs Devote So Much Time to Their Hobbies
“In public and in private, CEOs state that their leisure interests help them cope with the ever-increasing demands of the top job. They typically invest considerable time in their leisure, and even block off time far in advance to protect it from “life taking over,” as one interviewee said. A few common themes stood out about how their passion helps them:”

The Most Powerful Lesson My Cancer Taught Me About Life and Work
“Cancer changed my life by encouraging me to reexamine the stories I’d been telling myself, and to re-craft them with higher levels of construal. My advice is don’t wait until you get cancer to improve your story of why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

How perfectionism became a hidden epidemic among young people
“Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.”

Obey God with Your Creativity
“The other reason I say that imagination is a Christian duty is that when a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, organized clearly, and communicated boringly.”

Encouragement for Bible Reading from Puritan Women
“These women found themselves in different situations but each one made the Bible central to their lives because, despite the hard passages and personal doubts they had, they knew its basic message could be understood and that by reading it, they communed with God himself”

Counseling Together: Ten Benefits to Co-Counseling with Your Spouse
“I love team counseling. Whenever I counsel a woman, I involve a female co-counselor or trainee. She might be my wife Lauren, or she might be another godly sister in Christ. Perhaps I want to give that woman added training and experience. Or she might bring valuable experience or expertise. Or maybe she has a positive relationship with the counselee, or better fits her demographic, etc.”

Tips on Preaching Narratives
“Since we move by and large towards the Reformed spectrum of the Christian church our tendency inherently is to be most comfortable when we are preaching Paul–and as a consequence, to be least comfortable when we are preaching from things that are very different from the Pauline style–with the result that we tend to preach the whole of the Bible as if Paul had written it. We take historical narrative or poetic narrative and there is really no difference in the style of our exposition whether we are preaching from one part of Scripture or from another.”

Kindle Books

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray $2.99.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray $2.99.

Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo MD $3.99.

Video

Stories of God’s Grace

The Single Hardest Instruction in the Bible?

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 1:00am

Summary of Chapter Five in The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller. Will is a  pastor working in London and Rob is a Christian psychiatrist. Both are recovering worriers.

1. “Do not worry” is the single hardest instruction in the Bible. Although anxiety and depression are the most common emotional health problems among Christians, the church rarely addresses them and is ill-equipped to deal with them.

2. Churches often communicate that being worried is proof of a shallow or weak faith. This compounds the problem because then the worrier has the additional worry that they are offending God by their lack of faith.

3. Matthew 6:25-34 is an example of divine cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Jesus is challenging us to transform our response to perceived threats and find better ways to face the challenges of life. Lessons from that passage include:

  • Jesus challenges us not to remain independent of God by incessantly worrying about our own needs but to be God-reliant for all our needs
  • Jesus does not command us to give up all concern for what we need but to give up insightless, faithless obsession with security.
  • Jesus teaches us not to “run” (v. 32) after the certainty of provision. This word “run” indicates a desperate obsession.
  • Striving for certain security is not just irrational and fruitless; it undermines God’s good character.

4. There are two types of worry—today worry and tomorrow worry (v. 34).

  • Today worry (v. 34b): The solvable worries you can deal with today.
  • Tomorrow worry (v. 34a): The unsolvable floating worries, or hypothetical “what ifs” about tomorrow.

5. Jesus leads us out of bondage by leading us into the now. He teaches us to focus on the present of the Kingdom of God. Once we get better at focusing on the present Kingdom of God rather than our security, trust and peace will increase.

6. The Christian life can be undermined by seeking and demanding absolute certainty. Most Christian problem worriers find themselves drawn toward desperate attempts to attain certainty regarding their faith, which ultimately undermine confidence in their relationship with God. They will worry less if that learn to accept a degree of uncertainty rather than demanding it. In the next chapter, we will look at tolerating uncertainty.

The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller.

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