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.
Updated: 1 hour 49 min ago

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Thu, 12/06/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

7 Steps for Enduring a Lifetime of Ministry
“In ministry we’re often at head of the line for suffering and joy, as we share in the ups and downs of our congregation. We must be especially prepared, then, to suffer well, so that we might run the race marked out for us in joy (Heb. 12:1). Toward that end, here are seven steps to endure for a lifetime in ministry, finding inspiration in Scripture and in examples from church history featured in the new book 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry.”

Making Space for Rest: A Q&A with Jeff Vanderstelt
This looks like a worthwhile Bible Study for stressed and burned out Christians who want to live more Christ-like lives.

“Pastor and author Jeff Vanderstelt cares about Sabbath rest. As the pastor of a church, the executive director and founder of Saturate, and an author, he’s certainly busy, but he’s also learned to make space for what matters most. That’s the crux of his latest Bible study, released earlier this year. Called Making Space, this study delves into the book of Proverbs and the life of Jesus to help Christians center their lives on God’s priorities. Among these priorities is the principle of rest.”

The 50% Lie | The Cripplegate
Ever heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Here’s a blog that debunks that lie:

“Researchers have shown that a mindset of futility toward marriage has an adverse effect on persevering in marriage or desiring to marry. The 50% lie has done more damage than we might suspect, but it can only be remedied with the truth.”

5 Ways to Misuse a Commentary
A list of the top five ways to misuse a commentary (and suggestions for how to use them better).

Gender Dysphoria and the Gospel
H
ere’s a resource that may help Christians understand and minister to people with gender dysphoria.

“If you are interacting with someone who is experiencing the distress of not feeling “at home” with their biological gender or if you have that experience yourself, it can be a very confusing and frightening time. An acquaintance of mine recently let me know about his struggles with transgenderism and the ways that Jesus has met and delivered him. He has done the great service of recording many of his own struggles and lessons at Jesus and the Transgender. The blog isn’t intended to be a full-scale training resource but genuine encouragement from someone who loves Jesus and those suffering from gender dysphoria as well. It includes frank but appropriate discussion of his own past, as well as the ongoing struggles Jesus is helping him meet. You can read about the mission of the blog, as well as the wise limitations the author uses, here. I commend the resource to you. We as a church need to learn how to love and care for those wading through this struggle. We need to become places where hope and healing can happen in the context of gospel friendships”

 Books

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story. This book is strongly recommended by Rosaria Butterfield. The negative reviews are the result of a concerted campaign by those opposed to its biblical message.

What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?: Answers to the Big Questions of Life $0.99.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself $1.59.

Lifting up Our Hearts: 150 Selected Prayers from John Calvin $4.99.

Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel $2.99.

The Number One Spiritual Issue in the World is….

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 2:00am

…..FEAR! Or, more specifically, anxiety.

According to the YouVersion Bible App the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted verse of 2018 was Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

There were a few national variations. For example, the most popular verse in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, and Mexico was Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage;  do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

In Egypt, India, and Iraq the most popular verse was 1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Do you see the common thread? Fear, anxiety, worry.

This confirms all the stats I’ve been reading and stories I’ve been hearing over the past year. Anxiety is soaring to epidemic rates, especially among teens. It’s the number one issue that middle and high school teachers raise with me when I talk with them. What a need and what an opportunity for the Gospel of Peace!

Check out

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

Books of the Year 2018
Tony Reinke’s list. And here is Russell Moore’s.

Zealous Preaching
“In the Westminster Larger Catechism, six qualities are given in answer to Question 159, “How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?” One of the qualities stated is that preaching is to be done “zealously.” What is zealous preaching and how can it be cultivated? Here are five encouragements.”

Themelios 43.3
The new December 2018 issue of Themelios has 203 pages of editorials, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three formats: (1) PDF, (2) web version, and (3) Logos Bible Software.

Columns from Tabletalk Magazine, December 2018
The December issue of Tabletalk covers several of the most important Old Testament texts concerning the promised Messiah and covers several key messianic prophecies and explain how they point to Christ. Free to read.

2018 Christmas Gift Guide
Crossway’s gift guide for Moms, Dads, Kids, and many other categories.

Fight the New Drug
After a University paid a porn performer to speak to students, these twins sparked conversations on campus about porn’s harms.

Books

The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them by Kevin DeYoung.

The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life $2.99.

The Joy of Fearing God $1.99

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together $2.39.

A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada $3.99.

Video

Since the Bible is sufficient for all of life, should we rule out psychology in counseling? Michael Horton answers:

“Why I Left the Catholic Church”

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 3:00am

Damon Linker has a deeply moving piece at The Week on Why I Left the Catholic Church. His reason?

“My reason was that the latest revelations in the church’s interminable sex abuse scandal had revealed ‘a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.’”

He predicts that many will make the same move in the coming months and years.

It appears to be the church’s ecclesiology which Linker takes most issue with. As he puts it:

“The Catholic Church does make extraordinarily high claims for itself — not that its priests and bishops and cardinals and popes are angels but that the church as an institution is, of all the churches that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one most fully and rightly ordered through time.”

This, he says, is patently an absurd claim in the light of both ancient history and recent events.

“If you believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, that he is the Son of God and the second person of the trinitarian Godhead, that his teaching tells us how the creator of the universe wants us to live, then by all means be a Christian. But to believe that this particular church, of all the Christian churches in the world, is the one most fully and rightly ordered through time, over and above all of the others? You can’t possibly be serious.

To react with anger and incredulity to this suggestion isn’t to display unrealistically high hopes or expectations about the church. It’s to respond reasonably to a claim that the church makes about itself — a claim that is flatly implausible on its face.

And that, my former fellow Catholic communicants, is why I have left the church — and why I fully expect quite a lot of the rest of you to be joining me in my unregretted exodus very soon.”

His problem is not primarily the priests’ crimes of child abuse but the church’s response of covering it up and even promoting those who did the abusing and covering up. He highlights the bafflement of Catholics everywhere as to how and why church leaders could have done this, but explains it in the money quote of the piece:

“The behavior is only mysterious if you assume that anyone in their place would respond the way you and I would: with revulsion. But it isn’t mysterious at all if you assume what should be obvious by now to everyone: They just didn’t think it was such a big deal.

That’s the big deal in this article. That’s the crux of the matter. They just didn’t think it was such a big deal. That’s where the Protestant church must stand out as different. Otherwise, Protestants will start leaving their churches in droves too.

Can We Stop Suicides?

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 2:00am

That’s the question a New York Times opinion piece asked last week.

  • The suicide rate has been rising in the United States since the beginning of the century, and is now the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The trend most likely has social causes — lack of access to mental health care, economic stress, loneliness and despair, the opioid epidemic, and the unique difficulties facing small-town America.
  • While long-term solutions are needed to address these serious problems, the field of psychiatry desperately needs new treatment options for patients.
  • And yet no new classes of drugs have been developed to treat depression (and by extension suicidality) in about 30 years, since the advent of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac.
  • These can often take weeks to work, as does talking therapy.

The good news is that scientists think that they may have found one — an old anesthetic called ketamine that, at low doses, can halt suicidal thoughts within hours (see my recent article about Dr Carlos Zarate who is pioneering Ketamine research). It works on a different bodily system to the usual SSRI’s.

The article goes on to highlight some ketamine success stories and clinical opportunities as well as some of the problematic side-effects. However, it seems to have some unique ability to reverse acute suicidal ideation and may therefore be used to save lives in these critical hours and minutes, which is cause for much thanksgiving to God. With the Lord’s blessing, perhaps this might be an opening to far more effective anti-depressants. Let’s keep praying for the Lord’s blessing and guidance on Dr Zarate and other medical researchers laboring away for the good of suffering humanity

Check out

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

Rethinking the Rat Race
Five reasons you may be overworking.

Overcoming Depression-Anxiety
A series of nine videos from Brad Hambrick.

Friends are for the Darkness
Stephen Altrogge: “If there were a definitive “cure” for clinical depression, I would plunder my bank account to get my hands on it. But after more than twenty years of personally wrestling with the demonic duo of depression and anxiety, I know that no such cure exists.”

Third Millennium Ministries: Seminary Outside the Box
“This summer, Third Mill finished creating enough courses that a pastor anywhere in the world could earn a master’s degree in Bible and theology. From a solid Reformed perspective. For free.”

When we Have to Parent our Parents
Hope and help for caregivers.

Books


Jesus on Every Page $3.49.

The First Days of Jesus $3.99.

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon $1.99.

Videos

Is the Old Testament Still Relevant for Christians?

Shedding Light on the Deep Darkness of Depression

Fri, 11/30/2018 - 11:30am

I’m sure we all regularly pray for the Lord’s blessing on medical research in the hope that various cures or comforts can be found for various diseases and disorders. I therefore thought you’d be interested in this interview with Dr Carlos Zarate who is at the forefront of medical research into new anti-depressant medications, especially the use of rapid acting ketamine and other related drugs. Some of the highlights:

  • In 2016, more than one in twenty American adults and one in ten adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode.
  • For nearly 45,000 of these individuals, their condition was severe enough that it led them to take their own lives.
  • Unfortunately, the medications currently available to treat depression are not always effective and can take up to six weeks to substantially reduce symptoms.
  • Severe, treatment-resistant or chronic depression is not simply the result of disturbances of serotonin and norepinephrine systems but involves alterations in the resiliency and neuroplasticity of synapses and circuits. So future treatments will also need to enhance the plasticity of synapses and circuits.
  • Objective tests for depression are coming closer to public availability, including the identification of biomarkers using blood work and brain imaging.
  • Although up until recently, anti-depressants have largely focused on serotonin, the drugs presently in clinical studies are targeting other neurotransmitter systems which can also be involved in depression and therefore offer hope for depression that has been resistant to current drugs.
  • The ineffectiveness of some anti-depressants could be more to do with patients missing doses and being inconsistent in their administration.
  • The new class of antidepressants being developed are effective in hours rather than weeks.

Let’s keep praying for Dr. Zarate and all medical researchers as they labor daily for breakthroughs in providing relief for suffering people.

Three Films about Porn

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 5:14pm

Fight the New Drug have recently released three 30-minute films, Brain Heart World, about the impact of pornography on the brain, relationships, and society. The films are extremely well produced with first class graphics, expert interviews, and personal stories. They are free for private viewing, but only until the end of November, if you sign up online here. You can also buy the right to public viewings at $50. This would be a great option for youth groups or other small groups.

If you are addicted to porn you may want to have a look at Fortify (one of the film sponsors) a science-based online recovery tool to help individuals quit pornography.

None of these organizations have any Christian basis as far as I can see, but represent the growing social unease with porn even if only for health and relationship reasons. If used together with Christian counseling, pastoring, and support, the films and other resources could be useful both to prevent and deliver from porn. Just make sure to view the films in their entirety before a public showing to ensure that you can mute or edit any content that might offend your community. The content is quite raw and hard-hitting in places.

Accountability Reinvented

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 10:34am

I’ve always been a strong supporter of Covenant Eyes. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best digital accountability service I’ve found. I was therefore delighted to read about how they are planning to launch the the next generation of their software that will address some of the obvious weaknesses. For a long time, I’ve believed that the way forward was more along the lines of screen-shotting and therefore I’m delighted to see how they are planning to center their new service around this with a number of safeguards in place. You can watch Covenant Eyes President Ron DeHaas speak about it here and then scroll down to read more of the details. You can also sign up to trial the service.

How Overparenting Backfired on Americans

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 10:21am

Pre-1995 the average age kids were allowed outside to play independently (without adults present) was 8-years-old. Post-1995 the average age was 12+. Historically, ages 8-12 was the period kids learned to practice independence. Now it’s much later and kids are not being readied for the outside world, hence the proliferation of “tigger warnings” and the insistence on protection from “hate” speech in college, etc.

See Haidt’s excellent book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

The website he references is letgrow.org.

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.

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