Friday, February 26, 2010

What John Owen Has Done To Me

Something someone said 350 years ago has cut me to the heart. In The Mortification of Sin, Puritan John Owen writes:

"They deny prodigality, but with worldliness: they separate from the world, but live wholly to themselves, taking no care to exercise lovingkindness in the earth. Or they talk spiritually, and live vainly; mention communion with God, and are every way conformed to the world; boasting of forgiveness of sin, and never forgiving others..."

Owen is referring here to "professors" (that is, people professing faith, but not of faith) and describes the true character of those who have a mere form of godliness. Even so, as a believer I so don't want to live "empty" like this. I look at my life and become keenly aware of how busy-ness and working in the ministry can have the unwanted side effect of numbing me to the tender working of the Spirit in my heart. I absolutely hate that. Ministry should spring from my personal, individual walk with Christ. It doesn't happen the other way around. But God in His mercy brings these things to light and gets me back on track.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Daily Pressure

"Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord's suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock." ~Charles Spurgeon, excerpted from The Minister's Fainting Fits

As a younger man I never dreamed life would be like this - no idea it could be so good, nor so difficult. I had no idea my life story would include some of the startling chapters that have been written. One thing I'm sure of however: my understanding of the Lord's morning-fresh mercies has grown with every turn of the page.

An unlikely choice, the Lord called me to be a pastor. After fifteen years on the job, it still seems awkward for me to actually write that sentence. I'm not sure I'm well suited for the task, though I understand I'm thoroughly equipped through Christ. The burden of shepherding is more, I think, than any of us ever expect. Paul puts it well when he lists his myriad tribulations to the folks at Corinth and ends with the statement that, "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." As if having rocks thrown at him and being shipwrecked wasn't enough, he never stopped thinking about and praying for all those people!

Without a doubt it was the hot crucible of his suffering that magnified his ministry and gave him a depth of compassion he'd never imagined. And still his sufferings were no match compared to what the Savior suffered. But where there is suffering with Christ, there is comfort to match!

1 Corinthians 1:3-7
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Must Have Done Something Right

I found it. The perfect song for me and my wife. We're gonna get jerseys . . .
(Disclaimer: the embedding for the actual video has been disabled, so you'll have to watch it on YOUTUBE BY CLICKING HERE, but you can see the lyrics below. Oh, and the audio is a little overdriven, so make sure your speakers aren't cranked when you start...)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Little Off Balance

Some serious pondering has been going on lately within my cranial space regarding clinical depression, since I've dealt with it off and on for more than 20 years. For me, the effects range from mild gloom to crushing despair and anxiety.

Part of what I've come to understand is that a mental malady is no more unusual than a physical affliction. Many years ago I used to feel almost sinful or faithless when experiencing a bout of serious melancholy. Now I know that my mental predispositions are as common to this fallen world as your grandpa's "trick knee" that would ache when the weather was taking a turn for the worse.

Now obviously, I don't state this flippantly, as if to toss aside the profound impact that depression and anxiety have on a person's life. You can't just take an aspirin and make the pain go away. But for me, there was comfort in the realization and acceptance of the fact that in this train wreck of a world, it's quite normal to be abnormal.

Charles Spurgeon struggled mightily with depression, and drew this conclusion:

As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, "Melancholy marked them for her own;" fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud. ~ Excerpted from The Minister's Fainting Fits

A blogging friend, Derek Ashton, had this to say on an earlier post on this blog:

It seems to me that "some of us" (creative types!) have a gift imbalance that causes us to see certain things VERY clearly and keenly - but the cost is we're a little, er, shall we say, prone to depression and other ailments (some would just say "crazy"). At times we feel we'd trade the gift for more mental balance. And at other times we wouldn't trade the joys of the gift for ANYTHING! But we have to take the bitter with the sweet. Everyone's area of gifting has a down side associated with it, part of the reason we need each other in the body of Christ. We balance each other and can only reflect Christ properly when we're reflecting Him together. And I'm convinced that people who act like they're not a little crazy sometimes are just faking it.

Indeed, pain is both an obligatory companion in this world, as well as a conduit for learning and blessing, and although God's gifts are perfect, the vessels are still made of clay.

Let me now give glory where glory is due. If the Lord had not been on my side, my life may well have ended by now. God has been so merciful and masterful in my afflictions, revealing to me many important lessons about trust, assurance, endurance and compassion over the years. I hope I'm being a good student.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tied To The Mast

OK, I admit it: I am given to depression and even attacks of anxiety. Have been since I was a teenager. You wouldn't know it if you hung out with me; I'm easy-going, thoughtful, I laugh easily, and I see beauty in the strangest places. It's kind of like having a bum knee that acts up now and then, only it's my brain that's got the problem. It isn't ever-present, I do take a low dose of medication for it, and the Lord has been merciful and taught me many things over the years about trusting and resting in Him and His promises. So, when I've had a rough go and need some assurance, it's good to be reminded of God's faithfulness. Francis Schaeffer, commenting on Romans 8:16, writes these words:

"When we're broken, when we have fallen into sin, when Satan our adversary has beaten us again, sometimes this third assurance becomes feeble indeed. At such times, we can go back to the great objective promises, the great nails in the wall that constitute our first level of assurance - the promises of Scripture that if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior we are the sons of God: 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.'

"That particular verse has always been a favorite of mine. I sometimes describe it as being tied to the mast of a ship. When the waves arise and I am beaten and buffeted, I can always go back and say, 'Yes, Satan, I have fallen again, but I have the oath and the promise of God, based on His holiness, based on His eternal justice, based on His flaming holiness so that He cannot lie. Based on the finished work of Jesus Christ, I have this sure promise: 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.' I have believed, therefore I have everlasting life! You cannot loosen me from that certainty!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How Apt of You

I am a member (current president, in fact) of a local governing body facing some large, complicated and difficult decisions. My fellow board members are good folks who put in a lot of time for no pay. Lately an issue has been set before us that has stirred up a certain element of the populace to foster and foment an agenda that, frankly, misses the point all together. I realize I'm being awfully vague, but the details of the story aren't terribly important. The point I'm about to make, however, is.

A number of e-mails have come my way in the past few weeks that have been dubious, disparaging, and even accusatory in their tone. That kinda wears on a guy after a while. Do you know the feeling? You've worked hard, done your best, weighed all the options and still, somehow, you're an immoral moron. OK, I don't actually think I'm a moron, but the comments our local board has been receiving have been wearing me down.

Until last night. Last night I received one tiny little two sentence e-mail from someone who simply said, "I know these are tough times, just wanted you to know that we are behind you 100%." I responded immediately because that person turned my whole outlook around. It reminded me that the negativity we are facing is from an inconsequentially small group and the vast (let's make that Vast - capital "V") majority is in favor of the direction our board is moving.

It also reminded me of the power of an encouraging word. The words of this man's e-mail were like apples of gold in settings of silver: beautiful, refreshing, treasured. If you have an opportunity soon, serve up something wonderful for somebody else in the form of encouraging words. The tongue holds the power of life and death, after all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thank You, Mr. Mote

This morning I went to school with my fantastic and lovely little niece. It was "Bring Your Pastor to School Day" and she chose me. :) During the chapel service, her second grade class sang, from memory, "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less" by Edward Mote. Verses two and three were exactly what I've been needing these past few days:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand

Thank God for sweet little nieces, hymn writers, and the solid Rock. Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Love Song For The Savior . . . and some really beautiful harmony.

A beautiful, simple song of worship to the Savior from Hillsong United.

And if you can keep from getting goosebumps at 5:16 when Brooke's harmony takes gracefully to the sky like a bird, you're either dead or completely insensitive! :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sproul On Assurance

It's unfortunate (perhaps I shouldn't use that word . . . how about: stinkin' bummer) that so many true believers are troubled by the notion that they can fall in and out of salvation. We need to understand what salvation is all about, what it truly means.

R.C. Sproul puts it this way:

"Real assurance rests on a sound understanding of salvation, a sound understanding of justification, a sound understanding of sanctification, and a sound understanding of ourselves."
~from Doubt and Assurance

This doesn't remove the imperative to make our "calling and election sure" and to "test ourselves" at all - this very self-examination leads to a BLESS-ED assurance. An assurance that is firmly and safely grounded in the complete salvation Christ has accomplished for those whose names are written in that eternal document, the Lamb's Book of Life (since the creation of the world!).