Monday, April 30, 2012

Dealing With Depression From A Christian Perspective

Is depression ever a good thing?

I know. It’s a strange question, but think about it. Is depression ever a good thing?

Notice I didn’t ask whether you want to be depressed. Of course you don’t want to be depressed. No one wants to be have an unbreakable, gloomy mindset all the time.

But there is a sense in which as Christians we are called to be depressed. Now before you make charges of heresy, let me explain.

Christians: Called To A Light Depression

I’m using the word depression very loosely. There are different kinds of depression. There is the deep kind of depression that you don't want to get stuck in. But there is also a lighter kind of depression that is a daily part of the Christian life.

Take a look at this passage from Ecclesiastes 7:2-3:
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
Also, in Matthew 5:3-4, Jesus says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
As Christians, we are not supposed to be the happiest people on the planet. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied”. And why did Paul say that? Because, for the most part, the Christian life isn't an endless stream of fun. It’s hard work, and at times, it’s depressing.

If as Christians we are not mildly depressed at times, there is probably something wrong with us. If you can look around at a world teeming with sin—if you can watch unbelievers march straight into hell without being a little depressed, there is probably something wrong with your heart.

Jesus says in Luke 6:25, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep”. Let me ask you a question: Do you want to mourn now and laugh for all eternity? Or would you rather laugh now and mourn as the wrath of God falls upon you for all eternity?

So we see then that there is a kind of depression—a light depression, an unselfish depression—that should be part of our daily lives as Christians.

A Deeper Kind Of Depression: Avoidable And Unavoidable

However, there is also a deeper kind of depression—a kind of depression that should not be a normal part of the Christian life. This is a kind of depression where you experience feelings that you cannot put into words—and if you could put them into words, you would be extremely hesitant to share them.

One of the ways you can fall into a deep depression is because of sin in your life. If you are consistently lazy, undisciplined, or prideful—deep depression is probably going to come. And in a sense, this could be considered a good form of depression because it serves as a warning. It acts as an alert and urges you to re-examine your life.

Another way you can fall into deep depression is because of sickness from the hand of God. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul explains to the Corinthians that there are many among them who are “weak and sick,” because they failed to examine themselves before taking communion. Being sick or weak, of course, tends to make anyone more prone to deep depression.

Both of these categories—sin in your life, or sickness from the hand of God—can lead to deep depression. But it is a deep depression that is avoidable.

If you live a holy, disciplined life—if you examine yourself properly before taking communion and other such things—then you will never fall into a deep depression, right? You can just avoid deep depression altogether if you live a godly life, right?


Just look at Job. I’m sure Job lived a very disciplined life. He was blameless. But look where that got him.

So this means that there is another way to fall into deep depression. You can fall into deep depression because of a tragedy or trial. Rigid discipline and a blameless life will not protect you from the normal, deep, human emotions that come when you face extreme suffering.

There is one last way that you can fall into a deep depression—because of chronic pain or some chemical imbalance in your body. Just because we are Christians does not mean we do not have to deal with living in a fallen body. (As a side note, this is the only type of depression that can be cured solely through medication.)

Both of these last two categories—tragedies and trials, and also chronic pain—are similar because they lead to deep depression that is unavoidable. Simply living a disciplined, upright life will not prevent this kind of depression. For that reason, if you ever experience deep depression, you want it to be the unavoidable kind so that you can firmly declare as Job did that your depression is not the result of blatant sin in your life.

How To Deal With Avoidable Depression

But what if you aren’t Job? What if you end up experiencing avoidable depression?

The first thing you must do is repent. Look at Peter’s example. He denied Christ, which led him into a state of depression. Then he repented for his betrayal and looked to Jesus for hope (for more info on Peter and his depression see A Biography Of The Apostle Peter).

Nebuchadnezzar is also a good example. He was King over the Babylonian empire, and he boasted of all that he had conquered. He refused to recognize that God is the one who rules over all, and so God made Nebuchadnezzar like a wild beast for seven years. This is what Nebuchadnezzar said at the end of those seven years in Daniel 4:34-35:
But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever;

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?
Nebuchadnezzar's depression during those seven years must have been immense, but in the end he repented for both his pride and unbelief. He fixed his gaze on God, and he recognized that God really is King—that God really does rule over all.

Notice that both Peter and Nebuchadnezzar repented of the sin that led them into depression. There’s no point in trying to get out of avoidable depression without addressing the reason why you fell into that depression in the first place. If you don’t do so, you might end up like Judas Iscariot.

The bottom line is this: If you fell into depression because of your pride, repent of your pride. If you fell into depression because of a lack of discipline, make a plan to become more disciplined. Whatever the sin was that caused you to fall into depression, you must kill it—you must mortify it by the power of the Spirit, always looking to Christ as your motivation.

After you have done that, there is no guarantee your depression will disappear. But with your blatant sin out of the way, you will be able to address your depression more directly. In other words, you will be able to handle your depression just like someone who is going through unavoidable depression.

How To Deal With Unavoidable Depression

This brings us to the next question: How can you persevere through unavoidable depression?

This can be done if you keep your eyes on God. Though the pain may be unbearable—and the emotions too deep for words, you can have hope if you continue trusting God. If you can cry out as Job did, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him"—then you will not lose all hope (Job 13:15).

Habakkuk is another good example of how to persevere through unavoidable depression. Habakkuk knew that judgment from the Chaldeans was about to come upon his people. In the face of this reality, Habakkuk was deeply troubled. He didn't understand, and he boldly questioned God. Yet even when he realized that the judgment to come was going to happen whether he wanted it to or not, he was able to cry out, "Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:18).

Jesus Christ: The Ultimate Example Of How To Deal With Depression

The ultimate example we have to look to in persevering through deep depression is Jesus Himself. Was there ever a man who entered a deeper depression?

Think of Christ. There He is, sweating drops of blood in the garden. He is arrested, betrayed with a kiss.

Can you see Him now—being crucified? And then, can you see Him in the midst of His suffering, asking His Father to forgive those who crucified Him?

See Him now on the cross. In His final moments, He cries out, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken Me?” Yet in the midst of His questioning, He does not lose sight of the holiness of His Father. If you look in Psalm 22, where the words “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken Me?” are prophesied—those words are followed shortly after with these: “Yet You are holy!”

That’s the key to persevering through deep depression. You must always stay grounded in the holiness of God. You might question God. You might ask “why” a thousand times. Yet in the midst of such questioning you must continue to recognize that God is holy and that you are nothing in comparison. You must recognize that even if you don’t get answers to your questions, it is still God who is in control—and even though you do not understand, you will still trust Him.

You also must be prepared to battle depression for an indefinite period of time. Paul cried out three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. God’s response to Him was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I can assure you that whatever depression you experience—however great it may be—it does not compare to what happened on the cross—for it was there that Christ bore the wrath of God: the fierce, burning, anger that should have justly fell upon every believer for all eternity.

Therefore, look to Christ in your depression. He is your example. For in the midst of His suffering, He remained sinless! Hebrews 12:3 says, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

In closing, the Apostle Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17:
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Quote of the Day #205 - William Gurnall

A quote from William Gurnall on the authority of Scripture:
You must live by your own faith, not someone else's. Look as long and as hard as necessary to see truth with your own eyes. A building propped up by a neighbor's house is too weak to stand very long. So do not let authority from man, but rather evidence from the Word, decide your judgment. Man's conclusions are no stronger than a piece of scrap-wood bracing a building, but truth stands on the eternal foundation of solid rock - God's Word!

Quote Scripture instead of man. Yet in doing this, be careful not to lean so far this way that you lose the proper balance. We must not condemn the judgment of an elder whose wisdom and learning command reverence. Surely God has placed the true path in this matter squarely between defying men and deifying them.
~William Gurnall (The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2, Chapter 1, Part 1).

This quote was taken from the book The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2 - A modernized abridgement of the Puritan Classic by William Gurnall, published by Banner Of Truth.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Tower of Babel: God's Purpose - Genesis 11:6-7 Bible Commentary

And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." (Genesis 11:6-7)
The early Babylonians were united in both their construction project and their sin. But their unity did not last.

God had decided to break them apart.

Good Unity And Bad Unity

Unity can be good. As believers, we are all part of the body of Christ. Although we have different roles, we are designed and called to be unified in Him.

Unity, however, can be misused, and that's what happened at the Tower of Babel. The early Babylonians did not seek to unify themselves so that they could love God more. Instead, they unified themselves around their hatred for God.

Because of their rebellion, God decided to break them apart. His reasoning was that if He allowed the early Babylonians to continue, the Tower of Babel would be "only the beginning of what" they would do. Therefore, He would disperse them and confuse their language, thereby restraining their sin. No longer would they be able to gather under one banner in rebellion against Him.

Disunity Brings War

Different languages produce different cultures. Different cultures create different nations— nations which often compete for the same resources. Such competition can easily turn violent, especially among nations that speak, look and live differently. In short, one of the main reasons nations go to war is due to the existence of nations. If people were not divided— if disunity did not exist, war would not come.

What if there were no wars? What if people never raised the sword against their fellow man? The outcome would be unity.

But unity around what?

Would people be united in their love for God? Probably not. Instead, they would be united in their opposition to God. They would not raise their swords to oppose an approaching army, but would raise their swords together to threaten the King of Kings!

Disunity Stalls Human Progress

If humanity had been united from the Flood on, human society would have advanced faster. Language would not have been a barrier, therefore ideas would have spread faster. Technologies would have been invented earlier.

But that, apparently, was not God's plan for this fallen world.

Although there are advantages to living in a society as advanced as ours, there are some bad side effects. Most notably, there are now more ways to sin than there ever have been. New technology might help us get things done faster, but it also creates new temptations.

Disunity Resulted In The Nation Of Israel

So far I've explored two of the consequences of the dispersion: human war and stalled progress. But there's something else to consider.

If the dispersion had not happened, Israel would not have been Israel.

God chose Israel to be His own nation above all others. How could He have chosen the nation of Israel as His own if there were no nations to choose from?

History is often told as a story of nations rising against other nations. It's been that way for a long time, so we shouldn't be surprised. As Jesus said, such wars "are but the beginning of the birth pains" (Matthew 24:8).

If there is ever a time when you no longer hear of wars— when it seems that the world might finally have entered universal peace— then you can know that the end is nearer than ever. If we believe the words of Revelation 6:1-4, worldwide peace is the first of the seven seals; it is the event that marks the beginning of the unfolding of the judgments described in Revelation.

Peace among fallen, unforgiven men is never as great as it seems. It wasn't great at the Tower of Babel, and it will only be a sign that the end is ever nearer when it comes about again. Until that day, we can be confident that wars will come. Cultures will be offended by other cultures. Misunderstandings will arise, just as they did from day one after the Tower of Babel.

When God judged the builders of the Tower of Babel, He set the stage for the rest of history. Do not be troubled at the warring nature of the world, for God set it all in place for His own purposes.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Preaching and Preachers - Martyn Lloyd-Jones - Book Review

Want to know what’s wrong with preaching today? If so, Martin Lloyd-Jones provides some answers in his book Preaching and Preachers. This book contains a series of sixteen lectures which were published in the 1970s. Despite their age, the comments that Jones makes still accurately describe many of the unbiblical trends in today’s preaching.

Jones’ first few lectures in Preaching and Preachers focus on the state of preaching in his day. For the remainder of the lectures, Jones focuses on addressing pastors (or those who are studying to be pastors) on how they should conduct themselves, especially in the area of preaching.

One of the key concepts Jones emphasizes is balance. A preacher can be funny, but should not be too funny. A preacher should prepare for his sermons, but should not prepare so much that the Spirit is has no freedom to work.

The Holy Spirit, according to Jones, is at the heart of biblical preaching. Jones believes that a pastor should not read his sermon in the pulpit; neither should a pastor memorize his sermon and recite it. Instead, preaching should be spontaneous— for that is what separates a sermon from a lecture. Jones says that in “a lecture you know what is happening, you are in control; but that is not the case when you are preaching. Suddenly, unexpectedly, this other element may break into a service—the touch of the Spirit of God” (Ch. 8).

The job of the pastor is to preach what the Spirit leads him to preach. Jones writes that one “of the remarkable things about preaching is that often one finds that the best things one says are things that have not been premeditated, and were not even thought of in the preparation of the sermon, but are given while one is actually speaking and preaching” (Ch. 5). Jones says that “you can be meticulous in your preparation [of a sermon]; but without the unction of the Holy Spirit you will have no power, and your preaching will not be effective” (Ch. 16).

The Holy Spirit is just one of many subjects Jones addresses. He also offers some helpful comments regarding altar calls. To put it bluntly, Jones believed that most altar calls were manipulative, superficial, and unbiblical ways to bring people to "salvation". The dimming of lights and playing of music after a sermon to make people "make decisions" is spiritual trickery.

I find it comforting to know that in an era in which many Protestants began to favor Rome-like, mechanical methods that put the mighty act of regeneration under the power of man, there were those like Jones who stood against such falsities, firmly preaching real, solid, biblical truth.

Jones’ lectures are not perfect. Sometimes I disagreed with him. At times his opinions were strange, such as his opinion that churches should not have choirs. Yet for the vast amount of material in Preaching and Preachers, I rarely disagreed with him.

For the most part, Jones' opinions are firmly rooted in Scripture. If you read this book, you will walk away from it sensing that Jones was a man devoted to Jesus Christ— a man who believed that salvation was a work of God that could not be manipulated by any man— a man who believed that that the Holy Spirit blows where He wills, accomplishing His purposes through preaching and preachers.

If you are a pastor or are planning on entering the pastorate, I highly recommend this book. If you have no plans to become a pastor, you will not be able to make as many direct application from the lectures, but you will walk away from the book with a better idea of what separates Spirit empowered preaching from every other kind of preaching.

For more book reviews click here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Tower of Babel: A Pre-Incarnate Appearance of Christ - Genesis 11:5 Bible Commentary

One of the first times in the Bible we get a glimpse of the pre-incarnate Christ is when He is "walking in the garden [of Eden] in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8). Such pre-incarnate appearances of Christ are called (in theological jargon) christophanies.

In Genesis 11, another potential christophany appears.
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. (Genesis 11:5)
The verse says that the LORD (Yahweh) came down, presumably to the earth. It is quite possible that this passage is describing the pre-incarnate Christ Himself entering the city of Babylon!

What might it have been like to enter the city of Babel? For a moment, picture yourself walking down one of Babel's streets.

You pick up a brick and turn it over in your hands. You run your fingers through the mortar.

You glance at the hard-working Babylonians. Suddenly, you realize what a disgusting thing they are doing. They are trading the LORD for a construction project!

Oh how foolish sin is! The LORD who made all things— the very One who upholds the universe... He was traded by the early Babylonians for a pile of bricks and a heap of mortar!

From our perspective, it looks foolish to trade the King of Kings for bricks and mortar. But how often do we trade Christ for other objects? How often do you trade Christ for the most insignificant, meaningless, trivial pleasures?

Perhaps you think I've been overly speculative in seeing a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in this passage. Very well then, but at least see the main contrast in the passage. The builder of all things is God. He created stars thousands of times larger than our sun, and yet, the early Babylonians blasphemed God and instead worshiped a tiny construction project.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Quote of the Day #204 - Charles Spurgeon

An interesting quote from Charles Spurgeon on repentance and faith:
Repentance will never allow faith to strut, even if it had a mind to do so. Faith cheers repentance and repentance sobers faith. The two go well together. Faith looks to the Throne and repentance loves the Cross. When faith looks most rightly to the Second Advent, repentance forbids its forgetting the First Advent. When faith is tempted to climb into presumption, repentance calls it back to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Never try to separate these dear companions which minister more sweetly to one another than I have time to tell. That conversion which is all joy and lacks sorrow for sin, is very questionable. I will not believe in that faith which has no repentance with it any more than I would believe in that repentance which left a man without faith in Jesus. Like the two cherubs which stood gazing down upon the Mercy Seat, so stand these two inseparable Graces, and none must dare to remove the one or the other.
~Charles Spurgeon (Two Essential Things #2073)

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Tower Of Babel: United For Sin - Genesis 11:3-4 Bible Commentary

And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:3-4)
Pride and fame go hand in hand. A proud man wants fame so that everyone can love him as much as he loves himself. Proud people put their confidence in what they do.

Pride For The Tower Of Babel

The people who constructed the Tower of Babel might have thought that they were building a structure that would reach the heavens, but pride had twisted their minds. They didn't realize that they were drops of water, riding through space on the speck of dust that is the Earth, marveling at their tiny tower.

Their pride made them believe they were building something fantastic. Like Satan, in their pride they strove to "ascend to heaven" and set themselves "above the stars of God" (Isaiah 14:13-14). The builders planned to make this ascent in a tower made of brick and mortar. Then they would be able to make a name for themselves— a name greater than God's.

Fame Because Of The Tower Of Babel

The ironic twist is that the early Babylonians did make a name for themselves! They got fame. God has etched their story into the Scriptures. For the rest of history, they will serve as a Pharisaic-like reminder to fight against pride. They are an example to us of the stupidity of intentionally disobeying God.

Utopia Through The Tower Of Babel

After the Flood, God commanded Noah and his descendants to spread throughout the whole earth. The people of the post-Flood world, however, refused to obey. They wanted to remain together: united in one group, united for sin.

They were seeking to create an ideal city with Nimrod at their head (Genesis 10:8-10). They were pursuing utopia, but their political philosophy had the same problem that so many others have had. It eliminated God. It elevated man to the center of society. Read again the words that they spoke: "Come, let us make bricks... let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves". God had no role in their utopia.

They were building a city for their own glory, not God's. In building the city, they thought that they could avoid being dispersed over the face of the whole earth. How very wrong they were! God had just sent a global flood upon the disbelieving world, wiping everyone out. How did these early Babylonians think they would escape His righteous anger?

Disobedience At The Tower Of Babel

The pre-Flood world had been commanded to fill the earth, and presumably, they were obedient (Scripture doesn't tell us otherwise). Sadly, the post-Flood world failed to obey this command, which means that the people of the pre-Flood world were more obedient than the post-Flood world in this area!

Surely the Tower of Babel is yet one more proof of the greatness of our God! He is a God who is slow to anger! He keeps His covenants and His promises. God could have destroyed the builders of the Tower of Babel the moment they thought of refusing to fill the earth, but He didn't.

Instead, God chose to to let man walk in disobedience upon the face of the earth. For a while, God let the early Babylonians built their city, but He did not let them enjoy the fruits of their evil labor for long. The day of the dispersion was coming. Judgment was near.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Quote of the Day #203 - J. C. Ryle

A quote from J. C. Ryle on the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of the atonement:
No proof of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, after all, is so overwhelming and unanswerable — as the sufferings and cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole doctrine of His substitution and atonement. Terribly black must that guilt be, for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be, which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!" (Matthew 27:46).
~J. C. Ryle (Holiness, Chapter: Sin)

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