What God says of our Identity 

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But his theology of the cross involved the recognition that God sometimes works “under the appearance of opposites.” Thus Luther strove to cultivate in the congregation a faith that rested in confidence on God’s presence and promise even when his strength was being perfected in their weakness, as God had told Paul he was doing in the apostle’s life (2 Cor. 12:9). In this sermon on Mark 5 Luther, in both temporal and spiritual dimensions of life, poses the contrast of what human beings see in the world and what Christ sees. David had seen himself as a poor shepherd, and so had the world, but Christ viewed him as a king. “All of you who have faith in me regard yourselves as poor sinners, but I regard you as precious saints; I regard you as like the angels. I simply speak not more than a single word, and sin, death, sickness have to yield, and righteousness, life, and health come in their place. The way I speak determines how things are; they cannot be otherwise.” 

Robert Kolb, Luther and the Stories of God, Chapter 3

Book Review: Schizophrenia, Mental Illness and Pastoral Care

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Adam Lambdin, author of Schizophrenia, Mental Illness and Pastoral Care (2016) can write from personal experience that “Schizophrenia is diabolical” (52).  Adam is schizophrenic. I hesitate to write that Adam “suffers” from schizophrenia, but because he has not suffered direct and indirect consequences of the disease: he has; but rather because Adam has blessed the church with his account of schizophrenia.

The book has three primary elements: Adam’s personal experience; a brief discussion of physiology of the disease; and a discussion of what has and has not helped in responding to this disease.

Adam’s personal history was quite useful for understanding what it is like to live with schizophrenia. The process by he came to understand his condition is both fascinating and heartbreaking. As the effects of the disease grew, Adam did not suspect the true nature of his difficulties, “After all, I had absolutely no clue that I was schizophrenic.”

His explanation of how there were delusions which covered up the delusions which he suffered — the delusions about the delusions — well demonstrated the tremendous pit into which this disease can drive one — hence, the reason he calls the disease “diabolical” (not demonic, which unfortunately some well-meaning people believed to be the case). The delusions created  a horror movie hall of mirrors within his brain.

Adam then reviews medical evidence that schizophrenia is a real disease. Unfortunately, there has been a deal of confusion on this point, within and without the church. This is the trouble with a disease which is typically diagnosed based upon behavior and affect and self-reported states of mind.

How does one rightly and accurately distinguish between those problems with result from physical disease and those which flow from personal volition? When presented with someone who is depressed, or who refuses to follow instruction, or who behaves in an inappropriate manner, does their outward expression come from a lack of self-control, a damaged brain, drug use, some sinful choice. These can be very difficult questions and the interaction between physical and spiritual causes can be very hard to disentangle.

Adam’s experience and observations on these points need to be carefully considered. His advises (page 53) that one begin with a charitable posture when the underlying cause is doubt; something with which I would agree.

The third topic covered in the book is the response to his schizophrenia. Adam details the many well-intentioned and yet hurtful responses, and the insufficient counsel he received.

A great deal of this discussion concerns the biblical counseling world, which sadly, has had some advocates who were not helpful here. (I write this as a biblical counselor professor at The Masters University, so biblical counseling is something I sincerely advocate.) There have those who have tried to reduce all instances of bad outcome labeled “psychotic” or “schizophrenic” (this label has and been used to describe various persons who may not all have the same underlying physical problems; the famous musician or actor who melts down in public, may be “crazy” or even “psychotic” without suffering from a degenerative brain disease).

There is a physiological brain disease called “schizophrenia” that entails damage to the brain. The precise mechanism by which this disease begins and progresses is not as well understood as I wish it were. Thank God, there is some medication which can alleviate some symptoms of the disease.

Yet, the failure to carefully distinguish between people who have a degenerative brain disease and people who are just degenerates has hurt people like Adam. Insisting that someone “repent” of schizophrenia makes as much sense as telling someone to repent of the flu. (And in both instances, the physical problem can become a basis for temptation. But it is no sin to suffer from a disease. People who are physically ill need compassion and medical treatment).

Adam’s discussion of the sort of counsel, instruction which helps with schizophrenia is discussed as a distinction between “secular” psychology and biblical counseling. This is the one place where I would take the most exception with Adam. Not that I disagree with those sorts of things which have been helpful. But I do not believe the line is drawn in the right place in terms of the positions:

There are people who think they are offering counsel consistent with the Scripture; who are not. There are those who know too little about what the Scripture provides, and thus offer inadequate counsel.

The various forms of counsel which proved most effect for managing the effects of the hallucinations and delusions are not foreign to biblical counseling as a discipline — even though they may little known or practiced by counselors. For instance, a great of what is discussed by Richard Sibbes in the early 17th century in his work The Soul’s Conflict With Itself is in accord with the sort taking one’s thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5) taught to Adam by his psychologists. Indeed, I have personally given very similar counsel to a man suffering from auditory hallucinations and know that similar counsel has been given by biblical counselors to those suffering from schizophrenia.

That does not mean that I am not interested to read what these psychologists and psychiatrists have done which they have found effective.

However, it is precisely because Adam has been poorly counseled by well-meaning Christians that I would want counselors to read this book and think and train more carefully than they have done.  But this is not the place to work through that complex issue.

And so, in short, I am very pleased that Adam has written this book. I have had the honor of having Adam as a graduate theology student at The Masters University — and even had some brief discussions with him on this subject. I will be recommending this book to counselors and students — not just for those who are particularly interested in schizophrenia, but for all those who seek to better understand the question of brain disease or injury and counseling issues (that is a particularly difficult question, because it is hard to know precisely what is the cause or this or that). There has been far too little consideration of these questions in the biblical counseling world. Adam’s book is a welcome addition to the discussion.

(I was not paid for this review. I purchased a copy of the book to give this review.)

The Comfort of Christ as King

Oh, this is a comforting word to a believing heart, for without Christ, man is subjected to many raging tyrants who are not kings but murderers, at whose hands he suffers great misery and fear. These are the devil, the flesh, the world, sin, also the law and eternal death, by all of which the troubled conscience is burdened, is under bondage, and lives in anguish. For where there is sin there is no clear conscience; where there is no clear conscience, there is a life of uncertainty and an unquenchable fear of death and hell in the presence of which no real joy can exist in the heart, as Lev. 26:36 says: “The sound of a driven leaf shall chase them.”
17. Where the heart receives the king with a firm faith, it is secure and does not fear sin, death, hell, nor any other evil; for he well knows and in no wise doubts that this king is the Lord of life and death, of sin and grace, of hell and heaven, and that all things are in his hand. For this reason he became our king and came down to us that he might deliver us from these tyrants and rule over us himself alone. Therefore he who is under this king cannot be harmed either by sin, death, hell, Satan, man or any other creature. As his king lives without sin and is blessed, so must he be kept forever without sin and death in living blessedness

Luther’s Postil; First Sunday of Advent. Matthew 21:1-9. Christ Enters Jerusalem, or Faith, Good Works and the Spiritual Meaning of this Gospel

The Spiritual Chymist, Meditation XLV

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Meditation XLV

Upon a Beehive and a Wasp’s Nest

Those two insects have, as naturalists observe, a likeness in sundry practiculars: The wasps have one common habitation, as well as bees, and are under the government of a king; who, as the king of bees, is the largest and most beautiful among them. In the building of their cells and combs they are exact, and make them much like the bees both for their figure and size. But they make no honey at all, nor yet any wax that is for service; they live only upon rapine, and are injurious to most kinds of fruits; like thieves they enter by force into the hives of bees and devour the honey which has with much industry been gathered by them. So eager are they after what is sweet, as that any narrow mouth glass set near the hive with the little sweet liquor becomes a snare to drown and destroy them, and a security to the bees to prevent their theft, which pass the more freely into their cells, not tempted to endanger their lives are to neglect their work by the sight for such a pleasing bait.

And now whither my thoughts carry me, who cannot easily conjecture? Is there not a double polity, or society of men, the one of which maybe justly resembled to wasps and the other two bees?  It was Tertullian’s saying long since: Faciunt favos & uspe, faciunt Ecclesias Marcionite: Wasps make combs but they are empty one; and so heretics make churches, but they are void of truth, which is that sweet honey that is to be found only  among the assemblies of the faithful.

What else is the Church of Rome, notwithstanding all the pretenses which makes to being a mother-hive, but a nest of angry wasps, under the rule and sway of a spiritual Abaddon? How many swarms have gone out from thence, not to make honey, but to destroy what others have made?  Frauds, robberies, violence have been the things which they have practice, and with which their habitations have been filled. Have they not thrust their stings deep into thousands, who have detected their impostors, and have endeavored to hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience? Have they not wasted many places, which were like the garden of the soul, full of precious fruits into which her Beloved might come and eat his honey and honeycomb? Who can express the rage and scorn with which they have trampled upon those, that would not abet their impieties?

How fond  [foolish] and fruitless then must be the attempts of those who, as they had forgotten what Amalek had done [Deuteronomy 25:17] , are setting on foot overtures of peace between Protestancy and Popery? As if the distance between the one and the other were more seeming than real, and might as readily be brought together as the two extremes of the serpent, who can, when he pleases cast himself into a circle and take his tail into his mouth? But who knows not that a little leaven leavens the whole lot; and so will a little error defuse its poison through the whole body of truth, like a drop of oil on a cloth, it no sooner falls then spreads. Like a spark on tinder it catches and runs at once. And therefore Paul would not for one hour give place on two false brethren, least the truth of the gospel might be endangered. To do it then with the least prejudice to the truth is sinful; and to effect it without it is impossible. Sooner may they reconcile antipathies in nature than in religion: when therefore they have combined fire and water, without the extinction of the other, and made an amity between the dove and hawk, between the wasp and bee; so that the one shall not infest the other, then may they promise themselves success, and making up the breaches between Babylon and Zion. But O that they who are studious to make strife to cease between the Philistines in the Israelites would bend their minds to heal the divisions of Israel, among whom their are great thoughts and searchings of heart.

Is it not pity to see the industrious bees, whose labors are so useful to their owners, to make a war in the mouth of their hive, and to kill one another by those stings which they should defend their cells against wasps and drones? And is it not been a sad spectacle to behold Christians who should be joined together, fidei  vinculo, glutine charitatis; by the bond and cement of faith and love, to be divided from one another and in animosities to draw the sword and to sheath it also in the bowels of each other? And yet such heats there have sometimes been, and still are between brethren. I could methinks give way to sorrow and let it overflow the banks to see professors to be less tender of Christ’s body than the soldiers were of his coat; and few or none to prize that unity which is the glory of faith of the gospel. Have we not all one Father, God blessed forever? Have we not all one elder brother, Jesus Christ , who is first born of every creature? Are we all not quickened by one Spirit, who is a Spirit of Love?  Are we not all under one solemn vow of baptism in which we have dedicated ourselves to God’s service as soldiers? How can we then turn enemies one to another?

O God, do thou, who hast made that blessed promise to thy people

One Heart

And one way

Put into them a Spirit of Wisdom and Love,

That they may walk wisely to those that are without

And Lovingly towards another;

That by this all men may know that they are Christ’s Disciples

And believe that those has sent Him.

Doddridge on being a minister

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Philip Doddridge, D.D., in Lectures on Preaching and the Several Branches of the Ministerial Office, 1808, Boston. The lectures were not published until after Doddridge had died. A short biography may be found here. Dr. Doddridge begins his lectures with 13 general comments about how one can make himself ready for the work of a minister:

See to it that there be a foundation of sincere piety in yourselves, or else there is but little prospect of your being useful or acceptable to others. — Be therefore firmly resolved to devote yourselves to God, and do so solemnly.

Examination:

Piety is an old-fashioned concept, but it lies at the heart of being a Christian. A pastor is one who undertakes to care for the souls of others, to lead them to Christ and to help shelter them from spiritual harm. To understand the word “piety” here and its importance, it would be useful to see it in the context of Calvin’s use in the Institutes, for instance:

Now, the knowledge of God, as I understand it, is that by which we not only conceive that there is a God but also grasp what befits us and is proper to his glory, in fine, what is to our advantage to know of him. Indeed, we shall not say that, properly speaking, God is known where there is no religion or piety

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 39. In a footnote to this section, Battles writes,

It is a favorite emphasis in Calvin that pietas, piety, in which reverence and love of God are joined, is prerequisite to any true knowledge of God. Cf. I. iv. 4. The brief characterization of pietas that follows here may be compared with his words written in 1537: “The gist of true piety does not consist in a fear which would gladly flee the judgment of God, but … rather in a pure and true zeal which loves God altogether as Father, and reveres him truly as Lord, embraces his justice and dreads to offend him more than to die”; Instruction in Faith (1537), tr. P. T. Fuhrmann, pp. 18 f. (original in OS I. 379). For an examination of “pietas literata” with reference to Erasmus, John Sturm, Melanchthon, and Cordier, see P. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries, pp. 329–356. (In many contexts pietas is translated “godliness” in the present work.)

We would not hire a plumber or doctor, lawyer or gardener who did not exhibit skill and interest in that particular subject. Yet many pastors seem more fit for entertainer than a fit guide in godliness. In any event, Doddridge is right. Here are a couple of questions for self-examination on the question of piety.

Meditation: What do I read? Is my reading affective — does what I read (if it is profitable) something which stirs my heart or changes my conduct? Do I ponder and consider what I read? How is my reading of Scripture? Is it perfunctory or diligent and delightful? Do I read, meditate, change?

Prayer: Do I pray — and not just as a matter of course before meals? Do I pray for holiness? Do I pray for others. (Here is a place to start: http://www.icommittopray.com).

Time: How do I spend my time? Take one week, and track your time in 15 minute intervals? What does it show?

Service: Does you life of faith flow out as love to your neighbor?

Holiness: Would someone who spent much time with you think that this characterizes your life? Is there a growth in holiness?

Resolution: Have you — and if not do so — resolve to God that your will demonstrate this piety.

Amos: How Politics Relates to Theology

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The prophet Amos begins with a denunciation of the rapine and ravage of the nations against their neighbors. The God of Israel sees what these foreign countries and kings have done and pronounces judgment against them. Thus, the God of Israel was not a local deity concerned with getting his share of the sacrifices (as such deities are), but was a universal king who acted against evil — whether or not those people acknowledged His rule.

Amos thus begins as a prophet concerned with international politics — but the politics are subservient to his theological concerns:

While Amos proclaimed a God of nations who was also a God of humanity, it would be misleading to give the impression that he was interested primarily in politics or even primarily in the principles of humanity as such. He was interested in these; but above them, explaining them and including them, he placed religion. He was concerned above all else with the character of God and with the divine will. If he referred to the political situations of his own nation or of other nations, it was only because he saw in these a field in which God himself was active, and in which God’s will must rule. If he denounced actions that we would regard as offenses against humanity, even when these actions were directed against an enemy nation, it was only because he had been thrilled with a new vision of God’s regard for man as man and had seen the divine importance of a right behavior of men toward each other. The question “Who is my neighbor?” in the great parable of Jesus is really anticipated in spirit by Amos with regard to nations. In a word, his message on this point was “Who is my (national) neighbor?” It is not an easy question for nations to answer.

For him it was religion that was fundamental, and it is abundantly clear that he regarded his whole message as a message of religion. He was not assuming the rôle of statesman or teacher of ethical culture, neither was he offering a gospel of humanity, although all these elements appear in his message; he was first and foremost a religious teacher. As such he demanded a hearing, and only as such has he a claim on us to-day.

It is true that in these ideas he was leading the way toward a much larger view of religion than the one current in his day. Indeed, the expansion of religion to include the affairs of everyday life—the everyday life of business and of politics—is still a novelty. Yet for Amos these were the fields in which religion must operate, and their religious character rested back upon the character and will of God.

To know God as Amos knew him—as a God of honor and equity—means to realize that men cannot be acceptable in the sight of this God unless they themselves possess and exercise the same principles of equity and of honor. This reflection of the life of God in every aspect of the lives of men was for Amos the only true religion, alongside which a religion that contented itself with formal worship, observance of sacred days and seasons, stated offerings, and attendance at the temple was a worthless substitute. Not that these things in themselves were wrong, but that they were not of the essence of man’s most vital acknowledgment of the true God.

Lindsay B. Longacre, Amos, Prophet of a New Order, ed. Henry H. Meyer, Life and Service Series (New York; Cincinnati: The Methodist Book Concern, 1921), 30–31.

The resurrection

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The Christian hope is not delivery from the body (the Greeks had an expression: the body is a tomb), but from corruption. If one were to know the body only as it is after the Fall, it would seem the body is inherently corrupt. But the Christian knows the corruption of the body is abnormal, a curse.

As Chrysostom says in Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 10.3:

We do not want to be delivered from the body but only from the corruption which is in it. Our body is a burden to us, not because it is a body but because it is corruptible and liable to suffering. But when the new life comes, it will take away this corruption—the corruption, I say, not the body itself. 

Quoted from Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol vii

Samuel Rutherford on how we Misjudge God

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Samuel Rutherford in Sermon 1 of the Trial and Triumph of Faith explains why we often do not understand what God is doing. First, we must understand that God’s Providence is complex: God uses even sin for His own ends:

The Providence of God hath two sides; one black and sad, another white and joyful. Heresy taketh strength, and is green before the sun; God’s clearing of necessary and seasonable truths, is a fair side of that same providence. Adam’s first sin, was the devil and hell digging a hole through the comely and beautiful frame of the creation of God; and that is the dark side of Providence: but the flower of Jesse springing up, to take away sin, and to paint out to men and angels the glory of a heaven, and a new world of free grace—that is a lightsome side of Providence

Second, we look upon only a portion of God’s work; it as of we judged the outcome of a story but stopped in the middle or sneered at house which was not complete;

—It is our fault, that we look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon. We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place, half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here. Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building

We are impatient of our ease and want our heaven while we are upon earth.

Complacency & Autonomy

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Paraphrasing Job, Goethe begins Faust in the Heavenly Court, where Mephistopheles complains that men torment each other so thoroughly that he hardly wants to bother them. In response, the Lord asks the devil if he knows “his servant” Faust, to which the devil responds, “He serves you in a curious way; not earthly are his meat and drink . . . and everything from near and far does not requite his deeply moved heart.” The Lord counters, “Man will err as long as he strives.” Thus begins the wager over Faust’s soul.

For his poem, Goethe required a protagonist who exemplifies Augustine’s restless heart because, left to their own devices, men fall into a torpor and seek unconditional rest, as the Lord tells Mephistopheles. Complacency is the characteristically modern sin. The human condition has not changed, nor can it, so long as men must die. But modern man is more susceptible to the illusion that he can mold his own identity and make his own destiny. Modern man can persuade himself that he is alone in the universe, improvising his ethics and identity as he goes along. He can fancy himself master of the universe through science. He can even imagine that brain science eventually will resolve the existential questions that have troubled his kind for millennia. Underneath this complacency lurks an antipathy to life, articulated wittily by Goethe’s devil.

Hast Thou Considered my Servant Faust?