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Jesus’ Lordship Meets our Counseling Needs

David Powlison in his book called Safe & Sound, chapter 5, narrows down the majority of counseling cases to three categories: Anger, Fear, and Escapism. It dawned on me that the three aspects of Jesus’ Lordship proposed by John Frame apply to these as well: Control, Authority, and Presence. For example:

In helping someone with Anger the issue is often unforgiveness, bitterness, and wanting to take things into their own hands, even to take revenge. Therefore, the solution is to lead the person to submit to God’s authority in humility.

In helping someone with Fear the issue is that of isolation; that is we believe the lies that ultimately isolate us from others. Therefore, the solution is to lead people to rely on God’s presence. Powlison speaks about this in his chapter saying that the central promise in the Bible to fearful people is, “I am with you.”

In helping someone with Escapism (this includes anything which leads to addiction), the issue is that the person has gone too much to seeking pleasure because he or she is trying to escape. They begin to be hopeless about getting out of their pattern of addiction. Therefore, the solution is to lead people to see God’s control. God’s control means he has the might or power to bring anyone out of any addiction.

So, there you have it. I have combined two things I have learned simply to reflect on the very fact that all human needs, especially of the mind, are found met in the Lord. When we are feeling angry, let us remember that the Lord is the authoritative judge, not us. When we are feeling fearful, let us remember God’s presence with us. When we are feeling hopeless in our escapes and addictions, let us never forget that God is in control of all things and thus able to deliver us out of any wrong debilitating pattern. His Lordship meets our counseling needs. 

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Sermon: What the Good News Means for the Adversary

Today I preached on 1 Kings 1:41–53. Here’s the audio

1 Kings 1:41–53 Sermon by Brian Mann
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Do Everything, just don’t trust in it.

I love this quote by Lloyd-Jones that I just read today:

“The error of justification by works is in trusting to the discipline of your own soul to save your soul; but the opposite to trusting your works is not to do nothing, it is to do everything but not put your trust in any of it. It is not the works that are wrong, it is the faith in your works. But what a subtle danger this is … The opposite to a false trust in works is not indolence, lack of discipline and doing nothing, it is to be diligent and more diligent, to be zealous, and to add to your faith.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression as quoted in Free to be Holy by Jerry Wragg & Paul Shirley p.6, Emphasis mine

Similarly Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s devotion from today touches this topic of serving in the lives of Mary and Martha. Spurgeon says we need the grace to be both at the same time, Martha and Mary. Martha is not chided for her serving and even her much serving can never be enough for her Lord. No, the issue is that of being distracted by this serving. And don’t people use serving to distract others from the lack of godliness today? Indeed they do.

No matter, what Martha needed was not to stop serving, but to also to add to that communion with Christ. Or better put, she needed to put communion with Christ first, and add to that her serving. Peter writes in 2 Peter 1 to “Add to your faith…” So it is biblical to do so. It is what we are saved to do. We are saved to bring glory to God by our obedience to God.

The great commission does not say to go and teach people what he taught us, but to teach people to obey all of his commandments! (see Matthew 28:18–20)

Avoid the error of thinking that your contemplation over the great truth of justification by faith will automatically make you holy. It won’t. Spiritual growth takes great striving. It takes you doing everything, but not trusting in it. Your actions are required, but your trust is in the Lord, not the actions. You do all you can to grow because you are commanded to do so, but your faith is not in the doing, but in the delight of being God’s child and wanting to bring him honor.

It’s really the Christian’s job right now. Be obedient to the Lord. Strive to be holy. As the author of the book I quoted from above summarizes, to be gospel-centered if it means anything, it ultimately means being conformed to the image of Christ (Free To Be Holy p.9). It means “obeying and teaching others to obey all that Jesus commanded” (Ibid).

We don’t trust in what we are doing, but we do trust what we are doing is right and it is for His glory. One last quote I think may be of help:

“if we truly believe the gospel, our submission to Christ will not be for the purpose of adding anything to His cross, but rather to magnify His glory through the display of His power. To live out the gospel is to cherish and appropriate the power of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is fully formed in us” (Ibid, p.7 emphasis mine).

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Is “being born again” a derogatory term?

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?””

(John 3:1–4)

I recall when I received Jesus Christ by faith that it was said to me that a family member of mine also now claimed to be “a born again Christian.” It seemed the term was derogatory; a term of contempt. However, the truth is that to be a Christian is to be born again. It is like someone referring to ‘saints’ as really special Christians when in fact all Christians are called saints in Scripture by virtue of grace.

Nonetheless, the first four verses of John 3 are deeper than I ever imagined. Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night is puzzling to the readers. Was it because he was embarrassed to come to him by day? Was it because he was too busy to come to him by day? These are questions some have asked. But the best explanation I have read is that the intent is that “hints of the darkness in which Nicodemus stood” (Beasley-Murray, 53).

It was quite clear to Nicodemus and those whom he spoke on behalf of (note the term “we”) that Jesus was doing genuine miracles testifying that he was sent by God. This is in opposition to fake miracles that Satan pretends to perform, biblically called “lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9).

I was talking with my family about the miracles of God last night. We noticed how when we go to list all those whom God performed miraculous signs through in the Bible, the list is quite short. When you get to Jesus, the amount of miracles is enormously more. Miracles are God are extraordinary displays of God’s covenant Lordship over all things (Frame). One such miracle we named that night was that of the incarnation, God the Son becoming man. So, it is no less of a miracle here for Jesus to speak of a man dead in sins and darkness becoming spiritually alive and entering the light of the Lord.

Jesus expected the Pharisee to understand from studying the Scriptures the concept of rebirth. Jesus was likely speaking in terms of the kingdom of God. One commentator I read cites Matthew 19:28 which says,

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

(Matthew 19:28)

This is in relation to Job 14:14

“If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come.”

(Job 14:14)

Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God. One must enter it by regeneration or new birth. Nicodemus speaks to Jesus in John 3:4 with some sense of insult saying something like this (my paraphrase from the Greek text):

Then Nicodemus said to his face, “How is man able to be born when he is old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born can he?

John 3:4 Author’s translation

It’s derogatory to Nicodemus at this point. He can’t see the kingdom of God. He comes by night and remains in darkness. But thankfully (as Beasley-Murray notes) it is likely that he did not remain there (cf. John 7:49-51; 19:38–40), but came out of darkness by the miraculous work of God and too could be called a believer, which is also someone who is born again.

Being “born again” then is not an add on or an adjective that was meant to insult Christians for their high and holy ways, but a term to teach them and others about the kingdom of light that they could only enter into by virtue of the miraculous gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. To be born again, is to be an ordinary Christian. But to be an ordinary Christian is to be part of an extraordinary Kingdom and to belong to the true King, even Jesus Christ.

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Bunyan’s Wisdom on Election: Ask the man in the iron cage!

People struggle with the idea of election for many reasons. My estimation of reasons includes:

  1. The culture has so impacted the church to exalt autonomous man that true Christianity is indistinguishable from the synergistic version present in most so called churches and communities.
  2. The church has failed to defend God’s glory in order to please people, making man bigger than God, when man is actually not bigger than God.
  3. Some individuals have been given exactly what they want: a religion that edits the God of the Bible and demands no renewing of mind from them.

Nonetheless, untangling the distorted web of the human mind in regards to election requires great wisdom. Some may wish to simply state the truth that God indeed elects some sinners to salvation and others are left to go into their just due of damnation. However, the way we convey this truth matters.

This is where Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress comes into play. Illustrations help believers to understand a difficult truth at a comparably comfortable level.

Bunyan writes in this aforementioned work a description of a “man in an iron cage.” One comments on this scene the following:

It appears that Bunyan may have embraced a more moderate view of reprobation as a kind of non-election—God has chosen some for eternal life and has bypassed others.  Yet  at  the  same  time  Bunyan  would assert  that  men  go  into  eternal  condem nation  because  they  willfully  and  deliber ately choose evil over righteousness. A place where this can be clearly seen is in a part of a detailed flow chart drawn up by Bunyan himself entitled, A Map Showing the Order and Cause of Salvation and Damnation. Over the “dark” side of this ordo salutis Bunyan writes in verse: 

These lines are black, and so are those That do eternal life oppose, Which those will do most willingly, Whom God doth leave to live and die. 

Thus from the man-ward side, the man in the iron cage is the one who has willingly and  deliberately  turned  his  back  on  God’s grace as it was offered to him in the gospel and thus finds himself in a most wretched state of soul anguish. 

The testimony of the man is “God hath denied me repentance.” The interesting thing about this is the response of the Interpreter to Christian’s question, “Is there no hope for such a man as this?” Answer: “Ask him, said the Interpreter.”  

It  seems  to  remain  an  open  question whether the free offer of the gospel in Christ is still a bona fide overture to those who have been  turned  over  to  a  reprobate  mind  by God (Romans 1:28). Bunyan does not totally commit himself to the idea that the man in the cage has committed the unpardonable sin (whatever that may be). He simply says, “Ask him.”

From Answers in Genesis Curriculum on Pilgrim’s Progress

This is the wisdom: Ask him. Ask the man who is in the iron cage of his wretched state if he will walk out of his state on his own? That is the place of reason that the Christian today needs to be placed, to have to do ministry day in and day out facing real people who cannot get out of their willful rebellious state of sin not because they can’t move their lives in that direction technically speaking, but because they simply do not want to. They want to carry out their own desires of the flesh and cannot stop apart from grace.

Apart from sovereign grace there is no hope for fallen man. This is the testimony of Scripture through and through. And this forces us to a biblical doctrine of election. The reason people will be in heaven at all is because God chose a people before the foundation of the world. Without such, there is no hope of any depraved human being coming to God through Christ. With such, there is every reason to have hope for people in the iron cages of their depravity, that God will indeed call them out.

Ask him! Ask the man who was once in the iron cage but was brought out by God—who brought you out, was it yourself or God alone? You will not find a man who agreeing with Scripture can say anything but: “God alone by his power delivered me!”

May God deliver many from iron cages today by his gospel, so that when they are asked for the reason for the hope in them, they will give all the glory to God alone! Only when we begin to see the pain of our brothers in their sin and their utter inability will we pray to God to do as Spurgeon is famed for praying: May God save the elect and elect some more! (hyperbole intended) Such Christians understand what a holiday at sea is and they stop playing with mud pies because they have been given wisdom indeed.

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The Gift of Memory by the Holy Spirit

It is a gift, is it not? Memory. Most people would like to have more of it, some less depending on the circumstances. Nonetheless, when memory is used for remembering Christ’s words and works, it can be a true gift.

“His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”” (John 2:17)

The disciples “remembered” Old Testament Scripture to interpret Christ’s actions of cleansing the temple. They were able to make sense of his authoritative action then on the basis of Scripture written long before the event.

“When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:22)

They also remembered what Jesus said about his raising his body from the grave, but this was after the resurrection. Nevertheless, they are also remembering Scripture.

It is doubtful that they had a Bible memory program for this second instance. It was simply a supernatural gift that connected the event with the truth Jesus spoke.

This is very good news. Regular time spent with Jesus gives opportunity for things to be called to mind later that you necessarily did not intend to memorize. God may bring to mind things that he taught you in Scripture, that you may have simply glossed over, but you did hear. This sort of remembrance is no doubt a gift.

And think about it: the disciples were the same who fell asleep at other times when Jesus was praying. The testimony we have from them is largely things that God connected in their minds after the events took place and this all by the Holy Spirit.

“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

So, the gift of memory in respect to Scripture being called to mind, is by the Holy Spirit. I thank the Lord for sending Him to dwell in every believer and perform this work. I thank the Lord today that though we may not even intend to memorize Scripture always, that the Holy Spirit is faithful to bring to mind the things we study and hear from God in regular communion with him.

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Lord, Keep Us From Bullies

That’s what I get from Proverbs 1:8–19, Lord keep us from bullies! It says this:

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”— my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.”

(Proverbs 1:8–19)

We are reminded from this Scripture that a child needs to be instructed by his father and taught by his mother to not get caught up with bullies because it is self-destructive. The father and the mother teach the child that this will be tempting to do, but the child must not do it.

This proverb may also be used to pray for one’s children or others. Bullying doesn’t merely happen with kids, but also adults. Anytime there is a “special group” that isolates itself from an individual for the sake of gain there is the seed of bullying. So, you can see the matter is quite common in life. Lord, guard us from bullying. Amen.

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Book Review: Safe & Sound

I finished reading Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles by David Powlison. I did not read the appendix section in the back that details the difference between Jesus mode of ministry and ours. Nonetheless, the book in its main portion was a thoroughly helpful read. 

The chapters were short and easy to digest. Moreover, the content itself was a much needed refresher on the ordinariness of spiritual battle for the Christian life. Spiritual battle according to Powlison is not the ability to cast out demons, but the ability given by God through the ordinary means of grace through Christ to overcome sin, self, and Satan. He makes a very good case that we need not get involved in exorcism ministry, but get involved in counseling ministry. 

Powlison wrote his book for those who do help others, so it is not a self-help book, but rather a book to help you help others. Furthermore, the book gets guntwrenchingly real in the last chapter called “The Last Battle.” Those who followed David Powlison know that he died this past year. The last chapter are some of his last words as he faced that last battle. I truly appreciate they were written, and they give a counseling aspect to the matter of spiritual warfare that only I trust David could have given by God’s grace in his circumstances. The glory be to God alone.

I recommend Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles to anyone wanting to help others live the Christian life better. It’s not just for professional counselors or pastors, but for Christians who want to help their brothers and sisters in the faith and family members.

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A Transformative View of the Church

I’ve discovered that there are two very different views of the church, the view that the church exists to be transforming lives, and the view that the church is to carry out social justice or good works in the community. The transformative view of the church is biblically correct because it is the gospel that is the church’s treasure to change lives with. Focus on social change through human works really doesn’t do good works. Good works flow from lives so impacted by the gospel that they walk in the good works prepared by God for them. They don’t do good in order to effect supposed social change, they are made good from within and thus everything around them must change truly by virtue of the power of the gospel.

The gradual progress of the gospel, not in self-made men and women is what is hopeful. Self-made men and women run out of steam, but the grace of God through Jesus Christ is inexhaustible.

Therefore, be sure to hold dear to a transformative view of the church.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:1–2
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Sermon: Speaking Out With God

Today I preached from 1 Kings 1:11–40.

I think that every good Christ-centered sermon contains several key elements: A fallen condition focus or FCF (stressing the need that man has for God’s word to transform them); A sermon point (SP) that arises out of the text from the main idea; and structure that supports this point from the text.

In today’s sermon the FCF is that man is given to some noble social causes but for lasting change it must be done the right way with God. The SP is: we must speak out with and in unison with God concerning the true covenant king. The structure is that this is important because it (I) guards aliveness; (II) guides action; and (III) gets assurance.