Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

September 2, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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When Christians Despair

God comforts us in all our afflictions (2 Cor 1:3-8). This is a truth for all believers for all time. However, the life context from which the apostle originally wrote these timeless words is the suffering of a faithful—though very flawed—minister of the gospel. In other words, it was from the crucible of ministry trials that Paul wrote such a comforting promise of God’s never-ending love and care. Understanding that he lived in the center of an intense spiritual war (Satan hates with a passion all who preach the gospel), may help us better understand how desperately he and his companions needed biblical hope—a need that every gospel-loving believer has at certain times in his life.

While meditating on 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, I found myself asking two questions: What does the apostle mean when he says of his companions and himself, “we despaired even of life?” (v. 8) And what does Paul mean by saying “we had the sentence of death within ourselves?” Before we attempt to answer those questions, read the full passage.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Cor 1:8-11)

What Does It Mean to Despair Even of Life?

In verse 8, the apostle speaks of their afflictions, which led to being “burdened excessively, beyond [their] strength.” These unbearable burdens led these men to a state of deep despair and, consequently, the need for divine deliverance. Of these afflictions, Kistemaker writes,

It is not unthinkable that Paul had been dragged into various local synagogues to stand trial before Jewish courts. The punishments he received were the prescribed thirty-nine lashes. He reveals, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one” (11:24). These floggings could be perilous when administered harshly, especially if they were repeated in close succession. In addition, Roman authorities three times beat Paul with rods (11:25)….The fierce opposition that Paul had to endure from Jewish adversaries continued to be a persistent threat to his life….The danger Paul incurred was so great that he describes it as an extremely heavy load that he was unable to bear physically. More than that, spiritually he lacked the necessary strength and entered into a state of despair (contrast 4:8). He expected the end of his earthly life unless God himself intervened and, as it were, brought him back from the dead.

To “despair even of life” means, therefore, to be so utterly burdened and without strength so as to succumb to affliction (the source of which does not matter, ultimately) to the place of accepting death as the only possible outcome. To be in despair means to be without a way out; that is, to be so mentally and emotionally without any hope of help in sight that death seems inevitable.

Though it seems the afflictions the apostle refers to here come from without, there are other times of suffering to the point of despair in which a finger cannot be so accurately placed upon the “source.” Despair, a crippling level of discouragement, is less rare than we may realize for those who dedicate their lives to gospel ministry. Biblical characters that battled deep discouragement and despair include David, Hannah, Elijah, and Paul. And before one concludes that all sorrow to the point of death is itself a sin; or is only, ever, always caused by sin should remember that Jesus experienced sorrow to the point of death (Matt. 26:38). His experience alone should slow down the zealous wheels of our mental judgment. Some well-known, post-biblical ministers of the gospel also experienced deep despair; Charles Spurgeon, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and David Brainerd are just a few. We must accept that there are some parts of our fallenness we will never understand. Only the God of providence knows fully what he seeks to accomplish for his glory through our suffering.

What Is the Purpose of the Sentence of Death?

The burden of the apostle’s suffering was so heavy that he actually felt as though a death sentence had been pronounced against him. But this heavy weight was not without purpose. The overwhelming sense of impending death was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (v. 9). There it is! God, in his grace, orchestrates suffering for his servants for the purpose of stripping them of self-reliance—the pride that feeds so many other sins and hinders our usefulness. In the case of the apostle, and his friends, physical deliverance from actual death threats was provided by God. But even if they had not been delivered, their hope would have remained. Why? Their testimony remains “On him we have set our hope” (v. 10).

The Only Ground of Hope

Hope delivers us from the afflictions that threaten to take the very life out of us because its roots grip to the only sure foundation: God is for us in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31). It was the promise of ultimate deliverance in Jesus that breathed life into the suffering apostles so that they could continue to press on without human explanation.

Believing—truly believing—that God is for us, not against us, counsels our troubled and fearful souls. It renews our strength, purpose, and desire to live even when the despair that takes hold is so deep that it feels like a sentence of death has been pronounced upon us. Setting one’s hope on God alone; not the lessening of pain or the improvement of circumstances is the only ultimate remedy for despair. When we have learned to counsel ourselves with these truths, then we will become equipped to counsel others who despair even of life.

[This post was originally published at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website. I encourage you to subscribe to their daily blog.]

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August 2, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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4 More LifeLine Mini-Books

This week, Shepherd Press released another four eBooks in the LifeLine mini-book series. At only $1.99 each, these gems are very accessible resources for your personal growth and one-another ministry. Here they are:

HELP! My Teen Struggles with Same-Sex Attractions by Ben MarshallSame-Sex Attractions-small email. Ben is the Pastor of Counseling at Canyon Hills Community Church in Bothell, Washington. He received his Master’s Degree in Biblical Counseling from the Master’s College in California. Ben and his wife, Cory, were married in 1998 and have five children.

Drowning in Debt-small emailHELP! I’m Drowning in Debt by John Temple. John was raised in South Africa and had a business career, ultimately as Chief Executive of an international group. John loves to apply the Bible to everyday life. He and his wife, Yvonne, now live in England.

HELP! I’m a Slave to Food by Shannon Kay McCoySlave to Food-small email. Shannon lives in Southern California. She has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from the Master’s College and is a ACBC-certified counselor. She loves counseling women and has a passionate concern for women’s spiritual growth.

Confused about Dating-small emailHELP! I’m Confused about Dating by Joel James. Joel has an M.Div. and a D.Min. from the Master’s Seminary and is the pastor-teacher of Grace Fellowship in Pretoria, South Africa. He and his wife, Ruth, have been married since 1993 and have two children.

LifeLine mini-books demonstrate that biblical counsel can be made simple without becoming shallow. There is real meat here: robust analysis, honest assessment, rich gospel application and practical steps, all delivered in tidy mini-books that will not be overwhelming to God’s people.

To learn more about the entire series of mini-books, please visit lifelineminibooks.com.

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July 8, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I caught that. I have what?” “I said the tests are conclusive. You have cancer. I’m very sorry.” It doesn’t matter what has transpired before we or our loved ones hear these words, or what happens after. In that first frozen moment, we tend to go completely numb. The impact is so great it paralyzes us emotionally— perhaps for months! Our first response to disaster is disbelief: No, that just can’t be. Surely the tests are wrong. Maybe we need to see another doctor! This can’t be happening to us. Maybe we’re the ones receiving this diagnosis ourselves, or maybe those hateful words are directed instead to someone we love. Maybe that’s worse.

So begins Deborah Howard’s newly released eBook HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer. After the opening paragraph, above, this caring sister in Christ shares a page from her own story—a story of facing cancer alongside her brother and then her husband. Since denial of the truth is very often the first response to the news of cancer, Deborah Howard spends the first chapter of her mini-book giving us counsel to move beyond denial toward embracing suffering as part of God’s providence in our lives.

The first step in this journey is to progress beyond denial. Denial is a monstrous foe that prevents constructive movement. It puts a barrier between you and God when that’s the last thing you want! There should be nothing in your life or attitude to hinder your prayers to him. When we’re in denial, we deny the providence of God. We must remember that God is the divine Master-Planner of our lives. Nothing happens to us that is not brought about by his sovereignty and intended for his purposes. Death, sickness, heartbreak— all products of man’s original fall in the Garden of Eden— are parts of his plan for us. These elements of life are not given to us capriciously. They have nothing to do with chance or fate, but everything to do with the careful plan of a righteous and holy Father, who brings these things into our lives for a divine purpose. It’s natural for us to try to run from disaster. This is not new to our generation. King David eloquently described this particular kind of anguish in Psalm 55:4–7 when he wrote, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”

Most of us tend to try to escape pressure. We have other unattractive tendencies as well. We may want to whine, complain, lash out, or give up. However, the Scriptures tell us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2– 4, emphasis added). Meditate upon these truths. It’s important for us to understand them, and to take them into our hearts and minds so we can apply them to the pressures we experience. Another verse worthy of meditation in tough times is Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (emphasis added). Does “perfect peace” mean we’re never tried or tested? No; but it means that we can be at peace in the midst of the trial. Our earthly struggles should not come as a surprise to us. Remember 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Scripture shows that the Christian’s life is typically peppered with suffering. In fact, we’re promised hardship! Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).

Thus, the Bible doesn’t tell us that believers will not suffer; instead, it assures us that we will! But it urges us to remain steadfast under the pressures of this earthly realm. What does it mean to be steadfast? We’re told that when we remain steadfast, we will be made perfect and complete, spiritually mature and lacking nothing! Trials produce staying power and life transformation! Through trial, God molds us into the people he wants us to be: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3– 5).

Suffering takes its toll on us, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually— and sometimes physically. Sickness and death are a part of life. It is important that we look at our suffering through the lens of Scripture. Thus, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Cancer is not out of God’s hands or bigger than he is; it is but another tool in his divine toolbox. Therefore, when we go through this kind of painful trial, it is important to constantly remind ourselves that our pain and suffering have a purpose! We may not be able to see these results with our earthly eyes or conceive of them with our finite minds, but there is an overarching purpose to our lives—God’s will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 2). Our suffering will always produce two results— good for us and glory for God. Always!

Someone Has Cancer - small emailWritten by a hospice nurse, HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer is a tender book filled with biblical help and hope. Get this eBook for $1.99 from Shepherd Press, publisher of the LifeLine mini-book series. You can also listen to a radio interview with the author here.

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July 4, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Freedom from Pornography (for men)

Earlier this week, Brian Croft’s excellent little book HELP! He’s Struggling with Pornography was released in eBook format as part of Shepherd Press’ new line, LifeLine mini-books. In the “Personal Application Projects” portion of the mini-book, Croft gives specific ways men struggling with lust must Put Off Sin (lies) and Put On Christ (truths).He's Struggling Porn - SMALL EMAIL SIZE

PUT OFF SIN: Common Lies Men Believe in Times of Temptation

  • “I will be the only one affected by this action. It doesn’t directly affect anyone else.”
  • “I will only do it this one time.
  • “Since my wife doesn’t satisfy me in this way, I need to satisfy myself.”
  • “I’ll just browse on the computer and see what happens.”
  • “No one will ever find out.”
  • “I’m going to do it anyway, so let me just get it over with.”
  • “It’s really not that big a deal.”
  • “God is going to forgive me anyway.”
  • “I can use a little break or relief.”
  • “There might be something new I’ll be missing out on or haven’t seen yet.”

PUT ON CHRIST: Truths Men Must Believe in Times of Temptation

  • “My sin is against a holy God and it took the death of Christ to pay for it.” Ps. 51: 4; Rom. 5: 8– 10
  • “Christ died so that I may live a life free from all sin and pursue holiness.” Rom. 6: 1; Eph. 5: 3; James 2: 10.
  • “Sexual pleasure must come through my wife only.” Prov. 5: 19.
  • “My marriage is not about me; it is about loving my wife as Christ loves the church.” 1 Cor. 7; Eph. 5: 25.
  • “Singleness is not about me; it is about glorifying God in my body.” 1 Thes. 4: 3– 5.
  • “Sin cannot bring lasting pleasure; Christ brings true and lasting pleasure.” Heb 11: 24– 26
  • “Flirting with sin leads to destruction; following Christ leads to life.” Prov. 5: 8; Prov. 7: 21– 23; 1 Cor. 6: 18
  • “It is more satisfying to please my all-knowing Father than to secretly indulge my sin.” Num. 32: 23; Ps. 90: 8; Prov. 5: 21; Heb. 13: 4; Heb. 4: 12– 13.
  • “Christ died and has given me his Spirit to resist all temptation.” Ezek. 36: 24– 32; 1 Cor. 10: 13; 1 Tim. 6: 11– 12; 2 Tim. 2: 22.
  • “It took the death of the Son of God to free me of this sin.” Rom. 5: 8– 10.

Get a copy of this excellent mini-book for $1.99 from Amazon or Shepherd Press.

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June 30, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Tedd Tripp Announces the Launch of LifeLine Mini-Books

It is with joy and gratitude that I introduce to you the LifeLine mini-books published by Shepherd Press. Previously known as the Living in a Fallen World booklets (Day One Publications), these mini-books have earned the trust of the biblical counseling community as a reliable resource addressing common areas of struggle in the Christian life, as well as equipping us to minister more effectively to one another.LifeLine Logo large email size Shepherd Press is updating and re-releasing 23 of the original titles and will expand the series considerably, with many more mini-books in preparation.

Here’s Tedd Tripp’s introductory announcement:

Shepherd Press is pleased to announce the publication of the LifeLine mini-book series. These unique books, larger and more robust than the typical counseling book, are still pocket-sized resources. LifeLine mini-books are a gospel-centered series written by people who are in the trenches of ministry. Each mini-book is practical and accessible, written for the person in the pew as well as for pastors and counselors. The mini-books address a broad range of Christian life and counseling issues, such as abuse, addiction, anger, finances, grief, qualities of a good church, military deployment, marital unfaithfulness, suicide, single parenting to name only a few.

These books demonstrate that biblical counsel can be made simple without becoming shallow. There is real meat here: robust analysis, honest assessment, rich gospel application and practical steps, all delivered in tidy mini-books that will not be overwhelming to God’s people. As blogger Tim Challies says, “These mini-books are exactly the kind of books you’d want to have available to you at church – short, biblical and inexpensive enough to give away.”

Nine LifeLine mini-books are now available in eBook format, and print editions are coming soon. More titles in this series are in production and will be available in the coming months.

The first 9 mini-books, released last week, include:

  • HELP! I’m Being Deployed
  • HELP! I Want to Change
  • HELP! I’m a Single Mom
  • HELP! I Have Breast Cancer
  • HELP! My Spouse has been Unfaithful
  • HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer
  • HELP! My Toddler Rules the House
  • HELP! Someone I Love has been Abused
  • HELP! He’s Struggling with Pornography

These 9 mini-books are now available at the Shepherd Press website. Be sure to also visit the series’ home site, www.lifelineminibooks.com, for detailed information on all 28 titles which are currently in various stages of preparation.

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June 24, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Anger ‘Disorders’

Anger is a God-given emotion; it is part of being made in His image. It is a rising up of the human heart’s sense of right and wrong. Robert Jones defines anger well in his excellent, biblically faithful book Uprooting Anger: “Our anger is our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.” Notice five parts of this definition.

  1. Our anger is an active response.
  2. Our anger is a whole-personed active response.
  3. Our anger is a response against something.
  4. Our anger, in essence, involves a negative moral judgment that we make.
  5. Our anger involves a judgment against perceived evil.

But does the fact that anger is a God-given emotion mean that we are righteous in displaying it? Well, sometimes, but rarely. Rarely, because even when the rising emotion is generated by a righteous response to sin we quickly, and most often, cross the line into a variety of sinful responses. And, not wanting to admit the sinful response, we seek to justify our response as “righteous anger” when almost always it is very far from righteous.

What Is the Cause of Sinful Anger?

Based upon James 4:1-3, where the brother of Jesus answers his own question, “What is the source of quarrels among you?,” we conclude that sinful anger is basically, at its root, a product of our self-exalting desire to rule over one another. This self-exaltation is driven by selfish motives, which most of the time we are blinded to ourselves.

When Are Our Desires Sinful?

Here are 6 characteristics of the sinful desires that give rise to our anger. Desires are sinful…

  • When what we desire is inherently sinful;
  • When we desire something more than pleasing God;
  • When our desire is selfish, self-serving;
  • When our desire is harmful to others;
  • When we are willing to sin to get it; and
  • When we are willing to delay obedience to God’s command in order to keep it.

Thus, anger easily becomes a tool of manipulation to get others to serve our selfish desires.

What Are the Two Most Common Ways People Sinfully Misdirect Anger?

  • Blowing Up (Ventilation, or what Jones calls “Sinful Revealing”): Energies are released toward others or toward things. Proverbs 29:11 identifies this as the habit of the fool. Many other Scriptures warn against the destructive power of out-of-control anger. Robert Jones calls this “Sinful Revealing.”
  • Clamming Up (Internalization, or what Jones calls “Sinful Concealing.”): Energies are released toward self, primarily, but also to others in a different manner than blowing up. Leviticus 19:16-18 warns against “hating your brother in the heart.” It is dishonesty as well as a lack of biblical love toward others. Clamming up often results in the ultimate murder, the silent treatment. The silent treatment “says” to another person, “Bang, you are dead. I hate you. And to prove it, I will act as though you don’t exist.” This is far more than “classic junior-high” behavior; it is wickedness.

How Do We Deal with Sinful Anger?

  • Repent of sinful, self-exalting desires that wage war within you (James 4:9; Psalm 51:6).
  • Confess sinful anger to God (Psalm 51:4).
  • Confess sinful anger patterns to others you have sinned against (James 5:16).
  • Receive God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others (1 John 1:9-2:1, 12).
  • Replace sinful anger with self-control, love, and problem-solving (Ephesians 4:26-27).
  • Pray for God’s continued help in overcoming your anger (Mark 14:38; Matthew 6:13).

As we deal with our anger honestly and biblically, the Holy Spirit will empower us in self-control and fill us with His others-focused love (Galatians 5:22-23).

Related Posts

“3 Criteria of Righteous Anger”

“Anger Self-Examination Questions”

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June 23, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Buttermilk Biscuits and Romans 8:28

Yesterday morning, I again picked up my copy of Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God, Even When Life Hurts and read the tenth chapter, “Experiencing God’s Love.” As Bridges develops the biblical teaching that discipline (character training toward Christlikeness) is a mark of God’s love and commitment to His children, he writes, “[I]n God’s infinite wisdom and love, He takes all the events of our lives –both good and bad—and blends them together so that they work together ultimately for our good, the good that He intends.” He then shares the following illustration from his childhood.

While growing up in Texas, I enjoyed my mother’s buttermilk biscuits made from “scratch” every morning for breakfast. But there was not a single ingredient in those biscuits that I would have enjoyed by itself. And even after they were mixed together, I would not have cared for the raw biscuit dough. Only after they were mixed together in the right proportions by my mother’s skillful hands and then subjected to the fire of the oven were they ready to be enjoyed for breakfast.

The things of Romans 8:28 are like the ingredients of the biscuit dough. By themselves they are not tasteful to us. We shun them. And we certainly shun the heat of the oven. But when God in His infinite skill has blended them all together and cooked them properly in the oven of adversity, we shall one day say it is good.

For the believer, the God—who alone has the wisdom to mix together all things in our lives to fulfill His good purposes—can be trusted.

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June 2, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Punishing or Pruning?

While meditating on John 15:1-8 the past few mornings, it has occurred to me that our interpretation of the sanctifying work that God accomplishes in the Christian’s life—especially during times of trial—is directly related to our understanding of pruning, which in turn affects our response to our own suffering and to others to whom we minister. If we view pruning as punitive, rather than corrective and restorative, we become like Job’s so-called counselors; we immediately assume that when a fellow Christian is suffering it is because God is punishing him or her and, therefore, we are now free to cast any judgment upon them that we wish.

Now, do you and I deserve punishment? Do we deserve judgment? No question about it! We deserve 10,000 lifetimes of grief and pain and turmoil—plus eternal punishment in hell. But that is not what we get when we truly trust in Jesus Christ. Why do we not receive eternal punishment? Because Christ already endured the punishment for our sin on His bloody cross. Why do we not receive punishment in our lives as Christians? Because Christ already endured the punishment for our sin on His bloody cross. If we forget this gospel truth then we become Pharisees who are filled with an imaginary sense of our own self-righteousness and, as a result, begin to conclude that the sins of others are far worse than our own. Remembering the sufficiency of the Cross of Christ is foundational to living for Him in a fallen world, while we dwell in fallen bodies.

I have written on this punishment/discipline distinction before (in both Counsel One Another and Brass Heavens and this blog), but it bears repeating. When God chastens us (believers), He trains us in righteousness—and He does so motivated by love (Hebrews 12:6). At times this includes suffering painful consequences for our sinful words and deeds; which He has the wisdom to discern. However, He does not make us do penance. Nor does He cast us away in anger. We are no longer His enemies who receive punishment, but we are His adopted and blood-bought children. We are His branches and, as such, we are tended and cared for, but still need a lot of pruning.

Like the tree that is oddly shaped, has suckers growing out of the base of the trunk, or has dead branches here and there; we are in need of pruning. There is character deficiency in our lives that God wants us to become aware of; there are serious heart sins (the root behind all behavioral sins), and sinful habits that need to be repented of. In short, we need to be pruned. But what are God’s purposes in pruning?

Why Does God Prune Us, His Branches?

God prunes us so that we will bear more fruit. God does not prune us because He is angry at us, nor does He prune us because Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough (perish the thought!). God prunes us, His branches, so “that [we] may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). In other words, God looks at our Christian lives and concludes that we are not bearing near as much fruit as we could be. We are out of balance, have dead branches, and suckers are draining away our spiritual vitality.

God prunes us so that we will become more dependent. God does not prune us in order to discourage us; He prunes us so that we will learn to abide in Christ—the true source of life. To abide in Christ means to live in obedient dependence upon His ongoing, minute-by-minute, supply of grace—grace which is Himself! Too often we become proud and independent, functioning as practical atheists. This will never lead to greater fruitfulness. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me (v. 4). Therefore, God loves us enough to prune us so that we learn to abide, to rest in Christ. Our Father, the vinedresser, trains us to learn—in practice, not only precept—that we truly “can do nothing” apart from Christ (v. 5).

God prunes us in order to assure us that we are truly saved. God does not prune unbelievers in order that they may become more fruitful, for their fruits would simply consist of more dead works (James 2:17; Hebrews 9:14). Instead, He eventually throws them “into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). Painful pruning (and it is painful) does not undermine the Spirit’s work of assurance; it strengthens it. It is the true child of God who is chastened by the heavenly Father, not the illegitimate child (Hebrews 12:7-8). By our fruitfulness we “prove to be” true disciples of Christ (John 15:8b).

God prunes us so that He is freed to answer more of our prayers. Divine pruning results in our learning to abide in Christ, which in turn results in the freedom to ask God “whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (v. 7). The “obedience connection” in our prayer lives is designed by God to continually motivate us in our walk of faith. It is one of the if/then relationships in the Christian life.

God prunes us so that we will glorify Him. Jesus is crystal clear: “By this is My father glorified, that you bear much fruit” (v. 8a). To glorify means to magnify, to enlarge, and to draw attention. As believers in Christ, we do not live to draw attention to ourselves, but to our glorious God and Savior. Our redemption brings God glory in order that the world may know that the gospel is real (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-8).

So, is it punishment or pruning? Punishment is reserved for the unbeliever, but God prunes those whom He loves–those who truly belong to Him. The heavenly vinedresser cuts here and there, wherever it is needed, to shape us into the image of the true Vine, Jesus Christ. And that only happens when we learn to abide in Him. Remember the words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

How much fruit do you want your Christian life to bear? If your heart’s deepest longing is “much more fruit” then be prepared for the pruning that will lead you there.

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May 28, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Active Spirituality

Active SpiritualityUnderstanding the role of the Holy Spirit and our role in sanctification is critical to a proper, practical outworking of the Christian life. In my twenty-two years as a pastor, I perhaps preached on this “necessary tension” more than any other aspect of progressive sanctification, i.e. becoming like Christ. That’s why I am pleased to introduce you to a new book that the author Brian Hodges calls Active Spirituality.

In  Active Spirituality, pastor Brian allows us to read someone else’s mail — a series of warm pastoral letters, written to a young Christian, about the paradox of grace and effort in the life of faith.

  • “Is my Christian life about trying or trusting?”
  • “Would I describe my relationship to God as running or resting?”
  • “Is my life more characterized by grace or effort?”

The wisdom in the letters makes clear that it is both: trying and trusting, running and resting, dependence on grace and exerting disciplined effort. This balance is not about getting my doctrine right, but is key to living a healthy Christian life. Here the endorsement I wrote for Brian’s newest book:

“Biblically balanced, theologically precise, and warmly pastoral, Active Spirituality will counsel your mind, encourage your heart, and feed your soul. Chew on its nourishing truth and you are sure to grow as you pursue the holiness that can only be empowered by God’s grace.”

Get Active Spirituality from the publisher’s website (50% off) where you can also watch a 3-minute video in which Brian introduces his book. It’s also available at Amazon—in paperback or Kindle.

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May 27, 2014
by Paul Tautges
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Valley of Vision – AUDIO

2014-05-14 17.39.03Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, has been a significant blessing in my personal, devotional life for many years. But a couple weeks ago, when I had to spend the good part of a day on the road, I was again blessed by the audio version. Listening to these thoughts and prayers over and over again, one disc in particular, encouraged and convicted me as they drew the attention of my heart to Christ, my all-sufficient Savior and the ultimate Lover of my soul.

If you are not familiar with this resource, I encourage you to check it out at Cumberland Valley Bible and Books.

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