Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

March 9, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on The Test of Trials – Part 2

The Test of Trials – Part 2

Nothing tests the sincerity of the heart motives behind our prayers like trials do. Why is that? Trials are custom-designed by God to reveal to us the idolatry that remains in our hearts, not so that He may gleefully watch us suffer or, God forbid, punish us for something Christ already sufficiently paid for, but in order that we may more deeply experience the transforming power of His grace toward Christ-likeness. Let’s face it: When we suffer, we too often pray in very selfish ways. Most commonly, we ask God to deliver us from our trial—to make life easier. But what if easier does not lead to true growth?

In the last post, we thought about God’s gracious purpose in our trials, that is, to test our faith in order that we may grow in the endurance that characterizes spiritual maturity. This is the reason we should obey the command to rejoice when we encounter various trials. When you and I disobey God’s command to rejoice then we work against the deeper works that the Spirit seeks to accomplish within us.

As already stated, another benefit of trials is their unique ability to test our prayers. The way we pray in the midst of suffering reveals our heart’s desires, whether we are more concerned with God’s glory or our own “comfortable life.”

TRIALS TEST OUR PRAYERS (vv. 5-8)

Trials test our faith by either moving us closer to dependence on God, demonstrated by submissive prayer, or further from God by feeding our innate prideful independence and sense of self-sufficiency. Listen to how James exhorts us:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

  • The promise (v. 5)

God’s promise to us is that He will give us wisdom in our times of trial. And He will not give it stingily, but generously and without reproach. Wisdom is “for the asking.” The phrase “if any of you lacks” indicates that James rightly assumes that we need wisdom, “we need God’s wisdom so that our trials will not be wasted” (James: Wisdom for the Community by Christopher W. Morgan and B. Dale Ellenburg).

God gives to us generously, that is, James calls God the constantly giving God. And when God gives His wisdom, He does it “without reproach,” without scolding us for previous sins, failures, or weaknesses. God does not give like we sometimes give. Sometimes we may say, “Well, what happened to the money that I gave you last time? Well, I guess I’ll have to give you more. But remember, don’t mess up this time.” God is not that way. When we ask for wisdom, it is as if He has been waiting to give it to us all along. All we have to do is ask for it.

When a believer asks God for wisdom in trial, that wisdom “will be given him.” The promise is clear: Ask the constantly-giving God for wisdom and He will give it to you. King Solomon prayed for wisdom and God answered by giving it to him.

It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you” (1 Kings 3:10-12).

God’s wisdom is truly there “for the asking.”

  • The prerequisite (vv. 6a)

However, James makes it clear that there is a prerequisite to receiving God’s wisdom: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting.” In other words, we must keep on asking, not doubting—we must persevere in prayer instead of giving up the first time God does not give us a microwave answer.

Edmond Hiebert defines this kind of faith as “the wholehearted attitude of a full and unquestioning committal to and dependence upon God, as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ Jesus. It is the proper human response to the goodness of God.” This is the faith of the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage who pressed through the crowds just to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Her actions were motivated by a simple childlike trust in the goodness of God. And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).

This kind of faith is “without any doubting.” It is without the back-and-forth wavering that too often characterizes us.

  • The problem (vv. 6b-8)

This doubting reveals a problem, “for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” Adamson says in the New International Commentary on the New Testament, “The doubter is like ‘a sea of waves,’ now wind-driven toward the southeast, and now toward the northwest, with nothing that could sensibly be called progress.”

Verse 7 is a very strong rebuke! “For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” When we ask God for wisdom, but do not truly believe He will give it to us, then we are acting double-minded. The picture here is of a mind “so filled with uncertainty and indecision that it cannot make any choice between the alternatives with which it is faced” (Adamson). In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan calls this man: “Mr. Facing-both-ways.” He is a fence-walker. On one hand he wants to leave the lusts of his flesh, but on the other hand he delights in them so much that he does not want to give them up for God. The prophet Jeremiah reveals that this stems from trusting in ourselves, rather than trusting in God.

Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

Trials have a way of testing our prayers to reveal whether we simply want relief from suffering or the more valuable possession of wisdom leading to spiritual growth toward maturity in Christ.

APPLICATION QUESTIONS

  • What trial is God taking you through right now?
  • Have you been responding in a godly manner?
  • If not, confess your sinful response(s) to God and receive His generous forgiveness.
  • How are you praying?
  • What does the way you pray reveal about your heart?
  • Are you asking God for His generous wisdom, or are you doubting Him?
  • Talk to the Lord about these things.
  • Ask Him to give you a heart to trust Him.

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March 4, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on The Test of Trials – Part 1

The Test of Trials – Part 1

In his excellent book, Trusting God, Jerry Bridges provides a compelling illustration of the necessary relationship between experiencing trials and growing toward spiritual maturity. He writes:

One of the many fascinating events in nature is the emergence of the Cecropia moth from its cocoon—an event that occurs only with much struggle on the part of the moth to free itself. The story is frequently told of someone who watched a moth go through this struggle. In an effort to help—and not realizing the necessity of the struggle—the viewer snipped the shell of the cocoon. Soon the moth came out with its wings all crimped and shriveled. But as the person watched, the wings remained weak. The moth, which in a few moments would have stretched those wings to fly, was now doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God created it to be.

What the person in the story did not realize was that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was an essential part of developing the muscle system of the moth’s body and pushing the body fluids out into the wings to expand them. By unwisely seeking to cut short the moth’s struggle, the watcher had actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence.

Bridges then rightly makes this application:

We can be sure that the development of a beautiful Christlike character will not occur in our lives without adversity….However we shrink from adversity and, to use the terms from the moth illustration, we want God to snip the cocoon of adversity we often find ourselves in and release us. Too often we do not fully submit to the trials that God sends our way—choosing instead to be released from difficulty. As a result, we forego opportunities to have our faith-muscle strengthened.

As James writes his letter to Jewish believers who have been scattered due to persecution, he recognizes they are suffering a variety of trials, such as poverty and oppression (1:9; 5:4). James now presents us with a test of the authenticity of faith, that is, specifically, how we respond to trials. Daniel Doriani writes, “Our response to trials reveals our heart condition.”

God wants us to respond properly to the trials that He has sovereignly appointed for the growth of our faith and Christ-likness. To help us learn how to respond this way, James reveals four ways that trials test us and, therefore, benefit our spiritual growth when we discipline ourselves for perseverance. In today’s post, we will think about the first way.

TRIALS TEST OUR POSTURE (vv. 2-4)

How should we stand; how should we conduct ourselves while in the midst of trials? The half-brother of Jesus teaches us in James 1:2-4. Pause for a moment and read those verses.

  • The response to trials (v. 2a)

The Christian response to trials is distinct from that of an unbeliever. The word “consider” is a command which calls for a certain attitude, a certain mindset. In other words, it is our duty to pursue an attitude of joy in the midst of trials. When we fail to do so, it is sin. “All joy” does not refer to joy in the trial itself, but in knowing that God’s good and perfect will is sure to be carried out as a result of this trial. James is not saying to us, “Now, no matter how painful your suffering is, just put on a happy face. Pretend if you have to. Whatever you do don’t let anyone know how deeply you are really hurting.”

James is not encouraging us to live in denial. Trials are hard. Trials do hurt, but the joy of the Lord is the believer’s strength. Jesus teaches in Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.” In other words, biblical joy does not equal earthly happiness. It is also not dependent on our circumstances. For example, the Apostle Paul was in prison for his faith when he wrote to the Philippian believers, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

  • The reality of trials (v. 2b)

Notice that James says, “when you encounter various trials” not “if.” Whether or not we suffer is not a choice, but our response to trial is a choice. As believers in Christ, we should not be surprised when terribly difficult times come upon us. We should expect them (see 1 Peter 4:12-13).

The word “encounter” means to fall around (KJV “fall”). Luke 10:30 illustrates its meaning: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers.” In other words, the man’s trail was unexpected. This is a bit strange. Trials are to be expected and yet we encounter unexpected trials. What James seems to be saying is the reality of trials should be expected; we are not able to expected what they will look like or from where they may come.

Our trials are “various”(poikilos), of many colors, i.e. many varieties, kinds, diversity. The same word is used to describe the cloak that Jacob gave to his favorite son, Joseph, in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In other words, there is not simply one kind of trial that afflicts Christians, but there are many different kinds. At the same time, no two believers are tried in exactly the same way either. If we hypothetically say there are ten different kinds of trials, we do not all necessarily suffer in all ten ways to the same degree. Yes, we suffer common testing (1 Cor. 10:13), but at the same time the trials are custom designed for us by a loving God.

So there is a sense in which trials are expected and unexpected at the same time. They will come. Therefore we should expect them. Yet they come unexpectedly. We cannot predict their timing, severity, or the uniqueness of their appearance.

  • The reason for trials (v. 3)

James says our trials are for the purpose of “testing” our faith in order to produce endurance. This word is only used here and in 1 Peter 1:7, where Peter instructs us to respond to trials with this same joy. The word “testing” means to try in order to approve. So, God does not put trials into our lives to show us that we are a failure, but rather to approve our faith, to make it more authentic. He wants us to be confident that our faith is genuine and growing. He is not content with our level of maturity, or Christ-likeness, and, therefore, will do all that is necessary to cause us to grow. God does not ordain trials to set us up for failure but to prove the reality of our faith in a way similar to the process of purifying metals; our faith being more precious than gold itself, which is perishable. When we submit to the will of God in our trials, we learn to say with Job, “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

The character quality of endurance is priceless. “Endurance” (hupomone), a compound word from hupo (meaning “under”) and meno (meaning “to stay, abide, or remain”). Thus, the word pictures someone who successfully carries a heavy load for a long time without trying to escape. God tests our faith in order to build the character quality of endurance into our lives. As Kent Hughes says, “The more tests we pass, the tougher we become.”

  • The result of endurance (v. 4)

God is performing this sanctifying work in and through suffering “so that [here’s the purpose] you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The phrase “perfect and complete” speaks of that which is finished, whole, and mature. God’s goal in our trials, which is only reached if we endure, is spiritual maturity. The word “perfect” (teleios) refers to that which has reached its goal. What goal? God’s goal for every believer, as stated in two key New Testament passages, which is maturity in, and conformity to, Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 8:28-29).

We can and should be joyful in the midst of trials because God has a specific purpose in mind for us. He is developing within us godly, Christlike character. Jesus teaches us, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

Jesus’ illustration of pruning is very beneficial to our understanding of trials. The goal in pruning a tree is to remove unwanted growth, diseased, or dead branches in order to produce a better bloom and a greater abundance of fruit. By removing older branches, the younger ones are encouraged to grow stronger in order to take their place. If trees could talk, they would admit to the pain of pruning, but they would also testify to the more abundant fruit they bear in a future season. Out of a loving desire to see us be fruitful for Him, God prunes us so that we will bear more and more fruit.

In obedience to God, we must learn to let the trials that come into our lives serve their God-intended purpose: to produce the character quality of endurance—a mark of Christian maturity—which is the end result of responding in faith while under trial. When we fail to respond to God’s trials in a manner that exhibits childlike faith and trust in Him, we need to confess this to God and receive the forgiveness that comes from the fountain of His grace in Christ.

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February 25, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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5 Reasons I Love Being an ACBC Fellow

The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) is an organization that I have been pleased to be part of for many years; first, as a conference attendee, then a certified counselor, and currently a teaching fellow. ACBC has a rich, 40-year history of involvement in the training and certification of men and women who love Jesus Christ, but also want to more effectively minister His grace and truth into the lives of others as biblical counselors. Below are 5 reasons I love being part of this organization.

ACBC is committed to the ongoing pursuit of excellence in biblical counselor training and certification. Excellence, not mediocrity, is the pursuit of the leaders and members of ACBC. Yes, the training is rigorous at every level, but it is well worth it and will lead to significant personal growth in your own walk with the Lord. Counseling certification is not about obtaining a certificate to hang on your wall so that you can then hang out a shingle (although some may), but it’s about growing toward spiritual maturity and love so as to be more useful to our Lord and His church (Colossians 1:28-29).

ACBC is committed to theological clarity and precision, which grows out of a commitment to the sufficiency of the Scriptures for life and godliness. We stand without apology on the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Bible as God’s words to man. The Scriptures are sufficient for all that pertains to living a life that glorifies Christ our Lord and Redeemer (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). My fellow Fellows not only love theology, but they love the Lord of theology. For further study on the sufficiency of Scripture, see Steve Viars’ and my chapter in Scripture and Counseling, the latest volume from the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

ACBC does not believe it has arrived, but is committed to continual growth in our understanding of human behavior, the body/soul connection, and the heart issues that drive us. Behavior modification is not our business. Our business is to plead with God for wisdom to discern how the Spirit is at work in fellow believers in order to come alongside one another to help in the ongoing process of applying theology to life (Ephesians 4-6). ACBC rightly views the Christian life as an ongoing journey of sanctification toward becoming like Christ. I am pleased to be part of a body of men and women who view themselves as lifelong students of the Lord.

ACBC is committed to building up local churches through training all those who desire to become willing servants of God in the process of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Rightly understood, biblical counseling is an intensive aspect of the Great Commission to multiply disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), which is a command given to all believers in the primary context of the local church. ACBC understands this and affirms it in practice. Sanctification is a community project. ACBC gets this.

ACBC is committed to pursuing and multiplying a “pastoral heart” toward others. If you are a regular reader of this blog then you already understand my conviction: Biblical counseling is a ministry of love for every believer, not simply pastors and church leaders; it is a biblical responsibility to speak the truth in love to one another. This means that a pastoral heart is not only for pastors. A pastoral heart is one which longs for the spiritual good in others and, therefore, seeks to do all in its power to part of the process of leading others closer to Jesus, the one and only Redeemer for desperate sinners like you and me (Romans 1:11; 15:14).

As one who continues to be blessed by being involved in the ministry of ACBC, I encourage you to check them out. Involvement at any level will surely enrich your own walk with the Lord and expand your ministry of love toward other believers. To learn more about the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, visit www.biblicalcounseling.com. You may just find regional training is not that far away.

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February 24, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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Paul Tripp on 5 Reasons God Answers Us

In Psalm 27:7, David pleads with God to answer him. But what is significant to recognize is that he does not base his request on himself, but on God’s grace and mercy: “Be gracious to me and answer me!” This serves as a very important reminder to us. God roots His answers to our prayers, not in us, but in Himself and His own character, ultimately. Paul Tripp writes of this in his wonderful devotional through Psalm 27, A Shelter in the Time of Storm. Below are five reasons Tripp encourages us to mediate on.

God’s love. He’s the ultimate wise, patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving father. He delights in his children. Because of his great love, his eyes look out for us and his ears are always attentive to our cries. Because of his love, he invites us to bring our cares to him, and he assures us that he really does care for us. He is never too busy or dis­tracted or too tired to hear and answer. He doesn’t refuse to answer because of our weakness and failure. He doesn’t get impatient because we have to come again and again. He is love, and he loves to exercise his power and glory to meet the needs of his struggling children.

God’s grace. Grace provides the whole structure and standing of our relationship with him. If it weren’t for the grandeur of his forgiv­ing grace, we would have no relationship with him at all. Because of his grace, he is unwilling to rest until the work of transformation is complete. In grace he looks on us and knows that this work isn’t done. We’ve not yet been completely formed into the likeness of his Son. Although the power of sin has been broken, he knows that the presence of sin still remains. He hears our prayers because, when we pray, we confess that we still need the grace of forgiveness and deliver­ance, and in so doing we place ourselves in the center of what he has committed himself to complete—his work of redemption.

God’s faithfulness. He doesn’t change his mind. He doesn’t ride the roller-coaster of the rise and fall of emotions. His heart isn’t a battle zone of conflicting motivations. He doesn’t get bored, exhausted, or distracted. He won’t quit what he has begun. He won’t forsake those upon whom he has placed his love. He won’t harden his heart, shut down his mind, and turn his back. He won’t take a break or go to sleep. He will never tell you that you have asked too much or that you have come to him too often. You never have to work to figure him out. You never have to wonder if his response to you will change. He is absolutely faithful to every promise he has made and every provision he has offered. Your hope in prayer is rooted in his faithfulness, not yours.

God’s kingdom. As I come to him in the patterns laid out by Christ and pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I pray words that bring him delight. He loves the exercise of his will. He finds joy in the success of his kingdom. The spiritual growth and prosperity of his children means the growth and prosperity of his kingdom. He is King, and he delights in his children’s recognizing his lordship and submitting to his rule. Every good thing he does for his children is done to rescue them from their self-focused kingdom of one and to welcome them into the expansiveness of his kingdom of glory and grace. And his ears will continue to be atten­tive and his hands will be active until his kingdom has been fully and completely established forever.

God’s glory. The thing that God is most committed to is his own glory. But here’s what you need to understand. His commitment to his own glory is your only hope. Because he is committed to his own glory, he has committed to draw to himself a multitude of people who forsake their own glory and do the one thing that they were created to do: live for his. So his commitment to his glory causes him to listen and respond, listen and respond until all of his children no longer look to the shadow glories of creation for their satisfaction but, rather, look to him. Because he is committed to his glory, I can go to him in prayer, knowing that he will hear and answer.

Don’t give up crying out to God with the needs and desires of your heart. If you know God through faith in Christ, then His mercy continues to be extended to you. He will answer you in His time because of His love, grace, faithfulness, kingdom, and glory.

A Shelter in the Time of Storm has deeply ministered to my heart, helping me to see what God sees there and the sufficiency of Christ to not only be my Savior, but also my Sanctifier and my Rest. Get your copy from Cumberland Valley Bible & Books.

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February 20, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Sin in the Believer

Sin in the Believer

This morning, after spending time in the Psalms, my eye glanced to my left and caught a volume that I’ve not pulled off the shelf in quite some time. So, I picked up A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life and opened it to the page where a blue sticky note marks my progress of slowly working through this 1,000-page practical theology. Four pages in particular counseled my heart and I will summarize their content here.

“While the Puritans did not ignore the effects of sin on the unregenerate, they gave far more attention to understanding sin in the lives of the regenerate.” According to Beeke and Jones, the Puritans’ practical theology concerning the presence of sin in the believer (stemming from an accurate interpretation of Romans 5-7) may be summarized into three categories. This helps us to understand temptation, our responsibility to kill sin, and the power of Christ and His gospel to set us free.

The Remnants of Indwelling Sin

Rightly, the Puritans understood Romans 7 as a description of the believer’s struggle against sin, particularly indwelling sin. “Saints in this world are never entirely free from original sin; it will plague them to the day they die….This ‘law of sin’ is powerful, even in the best of saints, and ‘though its rule be broken its strength weakened and impaired, its root mortified, yet it is a law still of great force and efficacy.’ Original sin in believers, to use a phrase from Burgess, is like a furnace always sending forth sparks.”

The presence and power of sin “arise from its being seated or rooted in the human heart. Christianity is a heart religion because it aims to repair what sin has corrupted and damaged.” Thus, as much as Christians have the perennial tendency to focus merely on behavior modification, the root issue is always what God sees in the heart and the transformation that Christ alone can make there. Recognizing the presence of indwelling sin is actually evidence of a person being regenerate; whereas, the denial of one’s own sinfulness is proof that a man or woman is not truly saved (1 John 1:8).

Freedom from Sin’s Dominion

“If Romans 5 speaks about the imputation of guilt from Adam to his descendants, and Romans 7 speaks of the presence of indwelling sin in the life of believers, Romans 6 proclaims the freedom from the dominion of sin that characterizes the lives of the godly. At the moment of regeneration a Christian experiences emancipation (redemption) from the power or dominion of sin, although not from the presence of sin in his heart and life.” Therefore, as the apostle exhorts us in Romans 6, we must be about the business of constantly applying the truth of our position in Christ—we are dead to sin and alive unto God—to our daily practice of the Christian life.

Mortifying Sin

“Believers are able to mortify sin because they receive from Christ the gift of the Spirit. Owen speaks of the Spirit working upon ‘our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us.’…Far from advocating a stringent moralism, the doctrine of mortification [the believer’s responsibility to be constantly killing his own sin] brings glory to the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit ‘brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power. And in the life of believers, the Spirit is the author and finisher of their sanctification. Thus the cure of guilt among those who love Christ is their justification; in this life, the cure of sin’s dominion is sanctification, which involves mortifying sin by the power of the Spirit; and, after this life, the blessing that will bring the full cure from sin to God’s people is glorification.”

The glorious news of the gospel is that, although the disciple of Christ continues to fight a difficult battle against sin and, with the apostle, may often cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (v. 24), the final victory of redemption is on its way. With Paul we can confidently shout, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). The final victory will come through Christ when He delivers us from our body of sin and death.

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February 18, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Sinclair Ferguson on the Nature of Sin

Sinclair Ferguson on the Nature of Sin

While meditating on Psalm 51 and the gracious work of God in David’s heart, Sinclair Ferguson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, describes the layers of sin that dwell in our hearts. Understanding the depth of our sinfulness should cause us to worship the Savior, who assumed our guilt in His body on the cross, and long for His return. What a merciful God we have who forgives and cleanses us from all our sin when we confess it to Him while trusting in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf!

Layers of Sin

As Ferguson reflects upon the Psalm, he writes, “What stands out in David’s confession is his excruciating discovery of what was really in his heart. There were layers of sin in his soul, or, to change the metaphor, peaks of evil, which rose one beyond the other, another becoming visible only when one had been scaled. He ransacks the Old Testament vocabulary as he explores his soul and provided a series of vivid word pictures to describe his need.” He then exposes four “layers of sin” in our hearts, which the Spirit exposed to David.

  • “My transgressions” (v. 1) suggests rebellion and self-assertiveness. He makes himself the center of the universe and his heart is antagonistic to any rival for its throne even when that rival is a loving Creator.
  • “My iniquity” (v. 2) conveys the idea of a twisted waywardness that vitiates our lives; the fatal flaw that destroys everything. Paul speaks about sinful man ‘exchanging’ the glory of God (Rom 1:23). That is the fatal mistake.
  • “My sin” (vv. 2-3) denotes his failure. David had missed the mark, deviated from the goal for which he was created. Not only was he made to live for God’s glory but to reflect that glory. He has squandered his destiny.
  • “What is evil” (v. 4). Here is the shocking truth he has discovered about himself: he has done evil, and that evil is the fruit of an evil heart. Nothing is more characteristic of us than the easy assumption that we are by nature basically good; that we sin despite ourselves.

Today, let us give thanks to God for His mighty grace that is greater than our sin.

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February 17, 2015
by Paul Tautges
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6 Truths about Waiting on the Lord

Do you like to wait? If we are honest, every one of us would answer, “No.” We were born with an innate tendency to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Our flesh cringes at the thought of having to wait, yet God’s Word compels us to wait upon Him. Does this mean that we are to sit back on our spiritual recliner, kick up our feet, and wait for God to show us what to do? No. Contrary to what we may think, waiting on the Lord is not passive. It demands a great deal of effort. It requires saying no to our impulsive nature and living in active submission to His will revealed in His Word. A quick survey of the Scriptures reveals 6 truths about waiting on the Lord.

  • Waiting on the Lord requires divine strength and courage.

David wrote, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps 27:14). Waiting on the Lord requires self-discipline. Rushing ahead to fulfill our own will is not difficult at all; it comes naturally. However, surrendering to the will and ways of God requires a constant resistance to the flesh. Self-denial is the daily duty of all those who claim to be disciples of Jesus (Matt 16:24). We must, therefore, be realistic and approach the concept of waiting on the Lord with a great deal of vigilance, lest we rush ahead of God’s timetable. At the same time, we must be careful not to use, “I am waiting on the Lord,” as an excuse for delayed obedience or a lack of self-discipline.      

  • Waiting on the Lord means trusting in God alone.

In order to wait on the Lord, we must cast off all other objects of trust and rest in Him alone. The psalmist exhorted himself, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (Ps 62:5) God has a way of stripping idols out of our lives so that He alone receives our attention. He is a God who will not share His glory with another. Whether it is trust in finances, people, good health, or our own plans; waiting on the Lord means we must willingly abandon those things which replace trust in God.

  • Waiting on the Lord is essential to discerning God’s will.

In Psalm 25:4-5, David said, “Make me know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day.” David understood that in order to know the will of God, we must desire His guidance and wait for His leading with a teachable and submissive heart. Often times, God does not bring about what we believe to be His will until our hearts are completely surrendered and content in Him alone. As long as our determination is fixed upon what we want, God’s will remains a mystery. If we are not obedient to the truth that He has already revealed, why should He reveal more?

  • Waiting on the Lord includes confident expectation of His mercy and grace.

Psalm 123:2 says, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He shall be gracious to us.” In times of uncertainty, we must have confidence in His character as a God who is gracious, compassionate, and full of mercy. We may confidently expect His mercy to shine upon us since He is the God who will never leave or forsake His own. We can rest in the sufficiency of His grace even when we cannot see His plan.

  • Waiting on the Lord means trusting Him with our hurts.

In Proverbs 20:22 we read, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” When we are hurt by others, it is tempting to take matters into our own hands, retaliate, or seek revenge. But waiting on the Lord means trusting Him enough to leave these matters with Him. It means depositing our hurts into His trustworthy control, believing He is the only one who is completely just and able to one day right all wrongs.

  • Waiting on the Lord results in experiencing divine strength.

Restful submission to the will of God is the way in which He renews our strength. Isaiah 40:28-31 testifies, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. As finite creatures we experience times when we are weary, yet God never gets tired. Could it be that God has designed us in such a way that we learn to live with an awareness of our complete dependence upon Him?

God delights in us when we wait on Him because He receives more glory and we experience the joy and pleasure of soaring on the wings of His strength and grace. “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps 27:14).

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February 14, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Stay Close to the Fire

Stay Close to the Fire

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day and perhaps it’s been awhile since you determined to worship with God’s people because of how badly you are fighting discouragement. Let me encourage you to consider these words from Sinclair Ferguson, which he wrote in response to thinking about the psalmist’s spiritual discouragement described in Psalms 42 and 43.

Many a young Christian sitting around an open fire has been taught an object lesson by an older believer taking a live coal out of the midst of the flames, placing it apart and watching it become dim until its glow eventually fades away. That Christians need fellowship if they are to maintain their spiritual growth is the simple, but perennially important, lesson.

How important the fellowship of the church is to our well-being! Sometimes it is only when we are removed from it that we realized just how much we need it. The Lord has made us for fellowship, after all. He brought us together to need each other’s love and each other’s gifts.

Do not be surprised if being deprived of regular worship affects your spirits. Building individual spiritual disciplines is good; but it is no substitute for the life of the church into which you have been called.

Do not be so proud or self-sufficient as to think that you do not need regular exposure to the exposition and application of Scripture in the context of a living, praying group of Christians. Anyone who belongs to such a fellowship knows the benediction of a life punctuated by weekly seasons of worship, prayer, and biblical teaching. Not only are we thus educated in Christian truth, but our souls are nourished and strengthened. Our whole being is enriched.

When you are downcast—for whatever reason, minor or life-shaking—it takes more effort to maintain the regular disciplines of the Christian life. Even getting out to church is an enormous struggle…and is it really worthwhile…when you return home again to face your discouragement? Is it too painful for you to hear that this is the only way to sustain yourself at your present level of discouragement and not sink into worse? When these basic disciplines go, everything is in danger of collapsing—as this psalmist discovered.

Are you discouraged? Too discouraged to go to church? Go anyway. In fact, there is no more important time for you to fight ruthlessly for your joy than now. Let the Holy Spirit minister enduring grace to you through regular worship and fellowship with others who love Christ. It’s dark now, but morning is coming. Do everything you can to stay close to the Lord. The sun will shine again.

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February 10, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on “Fifty Shades of Grey” Dispels an Old Myth

“Fifty Shades of Grey” Dispels an Old Myth

[Today’s guest post is written by counselor and author, Rachel Coyle.]

The best-selling book Fifty Shades of Grey dispels the old myth that women do not use pornography, that it’s a “man’s problem.” Forever we’ve heard the claim that women are “not turned on by sight.” But the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey reveals how pornography captivates women, too. In fact, it may captivate them more since women often indulge in other forms of pornographic literature that are not commonly recognized as such because they appear softer. The book has been dubbed by some as “Mommy Porn;” a cutesy term that makes light of a socially-acceptable form of pornography targeted at women.

Most women whom I speak to claim they have never “used” pornography, but as soon as I mention graphic romance novels some chuckle with embarrassment. “Sure,” might be a response, “I read romance novels. But that’s not pornography!” Are you sure? Just as the serpent deceived Eve into believing she should eat of the forbidden fruit, women today are deceived into believing lies about erotic literature. Consider the following definition of pornography: “The depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writings) intended to cause sexual excitement; material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement” (Merriam Webster). The book Fifty Shades of Grey is pornography for the mind’s eye as women conjure up sexual thoughts and images while reading. The movie is pornography for the physical eye, no imagination required.

For years, I’ve been speaking the truth about the increased use of pornography by women and its deadly attack upon their souls, their view of romantic love, and their relationships. Many women have become captivated by erotica and are now so engrossed in it they have become totally enslaved. How should we as believers think about this issue?

Is God Silent?

Some argue that the Bible does not specifically address the issue of pornography and; therefore, God does not have an opinion about it. While it’s true the word “pornography” is not in the Bible, God indeed has an opinion about it. The Greek word porneia, which is the root of our English word pornography, is translated fornication or sexual immorality in many modern translations, including KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV. We have a clear picture of God’s opinion of pornography if we understand what the Bible says about fornication or sexual immorality (Eph 5:3-16; Col 3:1-7). Pornography takes something God designed to be beautiful, intimate, and private between a husband and wife and deforms it into a public, perverse, and destructive evil. It is an obvious departure from God’s standard of purity and, therefore, is immoral.

Is a Taste of Forbidden Fruit Worth It?

Let me make it clear that I have not read the book Fifty Shades of Grey; nor will I ever pick it up. Some of you may think that in order to develop a fair opinion on this subject, you must read the book. Do not believe the lie that you must eat of the forbidden fruit in order to know why it is forbidden. Reading a description of the erotic plot of this book is enough for me, and just knowing this book and forthcoming film is dubbed erotica is enough for you to avoid it, too. Once an image has been imprinted on your mind you cannot easily erase it. There is no delete key for the brain. No “undo” button. I have counseled women who have agonized for years, trying to blot out the images that had become engrained in their minds and plagued them. They testify that a single taste of the forbidden fruit is not worth the pain and trouble it brings.

It saddens me to know that thousands of women, including some who profess to follow Jesus Christ, have become fans of this book. How did we get here? How have Christian women arrived at a place where they shamelessly read erotic literature and comfortably discuss it with their friends? In the past it was disgraceful, but “today’s woman” is brazen.

Now, I realize I may not be making any friends by writing this blog post, and surely will step on some toes, but I’m okay with that. Sometimes our toes are pointed in the wrong direction and they need to be stepped on. Truth is never popular, but it must be spoken. I want to—I need to—shout a warning: You may be dipping your toes into the pool of pornography through reading erotic literature or viewing images (like this movie), but you never know when pornography will wrap its chains around you and imprison your mind. A “dip” leads to a wade, and then the current draws you deeper in, deeper down, until you find yourself drowning in it. Don’t think you are strong enough to handle reading erotic literature—not even a single time! And do not be deceived when the world says that erotic movies are acceptable forms of entertainment.

Has the Fear of the Lord Disappeared?

The success of Fifty Shades of Grey has made it clear that pornography is something women read, watch, look at, fantasize about… And yet we want to believe that women in our churches are not affected by pornography? Surely they are not tempted, or engaged, or enslaved by it? Yes, they are. Maybe even in your own church. Maybe even you. How did we get here? It is through losing the fear of God and its resulting wisdom.

According to Scripture, wisdom begins with fearing God (Prov 1:7, 9:10). The first priority is to fear God (Prov 1:29), to view Him properly. A correct understanding of who God is brings unsaved sinners to their knees before the Cross in humble repentance and faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, and a healthy reverence toward Him causes Christians to consider the choices we make and how those choices affect our relationship with Him, and with others. A healthy fear of God will cause women to put down graphic romance novels, or turn and walk away from the TV screen in repentance. The fear of the Lord produces a desire to stay away from evil, including pornography. Are you actively keeping yourself away from all forms of pornography? Or are you already trapped?

The good news is that God’s grace is far greater than our sin. Romans 5:20 tells us clearly, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (emphasis added). This grace is not cheap; it cost Jesus His very life. This isn’t a grace that gives you and me a license to sin; it’s a grace that frees us from the grip of sin (Romans 6; Galatians 5:13). This grace should stop us in our tracks. If you want to steer clear of pornography, the answer lies in first cultivating a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. It begins with repentance and faith in His finished work on the cross. Then it develops through an active prayer life and faithful Bible study. This is how you get to know the Lord and what pleases Him.

What Can Concerned Believers Do?

For those of you who have been stirred by this post and want to help women who are struggling, what can you do? Share God’s truth with others. Those who are dipping their toes in, or wading in deep muck, need to be warned that they are heading down a path that leads to destruction. Others need a word of encouragement: They are not alone in their struggle and there is hope for freedom in Christ. Ultimately, don’t be afraid to call the women in your church, your friends, your family to a higher standard than what the world sets.

To help your ministry to other women, I’ve written a small eBook for the sake of helping reclaim purity among women in our generation. Help! She’s Struggling with Pornography explores the issue in more detail. I discuss the many facets of the media’s spread of pornography; including books, magazines, the Internet, movies, and even music. The book also provides Bible study suggestions, practical steps toward breaking free, and disciplines to keep your mind and heart pure. Designed for women to use on their own or in discipleship relationships, the book will educate and equip you to address the problem of pornography targeted at women. Together, may we faithfully call one another to the freedom and purity provided for in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

[Today’s guest post is written by counselor and author, Rachel Coyle. Get her mini-book: HELP! She’s Struggling with Pornography from Shepherd Press or Amazon.]

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February 9, 2015
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on A Lifelong Student in the Lord’s School

A Lifelong Student in the Lord’s School

Having a teachable spirit is at the heart of progress in the Christian life. Only the stubbornness of our pride keeps us from becoming all that God desires for us to be in Christ. The ones who make the most progress in grace are those who are never satisfied with themselves, never willing to accept that they are “the way they are and that will never change.” Therefore, it is imperative to view ourselves as lifelong students—students in the school of walking with the Lord who will not graduate until we see our Savior in glory. So, how do we remain a teachable student? What does it look like? Paul Tripp suggests five characteristics.

A healthy cynicism toward your own wisdom. “Sin reduces all of us to fools, but it does something else that is even more insidious: it makes us believe that we are wise. Independent wisdom was both the seductive temptation and the delusional desire behind the fall.”

A humble sense of need. “We all get lulled to sleep by feelings of arrival, by feeling satisfied with our character, our knowledge, and our behavior. We have little desire for further growth….Because we know more today than we did yesterday, we quit working to know more tomorrow.”

A willing and open heart. “Willingness and openness are the essential characteristics of any good student. Why, you may ask? Because learning not only shows me what I didn’t know, but it points out the places where what I thought I knew was, in fact, wrong.”

Discernment, focus, and determination. “Discernment means that you have to make sure you are submitting yourself to qualified teachers (read Colossians 2:8). Once you are sitting at the feet of those who represent the Teacher of teachers, then continued learning takes focus.”

Commitment to act on what you are learning. “Any seasoned teacher will tell you that the real learning takes place after the students leave the classroom and practice what they have been taught. The God who is your teacher will orchestrate events, situations, and relationships for the purpose of causing you to live what you have been learning. Life is his classroom, and in every new location on each new day, provides a rich and God-given environment to understand more deeply and to live more wisely.”

As a follow-up application project, take time to read through Psalm 119 and note in your journal how many times the psalmist reveals his longing to learn. May the Lord grant to us a teachable spirit so that we will all be committed to being lifelong students in his school of spiritual growth!

[Order your copy of Tripp’s book A Shelter in the Time of Storm.]

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