April “Tabletalk”: What Shame Does – James Coffield

What Shame Does by James Coffield | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015Last week Monday we began to take a look at the April 2015 issue of “Tabletalk”, with its theme of “shame.”

The second featured article on the subject I found to be rather “dark”, even difficult to read. That is due to the fact that the author (Dr. James Coffield serves as professor and director of counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL) relates “what shame does” by means of a concrete example – a young man who took his life last year in part because of the shame of his sins.

As he explains the power of shame in the human soul, Coffield lays out the evil ways in which we can allow shame to control our attitudes and behavior. These steps are graphic – and realistic (isolation, fear of exposure, self-hate, etc.). While hard to read, it is necessary for us to understand “what shame does”, that is, when it is not handled with the grace and wisdom of God as found in the gospel of Christ.

Do not take this as criticism of Coffield and his article. The devastating power of shame needs to be exposed and addressed – concretely and biblically. For those who know this power of shame, we need to know there is comfort and hope in Christ alone.

Here is part of Coffield’s analysis of shame’s activity in sinners – and the answer that may be found in the gospel. To read the full article, visit the Ligonier link above.

Shame paradoxically gives the shame-based person the illusion of control. It allows us to feel as if we are capable of digging our own cisterns—If the problem is me, I can fix it. I don’t need to be dependent upon God or anyone else. I can fix me. A principle of life is that we only fight battles that we think we can win, and shame allows us to restructure reality and believe that we are the problem and the solution; therefore, we can win. Shame invites a person to carry the weight, and in doing so, provides a false sense of control. The shame-based person is allowed to carry this weight and not trust God or others, ever again. Luke’s story of glory was hijacked by shame, whereas the gospel of Luke tells us of glory burst forth from stories that were initially bathed in shame.

The biblical gospel of Luke includes stories of the disenfranchised: the leper, the paralytic, the infirm woman. Luke’s stories invite his readers to see Christ as the transformer and healer. Luke even begins the grand story of glory in a place that many would consider shameful: a stable with shepherds. God’s great story of glory is teeming with stories of the poor, the ill, the neglected, the scorned, but His presence turns the lowly into the exalted. As believers, our stories will be woven together and end in glory.

An Easter Gospel Question: Why Weepest Thou?

John 20-16For our thankful, joyous – and humble – Easter reflection on this Resurrection Sunday, well may we consider this exposition of John 20:11-17 by Rev. George Lubbers (1909-2001). He takes his theme from the risen Savior’s own words to weeping Mary on that first Easter morning, “Woman, why weepest thou?” It may be found here on the PRC website, where you will also find a link to its original source.

Though this Easter gospel question was directed to Mary Magdalene, it is relevant for all of us as we often sit weeping in our weakness of faith (or plain unbelief). Looking at our resurrected Lord this day, no matter what our circumstances may be, indeed why are we weeping?! Unless, of course, they are tears of joy and hope.

Here is the opening part of Rev.Lubbers meditation; find the rest at the link above.

Weeping Mary!

Standing at the open mouth of the grave of her Lord, Who had taken captivity captive! She weeps here at the open grave from whence, at this very moment, no doubt, the other Galilean women were hastening to the disciples and brethren, with fear and great joy, to tell the glad gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus, the crucified one!

How utterly incongruous! How this marvelous fact of the glorious resurrection, which shall turn all our sorrows into eternal and abiding joys, is hid from the weeping eyes of Mary!

The mighty angel of the Lord had suddenly descended from heaven not long prior to this time; he had rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb, and had sat upon it; he had proclaimed the Word of peace to the woman, telling them: Fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus, the crucified one. He is not here but is risen, come see the place where the Lord has lain.

And Jesus Himself had appeared to the hastening women on the way, telling them to go and tell the glad tidings to His brethren….

But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping at such a time as this.

It is the time when all the prisoners are set free, death rejoice in victorious hope, and when all the when they who dwell in the valley of the shadow of angels of God worship Jesus, the first begotten from the dead, saying: Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels lift up their glad voices and chant and sing in joyful lays at this very moment. Is it the moment, that believing Abraham, and all the patriarchs with and after him, saw afar, and….rejoiced!

It is the time to which we, as the New Testament saints from Gentile lands, look back and see and confess that we have born anew unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because of this glad day of all days we gather on each first day of the week and sing a new song, saying unto our Lord and King: Worthy art Thou Lord Jesus, Thou faithful Witness, Thou firstborn of the dead, and Thou ruler of the kings of the earth to receive the Kingdom of David, our father, forever!

But Mary was standing at the tomb weeping.

At such a time as this….

Woman, why weepest thou?

Premillennialism, Revelation 20, and the Great Tribulation – D.J. Engelsma

Also in the March 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer,under the rubric “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass”, Prof. (emeritus, PRC Seminary) David J. Engelsma delves deeper into the errors of premillennialism by taking on its explanation of Revelation 20, a key passage for a proper understanding of the doctrine of the last things (eschatology) and the believer’s hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Among the serious errors that Engelsma addresses in this article is the error of teaching that the NT church (Christians) will avoid the “great tribulation” (trial of persecution) at the end of this age. Properly showing how dangerous this is to the life and hope of the believer, Engelsma makes these comments – comments that ought to alert us to our true hope of the one coming of Christafter the tribulation – indeed, to deliver His own out of the midst of this fierce battle with its great personal cost.

Let every Reformed, indeed Protestant, reader take note that premillennialism has the coming great tribulation fall upon the Jews.  We Christians will be exempt, for we, of course, are supposed to be in the air somewhere or other while the tribulation rages.  All Christians will have been raptured before Antichrist rampages on the stage of world history.

…This exemption of the church and the Christian from the persecution of Antichrist is an outstanding sin of premillennial doctrine.  The sin is eminently practical.  Premillennialism does not prepare God’s people for the looming threat of persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of the antichristian world-power.  In this respect, premillennialism is one with postmillennialism.  Both of the millennial errors assure the church of the 21st century that she has nothing to fear, or prepare for, with regard to suffering the great tribulation.  Premil-lennialism tells the church that she will be raptured prior to Antichrist’s raging in the world, and that the object of his hatred will be the Jews.  Postmillennialism preaches to the church that, whoever the Antichrist was and whenever he carried out his antichristian work, Antichrist and his fulminations are safely in the past.

     Exempting the church from the persecution by Antichrist helps explain the popularity of the two millennial errors.  Humans shrink from persecution, especially from that persecution about which our Lord said, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

     Nevertheless, this is altogether the wrong attitude of Reformed Christians with regard to the coming persecution.  The believer should regard it an unspeakably great privilege to be counted worthy by the Savior to confess that Jesus is Lord in the face of the greatest attack on God and His Anointed in all history, and to seal this confession with his suffering and even with his blood.  And the divine reward for this spiritual battle against the beast and this faithfulness to Jesus will be correspondingly great.  This reward is described in Revelation 20:4-6:  resurrection in the soul at the moment of death into the life and glory of heaven, where they reign with Christ.

Reading God’s Providence Backwards (2) – S.Ferguson

In the thirty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful piece on the providence of God (go here for the first post on this).

His starting point is his contact with an long-time Christian friend, for whom God’s providence had led in ways of affliction and pain after an auto accident, and Ferguson’s own struggle to understand God’s ways with this godly man who had had such an influence on him in his youth.

The Mystery of Providence (Puritan Paperbacks)

It is at this point that Ferguson introduces what he calls “Flavel’s Law”, named after the Puritan who wrote a significant book on the providence of God. He pulls a quote from Flavel that goes like this: “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can only be read backwards.”

I plan to pull a few quotations from this chapter so that we may all benefit from Ferguson’s thoughts on this “law” concerning God’s providence. I believe that Ferguson’s thoughts will resonate with all of us as believers.

Here is the next part of this chapter from which I quote:

One great reason for this principle [that is, that God’s providence is best read “backward”] is to teach us to ‘Trust in the LORD with all [our] heart, and lean not on [our] own understanding’ (Prov.3:5). So perverse are we that we would use our knowledge of God’s will to substitute for actual daily personal trust in the Lord Himself.

Flavel’s Law… has widespread relevance for Christian living, but is particularly important in four ways:

The Big Decisions

It is true of the big decisions of life. God does guide His people, leading them in the right paths (Ps.23:3). It is a great thing to come to a major decision with the assurance that it is His will. But we would be mistaken to imagine that we therefore know in detail the reasons behind His plan.

Many Christians have discovered that obedience to what they believed to be God’s will led to great personal difficulties. When this happens to us, it is only later that we discover God’s purpose in leading us to a new orientation or situation may have been very different from the extrapolation we made from the first points we saw on the divine graph of or lives.

The Tests

It is true of the tests of life. We struggle to endure them for what they are in themselves. Afterward, we are relieved to have them at our back.

But in fact, earlier testing is often designed to strengthen us for later trials. Only when we have been brought through the later ones do the earlier ones more fully ‘make sense.’

The Thanatologist – J.Eppinga

Cabbages&KingsBookFor our “Word Wednesday” selection this week we turn to a chapter (originally an article The Banner) in the second collection of Rev.Jacob Eppinga’s writings for the Banner rubric “Of Cabbages and Kings”, found in the book More Cabbages and Kings.

At the end of the day I have been reading through these clever and interesting little glimpses of church and ministry life, and came on chapter 20 titled “The Thanatologist” last night. That word comes from two Greek words meaning “death” (thanatos) and “study of” (logos), so you can guess what a “thanatologist” does. That’s right, he studies death and dying.

In this piece Eppinga, a former CRC minister, reflects on his years of ministering to the dying and conducting funerals. As always, he has some fine thoughts, including these closing ones:

Another impression that has come home to me repeatedly is the completely unmasked backruptcy of unbelief in the presence of a lifeless human form. In the last few years, a rash of articles have appeared in various publications and journals dealing with the phenomenon of death. An ancient king decreed that the subject was never to be mentioned in his presence.

Today sees an opposite impulse. Modern intelligence is minded to concentrate its full light on the valley of the shadow. Studies entitled ‘on Death and Dying,’ ‘The Power to Die,’ and others, set forth by experts who call themselves thanatologists do have some insights.

In sum, however, their words and thoughts are as empty as tombs and cemeteries on resurrection day. Arnold Toynbee, a giant in the field of history, having authored the renowned twelve-volume Study of History, and whole library shelf of other books, is pure drivel on the subject of man’s last breath. It makes me weep.

My thanatologist is Saint Paul! I can practically quote his I Corinthians 15 from memory. If he is wrong, then, as he says, ‘we are of all men most miserable.’

But he is right. Praise the Lord (p.112)!

Reading God’s Providence Backwards – S.Ferguson

In the thirty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful piece on the providence of God.

His starting point is the sight of and conversation with an old Christian friend, for whom God’s providence had led in ways of affliction and pain after an auto accident, and his own struggle (that is, Ferguson’s) to understand God’s ways with this godly man who had had such an influence on him in his youth.

The Mystery of Providence (Puritan Paperbacks)

It is at this point that Ferguson introduces what he calls “Flavel’s Law”, named after the Puritan who wrote a significant book on the providence of God. He pulls a quote from Flavel that goes like this: “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can only be read backwards.”

I plan to pull a few quotations from this chapter so that we may all benefit from Ferguson’s thoughts on this “law” concerning God’s providence. I believe that Ferguson’s thoughts will resonate with all of us as believers.

This is from the opening part of the chapter:

Of this [his friend’s sufferings] and other experiences in life, I have sometimes thought, ‘It just does not seem to make sense.’

At such times, Flavel’s words have often comforted me and helped me to readjust my myopic spiritual perspective. They have reminded me to fix my mind and heart on God’s wise, gracious, and sovereign rule, and on the assurance that He works everything together for His children’s good, so that I do not inquire too proudly into why I cannot understand His sovereign purposes.

Of course, one occasionally meets Christians for whom the Lord’s purposes are ‘all sewn up.’ They convey an attitude of knowing exactly what He is doing and why He is doing it. Such comprehensive wisdom is difficult to dislodge, but it is often the precocious wisdom of the immature Christian who has not yet learned that while ‘those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children,’ there are also hidden and secret things that ‘belong to the LORD our God’ (Deut.29:29).

God’s ways and thoughts are not ours. We never have them ‘taped.’ As William Cowper knew well, God ‘plants his footsteps in the sea.’ We can no more read in detail God’s secret purposes for our individual lives than we can see footsteps in water or understand Hebrew if we try to read it from left to right. To imagine we can is to suffer from a form of spiritual dyslexia (Kindle ed.).

Related to this (and providentially, I might say!), the “Grace Gems” devotional for today came into my email box as I was preparing this, and it contains an edifying series of “choice quotes” on God’s providence and our afflictions. I add that to this post for your edification too:

“Affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground!” Job 5:6

“Affliction does not rise out of the dust or come to men by chance; but it is the Lord who sends it, and we should own and reverence His hand in it!” (Thomas Boston)

“Those who dive into the sea of affliction, bring up rare pearls!” (Charles Spurgeon)

“The furnace of affliction is a good place for you, Christian; it benefits you; it helps you to become more like Christ, and it is fitting you for Heaven!” (Charles Spurgeon)

“Most of the grand truths of God have to be learned by trouble; they must be burned into us with the hot iron of affliction, otherwise we shall not truly receive them.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles–they believe that Sovereignty hasordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“Afflictions tend to wean us from the world–and to fix our affections on things above.” (John Angell James)

“Poverty and affliction take away the fuel that feeds pride!” (Richard Sibbes)

“The winter prepares the earth for the spring; so do sanctified afflictions prepare the soul for glory.” (Richard Sibbes)

“When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.” (Samuel Rutherford)

“Whoever brings an affliction, it is God who sends it. It is one heart-quieting consideration in all the afflictions that befall us–that God has a special hand in them: “The Almighty has afflicted me!” Ruth 1:21. Instruments can no more stir until God gives them a commission–than the axe can cut of itself without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction; therefore, as Augustine observes, Job does not say, “The Lord gave, and the devil took away,” but “the Lord has taken away.” (Thomas Watson)

“Afflictions add to the saints glory. The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles; the heavier the saints cross is, the heavier will be their crown.” (Thomas Watson)

Rest Indeed – R.C. Sproul Jr.

Rest Indeed by R.C. Sproul Jr. | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Feb 2015As we close out this busy week of labor and anticipate our risen Lord’s day of rest tomorrow, R.C.Sproul, Jr. reminds us in the above-linked article from this month’s Tabletalk (on the theme of “Labor and Rest”) that our rest is not only related to our labor but also to the great battle in which we are engaged as God’s soldiers from day to day.

It is good to also be reminded of this spiritual aspect of our labor in this life, so that we may also be refreshed in the knowledge of our Lord’s victory over our spiritual foes. I appreciated what “R.C.” writes here, and I pray it is an encouragement to you too as we get ready to rest in our Savior.

Find the full article at the link above; here is a part of it (keep in mind he takes his thoughts from Psalm 23):

When we turn the Sabbath into a set of rules of what we are allowed and forbidden to do, I fear we miss the whole spirit of the day. The rest to which we are called is less resting from our day-to-day jobs than it is rest from the battle. We are able to rest because we know He has already won. Sabbath is the good cheer to which we are called, knowing He has already overcome the world (John 16:33).

When we enter more fully into our rest, when we sit at His table, untouchable, victorious, are we not overcome with joy? Is it not true that our heads are anointed with oil, that our cups runneth over? Like soldiers who come home for rest and relaxation, we soldiers of the King are invited to go home, so that when we return to battle, we know where we are going. We drink deeply of His goodness so that we know that His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. We go back into the battle knowing, having been to and tasted the end of all things, that we will indeed dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is rest indeed because for six days a week we are at war indeed. The great irony, however, is that the more we rest, the more we battle. For it is our worship, our rest, our joy, and our peace that are the very weapons of our warfare. By joy, towers are toppled. By peace, ramparts are ruined. By singing forth the glory of His name, by heralding His glory, walls come tumbling down. We fight in peace because the war has already been won. We die in war because the peace has already been won. This is His kingdom that we seek.

Daniels in Babylon – Facing Evil (again) in 2015

StandardBearerWriting the editorial for the January 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer, Rev.K.Koole ends his “Year in Review, AD 2014″ article with these comforting and challenging thoughts:

The handwriting is on the wall [The editor is referencing the increasing intolerance of Christianity and growing persecution of Christians throughout the world, including here in the U.S.].

But let us not forget that what was written on Babylon’s wall was written by the finger of God and foretold the Christ’s coming in judgment on Babylon, that great representative of antichrist’s kingdom in the OT age.

Another great event not foreseen by men.

Babylon, to fall in one day?

Impossible!

And yet it occurred.

And that according to Biblical prophecy.

And Babylon’s fall meant the time for God’s church to return to the promised land had come, there to await the coming Messiah.

Christ’s church delivered and full victory at hand.

Let us as saints and churches not be afraid to stand as Daniels in this present evil age

2014. Year of our Lord. As will be 2015 and those following.

As evil grows, and with it the world’s enmity against the Christian faith, let us not be intimidated, but continue to bear witness to The Truth in love, a love for Christ and what is really true love for our fellow man.

The gospel of this Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Christ, remains this old world’s only hope.

If you are interested in subscribing to this solid Reformed semi-monthly magazine, visit the “SB” website for more information, including a special introductory rate.

The Days of the Years of Our Life – Rev.G.Vos

Vos, GerritFor many years, as many of you know, Rev.Gerrit Vos penned meditations for the Standard Bearer. He was gifted with a unique style of writing that matched the purpose and meaning of a meditation. His writings put the Word of God not merely right in front of you but made it penetrate your soul.

This week, while looking for a few fitting end-of-year meditations to post on the PRC website, I found this one, based on Psalm 90:10 and written for the January 1, 1963 “SB”. The full text of “The Days of the Years of Our Life” may be found both here and here.

I pull a section out of it here for your profit, encouraging you to read all of it sometime before the end of 2014. It will be good for you soul. It was for mine.

And the deepest reason why our days, our best days, are labor and sorrow is this: the wrath of God.

The Lord God walks among us and cuts off the stream of time allotted, and says at every sickbed which turns into a deathbed: Return, ye children of men! Return to destruction!

God carries our days away as with a flood. Our days are consumed by His anger, and by His wrath our days are troubles. In fact, all our days are passed away in Thy wrath, the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us.

Here we stand at the end of another year that was given to us, but the end of that year says: it is soon cut off and we fly away!

Yes, we soon fly away like iron to the magnet. And the MAGNET here is God! The moment we die we see God, the living God.

You see, He gathers us in, both the good and the bad. No one ever escapes from this ingathering.

And when the last man is gathered in at the end of the ages, the books shall be opened, and the dead, both small and great shall be judged according to what is written in those books.

And let me tell you right here that if there were no Jesus, all of us would be cast into everlasting hell.

Even God’s people, with all their good works, would be lost if it were not for Jesus.

In order to know that, look at your good works. Go ahead, look at them.

If you look long enough, with the spectacles of the Word of God on your nose, and the Spirit of truth in your heart, you will blush. You never did a good work that was absolutely perfect. Besides, also look at all the filth and corruption you are, spoke, did and thought. Oh yes, you will blush alright.

Listen to Moses, he will tell us: “Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.”

Yes, it grows very still in the waning hours of the last evening of nineteen hundred and sixty-two.

You know, I think that a very good prayer in that last night would be: O God, be merciful to me, the sinner!

Antiques and Our Heritage (5): The Idea of an Abiding City

Five weeks ago we began to quote from a selection by John J. Timmerman, former English professor at Calvin College, found in a collection of his writings titled Markings on a Long Journey (Baker, 1982). It is an article he originally wrote for The Banner in September of 1972, and includes his thoughts on some things “old, precious, and beautiful” in the Reformed tradition.

Markings on long journey-TimmermanThe first one is the “antithesis”; the second one is “a sense of sin”; and the third one is “the priority of the sermon in our Sunday services”; the fourth one is “the importance of Christian education.” And now the final one Timmerman mentions is “the idea of an abiding city”. In other words, the Christian’s real hope.

I will let him explain it. Then we should dwell on it. Maybe especially as we end another week and look forward to our foretaste of our everlasting rest tomorrow.

The port Sandburg once said, when he was young and didn’t know any better and before he had written six fat volumes on Lincoln, that the ‘past is a bucket of ashes.’ When the past is over it is finished. burnt out – ashes to blow with the winds to anywhere. All the past is done, including human life. But the Christian believes that the past in the deepest spiritual sense is the beginning and determines the future.

I was poignantly reminded of this when I visited the country graveyard where my grandfather is buried/ There was a remarkable difference in the gravestones. The newer ones bore merely a name and a date, a terse statement of transitory existence now finished. But the older graves had upon their frail and fading headstones a constantly recurring text in a language I heard so often in boyhood: ‘Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herron sterben’ (Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord), and I thought, ‘This is it,’ a trust that defies the last humiliation with infinite hope; on the eroding stones covering remorseless decay were words of profound promise. The later graves in Gray’s words ‘Implore the passing tribute of a sigh,’ but the earlier ones gave rise to a thrill of hope and meaning and victory in the face of apparently utter defeat.

What will be the witness of your gravestone and mine? The “passing tribute of a sigh”, or ” a trust that defies the last humiliation with infinite hope”?

Yet, this is first, is it not? What is the confession of our heart, mouth, and life right now?

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