Revisiting the PCUSA Seven Years Later

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The Presbyterian Church USA has long been in a theological liberal slide. The church (PCUSA) should be distinguished from the Presbyterian Church in America the conservative wing of Presbyterianism that broke away from the PCUSA about 40 years ago.

It can be confusing when two denominations have similar names and so it was recently when the PCA was confused with the PCUSA-the denomination that has officially approved on same sex marriage. The PCA worked hard to set the record straight.

In 2011 the PCUSA ordained its first gay minister.

How To Tell the Difference Between the PCA and PCUSA

When the PCA ordained it’s first gay minister I wrote this paragraph on my other blog under the blog heading, Things That Irritate Me.

You people [PCUSA] have been annoying me for quite some time. I suspect Calvin is turning in his grave when he gets the bad wind of your bad theology if you can call it that. Why don’t you say point- blank “we don’t care what the Bible says or what it means or how it applies” and get it over with rather than just killing truth an inch at a time. Go ahead and ordain gays. Anyone who cares about what Scripture says, means and applies will leave your denomination. Those that don’t, oh well.

I received the below comment from a fellow named Javier.

In reply to:

Dont be a homophobic bigot

This is how I responded to Javier.

I approved of Javier’s comment because it was sort of respectful and I do not mind respectful disagreement. When I say sort of what I mean is name calling does not lend itself to respectful dialogue but at least his comment was not a multi-paragraph tirade of name calling.

Javier assumes that because I disagree with the Presbyterian Church USA’s stance on ordaining gays I must be homophobic and a bigot to boot. To be homophobic means to be fearful of gays. I deny this. I am not fearful of gays. I disagree with the gay agenda but that does not mean I am afraid of gays. I do fear the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says it best:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Pro. 1:7 ESV

To fear the Lord means reverence and humility before The Maker and what He says about things. I cannot approve of what The Maker disapproves. The PCUSA has chosen to redefine what The Maker approves of and disapproves of. They are free to do this of course but it amounts to either an abandonment of Scripture or as I noted a massive redefinition and twisting of Scripture. Hence my irritation.

The second name I’ve been called is “bigot.” A bigot according to dictionary.com is “a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race.”

Dictionary.com adds that the word “bigot” is derogatory presumably because tolerance is the politically correct term for validating everything and anything and intolerance is the only great sin left to conquer. The term “bigot” combined with “homophobic” implies that not only am I fearful of gays but I also hate them since I am intolerant of their political agenda and/or lifestyle.

I deny that I hate gays and I maintain that it is possible to not hate someone who you disagree with. In fact, I am saddened that so much of our society now approves of what The Maker disapproves. In the long run this hurts gays not helps them. As to the word “tolerance.” I may tolerate a great many things. I tolerate high gas prices, whiny WI Public Ed, the gay lifestyle and the PCUSA’s freedom to do what ever the hec they want. What I won’t do is validate a great many things.

Validate means to substantiate; confirm, or give official sanction to. For example, I can tolerate the fact that many couples choose to live together without marriage but I cannot substantiate or confirm their choice from Scripture; therefore, I cannot give sanction to the practice. There is a big difference between tolerance and validation and I would argue that it is validation that is really at the heart of the gay political movement.

Bible-truth-9

All that to say is that my comments were more directed at the PCUSA than gays in general. Here we have a church group that used to know better than to approve of something that The Maker disapproves. Now they are validating what The Maker disapproves and ignoring what the Gospel teaches.

Church leaders are held to a higher standard if one is to believe Scripture (James 3:1) and unfortunately they appear to not believe the Scripture or understand the Gospel. 

So Javier, our disagreement is one of worldview and name-calling does nothing to foster understanding of world-views. I’ve given you a brief snap shot of where my worldview comes from and I would be curious as to what the basis of yours is?

Javier never responded nor did I expect him to. Name calling, shaming, stereo-typing, feigning outrage and screaming these days by the left make Javier’s single comment mild by comparison.

The PCA separated from the PCUSA about 40 years ago because they could no longer walk together. There are some things that require separation and redefining what the Bible teaches to conform to the prevailing culture is on of them. Fortunately, the PCUSA appears to be losing membership while the PCA is gaining.

Is it homophobia causing the exodus or is it people simply wanting to uphold the Scripture?

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits… (Mt 7:15–16, ESV)

Link to the PCUSA affirmation of LGBQT

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Idolatry by Another Name Part 2

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John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

Slavery

Slavery

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases” it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved by; not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13 Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart.

Breaking free from that which enslaves.

Breaking free from that which enslaves.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard-hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (see James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

Idolatry by Another Name Part 1

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After I posted Are Addictions Diseases and received some feedback, I was curious as to how many bad habits are listed as addictions and therefore diseases if you follow the popular medical model of addictions.

I found a website (http://www.addictionz.com/addictions.htm) out of British Columbia that listed addictions. I was stunned by the number listed and even more stunned when I read on the website that the list was only partial.

The list is organized alphabetically and within it you can find the usual addictions we’ve become accustomed to, like alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping, tobacco and caffeine.

The list is so broad you can also find coin collecting because according to the website coin collecting is; usually a nice hobby but any hobby can become a compulsion in the hands of a multiple addict.

Here are some more samples from the website that I bet most people never thought of:

  • Art
    • Getting high to produce better art is common. Also the lifestyle of an impoverished artist can be addictive.
    • Collecting art one cannot afford may create adrenalin like compulsive shopping or gambling.
  • Imagination
    • A good characteristic in most cases, but a luxury for an early recovering addict … and a self-destructive minefield for a practicing addict.
    • Living in “your head” is common amongst all addicts
    • One statistic is that addicts do approximately 80,000 words of self-talk per day – so this addicted ‘ head ‘ is a very busy place
    • One saying in 12 step programs is that the head is like ‘a dangerous neighborhood, do not go there alone’
    • The lack of reliable structure in today’s daily life leaves a lot of room for imaginative research
  • Religion
    • It is wise to examine ones attitudes in all areas.

Clearly the authors of the website are willing to list everything and anything as being addictive or compulsive.

junkie1

The use of the word compulsive (under the subtitle of Art above) is revealing because the word compulsive means “compelling” as if the person has little or no choice. Furthermore, the word compulsive leads us to a minor distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Compulsive this way:

1. Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes: “compulsive eating”

Synonyms: irresistible · uncontrollable · compelling · overwhelming · urgent · obsessive · obsessive · obsessional · addictive · uncontrollable

2. Irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling: “this play is compulsive viewing”

Synonyms: fascinating · compelling · gripping · riveting · engrossing · enthralling · captivating

Both definitions use the word “irresistible” while the first definition uses the synonym “uncontrollable.” Both words are self-explanatory and imply that a person has no choice.

Now let’s look at WIKI’s definition of compulsive behavior:

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure. [1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away. [2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way. [1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control. [3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). [2][4] The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to. [1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Now let’s compare the WIKI definition of compulsive behavior with the WIKI article on addiction derived from the DSM-V:

Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences;[6] it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.[1][7] The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are (positively) reinforcing (i.e., they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., they activate the brain’s “reward pathways”, and are therefore perceived as being something positive or desirable).[1][2][5] ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.[8][9][10]

alcoholism

And…

Potential addictions can include, but are not limited to, exercise addiction, food addiction, drug addiction, computer addiction, sex addiction and gambling addiction. Currently, only substance addictions and gambling addiction are recognized by the DSM-5, which uses physical dependence and the associated withdrawal syndrome to identify an addictive state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction)

And…

The official list of addictions can be found in the DSM-5, psychology’s Bible (http://www.myaddiction.com/addiction_categories.html) where the following are addiction classified as medical disorders:

Alcohol Addiction, Ambien Addiction, Amphetamine Addiction, Benzodiazepine Addiction, Caffeine Addiction, Cocaine Addiction, Crack Addiction, Eating Disorders, Ecstasy Addiction, Gambling Addiction, Heroin Addiction, Hydrocodone Addiction, Internet Addiction, Marijuana Addiction, Meth Addiction, Nicotine Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Percocet Addiction, Oxycontin Addiction, Pornography Addiction, Prescription Drug Addiction, Ritalin Addiction, Sex Addiction, Shopping Addiction, Smoking Addiction, Sugar Addiction, Teens and Addiction, Video Game Addiction, Work Addiction, Xanax Addiction

From these definitions one can deduce the psychology community and the vast majority of Americans believe there are addictions (compulsions) that are behavioral and addictions that are chemical (addicted to drugs or alcohol) and result in physical dependence. The commonality is the perceived “reward system.” In other words we do these things habitually because there is a pleasant pay off even if the consequences can be quite negative.

(In a 1990 survey 87% of Americans believed the disease model of addictions.)

We can also observe there is some level of debate between those who believe certain behaviors are genuine addictions and others who categorize the same things as compulsive behaviors and would therefore fall under the heading of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder rather than a genuine addiction.

The DSM-V is the latest edition of the DSM and in each upgrade the list of disorders and addictions has multiplied. This accounts for the assumption of what is called the medical model of addictions and compulsive behaviors. What that means is if I have a behavioral addiction or a chemical addiction the critical component is: ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.

In other words, addictions and compulsive behaviors are connected to DNA via gene transcription factors.

I should point out that even within the psychological community there is some level of disagreement between those who emphasize choice (minority) and those that emphasize the disease model.

What is the Bible-believing Christian to make of this trend that classifies everything as an addiction or compulsive behavior and is treated as a disease? I’ll discuss that issue in Part 2.

Are Addictions Diseases?

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The other day I was half paying attention to what was on television when I heard someone refer to a drug addiction as a disease.

It immediately reminded me of what one of my biblically counseling teachers said when he noted, “ if it’s a disease then it’s the only disease you can catch voluntarily.”

Whether the issue is porn, spending, overeating, video games, a lot of time on the internet, modern America is quick to call these behaviors “diseases” as if they are something we catch, like cancer.

If they are diseases then my instructor was quite right is saying they are the only diseases we catch voluntarily.

The disease model of addictions first gained notice with AA.

The folks that started AA made the observation that the symptoms of alcohol abuse and addiction looked like a disease and thus implied that the user was under attack by something beyond his or her control. It was assumed that because it looked like a disease it must be so.

Today the disease model is accepted as “truth” and applied to everything that looks like addictive, compulsive or habitual (I’m addicted to chocolate) behavior.

There are many downsides in accepting the disease model as truth but perhaps the most obvious is the implication that the abuser can’t help it. In other words you can’t hold someone responsible for catching a disease. The disease model makes the abuser a victim rather than someone who has been irresponsible and makes poor choices.

The disease model is controversial in secular circles. This link to The Disease Model of Addiction at Addiction Research explains.

The disease model is a far cry from the biblical model where an addict is an idolater who is a slave to his or her lusts and really only concerned with serving self. Addicts of all sorts are pleasure seekers and the pleasure they seek has come to dominate them or in biblical language is a slave to. The slavery to the idol of pleasure is what the world calls a “disease.”

Addictions1

It should not surprise us that the world has adopted non-biblical terminology to describe problems common to man. It should surprise when the church of Jesus Christ does.

To help the church think biblically about addictions Mark Shaw has written a book titled The Heart of Addiction, a Biblical Perspective where he takes the disease model to task and provides scriptural solutions for addictive behavior. Although the book deals primarily with drug and alcohol abuse there is wide application to other behaviors like porn and anything else labeled additive or compulsive.

Mr. Shaw has a little extra credibility to write such a book because is a certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional (MLAP) with the Alabama Association of Drug and Alcohol Addiction. He is also a member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors the same organization I am part of.

The book is divided into four parts following the 2 Timothy 3:16-17 model:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

Section 1: Teaching

Section 2: Reproof

Section 3: Correction

Section 4: Training in Righteousness

Eleven appendices follow 214 section pages to bring the total number of pages to 253.

The book is comprehensive and unlike popular books like Celebrating Recovery The Heart of Addiction Mr. Shaw’s book  is all Bible unlike Celebrate Recovery which takes an “admixture approach.” (admixture means psychology plus Bible)

I highly recommend the book as a “Bible only” counseling resource. A workbook can also be purchased.

Amazon is selling the book for $12.50 and the workbook for $8.95.

For more insight by Mr. Shaw follow this link, Is “Addiction” Rooted in a Disease, Demon or Decision at the Grace and Truth Blog. The comments following the article are worth the time to read.

Although this link, Do Christians Overhype Porn Addiction  deals with “porn addiction” it’s well worth the read because it deals with same controversy of the disease or (medical) model versus Scripture.

The Suicides of Celebrities in Scripture

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I found this handy list of suicides in the Bible on Bible.org.

1. [Abimelech] called hastily unto the young man his armour-bearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died (Judges 9:54).

2. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed with all his might; and the house fell…upon all the people that were therein (Judges 16:30).

3. Saul took a sword and fell on it (1 Sam. 31:4).

4. When [Saul’s] armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died (1 Sam 31:5).

5. When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he…got him home to his house, to his city, and put his house in order, and hanged himself, and died (2 Sam. 17:23).

6. It came to pass, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the palace of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died (1 Kings 16:18).

7. [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5).

J. L. Meredith, Meredith’s Big Book of Bible Lists, (Inspirational Press, NY; 1980), pp. 143-144

Judas' suicide from this German language website: http://www.hansgruener.de/index.htm

Judas’ suicide from this German language website: http://www.hansgruener.de/index.htm

My point here will be to say something about the back story circumstances that led to the suicides of the person in question.

1. This particular Abimelech sought to be king. To do so he murdered 69 of 70 half-brothers. He became warlord (king) of the City of Shechem\Israel and he ruled for about three years before a revolt broke out in Shechem. Abimelech and his army sought to put the revolt down and in the process a woman dropped a large brick on his head. Abimelech thought it fatal and so asked his armor bearer to run him through so that people would not say he died at the hands of a woman. Judges 9:55-56 indicate that God repaid Abimelech for his reckless ambition when he killed his brothers and God repaid Shechem for their evil deeds as well.

2. The story of Samson is one of the best known in all of Scripture. Samson was born to be a Nazarite (and a Judge). As long as he didn’t cut his hair he would have victory over the Philistines. Samson had a problem and that problem was the idol of pleasure in his own heart. Today Samson would be a poster child for pornography. Eventually his choices will lead him to become a blind slave of the Philistines. Samson repents and asks God for permission to die with the Philistines and God grants him the request

3. Saul was the first legitimate King of Israel. Saul was vain and today we’d say mentally unbalanced because he was given to serious fits of rage. Saul’s jealousy of David consumed him. In an epic battle with the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa Saul is mortally wounded. Rather than linger or be captured alive by his enemies Saul orders his armor-bearer to kill him with the sword.

4. Saul’s armor-bearer, perhaps desperate himself and consumed with grief then kills himself.

5. The key to understanding Ahithophel’s suicide is found here: 17:14 Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Arkite sounds better than the advice of Ahithophel.” Now the Lord had decided 11  to frustrate the sound advice of Ahithophel, so that the Lord could bring disaster on Absalom. (Net Bible)

Absalom, David’s son, is in revolt against David. Husai and Ahithopel give counsel to Absalom. Absalom chooses the advice of Husai over the better counsel of Ahithophel. Ahithophel cannot handle the rejection and hangs himself probably concluding he was out of favor with Absalom. The verse clearly credits God with Absalom’s choice as well as the reason-disaster on Absalom.

6. Zimri is noted as having the shortest reign of any of Israel’s kings (northern kingdom). He ruled for just seven days. Zimri had become king after killing Elah who was king and anyone related to Elah. The General of the Army-Omri, out ranked Zimri and wanting to be king himself marched on Tirzah where Zimri was. Zimri had miscalculated and when he saw the situation hopeless he took his own life.

7. Judas Iscariot is the only suicide recorded in the New Testament. Judas regrets his betrayal of Jesus and in despair throws the blood money into the temple and hangs himself. Judas’ repentance was superficial for he never believed that Jesus was God and rather saw him as someone who could lead the zealots against Rome. His despair stemmed from the fact that Jesus was innocent of the accusations leveled against Jesus and perhaps Judas sought to atone for his sin by taking his own life. Matt. 27:3-5

Observations

All of these men mentioned in Scripture who committed suicide were celebrities of sorts. Most were kings or wanna be kings, one was a Judge, one a counselor of some repute and one was a disciple of Jesus and for a time enjoyed the popularity of that association as did the armor bearer of Saul (a high honor).

Samson appears to be the only one who was repentant and his suicide has a different tone to it as God allows him to die in one final act against the worshipers of the false god, Dagon. It is here that perhaps we get a clue as to the suicides of all the others.

With perhaps the exception of Saul’s armor-bearers all were highly ambitious and quite willing to sin to get what they wanted-power! It’s difficult to know what the armor-bearer wanted but we do know what he didn’t want-to live without his king. His sense of loyalty was to Saul and in being the armor-bearer of the king he found his sole source of identity.

Again, with the possible exception of Samson all experienced despair in their final moments. All  had lost hope, all were by modern standards clinically depressed when they took their own lives. All perceived obstacles in their paths that told them their goals were now beyond their reach. They would not get whatever it was they wanted most. All had problems within the inner man, the part of every human being the Bible calls the heart.

Samson at the end turned to God and repented finally realizing that his hope did not rest in the pleasures of Philistine women but in the true God. In Samson’s final days he threw off the slavery to his personal idols and God mercifully allowed him to die and take the followers of Dagon with him.

Some application

I too was saddened by the death of Robin Williams. I thought him to be a comic genius and thought the movie Good Morning Vietnam to be his best piece of work. The media has gone between calling him heroic or calling him a coward for taking his own life. All seem to agree that the depression that drove the suicide is a disease more than a personal choice.

As someone who has struggled with lower-grade depression I can tell you that it can feel like a disease because it consumes your thoughts and you feel like you cannot control them. On the other hand, I  believe that suicide is indeed a choice but one a person feels they must make because they believe they have no other choice.

Depression has more to do what a person feels than what he or she believes and that in my opinion is key to understanding depression from a spiritual point-of-view.

Whatever Robin William’s motives were for killing himself one thing is sure-Williams had lost hope. There were too many obstacles in his mind that he believed crushed his hope.

I have no idea what Mr. Williams believed about God, about Jesus or about the Bible.

I do know that the Bible gives hope to the depressed or what the Bible calls “sorrow without hope.”

The Bible asks in many ways, what do we live for? Do we live for celebrity status and what that means-affirmation, power, control, pleasure or what have you?

The Bible asks what do we ultimately love because  the answer to that question determines what we ultimately worship.

The Bible asks what are our goals? What if those goals are frustrated or unobtainable? Does our happiness depend on us realizing our goals?

The Bible asks what do we fear? Understanding what we fear losing tells us something about what we treasure the most.

The Bible asks what do we crave, what do feel we have to have in order to be happy? Will we sin to get what we want?

The Bible asks who are our heroes and who are our role models? It asks where do we find refuge and comfort, pleasure or security? It asks what is success to us  and how do we define it?

The answers to these questions probe the heart. To the Christian the questions speak to a divided loyalty; like Samson, who loved his pleasures more than he loved his God. To the non-believer these questions make little sense but to the believer they ought to help us determine our loyalty. Are we loyal to the idols that betray us or are we loyal to the God who saves through Jesus Christ?

Depression is suffering. There is no doubt about that and depression that leads to suicide is tragic. How can it be otherwise when a creature created in God’s image decides that life is hopeless.

I write this to my Christian brother’s and sisters. Who do you ultimately live for? Examine your heart and turn to the only one that cam give true hope-Jesus!

For a thorough treatment of depression I recommend the following resources:

Edward T Welch: Depression Looking Up From Stubborn Darkness

Charles D. Hodges, M.D.: Good Mood, Bad Mood-Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder

 David Martyn-Lloyd Jones: Spiritual Depression-It’s Causes and It’s Cure

John Piper: Desiring God-Reflections of a Christian Hedonist (This book can help answer the question of who we live for.)

A few comments on ghosts and spooky things, ok, more than a few…

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A number of years ago when I worked in industry one of my co-workers told me the following story.

He had grown up in rural North Dakota in a small farming community. He said that his small town was religious meaning that they believed in God and that all three denominations represented there got along very well. My friend was maybe two generations removed from his immigrant forefathers as was most of his community.

He said that once when he was a boy he attended a funeral in a person’s home (common in rural communities especially in the 1940s and 50s).

After the service while everyone was chatting there came a number of sharp raps on the door. The door was answered and no one was there. The night was very cold, but there was no wind.

A  seance. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century spiritism was popular both here and in Europe. The vast majority were clever frauds if not all. In some circles it  is still popular and quite contrary to what the Bible teaches.

A séance. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century spiritism was popular both here and in Europe. The vast majority were clever frauds if not all. In some circles it is still popular and quite contrary to what the Bible teaches.

The universal interpretation of the event was the rapping had been done by the recently departed. My friend shared the story in all sincerity knowing I was Bible student and wanting to know what I thought.

It is very difficult to diss someone’s personal experience meaning their interpretation of the event but I told him the following.

My mother also grew up in a rural area and she too was one generation removed from her Polish-German roots. My mother told me almost the same story that my work friend did.

I have not done extensive research on folklore but over the years have heard numerous variations on my friend’s and mom’s stories. It suggests European tradition within a culture or sub-culture that assigns to the dead the ability to say good-bye to loved ones and give them assurance that all is well.

I had to tell my friend that I could not argue with his experience but that the Bible gave no indication that the dead had that kind of ability. He shrugged and that was that.

On another occasion with another co-worker I heard the following.

We worked 3rd shift, also known as the graveyard shift. No pun intended.

My friend lived with his girlfriend and obviously third shift meant leaving her alone.

The day after the Easter weekend he told me that his girlfriend had been wakened in the middle of the night. On top of her was a short ugly being trying to strangle her.

She fought the hideous creature eventually knocking it off the bed and on  to the floor where it knocked over a fan as it ran down the hallway.

Remarkably, she pursued the creature into the bathroom where it vanished into thin air.

When my friend came home that morning he found his girlfriend curled up in a ball clutching her 2nd grade Catholic Catechism.

He then related to me other phenomena that occurred in their apartment such as decorative plates being taken off stands and laid down and him feeling the presence of his father who had died in a horrible accident when he was a boy.

I offered to visit with him and his girlfriend in order to share the gospel. I had been sharing the gospel with my friend prior to this anyway and it seemed that whatever had happened to his girlfriend her greatest need was Jesus not an interpretation of what happened.

The twist on this story was that my friend seemed open to gospel. He interpreted his girlfriend’s experience to his being open to the gospel. His response was to back off our conversations and so declined my offer to visit with both of them.

The movie Ghost from the 1980s starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore was widely popular. It combined the popular notions of the dead returning to say good-bye and give comfort as well as evil spirits coming to take evil people away. I recall it as being an entertaining, non-biblical movie.

The movie Ghost from the 1980s starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore was widely popular. It combined the popular notions of the dead returning to say good-bye and give comfort as well as evil spirits coming to take evil people away. I recall it as being an entertaining, non-biblical movie.

My arguments to the contrary failed to convince him that Jesus was more powerful than anything he or his girlfriend may have experienced.

Shortly after that episode I had an experience that I cannot explain.

The place where we worked had a large store-room behind the work shop. To get there you had travel past another larger work area and pass through two heavy doors. The store-room was a two-floor cavern and was populated by huge shelves and bins where parts were stored. We had to take parts from time to time and place them in the proper bins and I was on such a mission when the experience occurred.

I entered the storeroom and had to depart from the main aisle to find the appropriate shelf. When I found the right bin I suddenly and distinctly heard whispering in both of my ears! The words, if you could them that were unintelligible, but it did sound like multiple voices have a bit of a chat!

I was quite alone! The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I sensed a panic attack setting in as I grasped in vain for a rational explanation.  As if that was not bad enough  I heard a part slide across the floor on the other side of the shelf in the main aisle where I had just been. I immediately departed the area glancing at the main aisle and sure enough a part was on the floor where none had been previously.

I ran back to our work area in the hopes I’d find my two co-workers in hysterical laughter at the joke they had pulled on me. No such luck. They were sober and one remarked that I looked like I had seen a ghost. I related the story and they both came to the conclusion that the place was haunted.

The one who had been in the department  the longest told of the janitor who had been killed horribly by a fork lift truck as the driver made his rounds with the forks up-skewering the unfortunate janitor (a true story I discovered). The interpretation of my event was that the janitor haunted the place. This interpretation was confirmed by a 2nd shift co-worker who said in all sincerity that he had seen a monk like figure appear in the restroom. He connected the apparition to the deceased janitor.

Virtually all American Civil War battlefields carry with them stories of ghosts often accompanied by pictures, sometimes of orbs, sometimes of images of soldiers. A whole industry has grown up around it. The base belief seems to be that people who die horribly due to some trauma wander between two plains of existence until they find peace.

Virtually all American Civil War battlefields carry with them stories of ghosts often accompanied by pictures, sometimes of orbs, sometimes of images of soldiers. A whole industry has grown up around it. The base belief seems to be that people who die horribly due to some trauma wander between two planes of existence until they find peace. http://www.angelsghosts.com/civil_war_cemetery_ghosts.html

The commonality in these three stories is the interpretation that the various people put on the experience.

In the first case an interpretation that the dead return to say good-bye and in the second case evil spirits will torment loved ones because someone becomes interested in Christ.

In my case my co-wokers interpreted my experience to the ghost of a janitor who died horribly. That interpretation fits with the traditional interpretation that people who die in wars or other tragic circumstance sometimes wander between two planes of existence. Take a tour of Gettysburg and learn of the battle there and you will hear more than one story and some will even have videos.

My interpretation of my experience would have been an over active imagination combined with tiredness working at 3 a.m. in the morning had it not been for the part sliding across the floor and resting where there had been no part before.

Because of that I had to modify my interpretation to I cannot explain the experience in a rational, alternative way.

I can tell you what I did next though.

My friends saw my fear, a fear I readily admit. They knew I was a Bible student (very early in my education) and they expected me do something. I had the choice of cowering in our work area or I had the choice to return to the storage area. I knew I had to return to the storage area or lose all credibility with my two co-workers. I knew enough to not go unarmed. I went to the following passage in the Bible I kept in my toolbox:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [13] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [18] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, [19] and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, [20] for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)

I am not certain this was the best passage to go to but it is the one that came to mind, especially verse one and being strong in the Lord. I believed that and with the following verses understood that the Christian’s ultimate battle was against the unseen spiritual things or powers is the way Paul puts it.

I took a few minutes and studied the passage and prayed it best I knew how. I knew that if these things\experiences were real then God allowed them for his reasons. I also knew that the demonic cannot stand against Jesus. I didn’t know much at that time but with that I returned to the storage room.

I cannot explain it but upon entering it was just like any other visit to the store-room. No whispering, no hair standing up on the back of my neck although the part was still on the floor. I returned it to a bin. I came back to our work area and muttered something like, “whatever it was, it’s gone.”

These three stories came to mind as I posted the story that appeared on this blog yesterday-the story of the glass shattering caught on video and the comments debunking the incident as a fraud.

A few observations are perhaps in order here.

1. I think we live in a culture that is increasingly non-Christian (meaning non-gospel centered) but  is still vaguely spiritual and as a result sometimes accepts frauds because it wants to believe in things hard to explain like the video I posted yesterday.

2. I do not see that necessarily as a bad thing as long as it leads to truth as found in Holy Scripture.

3. The Bible does teach the reality of demonic spirits if you take the texts at face value and I do. C.S. Lewis deals with it masterfully in his classic Screwtape Letters.

4. The gospel accounts illustrate the Lord Jesus dealing with the demonic on more than one occasions and the apostle Paul (as cited above in Ephesians) also thought the demonic was the real deal. That is more than good enough for me.

5. It is popular today in church circles, especially liberal ones to dismiss the devil as myth. When they do this they ignore or rewrite Scripture. I do believe there is a right way to interpret Scripture and about 100 wrong ways to interpret it.

6. The Bible condemns divination and the “inquiring of the dead” thus raising the possibility of it being a real occurrence with some sort of real results (King Saul had a witch call up Samuel the prophet\judge. This may be the one time God allowed the real deal, meaning Samuel, to appear, all others being demonic impersonations of the dead.) Anyway, here is  the command to not do such things…

There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer [11] or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, [12] for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV)

7. Whatever else we might say about these things Jesus spoke of a proper fear, in reality the only fear that matters in the end. This is what he said:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 ESV)

Jesus is speaking of God the Father and he is seeking to reassure the disciples that while persecution may take their lives (tradition holds that 11 of the 12 were martyred) their mission was still the gospel and their loyalty to it no matter what they may face.

8. There are plenty of things to fear, including spooky things, but it is the gospel that casts out fear because stronger is he that is in you (if you are a gospel-centered Christian) than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

9. I think many phenomena are not really phenomena but fraud. It’s good and right to be highly skeptical of such things.

10. Somethings are the result of cultural tradition and wishful thinking. I think there is also what is called syncretism. Syncretism in a Christian sense is the combining of Christianity with pagan ideas and beliefs. Just because Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian does not mean everyone became a genuine Christian. Much tradition and pagan belief became part and parcel of average person Christianity. Halloween tied to Roman Catholic All Saints Day is one such obvious example where you have Celtic ghosts integrated into the overall holiday.

11. As I ponder these things I am forced to come back to my source of truth. I believe that the Word of God is truth when rightly divided (interpreted, 2 Tim. 2:15). Without a reliable source of truth we are left to imaginations, traditions and wishful thinking. Jesus is the truth, the living Word of God and if you believe that it seems critical to believe in what the Bible has to say about these things and not go beyond it in speculations.

Book Review_Faith and Feelings

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I think that one of the challenges for a biblical counselor is ministering to the person who has been heavily psychologized and tends to live by their emotions as if emotions were centers of truth. More than once over the course of many years of ministering to people I’ve said, “I do not care what you feel, but do care what you believe.”

Of course I do care about what a person may feel but it’s important for that person to come to terms with the fact that emotions are but one aspect of the soul, are God-given, and designed to illustrate what is going on in their soul (heart). That thought is usually counter-cultural and for many a paradigm shift in their thinking.

In Faith and Feelings: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life Pastor Brian Borgman has written a useful book that lays out a biblical doctrine of emotions.

The first part (Parts 1 & 2) of the book lays out a biblical foundation for understanding our emotions while the second part of the book (Parts 3 & 4) is application as Pastor Borgman discusses the emotions common to man in depression, sinful anger, fear, worry, anxiety, unforgiveness and bitterness. Part 4 is the application of cultivating Godly emotions using Jesus as our model and then the importance of biblical thinking.

I think it’s important to qualify Pastor Borgman’s use of terms “Godly emotions.”

The expression at face value seems to indicate that positive emotions such as joy, a sense of contentment or happiness are automatically “Godly” while the negative emotions like fear, anxiety, sadness (depression) and discontentment are “ungodly.”

The feelings wheel used by AA. http://aca-arizona.org/feelings-wheel/

The feelings wheel used by AA. http://aca-arizona.org/feelings-wheel/

All of our emotions are God-given and in and of themselves are neither Godly or ungodly. Emotions serve or function as warning lights like the lights on the dashboard of a car. They tell you something about what is going on under the hood. What may be going on under the hood may be Godly or ungodly and that’s why the person needs to give the inner man a good hard look especially when the emotions are chronically negative.

To be fair here Pastor Borgman would not argue with me on this and probably consider my point to be a quibble. Fair enough.

As I said I found the book useful especially because it fills a needed niche in the biblical counseling world and so “liked” means to me recommended. The book is well researched, well foot-noted and has a Scripture index.

I got my copy at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, IN. It’s one of the best biblical counseling bookstores around. Faith Baptist Bookstore link

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