Always Winter, and Never Christmas: Dealing With Discouragement

When Lucy first entered Narnia in C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas had not been there for years. The land was subject to endless winter, with none of the joys a holiday like Christmas brings to such cold surroundings. Each day brought the same bleakness.

There are seasons of our life that seem like they will never end. Unlike the Narnians, we actually had the Christmas season a couple months ago, but what follows is the immensely unmotivating ordinary time, as the liturgists call those days. This is the time where the lights are no longer sparkling at night but continue to hang, reminders of yet another chore to get done. The time when the thrill of gifts have faded, freshly fallen bleach-white snow (depending where you live) has turned to sloshy, gray guck, and the chill is porous, settling into your bones. Warm weather is far in the future, and some places still have the fifth season, “mud season”, to anticipate.

How do we get ourselves past the doldrums? How do we keep ourselves from getting mired down in the Slough of Despond described in Pilgrim’s Progress? Some may have grown up in households where pessimistic, cynical attitudes were the norm. “That will never happen; things will never change; you can’t trust anybody.” It may be harder for some to escape the quicksand than it is for others. Our culture is saturated with advice in “positive thinking”: say daily affirmations, read uplifting (albeit untrue) inspirational quotes; pursue your own dream and don’t let anyone stop you. However, the solution is not to chant positive affirmations, but to remember the reality God has revealed in His word:

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.” -Ps. 121

 

How did Pilgrim escape the Slough of Despond? Help came along, gave him a hand, and pulled him out. To remember the reality God has revealed in His word, we must know what the word says. When facing discouragement, it is always good to start with what God has revealed about Himself.

“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” – Malachi 3:6

Christian, are you being consumed? This may be a terrible time in your life. You do not know how you will make the next step, or how you will endure the pain or frustration you are feeling. You are not sure you can go on, and do not know how your circumstances can change. But are you being consumed? If we are honest, we have to admit that we are not. As painful as whatever ailment we are experiencing is, we are still present on this earth. We are not utterly destroyed.

Why, despite the discouragements that surround us, are we not consumed? Because of the nature of God. God does not change. Since God does not change, His Word does not change. And what has He said about this life on earth? Even if it seems like our circumstances will never change, or that we will never change, God has said that they will:

“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease.” -Genesis 8:22

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6

Change will come. The mud will dry, the sun will shine, and warmth will once again be felt. Your current suffering, the trial of today, your season of suffering, will end. It may end tomorrow like a fairy tale, or it may end at the moment of your death. But it will end someday.

Press onward, despite your circumstances, despite the discouragement, despite the long winter that each day fails to bring about the Christmas you long to see. We can keep moving because change is inevitable. The One who does not change has said so, and He will not consume us.

 

All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.

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“Graciousness: Tempering the Truth With Love” by John Crotts – A Review

Crotts, John. Graciousness: Tempering the Truth With Love; Reformation Heritage Books, 2018. 152 pages.

Graciousness is out of style these days. Social media, politicians’ rhetoric, and talk show hosts agree: severe, stinging smackdowns are the indicator of correctness. Such tones are hard to hear, and do not convince the opposing side to warm to the ideas so harshly conveyed. However, such harshness is not only produced by the world out there, but also by fellow Christians and even ourselves. We are capable of snapping at our children or spouse, getting into heated debates with other believers, and sending cutting remarks on social media. How do we cultivate graciousness in our speech? How can we stand firm for the truth while at the same time be gentle? John Crotts, in his book Graciousness: Tempering the Truth With Love ,answers these questions.

Through the easily readable ten chapters, Crotts defines what graciousness is, looks at Biblical examples of graciousness, and offers practical applications for increasing in graciousness. The example of Jesus is pondered, as well as the example of Paul. He also contrasts such with examples of harshness, giving the reader concrete examples to aid them in thinking through the topic. Application to one’s own life is the goal, helping the reader to recognize harshness, repent of it, and replace it with graciousness.

I would not hesitate to give this book to a new Christian. Crotts takes the time to explain Bible passages that might not be familiar to those not well-versed in the Scriptures. The short chapters and simple text are ideal for those used to reading modern how-to books. One criticism I have is that the text is almost too simplified at times, making some sections seem choppy. The chapter dealing with Paul was especially short, and it would have been nice to see his contrasts between harshness and graciousness expanded more deeply. However, the goal of encouraging the reader to examine his own attitudes and to desire to grow in graciousness is accomplished succinctly and successfully.

This is an important book for Christians who interact with others. (So, basically, everyone that claims the title Christian!) Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, and as Christians we ought to be striving to cultivate such fruit. John Crotts has delivered a practical, helpful book to aid in such cultivation.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for this review.

Looking Back, And Moving Forward.

2017 was a difficult year for me. From January onward, there were events that kept me asking, “Do I trust Him now?” The biggest change of the year, however, occurred at the end. In December my church held its last service.

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(Sorry, but I had to pause a moment after writing that.)

Through the Lord’s design, it was my local church for seven years. A small band of believers, desiring to start a Reformed Baptist church, began meeting seven years ago. Two months after those believers started worshiping together, my family and I moved from New England to South Carolina. We attended the nearby Presbyterian church, not aware of any Reformed Baptist churches in the area. A member of that PCA church knew of the little work that band of believers had begun. Knowing they needed a pastor, and knowing my husband had ministry experience and Baptist convictions, this member put us in touch with that group. Thus the hand of Providence led us to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church.

Like so many other lone “1689r’s” out there wondering how to get a church started in their area, we did not have support from any outside organization. There were only three households to begin with. People came and went. Through the preaching of the word, our membership grew. Out-of-town visitors brought wonderful times of fellowship, and some members drove an hour to attend. We had no programs, no cool music, and our meeting place wasn’t the greatest  – yet the Word was preached, the ordinances were performed, and church discipline was enacted. The Lord was glorified by the work.

This time last year I had no inkling that our church would even be considering dissolving. However, various Providences throughout 2017 indicated that by the end of the year it was time to do so. It was a bittersweet time for the little band that was left, as we now go our separate ways to join other churches. There is much uncertainty as to what 2018 has in store for my family. It still hurts me, as I see the need for such a work in this area. Yet the Lord is sovereign, and He will bring the increase in His time.

Reader, I don’t know what trials you might be going through. But I know my own, and despite the difficulty of waiting on the Lord, I know that He proves faithful. He has shown it to me through this past year. He has shown it in the the kind words of visitors. He has shown it in the hospitality of fellow Christians opening their home to a large family they barely know. He has shown it by pastors driving several hours to offer advice to a struggling pastor they’ve never met. Most importantly, He has shown it in the life and death of His Son.

So throughout all that 2018 brings, continue to look to Him. Seek to serve Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength this year. No obedience to God will prove worthless.

Jesus! what a help in sorrow!
While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my comfort, helps my soul.

Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
Hallelujah, what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

-J. Wilbur Chapman

 

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 365

 

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Day 365

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 3.

“…so will he have the day unknown to Men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour, the Lord will come; and may ever be prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly, Amen.

Scripture Lookup

 

Mark 13:35-37

Luke 12:35-40

Revelation 22:20

Reflection

Jotting stuff down on my calendar lets me determine my priorities. This way I know how to get ready: do I have time to get this errand done? Do I have to be concerned that x,y, and z haven’t happened yet?  With a schedule, I determine the course of the day. I am in charge!

To my carnal self, knowing the date of the Last Day would be ultra convenient. Looking at the number of people who have claimed to know the exact day of Christ’s return, I’m guessing I’m not alone. But we are clearly told in Scripture that no one knows the day or the hour. (Mark 13:32) Why leave us in suspense?

By withholding the date of the Last Judgment, we are completely dependent upon God for our tomorrow. We know that there will be a day when justice and mercy will be meted out in full measure; we are to be content with that. Living however we want for a time and then cleaning up our act will not work. We must anticipate His arrival at any moment.

Waiting for the Lord to come can be wearying, though. As a mom, I am always “on” when watching my young kids. I don’t want anything to happen to them, so I do my best to  keep them out of trouble. When night comes, I can breathe easily when they are finally asleep, knowing I have a break. In a similar way, when the Lord finally comes, our battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil will end. We will no longer have to be vigilant, because there will be no sin to fight. Longing for that day to come, and for it to come quickly, is a good thing. In doing so we recognize our weakness and look to Christ to fulfill His salvation. He will give us the strength to endure, but even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Amen.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you anticipating the Last Day? Why or why not?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 364

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Day 364

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 3.

As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a Day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity;…”

Scripture Lookup

 

2 Corinthians 5:10,11
2 Thessalonians 1:5-7

Reflection

We know that the Last Day is a certain event. Scripture has revealed to us several times how Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, and how His kingdom will have no end. But it is an event so foreign to our everyday existence, it almost seems like it won’t happen. Why does God, through Scripture, give us the certainty of a Last Day?

Knowing that there is a Day of Judgment coming requires action. A response is required to the fact that the kingdom of God is at hand. Because there is coming a day of judgment, all of humanity is called to repentance. Unbelievers are called to repent and trust in Christ for their salvation. Believers as well are called to repent, to “abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) Being aware that the Last Day is a fixed event reminds us the need to prepare now for its arrival.

The certainty of the the Last Judgment also encourages Christians to persevere. It is easier to endure hardship when you know there will be a happy ending. This sinful world, with all its hatred and evil, will cease. The justice of the Lord will be made manifest to all at the appointed time. As painful, hard, and difficult the trials faced in this life may be, they do not compare with the eternal glory that is to come on the Last Day.

Questions to Consider

  • How is the certainty of the Last Judgment affecting your life right now?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 363

Day 363

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 2.

The end of God’s appointing this Day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his Mercy, in the Eternal Salvation of the Elect; and of his Justice in the eternal damnation of the Reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient; for then shall the Righteous go into Everlasting Life, and receive that fulness of Joy, and Glory, with everlasting reward, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who do not know God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into Eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”

Scripture Lookup

Romans 9:22,23

Matthew 25:21,34

2 Timothy 4:8

Matthew 25:46

Mark 9:48

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10

 

 

Reflection

 

When thinking about the Last Judgment, we have a tendency to focus on what is going to happen to us. Knowing that the elect will be saved and the wicked will be punished forever gives hope to the Christian, as well as urgency to share the gospel with the lost. Such knowledge is important, but is the purpose of the Last Day to give happy or sad endings to people? The reason for the Last Judgment is to glorify God.

Way back in Chapter 2, paragraph 3 of the Confession, we learned why this Last Day would occur in the manner described in Scripture. The LBCF states:

By the decree of God for the manifestation of his glory some men and angels, are predestinated, or fore-ordained to Eternal Life, through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice. (italics added)

When the Last Judgment occurs, God’s full glory will be manifest to all humanity. For the Christian, this means receiving the fullness and glory of joy, the joy of being in full communion with Christ. No longer will we walk by faith, but we will see Christ. No longer will our sin prevent us from being in God’s presence. His mercy will be abundantly demonstrated when He invites us in: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father…” (Matthew 25:34). Because of Jesus Christ, we see the final act of salvation – eternal life, singing the praises of God’s glorious grace.

The wicked will also glorify God on the Last Day, but in a manner quite different from that of the saints. In the Last Judgment, those who do not belong to Christ receive everlasting torment and punishment. They do not benefit from Christ’s grace and mercy; rather they see the justice of God on full display against sin. In this God is also glorified, for all will realize that He is holy.

In the end, all of creation and all of time exist for God’s glory. The Last Day, accompanied by the Last Judgment, are no exception. At that day we will see God’s “wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy” (LBCF 5.1) in all its splendor, and we will praise Him for it. May we practice giving such praise to God even now!

Questions to Consider

  • Do you view the Last Day with God’s glory in mind?

 

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 362

Day 362

Of the Last Judgment.

Chapter 32, Paragraph 1.

God hath appointed a Day wherein he will judge the world in Righteousness, by Jesus Christ; to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father; in which Day not only the Apostate Angels shall be judged; but likewise all persons that have lived upon the Earth, shall appear before the Tribunal of Christ; to give an account of their Thoughts, Words, and Deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Scripture Lookup

 

Acts 17:31

John 5:22,27

1 Corinthians 6:3

Jude 6

2 Cor. 5:10

Ecclesiastes 12:14

Matthew 12:36

Romans 14:10,12

Matthew 25:32-46

Reflection

The day is coming when Christ will judge us. The One who has all power and authority will judge every single person who has lived on this earth besides Himself. Humanity will stand before him, not as a group, but individually, each one giving account for his actions, thoughts, and speech. Even the fallen angels will be judged on that day, to receive their just recompense.

For a believer, the thought of judgment by Christ can be apprehensive. We know time and time again that we do not measure up. To have our sin presented before Jesus is a scary thought. Yet we do not have to fear! While we live in this life we are fallen creatures. Christ knows that, and He has bought us for His own. Our sin has been paid for; we have been fully forgiven because of Christ’s work. The same God who forgives you now will not suddenly change His mind on the last day. Christian, do not fear the last judgment, but continue to look to Him for your salvation!

 

“Yes, Christ saved me,” you may argue. “But won’t we be judged by our works?” It says in this paragraph of the Confession, “…to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.” It is true that only those who have done good works will receive eternal life. But where do those works come from? Earlier on in the Confession it speaks of these good works.: “[Believers’] ability to do good works is not at all of themselves; but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.”(LBCF  6.3) Because they are good they proceed not from us, but from His Spirit. Our works cannot merit eternal life. They have been defiled with imperfection, since they were done in a body that was still corrupt with sin. Instead the works approved by Christ are evidence that those who did such are one of His purchased saints, and He will lose none (John 6:39).

Christian, this life will someday pass away. Until then, continue to look to Christ. “The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1) We can anticipate the last day with hopeful expectation, for He will prove faithful until the end.

 

Questions to Consider

  • How do you view the last judgment? Are you scared, hopeful, or ambivalent?