I am a member of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (LRF), which is a mission work of the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland. While Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom (UK), Limerick, where the LRF is located, is a city in the Republic of Ireland, a sovereign country independent of the UK. This political difference also defines the difference in religious background, explaining the unique (from a PRC mission work point of view) situation in which the LRF finds itself. Northern Ireland is a roughly even mixture of Protestants and Roman Catholics, and while a lot of the Protestants are in liberal, apostatising denominations, and many don’t even go to church regularly, Northern Ireland nevertheless has one of the highest concentrations of bible-believing evangelicals in Europe. In that way it is somewhat similar to the United States. The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, never truly had a Reformation, such that Protestants are a tiny minority, and only 1-2% of the population are evangelical. Most of the evangelicalism is of the independent Baptist and Pentecostal type, with little to no knowledge of Reformed theology. The nominally Roman Catholic majority is highly secularized, with religion being mostly restricted to Easter and Christmas church attendance; the loss of cultural influence of the once dominant Roman Catholic church was recently underscored by the Irish people voting in gay marriage in a landslide referendum in 2015, during which any appeals to religion for an argument against gay marriage were considered faux pax. Thus the majority is in reality highly secular in the post-Christian, post-modern sense: despising any hint of Christianity while being mostly ignorant of its teachings, they have embraced evolution, hedonism, relativism, and leftism, along with a smidgen of humanistic politeness to give a self-righteous veneer of love.
Thus our mission field, even though in a nominally Christian country, is vastly different from that of most PR churches: the few evangelicals around us mostly despise Calvinism in general and our mission work in particular, while the majority of secular Catholics despise all religion (though non-Christian religions are despised in a politically correct way). As such, most people are not really willing to listen to even the first introduction we make. The question of an unconditional covenant or the free offer of the gospel mean as much to them as the necessity of supersaturation for nucleation means to someone not acquainted with physical chemistry.
Nevertheless, the white horse of the gospel is going forth conquering and to conquer, even in Limerick, Ireland. Jesus, the Lord of the church, has gathered about 15-20 of us from a mostly evangelical independent Baptist background to meet twice a Lord’s Day to hear Reformed sermons by our faithful missionary, Rev. McGeown. Through faithful preaching (we do not have the Lord’s Supper yet as we still lack elders) as well as catechism classes and Bible study, we are being continuously built up in our faith, and most of us have fully embraced the Three Forms of Unity as understood by the PRC. We are learning to live together in the communion of saints; to be better fathers, mothers, children, employees, students, neighbours; to live the antithetical life of grace. As such, we have very similar trials to any established church. That there are so few of us carries the obvious difficulty of discouragement and a lack of older people to be role models (as many of us are young parents), although it does create a very close bond between the members who all know (and love!) each other quite well. Furthermore, King Jesus has been constantly adding people to our fellowship, both through the birth of four covenant children (all of whom Rev. McGeown baptised) and through evangelical contacts becoming convinced of the Reformed faith. Despite this, our fellowship has not grown numerically over the past 2-3 years, as additions have been counter-balanced by very painful losses of members mostly returning to generic evangelical churches.
Recently, however, we have had increased interest from several Muslims and a Hindu. Ireland, like most other Western nations, is experiencing a huge influx of immigrants from India and Muslim countries, and it seems these people are much more interested in talking about religion. The evangelistic lectures that we hold every 2-3 months and have widely advertised in the past are, apart from our own members and usual contacts, only being attended by a handful of Muslims and Hindus that we personally know through work. In years past we focused these lectures and our outreach on the evangelicals in the city, which we seem to have exhausted in terms of interest; we subsequently targeted pious Catholics, with little fruit, and then attempted to reach the unchurched, the secular, for whom we now run very basic lectures such as “Looking at the Meaning of Life” and “Who is Jesus?”, though we have so far also had little to no interest from such unchurched people.
Although we all know it isn’t about numbers, we all are concerned about the lack of numerical growth overall, and would really appreciate prayers for this. The aim of our mission work is to be established as a proper church with elders and deacons; even if all our current members were sufficiently spiritually mature, we would probably still lack the numbers needed to make this happen. Furthermore, we need wisdom to know how to engage people in our culture and to be faithful witnesses to our families and colleagues. We also have several members and families who are experiencing deep, and in some cases long-term health trials. Thus for both these reasons, we covet your prayers that we may remain enthusiastic about the wonderful truth of God’s particular grace that we have learned and now live every day.
Last, let me say that we are all extremely thankful to God for the PRCA: thankful for the rich doctrinal heritage we have received through the PRC, of the Reformed faith in all its glory (the glory of God) as it defends the sovereignty of God and the immutability of his love in all spheres of theology and (covenant) life. We are also extremely grateful for your financial support of our mission work and our missionary pastor. And we are certain that Jesus will build his church, because this he has promised.
Having read the most recent articles in the “Abstruse Melancholy” series, I would like to make a few comments.
First, many thanks to the author for the amount of time and effort that clearly went into writing this series, and many thanks for much of the good practical and medical advice contained therein. The brother has done some excellent work in this respect.
Second, I would like to sound a warning about some of the books recommended in the final installment of this series. Though it is of course true that the Reformed believer may, by the sanctified use of discernment, read things which are not fully in conformity with God’s Word, I feel this does not relieve us of the responsibility to warn others, even other Reformed believers, about the erroneous contents of books. For example, a book by Joyce Meyer was recommended; Meyer is an infamous “word of faith” or “health, wealth and prosperity” false teacher who holds to countless heresies. Another example is the book The Magic of Thinking Big, whose product description on Amazon makes it clear that its purpose is to make people happy—without God, simply by the power of “positive thinking.”
Third, though it is certainly true that with people suffering depression we must be especially willing to “bear all things” and not take personal offense at what they might say, their depression does not absolve them from the need to repent of insulting or verbally hurting people around them. The brother in his final article in this series says that “it’s the depression, not the loved one, that is talking”; at the same time, we must remember that it is always the “old man of sin” that sins, not the new nature, whether the believer is suffering depression or not, and that it is still sin. As the Apostle Paul says, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:17), and the Apostle does not mean that this absolves him from moral responsibility and the need for repentance and forgiveness.
May the Beacon Lights continue to be a ray of light, hope and truth in this dark world.
Yours in Christ, Manuel Kuhs, member of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Ireland.
I would, first and foremost, like to thank brother Kuhs for his kind words of thanks and positive comments about my article series. Many thanks to the Christian brother as well as all those who have made positive remarks about this series. It is all greatly appreciated.
I would now like to respond to what brother Kuhs has said about this last installment. He mentioned the book The Magic of Thinking Big, and says that the product description on Amazon “makes it clear that its purpose is to make people happy—without God, simply by the power of “positive thinking.” Also, that such authors “hate God and write in order to deceive people.”
It is really too bad that the brother feels this way and that he bases any opinion on a product description. True, God is not the focal point of this author and book, but I do still strongly feel that God uses authors and books like this to help his people. I, as well as many other Christian men and women, have read this book many times and have found it to be very beneficial and useful to help clear the “cobwebs” and negativity that constantly gets sucked into our heads from the world. We should then read such books through “the lens of Scripture,” as Dr. David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan would say.
Joyce Meyer was also mentioned and attacked by brother Kuhs. I do not know what brother Kuhs is basing his opinions of Ms. Meyer on, but I would like to thank the brother for his opinion. I do know a fantastic Christian psychologist (as well as many other fellow Christians) who has heard Meyer speak many times and has also read a few of her books. They have all found her teachings to be quite helpful and firmly based on the Word of God. The Word of God which Joyce Meyer teaches will defend itself. Here are a few excerpts from Ms. Meyer, each one from a different book of hers.
If you are in a place right now where nothing in your life makes any sense, trust God anyway.
Second Corinthians 10:4, 5; …any thought that attempts to exalt itself above the Word of God we are to cast it down and bring into captivity to Jesus Christ.
The Lord has to be our Source and Supply. He is the only one who can bring about changes in our lives.
The brother also mentioned how the depressed person still needs to repent of insulting and verbally hurting people around them. I completely agree and never intended to imply otherwise. Dr. Murray gave a depression conference a few weeks ago in Michigan. At that conference, which was taken directly from his little book (Christians Get Depressed Too) which he handed out to all who attended, Dr. Murray mentioned how the body gets physically sick and our spiritual life and our thinking and our feeling processes are also affected. He adds, It is, therefore, no surprise that when our mental and emotional health is poor and when our thinking and feeling processes go awry, there are detrimental physical and spiritual consequences. Does this excuse the depressed person? No, but it does help give us a better understanding to why they act in certain ways, such as verbal assaults. Also, as mentioned before, unless we have gone through depression ourselves, we can’t fully grasp what a depressed person is going through and how their thinking and feelings are so different.
It is also true what brother Kuhs said about it being the old man of sin that sins and that it is still sin, however we may look at it. We do need to be ever so careful how we look at sin with depression and also not to blame our depression on our sin. As Dr. Murray also points out in his book, it is both wrong and harmful to blame our depression on our sin, because it increases false guilt and deepens feelings of failure. It also makes depressed Christians seek a spiritual solution to a problem that may actually originate in the body, life events, lifestyle, or unhelpful thought patterns. We should still leave the possibility that a depression may occasionally be the result of specific sin or sins (as prophet David mentions in Psalm 32).
Many thanks again to the brother for his opinions and kind words. May God use all this kind of information to help us better understand what a depressed person is going through and how we can help them. May we also always remember to use the lens of Scripture when reading any non-biblical literature that we may find to be very helpful when dealing with depression. May all things serve his purpose!
In Christ’s never-ending love, Dan Bergman.
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)
Whatsoever we do? Really? Including eating and drinking? What about after a hard day’s work helping my parents, surely a few hours in the evening I can just please myself?
The inspired Apostle teaches us, that in everything we are to have the glory of God as our first and primary aim. This includes eating, sleeping, laughing, playing, doing homework and cleaning our rooms. As a preacher once said in all seriousness, it even includes “drinking a glass of orange juice.”
Or, to put it another way, it is sin to live even one second in a day not for the glory of God.
What is the foundation of this command? Ultimately, it is this: “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:16). The triune God is devoted in all his being and doing, every part of it, to his own glory, and we ought to be likewise.
This has very serious implications for us. It means it is not acceptable for our mindset to be, “as long as this isn’t outright sin…;” or, “I read the Scriptures this morning, prayed, did my homework, and now I can just do what I want.”
Rather, the decisive question for everything we do, from brushing our teeth to going to church, ought to be, “how may I please my Lord in this situation?” Thus, what God says to us about our time is, “use all the time that I have given to thee in order to honour me in thy heart and actions.”
Using all our time for the glory of God does not mean that we ought never to enjoy the good things of this world. We are not Anabaptists. The idea that everything that a Christian does must be explicitly “spiritual” and that a Christian cannot enjoy the good things of this world is nothing but asceticism. These rules of “touch not; taste not; handle not” have indeed a show of wisdom and humility, but are in fact nothing but will worship and despising the good things God has made (Col. 2:20-23). There is nothing wrong with playing games or going out for a fancy dinner occasionally. Rather, in doing these things, we ought to ensure that we are serving our heavenly Father. For example, when we play games with our younger siblings, we ought to put the desire to help them above the desire to win. Or when we invest in some nice food, we ought to receive it from God with gratitude in our hearts (I Tim. 4:4-5), and to have conversation pleasing to him while eating. Thus, not only is it not sin to enjoy the things of this world, but God is actually honoured as the Giver of these good things through our faithful enjoyment of them. As Solomon says, “it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion…this is the gift of God“ (Ecc. 5:18,19)—and to despise God’s gifts and not rejoice in them is sin. However, this liberty ought never to be taken as an excuse to indulge the flesh (Gal. 5:13) and of course it is only liberty to enjoy the good things of this world, since we ought to hate all else (I Jn. 2:15).
As we hear this high standard of God, the new man in us will cry, “I can never do this! I cannot in this life do everything without fail in obedience to God’s revealed will!”
And so the first response of faith, that precious union with our Saviour Jesus Christ, is to flee to him for refuge from the fiery wrath of the holy triune God. Though I am writing this article, I am not writing from the viewpoint of one who has fully achieved what he sets forth, but one who struggles daily to forsake himself and cleave to God. And so we must always keep this in mind as we pursue a life of complete devotion to him: If the Apostle Paul could not perfectly serve God with all his time (Rom. 7:14ff), neither can we. Therefore we must continually cry in our hearts: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (vv. 24-25).
This also is the foundation upon which we must build a good stewardship of our time: Not a desire to earn God’s favour, nor the lustful yearning of our sinful hearts to prove ourselves better than our friends, but rather the truth that, as our beloved Heidelberg Catechism formulates it, “I with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…” (Q&A 1; cf. I Cor. 6:19). Being assured of this by Spirit-worked faith, our Father calls upon us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1) out of thankfulness for what he has done for us in Christ (Eph. 5:8).
It is worthwhile at this point to quote John Calvin:
We are not our own: Let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal…
Let this therefore be the first step, that a man depart from himself in order that he may apply the whole force of his ability in the service of the Lord.
The very first thing we must do to dedicate all our time to serving the living God is to believe in the forgiveness of our sins for the sake of Christ. Otherwise, it will be cold legalism. Assurance (an integral part of faith) will free us to love God from the heart, so that we are in sweet fellowship with him and so that we can obey him out of thankfulness. Assurance, and joy (which is a result of assurance), we attain not by trying to work up in ourselves fake emotions, or looking for some sort of mystical, Puritan experience, but primarily by faithful attendance to the means of grace, namely, the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the sacraments in a true church, which must be mixed by sincere faith from the heart (Heb. 4:2). In this way, we will be readied for offering our time as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to him.
Having this foundation before us is the great battle in our struggle to offer all our time to God. The main reason we fail (and we will often fail) in using our time wisely is not that we are lacking the practical advice we need, but that our hearts are far from God and we love the things of this world more than he who loved us and gave his Son for us.
Loving God is where our main struggle will be.
However, practical advice is not useless (see for example the book of Proverbs). I will now seek to share some practical pointers from my own experience, based upon biblical principles, as to how we might better use our time.
First, think of the example of Christ in the Gospels. He was very aware of the divine schedule to which he must keep (John 2:4, 7:30), always conscious of the will of his father (John 5:30b). This good order in his life is of course a reflection of the perfect order of God in all his dealings within the Trinity and with his creatures. From this, we can gather that it would be a good idea to more consciously plan out how we will use and order our time, rather than doing everything spontaneously. God is a God of order.
Second, following on from the previous point, well thought-out daily routines play a big part in an effective use of time. Imagine if the church council had to think up service times and orders of worship every Lord’s Day anew, so that they changed every week—there would be a lot of confusion! In the same way, if for example our private study of scripture or prayer times change every day and are left to whenever they can be squeezed in, they probably will not be of good quality or will even be skipped more and more. Though it is certainly not sin to skip a day’s private scripture reading for good reason, this can easily become a habit in itself if we are not careful to maintain that routine. This need for a routine is rooted in the fact that God created us this way, which he strongly signified by the cycles of night and day, the seven-day week with a day of rest and the four seasons of the year. We are indeed “creatures of habit.”
Third, as we try to become more disciplined in our use of our time, we should be careful not to become overzealous by setting too high targets for ourselves or by consciously planning out every single thing we can possibly think of. I remember in my first year in college I decided that getting up 20 minutes prior to leaving for lectures (that is, 8:30) was far too late, so I resolved to get up at 7am—and completely failed for the first week. Eventually, I realised I should gradually work my way toward an early start, which then worked quite well (by the grace of God). The example of wicked King Saul’s overzealous command that his army not eat any food until the evening is a good example of setting too high a target (I Sam. 14:24ff).
Which brings me to the fourth point. Something many of us young people struggle with is too much sleep; we all like to sleep in in the mornings. However, the Proverb comes to us, “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (6:10-11). Though there are times when it is fine to sleep in, this should probably be the exception rather than the rule. It is a good idea to get up early in time to begin the day with devotional reading and prayer (though some of my friends find they can do devotions better in the evenings). Getting up early in the morning and being well rested (after the initial 5 minutes of drowsiness, of course) is a great way to start the day! Especially as part of a daily routine, regular bed and waking times are very important, not least because irregular sleeping patterns are not good for our bodies physically.
Fifth, a good principle to use is, “first work, then play.” My mum drilled this into me and I am very thankful to her for it. If we “play” first, it is all too easy to “play” too long so we do not leave ourselves sufficient time to do our house chores or homework. Also, “play” is much more enjoyable if it follows “work” (and conversely, “play” isn’t as enjoyable when we are skipping or procrastinating “work”). This principle will also help us as we become adults, when we will have to work for everything (before) we eat, drink and enjoy. And, of course, it is a principle found in God himself, who created the world in six days, and then rested in and enjoyed his finished creation on the seventh, just as Christ worked to accomplish our salvation and then entered into his heavenly rest.
And until we enter into that same rest when our earthly labours have come to an end, let us grow in grace through the means appointed thereunto by the almighty, so that we might more and more offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, that the church might be built up, the elect saved, the reprobate wicked justly condemned, and God receive the glory that is due to his name.