Archives For Shepherding

January 18, 2017

Love & Irritability

by Eric Davis
Formal_Place_Setting

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It was a typical night waiting tables in the fine dining room of the country club. Napkins were creased, flowers centered, and tables angled just right. Then my manager came to me with a warning I’ll never forget.

“Ok, Eric. Mr. So-and-so has a reservation tonight at 6pm.” Since I was newer, I did not know Mr. So-and-so. “You need to be warned about a few things. He doesn’t handle it well if things are not done his way.” The dining room manager proceeded to list a myriad of aesthetic and culinary requirements for Mr. So-and-so’s dining experience. The napkin had to be this way. The waiter had to approach him and his table a certain way. The water had to be poured in a particular manner. He had to be addressed in a certain way and tone. The food had to be set with a particular method. From start to finish, Mr. So-and-so’s dining experience came with several fiery hoops through which the dining staff must flawlessly leap. I was amazed. Working for a bit in fine dining, I was familiar with customer preferences and particularities. But this exceeded them all. “And if you do it wrong,” my manager warned, “you will anger him.”

As bad as all that is, I see too much of Mr. So-and-so in myself in various ways.

“Love…is not easily provoked” (1 Cor. 13:4,5).

Often we think of love in terms of a feeling or emotion. But here, God describes it as a demeanor in which we are not easily provoked towards potentially irritating people and circumstances. This is tough. Life is never lived in the sterile confines of a sinless, utopian laboratory well-removed from the Curse’s numerous provocations. This side of heaven, we are either about to be provoked, being provoked, just having been provoked, or some combination of the three. Everything inside and outside of us has the potential to provoke in one way or another.  Continue Reading…

Dealing with SinA couple of years ago, our church had the privilege of hosting a number of law enforcement officers from our community for morning services. More than 100 police officers who patrol the city of Los Angeles responded to John MacArthur’s invitation to join us for a Sunday morning that, in part, honored their commitment to protecting our society and gave them the opportunity to hear what the Word of God has to say about them: the civil authorities. Pastor John preached on the various institutions that God has raised up for the sake of restraining evil and maintaining order in a society: the conscience, the family, the government, and the church. Each of these God-ordained institutions, he explained, serves to restrain evil and maintain order in a society.

As would be expected, Pastor John focused on the institution of government that morning. But there’s reason to focus on the fourth of those institutions as well. Just as there is a great need for law and order to keep the peace in a civil society, so also is there a need for such law and order in the church. A civil society that has no laws, or that has no system of order to enforce those laws—no system to punish and rehabilitate offenders—is doomed to chaos. So severe is the nature of human depravity that a society of depraved human beings unrestrained by law and order is just unthinkable.

And the same is true of the church. Now, it’s true that our depravity has been overcome by the work of Christ on the cross. It’s true that we who are believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of us, directing our desires and causing us to strive against the flesh, and leading us to walk in righteousness. But those realities are not true for all who enter through the doors of the church on Sunday. Even within the visible church, there are those who believe that they’re saved, but who have not yet turned from their sins and put their trust in Christ alone for their righteousness. And for those who have been born again—even though we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin through the Gospel—we have not yet been set free from the presence of sin in our flesh. Galatians 5:17 reminds us: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Paul says elsewhere, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7:21–23).

And so even though we who belong to Christ have been declared righteous in God’s sight on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, we nevertheless strive against the presence of remaining sin in our flesh. It is unhappy but all too familiar reality: Christians sin. And that means that the church needs to know how to deal with sin in its midst. There needs to be law and order in the church—a process for identifying, disciplining, and rehabilitating sinners.

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“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Though he was facing a brutal death before the ink could dry, I imagine that the apostle Paul had great joy at the time he wrote those words. Nothing could’ve been more thrilling to him than to be able to finish well. Nothing could’ve put him at greater peace prior to execution than having faithfully run the race in biblical ministry.

I recall sitting before our elders and professors just prior to launching into pastoral ministry: “You are going to have to keep a long obedience in the same direction.” With only eight years of pastoral ministry in the church I serve, I often think about the need to endure, especially as I see men in my generation disqualifying. And even more especially as the Lord shows me my own weaknesses.

For help in ministry longevity, it makes sense to look to those men who, by God’s grace, have weathered decades of the normal ministry storms without sinking. In our day, one of those is Dr. John MacArthur. This February, Dr. MacArthur will have been faithfully shepherding Grace Community Church for 48 years. That’s about 576 months or 2496 Sundays.

Whatever an individual with that track record has to say about ministry longevity is going to be valuable. In a sermon that I have found particularly helpful, Dr. MacArthur draws from the apostle Paul’s life, giving nine characteristics of an enduring ministry (each point will be summarized):

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holding-handsI still remember the hike I was on when I was confronted. A couple from our church noticed that my relationship with my girlfriend was unhealthy. We were not sinning sexually, but they thought that we were being unwise. We were spending far too much time together. I arrived at the Masters College with a desire to serve the Lord for the rest of my life, I had never dated before and was not prepared to enter into a relationship. Little did I know that on the first day of school I would meet the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. We began hanging out, and very soon we were studying together, having meals together, and pretty much spending hours a day together. And despite the fact that we were being pure, we were risking a great amount.

Looking around today it is quite difficult to find a couple who is dating wisely. Many people sleep together (even some within the church), and those who don’t, seem to get to the point where they are acting married soon after they begin their relationship. Some spend far more time together than most married couples do. They text each other dozens of times a day, they have most meals together and they spend full days together. They may call each other names of endearment, and talk about the kind of furniture they want to buy for their home together. Maybe they refer to each other as “my guy” or “my girl” before there is any real commitment. And even if they are staying sexually pure there can still be areas that need to be re-evaluated within their relationship. Of course, there must be time spent together in order for them to get to know each other to determine whether they ought to marry. I don’t know your heart or situation, nor am I the Holy Spirit, all people in a relationship must look to their own heart in order to determine whether they’re acting married in any way. Following are five dangers to consider when in a dating relationship that looks like a marriage.

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The Pastor and Counseling, by Jeremy Pierre (Dean of Students at Southern Seminary) and Deepak Reju (Counseling Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church), is an excellent little book written for pastors who find themselves with a desire to counsel, but don’t quite know where to begin. It serves as a how-to manual, walking pastors through the biblical mandate for counseling as well as the practical process for creating a culture of counseling in the church. It covers everything from how to start a counseling session through the last meeting.

In terms of biblical counseling, this is not a particularly deep book. It doesn’t have a developed argument against psychology in counseling—although they do say that one of a pastor’s primary roles is to “depsychologize” people’s understanding of their problems. Pierre and Reju don’t give a verse-by-verse description of the content of your counseling session. This is not a “what verses help people with anger?” kind of book.   Continue Reading…

summer-2011-145With each passing year it seems like life gets busier, making it harder to prioritize priorities. Even church can get crowded out of our schedule. While there are legitimate reasons why we cannot always gather for things like Sunday worship and home groups, we ought to be cautious here. Often times, we forsake gatherings for not-the-best reasons.

In no particular order, here are a few reasons why we often miss church gatherings but probably do not need to.

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depressionDepression and discouragement are not respecters of the holidays. For many reasons, the normal sorrow of life can reach a highpoint this time of year for some.

It may be a reminder that we are without a loved one. It may be financial stress, or loss, in a time where the pressure is to purchase. It might be emotional pressure of getting together with broken family. We just may not have a clue why we are discouraged, which can be discouraging itself. We can, even unintentionally, place big demands on this time of year to deliver and fulfill us in impossible ways, apart from God.

And Christmas time or not, many of us experience the normal, heavy weight of discouragement and depression as a regular thing; dejection, confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, anxiousness, anger, darkness, despair.

But God has answers and real hope from his word for the battle.

Here are 11 truths for strength in sorrow:

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brain-thinking

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One of the greatest responsibilities we have as humans is to learn how to correctly use our minds. In yesterday’s post, we began looking at common problems we run into when exercising reason and logic from Isaac Watts’ book on Logic. We are creatures made with logic and reasoning capabilities. We are made by a logical and rational Creator. Thus, we are obligated to exercise our minds with correct reasoning in all things. But this does not always come naturally.

We began looking at what Watts calls, “prejudices of thought,” which are common errors we make in our reasoning skills. Here are the final three prejudices, which are both the most common and serious:

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As I look back, one of my greatest educational irritations is that I never was offered a class on thinking. Even if I was, I probably would not have taken it. Consequently, I operated contently with a sloppiness of thought and did not know it. And the problem seems to be widespread. Our day is one which is filled with thinking errors. We persuade with sentiment and experience rather than truth and logic. Rules of reason are violated often in the public sphere with little concern. Subjective fancies carry more sway in convincing us than objective revelation. It’s a day of serious errors in thought and reason.

Enter a well-educated, logic ninja, Puritan to the rescue. Isaac Watts is typically most known for his classic hymns, especially “Joy to the World,” which is resounding this time of year. But in his spare time amidst pastoring, writing children’s poetry, books, and 750 hymns, he wrote an excellent book on how to think. Written in 1724, it is concisely-titled, Logic: The Right Uses of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth  With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. It’s a great introductory book on the art and science of responsible human thinking, or, logic. For about two centuries, it was the go-to textbook at places like Oxford and Cambridge (where Watts was earlier forbidden from attending for his non-conformism), and Harvard and Yale.

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It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones–C. S. Lewis

Picture by Albert Bridge

In his introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation, C. S. Lewis engages in something of an apologetic for reading old books. Lewis felt reading old books was essential, even though the wisdom of reading old books is not always self-evident. But it is a good idea to read old books, and you should value reading them for they will benefit you in numerous ways.

There are a number of bad reasons to avoid reading old books, which you should never use as an excuse to avoid reading old works of literature. I list four of them here, quoting Lewis liberally to make the point.   Continue Reading…