Archives For Shepherding

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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…

love-buttonWhether you are for or against the sport of hunting, I’m confident you’d agree that there are certain dangers attached to the activity, especially when there are other hunters afoot. And it’s safe to assume that the risk of those dangers would be increased when visibility is diminished. It is obviously safer (for the humans) to hunt in daylight than in the fog.

Honorable hunters adhere to a code: they don’t use laser scopes, for example, as this can cause the animal to freeze in a proverbial “deer-in-the-headlights” fashion, which is frowned upon as unsporting—as if binocular vision, opposable thumbs, and access to a firearm doesn’t make fairness a moot point anyway.

As fundamental as visibility is to hunting, in Texas (of course) even the blind are permitted to use guns. Visually impaired hunters, however, are only permitted to pull the trigger when accompanied by a surrogate sighted guide who peers over their shoulder and gives the all clear.

A hunting blind is a structure used to mask the scent and visibility of the hunter from his prey. But blind hunting inverts the logic of that effort, rendering the prey impossible to spot while the hunter is exposed. It wouldn’t be illegal to hunt wearing a blindfold; it would just be obtuse.

And yet in a similarly obtuse way, Christians who seek for a spouse online are willingly impairing their ability to discern.

From time to time a millennial congregant will ask—on behalf of a friend, of course—if it is biblically permissible for Christians to subscribe to online dating sites. I explain that although the concordance at the back of a study Bible doesn’t have the words “online” or “eHarmony” listed, the word of God is still as relevant today as it was for forlorn singles in the Ancient Near East, such as Adam, Isaac, and the 200 Benjamite bachelors of Judges 21.

One possible misstep when scouring the Bible for advice on spouse-seeking, is to view narrative descriptions as patterns to emulate. I hope it’s incontestable that neither waiting for God to supernaturally create a bride from your rib as Adam did, nor the kidnapping plot of the Benjamites, are intended to be normative for Christian singles.

The truth is that God’s word deliberately leaves great liberty in the area of match-making. But just because a method may be permissible does not mean it is wise. “All things are lawful but not all things are profitable.”

So, in honor of Cyber Monday, here are some essential factors in romantic matches that online dating robs you of:

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Does 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 give people permission to divorce, as long as they do not remarry?

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

It is easy to see why this verse could be interpreted as giving license for Christians to divorce, so long as they then remain single. But a closer look reveals that this verse is actually in keeping with the Bible’s consistent teaching on divorce and remarriage.  Continue Reading…

what-is-loveOver the past week evangelicalism has witnessed an intriguing exchange surrounding the LGBTQ issue. Briefly, it began when RNS posted an interview with Jen Hatmaker in which she affirmed the holiness of LGBT relationships, to which Rosaria Butterfield responded, to which RNS responded.

In reading these articles, and others like it, there seems to be a common confusion lining the discussion: What is love? What is unloving? What criteria determines if something is loving or not? Often the unloving penalty flag is (unlovingly) thrown into the mix of these conversations. It’s not possible to dissect all the issues. But briefly, it’s worth pushing pause and examining what we often label “loving” and “unloving.”

Individuals are correct when they insist on the priority of love. “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). All that God commands is summed up in love. But this demands a question: why should the God of the Bible serve as the standard for love, or anything for that matter? After all, while my unregenerate friend agrees that love is priority, he would take issue with the proposition that the God of the Bible is the standard and definer of love. On one hand, the answer involves a study of Bibliology; matters pertaining to the revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, and canonicity of the Bible. This article assumes these things. If needed, one might begin familiarizing themselves on those topics here and here.

With that premise, we can move forward. Consider for a moment what happens if I do not have an objective standard on what is and is not love. Love will be interpreted as whatever feels loving to me or a particular subculture. The problem is that without an objective definition external to myself, I really have no absolute framework for love.bible-06 Love becomes a matter of my perception. Which means love is determined by me, whose feet are planted in mid-air. In using my perceptions as love’s adjudicator, I am, in effect, saying, “I am the standard of love. In my being, I am the standard of love. In my thinking, feeling, and practice, I am absolute, pure love.” Thus, I have placed myself as the determiner and judge of what is and is not loving. In so doing, I assume the place of Absolute, which is to say, I am functionally operating as a self-appointed god. In that moment, I have nominated myself as the universe’s Sovereign and ascended to the throne for absolute adjudication. But, we, who are imperfect in love by nature and deed, dare not place ourselves in such a place.

I need to step off the throne. Practically, that will look like letting go of my perceptions, my feelings, and my opinions as the absolute determiner of what is loving. I need an objective standard. Even more, I need the standard from a source who has shown flawless love in word and deed. The only such source is the God of the Bible. “God is love…In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:8, 10). The One who created knows more about love than the one created. Further, the One abused by his enemies in order to redeem and reconcile his enemies; that One is love. So, when this God speaks, as he has in the 66 books of Scripture, his definition of love is love. It is objective; absolute; pure. Thus, it alone is the standard against which ideas of love must be compared.

With that, it’s worth taking a look at some common myths pertaining to love and the lack thereof in evangelicalism (errors which I have committed).  Continue Reading…

converse_sole_stomp_01_white_by_megakorean-d632g4wIt’s never something we want to talk about. But, with it happening more than any of us would like, we must. And with a handful of passages addressing the issue, we must all the more. All Scripture is profitable. That even includes the sections covering apostasy.

It’s a big enough deal that God addresses it. And the way in which he does so is telling:

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A professing Christian was in a rough marriage for many years. It came to the point where they felt as if they could not take it anymore. Divorce entered the thoughts. They sought counsel from other Christians. Some opened Scripture, some didn’t, and some prayed. Though no biblical grounds for divorce, it came to the point where they could not see how God would want them to be unhappy in marriage. The marriage did not bring feelings of peace and comfort. So, they went through with the divorce on the grounds that both they and their close Christian friends “had a peace about it.”

Perhaps you’ve said it. “I have a peace about it.” Sometimes it takes on a different form. “I have prayed about it, so it’s God’s will.” Or, “I have a peace about it, so God is calling me to…” Those words are often-assumed gateways to what God wants me to do in the throes of life. But, is my “peace” God’s enthusiastic permission slip for my “it”? Is my prayer and peace heaven’s approval for whatever “it” may be in my life?

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In yesterday’s post, we considered the idea that the ministry is often fertile ground for depression and discouragement. It is possible for strong faith and deep sorrow to co-exist in the regenerate soul. In fact, sorrow is inevitable for the pastor who accurately understands the sinister workings of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It’s not if the world is full of sin’s destruction, but whether or not the church leader sees it and cares with the care of Christ.

It’s no stretch to say that the godly, right-thinking church leader must experience sorrow in the ministry. He does not labor in heaven. Conditions are not heavenly. And though that provides some job security, it also solicits frequent sorrow. He ought not think that bouts with discouragement and depression are always unrighteous. In fact, the righteous response to unrighteousness, within or without, is God-centered sorrow.

At the same time, church leaders cannot use sorrow as license for sin. No circumstance can issue sin a permission slip. And as church leaders, we are called to set the example in godly conduct during seasons of sorrow. Christ in his glory truly is sufficient sustenance during those very normal times.

The purpose of this article is not to offer every solution for ministerial discouragement, but to examine why it is more common than we might think. In the previous post we considered five reasons why sorrow is common for church leaders. The aim is not to grovel in all that is bad, but to be reminded that there are good and righteous reasons behind sorrow’s frequent visit in the spiritually-minded church leader. Here are six additional reasons:

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“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5).

These are not the words of a spiritual infant. They are not the cries of a neophyte believer. This was a spiritual leader, involved in the daily ministry of the word of God to the people of God. Even so, his struggles with sorrow are deep.

It’s no secret: spiritual leaders can battle with depression. The more pastors I talk to, the more common this seems. I’ve worked jobs from lumber mills to heavy construction to engineering to research labs, and I have never encountered sorrow in those like the pastorate. Pastors, if you struggle with sorrow, chances are, things are pretty normal. Christians, chances are, your pastor has, or will have, bouts with soul-sorrow. It’s just normal.

And we need to avoid parochial conclusions when it comes to battles with sorrow. The presence of depression does not always mean the presence of raging sin. Strong saving faith and deep discouragement are often found in the same soul. Ed Welch has rightly said, “It is a myth that faith is always smiling. The truth is that faith often feels like the very ordinary process of dragging one foot in front of the other because we are conscious of God” (Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, 31). Jeremiah had his bouts (Jer. 9:1-2, Lam. 3:48). Elijah probably did too (1 Kings 19:4). Though Paul always rejoiced, he was also sorrowful (2 Cor. 6:10). The great apostle even experienced “great sorrow and unceasing grief” (Rom. 9:2). And Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). Likely he could have been diagnosed with clinical depression by the standards of our modern psychiatrists. Charles Spurgeon said, “No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.’ There was no sin in him, and consequently none in his deep depression.”

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In fact, it’s reasonable to be concerned at times for the individual who seems constantly giddy. If we were in heaven, that would be understandable. But for the spiritual-minded individual with the mind of Christ, they see the cursed world as it is and care for its good. There is sin within and without. Brokenness within and without. Death within and without. Deception within and without. The world, the flesh, and the devil do their thing. Those with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit carry the instinctive response of righteousness to unrighteousness, whether within or without. It’s impossible, then, for God’s people to never experience sorrow. Pastor, if you struggle with discouragement, it very well could be due to your love for souls.

A pastor without sorrow may not be sufficiently acquainted with the fallenness of the world. He could be out of touch; perhaps not adequately caring about the destruction all around. We could almost say that seasons of sorrow are inevitable and necessary for biblical pastors.

And to be sure, depression is often due to sin (cf. Ps 32:3-4). We may be harboring things needing confession. We might be craving an idol that we are not getting (cf. 2 Sam. 13:4). Or we may be getting something we are not wanting. A soul check-up is necessary in sorrowful seasons. There is no virtue in discouragement. And seasons of sorrow are no excuse for us to wallow in self-pity or ferment in our bitterness.

But oftentimes, sorrow is just the norm. The purpose here is not to be a Debbie-downer, but to consider why it’s normal for many pastors to battle with discouragement. With that, here are a few reasons why church leaders may experience sorrow:

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Every Christian will likely encounter this scenario: someone you know and who professes Christ has a major sin in their life exposed. As a result, relationships are harmed, their reputation is destroyed, and their heart is broken. You, as their friend (or pastor or spouse) are left wondering how to respond.

You know that Christians are called to forgive and restore other believers who have their sin exposed, but you also know that this is only true if they are repentant over their sin. For example, the command in Galatians 6:1 to “restore” a fallen believer is paired with an exhortation about the importance of self-examination (vv. 2-4). Or Paul, in 2 Corinthians 7, tell the Corinthians that he stands ready to forgive them, because the exposure of their sin produced godly sorrow as opposed to worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).

So what are you supposed to do? The person in front of you says they are repentant. They say they are sorry about their sin. But is that enough?   Continue Reading…