Amusing sheep stories abound. Some of my moments of more rigorous chortling have been in response to real-life sheep tragi-comedies. One of the more recent involves what is called the “Draad Kruiper,” which I heard from my good friend, Pastor Anton Van Straaten. “Draad Kruiper” is Afrikaans for, “fence crawler.” The story goes like this: Continue Reading…
Archives For Shepherding
It’s inevitable. People are going to hurt us. Even those close to you. In fact, perhaps especially those close to you.
With every hurt, there is the potential to wake the bitterness monster. He’s a light sleeper. And he’s more clever than we think. Even a small relationship scuffle is enough to arouse him into action. We mustn’t underestimate him.
Bitterness: hurt incurred from either real or perceived offense, gone unchecked, and allowed to continue by failure to apply biblical principles and thinking to the hurt, resulting in hatred and resentment.
Bitterness is the quick fix for the flesh. Dealing biblically with conflict and hurt becomes too much work. So, like a spiritual pusher, bitterness offers a quick high. But, though it delivers for a moment, it destroys in the long run.
To be sure, real hurt occurs far too often through atrocities such as abuse and criminal acts. In these cases, fighting bitterness can be excruciating. Even and especially so, God extends comforting and transforming grace for the greatest of life’s hurts (cf. Gen. 50:20).
But often, bitterness slips in and sows it seeds in the thousands of smaller moments and battles of normal life. For that reason, we must be on guard. Christian, we have got to resist this one. And repent. It is a killer.
Here are a few ways that I have been helped in my own battles with bitterness:
You have to do one thing to ensure a run-in with misery: exist. In a fallen world, it’s inevitable. And, for many, it’s unbearable.
Misery: a state of dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, and emptiness. It is the consequence of pursuing something other than the biblical Christ for salvation, satisfaction, and/or stability. Though it may deceitfully appear as happiness in the short-term, it eventually returns with a vengeance, and, in some cases, eternally. Often, the longer it delays its experiential effects, the worse it will be when its numbing smoke and mirrors are removed.
But much of misery begins and is compounded in the heart. It’s often a spiritual issue at its root. And certain lines of thinking can pour fuel on misery’s fire. Which means we ought to discern how it works.
Here are several ways to ensure your own spiritual misery:
It’s inevitable. Like every year, this is going to be a year where relationship struggle will not be absent. While we are here on earth, it will not be heaven, which also means that there will be not-so-heavenly people around you. Whether a relationship with a spouse, kids, other family, co-workers, church members, fellow-leadership, or neighbors, you are going to encounter battles in your relationships. It’s just a part of life.
Are we ready to handle those? If someone were to ask us, “What is your theology for how to handle relational disappointment?” how would you respond? What is your plan? No plan is a bad plan. And avoiding people will not do.
One of the greater, and unnecessary, complicating factors in such struggles is an insufficient theology for facing disappointment in relationships. It’s unnecessary, because our God has equipped us thoroughly with the tools from his word to adequately face the inevitable disappointment of human relationships. So, since we are going to frequently disappoint and irritate each other this side of heaven, we must have a response-plan in place which honors God by aligning with his word.
Here are a few responses to prepare us for a right handling of inevitable relational struggles:
Without knowing what the future holds, we can safely say that there is one thing we will need for 2016: godliness. To stably and safely weather all of the we’re-not-in-heaven-yet things coming from this new year, we will need a high dose of christlikeness and, if you’re like me, an increase thereof. So, sanctification should be a dear friend as we turn a calendar year (and as we enter each day, for that matter).
Sanctification: God’s work of progressively conforming the Christian into christlikeness from the time of spiritual birth (regeneration) until we see Jesus (glorification), through the Spirit, our effort, the means of grace, and any number of circumstances. Sanctification is not the means of salvation, but the consequence of it.
But oftentimes, we can have a myopic, low view of sanctification. For example, it really only occurs when I sit down for my daily quiet time or during the Sunday sermon. Yet sanctification involves much more than that because God the Father is much more involved than that in the lives of believers.
Putting sanctification in its appropriately high place will position us for the kind of people we need to be for the new year. A high view of sanctification involves two ideas. First, it sees God as big, his love as involved, and his sovereignty as limitless. Second, with those things in mind, a high view of sanctification means we are more occupied by seeing God’s sanctifying work in our lives through struggle than we are irritated by the struggle; the particular means (e.g. difficult people, jobs, family, health trials) which he uses to sanctify us.
Similarly, a high view of sanctification involves these four tenets:
- God’s work in every Christian is to continually and progressively conform them into the image of Christ.
- God uses all sorts of circumstances (especially difficult ones) to accomplish our progressive formation into christlikeness.
- God is sovereign over all things; us, every detail of our lives, the lives of those around us, and everything else.
- Therefore, an accurate view of my life, as a Christian, involves seeing how, not if, God is using every circumstance—big and small, difficult and less difficult—to accomplish my sanctification.
With that, here are a few reasons to be armed with a high view of sanctification so as to position ourselves for a good 2016, no matter what the year is like:
Many of the most well-known (and most enduring) songs are Christmas songs—scan through any hymnal, and you will be surprised about the percentage of songs that are devoted to Advent.
Not all Christmas songs are good, of course. In fact, some of them are particularly cheesy. But many more tend toward excellence than silliness, and the reason for this is simple: they start with the birth of the Savior.
But if they focus only on the birth, or the silent night, or the oxen and what-have-you, then they will be mired in shallowness. The reason many Christmas songs do become exceptional is because they don’t stay in the manger. Instead, they use the birth of Christ as a launching point to survey his life. The best of these songs even make it all the way to his cross and Second Advent.
This is true of all hymns, and not just Christmas ones. If any song is narrowly focused, or focused on the softness/stillness/nearness/gentleness of God, it will likely be a lame song. But if a song progresses through—from God in human flesh, to what that God did, to why he died, to his resurrection, and ultimately to eternity—then it is at least set up to be an exceptional song. Here are three Christmas songs that do just that: Continue Reading…
News from America fascinates me. Living in South Africa affords me a vantage point of detachment from local US news. But I nearly choked on my newsfeed last week when I heard President Barack Obama commend the Pentagon for opening all combat military positions to women. So now my two little girls, who are US citizens, will one day in all likelihood be required to register for the draft. (If you don’t think that’s the next station this equality train is heading for, you’re not following its trajectory closely enough; see this New York Times article on drafting women)
Objections to the announcement that we will soon have lady SEALs à la GI Jane have focused mostly on pragmatics and physiology. For example studies have irrefutably proven that unit cohesion will be diminished, and that male platoons have 69% more success in completing combat tasks than their co-ed counterparts, and that the 40% less upper body muscle mass of women will impede their ability to drag 200 lb wounded men from a burning tank, etc, etc, etc.
The problem with that reasoning is this: we all know that some women can physically outperform some men. Anyone who has visited a Crossfit box knows that. I know gals who can clean & jerk not only their own bodyweight, but mine too.
The real issue isn’t can a woman cope with combat, but should she have to? Women can and do competently step in if and when men neglect their duties. But do we really want to make this the norm rather than a sad necessary exception?
It’s about as puzzling as it is pervasive. Especially in our nation, people assume the label, “Christian,” for themselves as easily as a food preference. A 2014 survey revealed that about 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians. Often at funerals (in an understandable grasp in grief) individuals—even clergy—will proclaim with certitude the individual’s presence in the eternal place for Christians, despite an absence of Christianity in the individual’s life. Some of the more common answers to the question, “How do you know that you are a Christian?”, are things like, “I have always been one,” “I believe in God,” “I was baptized or confirmed,” “At camp I came forward,” “I just grew up that way,” “I prayed a prayer,” “Because I am a decent person,” or, “Because I grew up going to/go to church.”
But how do those reasons match up with the Christian manual—the Bible—on what it means to be a Christian? Are 70% of 300 million Americans characterized by the Bible’s definition of Christian characteristics? What does the Bible say about what it means to be a Christian?
It’s critical that we use God’s objective word when evaluating whether or not we are a Christian, and not our subjective opinion. Scripture, not experience or sentiment, is the say on the status of our soul. After we die, when we stand before God in the judgment (Heb. 9:27), he is not going to ask, “So, did you think you were a Christian in life? You did? Oh, OK, come on in to heaven.” He will judge by his standard. And, according to Jesus, on that day many will be surprised when they are shut out from heaven for all eternity (Matt. 7:21-23).
So, this matters. Eternity is at stake. This is a matter of our own souls and those we love. Thus, it is inappropriate, and even more, perhaps, spiritual suicide, to respond, “Who are you to question me?” The answer, of course, is, “someone who cares about you and your eternal well-being.”
I recently took our adult Sunday School classes through a short series on rethinking biblical application in relation to expository listening. From that study, I was reminded that biblical change is a synergistic work of grace which often involves the preacher (2 Tim. 4:1-2), the expository listener, and the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13).
In earlier articles I addressed the biblical expectations of the preacher (Ezra 7:10, James 3) and the listener (James 1:21-27; Luke 12:48). I also included some helpful thoughts by Pastor John MacArthur with regards to the role of application in expository preaching. In today’s article, I will identify some practical principles that will hopefully instruct Christian listeners and expository preachers alike in order that both might better profit from the preaching of the Word. Continue Reading…
When an explosion occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Ukrainian Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the first reaction of Soviet authorities seemed to indicate more concern with avoiding the spread of anxiety than the spread of radiation.
The Minister of Internal Affairs gave a telephonic report of current affairs in the Ukraine to his superior, and only at the end of the conversation casually mentioned an explosion at the plant. When he was asked how the people in the nearby town were doing, he replied “some are celebrating a wedding, others are gardening, and others are fishing in the Pripyat River.” A few hours later, however, the denizens of Pripyat experienced widespread symptoms of radiation poisoning, including uncontrollable coughing fits, vomiting, and headaches.
The aphorism “what someone doesn’t know can’t hurt them” has been debunked so many times and in so many ways that it is stupefying to me that people still use it.
An inescapable characteristic of the sin of believers is that it always affects other people. Since all believers are part of a community—the Body—even the most personal of sins always spawns devastating public fallout.
Eph 4:4-5 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism…
When you settle into unrepentant sin, it affects us all. How?