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How to React to Warnings in the Bible

How to React to Warnings in the Bible

Warnings can be confusing

Let’s face it, warnings are scary. In the Bible, we see warnings about the dangers of wealth (Matthew 19:24; 1 Tim. 6:10; and a lot more), patterns of behavior that indicate our hearts are ruled by sin (1 Cor. 6:19-21), distractions from the gospel (Matthew 13:1-9), ignoring the gospel message, enduring in believing the gospel (Hebrews 3:7-13), and others. It’s daunting to read so many.

We often walk away with the conclusion that we should live our lives constantly looking over our shoulders, wondering if wrath is coming our way. We often read warnings without marrying them with the gospel message that tells us Jesus Himself received all of the wrath we deserve for all time.

Others of us recall the gospel, and then we read warnings as if they don’t apply to us at all. I consider this equally dangerous because most warnings were written to believers, not to lost people. Why bother writing so many warnings to the church if they aren’t supposed to apply to the church?

OK, so I’m not supposed to live in constant fear, and I’m not supposed to ignore warnings either. That sounds like pretty much all of the options. What am I missing here?

Let’s dig in.

The gaping hole of a grace-only gospel

If you’re anything like me, it’s very easy to pretend the gospel message only has positive motivations. It’s easy for us to emphasize how Jesus covers our sins, receives our punishments, and holds us secure in salvation for all time. It’s easy to emphasize the undeserved belonging, acceptance, and intimacy He brings us. It’s very difficult, however, to emphasize the dangers of ignoring that very grace.

Hebrews might be my favorite book in the Bible, even with its mysterious authorship. In my opinion, no other book in the Bible so clearly juxtaposes beautiful grace with harsh warnings about ignoring that grace. It has the most comforting passages right beside some of the scariest. The letter’s message isn’t only about a God we can trust when the promises seem far away and our sin seems near. It’s about the extreme dangers of ignoring that message and pretending we can just listen to it later.

The thing about only having positive motivations in the gospel is that they provide us with no sense of urgency. We hear a message that only says, “God is better than sin.” Then we respond with, “Cool, I’ll check out sin for a while, and then I’ll check out God later.” There is nothing warning us of the dangers of waiting to trust God or the damage that we’re doing to ourselves and others while we wait to trust God.

“Why eat a Happy Meal when you have a royal feast waiting for you?” is not a complete gospel.

Humans don’t like to change. We’re stubborn. If the feast is unfamiliar, we’ll stick with the happy meal, thank you very much. In my opinion, this message alone is not good news. It’s damaging news because it doesn’t spur us toward change. The gospel needs warnings to be truly good news.

Cattle prods

It’s best to think of warnings as cattle prods. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll find a fun sentence: “Cattle can be difficult to move and direct for a variety of reasons. Prods can be useful for moving stubborn or aggressive animals.” Yes, we are like those cattle. And yes, we are both stubborn and aggressive when it comes to change, especially unfamiliar change.

Warnings are cattle prods. They are scary, and they’re meant to be scary. They are severe momentary motivations to spur us away from sin and toward Jesus.

I like this analogy because it also helps us understand what warnings are not. Warnings are not long term motivators. If you use a cattle prod constantly, you’ll probably give the poor animal a heart attack. This is akin to living in constant fear of the warnings we read in the Bible.

Further, warnings are not meant to keep you in the gospel. They are a short-term motivator to get you going in the right direction. To stretch this analogy perhaps past its reasonable bounds, it’s the rich grass that will keep you where you are supposed to be, not the cattle prod.

Warnings cannot change you any more than rules can change you.

The beauty of the gospel captivates and keeps you. The beauty of God Himself changes you, not the warnings. The warnings just get you going.

When warnings become harmful

When you read a warning in the Bible, you are supposed to be afraid. Fear is good. That fear is useless, however, it if drives you into anxiety or despair (see 2 Cor. 7:10). It is supposed to drive you into Jesus’s arms, knowing that He covers you, protects you, and walks intimately with you. Biblical warnings are a “fear that draws you near” and not a fear that drives you away.

There is no place for warnings while you’re in God’s presence. Warnings are for when we are outside His presence. Read the warning you find in scripture. Shake in fear. Let it do its work. Let it drive you to Jesus. But once you’re in His arms, ignore the warning completely, and focus on God Himself instead.

The prod that spurred you into God’s presence will now harm you if it distracts you from God’s beauty.

Let the warning do its work, and then discard it entirely.

You aren’t meant to live your life in fear. You are meant to live your life captivated by God’s beauty. Fear has a necessary purpose, but it’s a momentary purpose. Live your life in adoration and joy, and let fear spur you back toward it when you’ve strayed.

Posted by Matt Norman with

Resolutions that actually work...

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[[originally published on Dec 29, 2019]]

Talking about New Year’s Resolutions is like asking people about their retirement investments. You know you should do be doing it, but feel condemned for not doing it well...or at all. You are likely in the 38% of those who never set a resolution on January 1, or maybe you are part of the 24% who never sees success in the goals you do set. Either way, I know that just by bringing it up you are likely to groan and roll your eyes. I totally understand.

I’d like to help by letting you inside how I do this every year. I don’t do many things like a boss, but I do happen to consider myself a professional resolution administrator. I absolutely love new year resolutions. in fact, you can access our sermons and look the week before or after January 1 and I guarantee you’ll find a sermon preaching to the heart on the importance of intentional and resolved living in light of the Gospel’s freedom. That being said, I won’t go into that here. Here, I want to take you into the mechanics of how I have done it over the last several years to great profit. 

1. Spend adequate time reflecting on the last year?

Ask probing questions to get you thinking, like “What is the biggest highlight and win this year?” “Where did I repeatedly fail this year?” “If I could have changed anything about my life this last year, what would it have been?” “What is the greatest lesson I’ve learned this year?” If you want more great questions, check out what Justin Buzzard asks when he appraises a year already gone by. 

2. Establish what your roles are?

In other words, what are the lanes you drive in - in order. For me, I'm a Christian first, a husband second, a daddy third, and a pastor and church planter fourth. This is important because it helps you “shoebox” your life in a way that makes resolving life changes a bit easier.

3. Establish what your life’s mission may be and how you may be distinctly called.

I think it’s important for everyone to have a mission statement and a stated understanding of their calling. Now, the mission statement ought to sound just like Jesus’ Great Commission, so we’re not all distinct snowflakes in that regard. But, when it comes to your distinct calling you should expect to see a “bent” or “flavor” to how you want to live as a worshiping missionary on earth. For a great book on how to do this, check out Matt Perman’s What's Best Next.

4. Establish where you keep getting stuck.

Many of your resolutions will look like refurbished resolutions from last year, and that’s because you keep getting stuck in the same areas. Diet, prayer, giving, and other potholes keep finding you likely. This is an opportunity for you to spend time looking at (1) what you wrongly believe about God and (2) what you desire more than God. Knowing where you get stuck will greatly inform your goal setting and growth. For a fantastic resource on how to be fluent in why you sin in certain areas and how to be fluent in the Gospel, check out Jeff Vandersteldt teach Gospel Fluency. 

5. Develop good goals/resolutions according to your roles.

Armed with (1) why you keep gumming down in the same areas, (2) how you did this last year, and (3) what you are called to do here on earth, begin jotting down rough ideas of how you’d like to see changes within your distinct roles. For instance, I have resolved to parent my teenage daughter differently this year (daddy goal) and I have also resolved to tangibly thank people in small notes this year (pastor goal). Don’t think too hard, just start brainstorming.

6. Rewrite them several times to make them concise and crisp and honestly ask…

    1. Are they specific enough? This means instead of writing, “I need to be healthier” you instead write down “I need to lose 25 lbs this year.” You must define what the win is. Vague end zones provide no touchdowns.
    1. Are they measurable at all? How will you know if you have done well? You’ll need to bring a way to discern win over failure or else you’ll never see change that will satisfy, nor will you know if your goal was too easy. You must build your goals in a trackable format as best as possible.
    1. Are they attainable and realistic? Do your resolutions consider your ability and time? Are they do-able? Don’t write “I want to read 50 books this year” -  unless you understand that this means reading roughly 10,000 pages, which takes roughly 10 hours per week...gulp. Work backwards to see what a goal does to your calendar and assess whether it’s even doable. Resolutions should be something to stretch and strain towards, but not crushingly difficult or impossible.
    1. Are they time-bound? Also important is nailing a time down, or even breaking the year into seasons (trimester, quarter, etc…). A wise man once told me, “Don’t think of a marathon as a 26 mile race, think of it as 26 one mile races.” Makes sense.


7. Submit them to someone close and ask them to be brutally honest with you.

I have done this at great profit. Inevitably someone always picks up where I have over-reached on a goal or have an odd motive behind a goal. Maybe I have 3 goals for “pastor” for every one I have for “dad.” Not only can close community or a spouse de-bug our strategic growth strategy, they bring accountability to it.  This seems like an unnecessary step, but change is a community project.

8. Write them in a place where you can look them over often.

I currently use an app called Trello, but Google has a task function that I used for years. Google tasks also lets you import them into a calendar. It doesn’t really matter what you use to collate your resolved goals, but you should have them in a place you are already used to looking. I check mine most every Monday and use it to help drive my calendar for the next few weeks. Every leadership coach in the world says the same thing about good goal setting: Write. It. Down. 

Wanna see a pro do this. Check out Jonathan Edwards list of resolutions...it's inspiring. 

9. Re-assess how SMART the goals are on July 4th.

You guessed it, number 6 above spelled out the acronym SMART. Now you get to see how smart the goals really were. Every July 4th (about the middle of the year) I spend a few hours to re-assess my annual resolutions. Sometimes I find I was too aggressive, and sometimes I already met a goal because it was a bit too easy. So, I take this time to adjust the dial so come December 31st, I have a good chance of meeting the resolutions in a way that they serve me and help me grow.

10. Be patient and graceful, knowing you’ll fail many times

Seriously, you’re going to fail a ton when intentionally setting out to grow as a disciple. It will require a bunch of effort to break out of the patterns you're used to living easily. Breaking into a new rhythm and way of living is going to be difficult. Be ready for setbacks and handle yourself with grace because that is how Jesus handles your resolution failures.

I hope this helps you this year. Volumes can be written on goal setting by people more qualified than me, and as much as you may find failure in the goals you set this year, you statistically stand a 10x better chance of succeeding in them if you go through this process. Happy New Year!

Posted by Luke Thomas with

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