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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

You Are Not Enough

There’s a dangerous rhetoric that has invaded the Christian vernacular, and the three small words of this subtle message have had a massive, subversive influence on many young Christians’ understanding of themselves, and by extension a cheapened view of the cross and ultimately of God. What are these words, and how could they be so damaging? It’s the notion memorably set to music in Christina Aguilera’s 2002 hit “beautiful”, captured now in inspirational Instagram quotes superimposed over strong mountains or tall trees.

You Are Enough.

The only problem is, it’s a lie. So the next time a preacher, pastor, public speaker, self-help guru, or friend tells you that “you are enough”, don’t believe them. Don’t buy into the lie that says you should trust in yourself or have confidence in yourself or look for answers within yourself because it simply isn’t true. The reality is that you are human. You are descended from Adam, of the same genetic stuff that caused God to flood the world to rid it of people whose hearts and deeds were only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). That’s the stock you and I come from.

Why It’s Dangerous

Humankind has always sought to be master of our own destiny. From Adam & Eve disobeying God’s good design, to God’s people Israel continually thinking they knew better, to modern Christian self-help books designed to bolster our self-worth thinly veiled in Christianese. But Scripture tells us a different story, and one that we would be wise to pay attention to. Proverbs 3:5 begins “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” If I was to draw a circle that contained all knowledge about everything there is, and ask you to draw a circle inside it to represent your knowledge, you’d probably place a single, barely-visible dot. And yet when we’re facing trials, temptations, trouble that would overwhelm and leave us decimated, we lean on comfortable clichés like “chin up. You are enough” rather than placing our trust in the LORD, whose knowledge fills the entire circle to its perimeter. A biblical perspective on humanity reveals that if you’re going to take your eyes off God and attempt to trust in your own broken, sinful heart—what theologians throughout history have referred to as pulling yourself up by your own boostraps—you’re going to have a bad time.

But There’s Hope

In the middle of the Bible there’s a book called Psalms. In this book, we find authors like David who time after time cry out to God to rescue them from their current circumstances. In these pages we are clearly shown that God is infinitely more capable, more knowing, and more powerful to not only take care of our circumstances, but us as well. The Psalms help to re-orient our hearts away from ourselves and fix our eyes on the One who is enough. About this God David writes in Psalm 103:14-19:

14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

God is totally sovereign. He is perfectly just. He speaks and where there was nothing, now there is something. God sees everything visible by the strongest Hubble telescope, and he sees everything that it can’t see, out to the very edge of what exists. He sees everything visible by the strongest electron microscope, and he sees everything it can’t see, down to the most minute level of what is. And he knows it all perfectly, effortlessly, and he learned none of it because he made it. That sounds like the One who is enough.

Listen to A. W. Tozer:

“God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.”

Infinitely Enough

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’ve gone through a crisis? A job loss. A heart-crushing breakup. An injustice where you feel like you’ll never be heard? God sees your circumstances, and not only is he able to oversee the outcome of those circumstances for your good and his glory, he is also infinitely, lovingly, perfectly enough to care for your every need. So the next time trouble hits, remember David’s words from Psalm 121:

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying that a right understanding of ourselves begins with a right understanding of God. When we know who God is we can properly know who we are, and joyfully depend on Him in every circumstance for our good and his glory. He is powerfully, lovingly, perfectly for us. We are not enough. And that’s actually good news.

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Wednesdays on the Web (17/10)

Is It Really God Speaking to You?

Recently, I had a conversation with some guys about times in our lives when we’ve felt like God is speaking/confirming/leading us to do this or that (life decisions—not where to park the car). Mike Leake has a good word to add to this conversation.

Sufficient for Its Day

Here’s something totally unexpected. As a Christian, you heard certain phrases and immediately equate them to the part of the Bible you think they’re referring to (or maybe just me). I had an idea of what this article would be about and immediately put it on my shortlist, thinking it would contain good advice for Christians struggling with today. I had no idea, and what I found was a more beautiful, evocative, stirring piece that mingled sadness and joy with bright, enduring hope.

Crucify Them!

Two things continue to fascinate me about situations like this one from Melbourne over the weekend. First, the reality that Love is Love Until You Disagree (then we’ll cry “crucify them!”). The second is that Christians continue to be shocked and saddened that they’re being persecuted. Like that’s unexpected, or a new thing.

5 Psychologically Proven Ways Scripture Teaches Us to Combat Anxiety

I’ve deeply struggled with anxiety in my life and the scriptures have played a defining role in my ongoing recovery. So I want to share with you what some of the scriptures have to say about facing anxiety, and how it’s psychologically proven to be true.

A Five Minutes Guide to Better Typography

Tame the text. (please)

#MeToo — Stop Asking Women to Fix it

It’s happening in response to the revelations of widespread sexual harassment in Hollywood. But this extends way beyond Hollywood.

Too many of our sisters in our church family and too many women in our neighbourhood have experienced sexual assault or harassment. This is not right. We hear you. We believe you. We’re sorry.

Theologicon: Australia’s First Pop-Culture Conference

Take your favourite comic book characters, pop-culture icons, and silver screen superheroes, mix in theology… and you’ve got Theologicon: a conference to explore how Christians can engage with the enduring themes and questions posed within pop-culture. The timetable has been released, the topics look amazing, and the tickets are selling fast.

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A Prayer for the Church

Heavenly Father, we pray for the Christian church worldwide, which You have called into existence for a witness and testimony of Your grace, mercy, love, and truth. We ask Your forgiveness for ‘peddling the gospel’, for making your sacred truth and benevolent grace a profane product to be advertised, marketed, and merchandised. Lord forgive us for pursuing material gain, worldly success, and personal happpiness as the highest priority in our lives. Cause us to seek first, and above all else, to love You with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength—to seek first Your Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and Your righteousness and true holiness.

Make us to realise that You are building Your church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Likewise, humble us to acknowledge Your supreme wisdom, knowledge, and power. Lord, you don’t need us or our feeble, misguided plans and methods; for Thou, O Lord, art able to raise up from the very stones of the ground faithful children unto Abraham. We thank You for the opportunity You have given us to partner with You in the expansion of Your Kingdom here on earth. Help us to remember that our role and responsibility in God’s Great Commission is to sow, and not to grow. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”

And so, O God, we are confronted with our own poverty and impotence, trusting in You to govern, guide, lead, train, and equip us to disciple all nations in the way of Christ. Anoint us with Your Holy Spirit and empower us to transform our world for Jesus. Raise up labourers for the harvest. Bring into the sheepfold of God those who through repentance and faith have submitted themselves to the rule of Christ their Messianic King. And Lord, we will be sure to give You all the glory, honour, and power, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


This prayer was taken from Lord, Teach us to Pray by Manfred Wagstaff, 2017.

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Sing!

Singing is one of the most commanded acts in Scripture. As Christians we should know not only that we ought to sing, but we should love to sing. In Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Keith & Kristyn Getty outline five goals they seek to impart into pastors, worship leaders, songwriters, production teams, and singing Christians (so that pretty much covers everyone).

  1. To discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing
  2. To consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives
  3. To cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life
  4. To equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity
  5. To inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world

One of my favourite points that Keith and Kristyn raise is that the command to sing is not arbitrary, nor is the manner or content left to our own preferences. They write

We are commanded to sing the Word of God—the truth revealed in the Scriptures, the story of redemption. Fundamentally, we’re to sing about God, revealed in Christ and supremely in His suffering and His glory, since that’s what the Word of God is all about (Luke 24:26–27).

Content matters. We’re allowed to be picky, in fact we should be picky. Every part of our song lyrics should link together to bring a wonderful, thoughtful, deep expression of Scripture to every singer. If you are choosing songs as a worship leader, this is your responsibility. The question of why we sing is rarely voiced out loud, but Keith and Krisytn remind us all that our hearts and minds require a good balanced diet of gospel truth that becomes the soundtrack for our week, taking Sunday’s truths into Monday. They continue

Biblically rich content in songs, sung by people who look like they mean what they are singing, helps teach the gospel as something that is credible and powerful rather than cultural and optional.

We need to sing of how we were once under the wrath of God, condemned to die, without even a hint of hope. We need to sing of how that hope came to us as the Son of God entered the world to reconcile us to this holy God, and that we need to sing with joyful hearts to the glory of Him who saved us so that all might be pointed to Him. Whenever we sing, we witness to the faith that we hold to, and the One in whom our hope is secured. If I were a visitor to your church and knew nothing of the gospel, what would your church music (and congregational engagement) convey to me about your faith? Our singing witnesses to our faith, so the question we should be asking ourselves is this: is my singing a good witness or not?

Sing! wouldn’t be complete without including a fresh perspective on singing in the home. The Gettys provide encouragement (and a few ideas) towards making singing a regular part of home life through immersing different parts of our lives with the songs we sing on Sunday. Reminding ourselves of gospel truths through music in the car, singing while preparing dinner—or singing as grace before dinner—bedtime songs, whatever works for you; but always songs with rich theological content that your children can grow up into, and carry into their adult lives. They offer ten practical ideas for getting the gospel into our children’s lives through song

  1. Use all the help and opportunities you can get
  2. Teach your kids songs you want them to grow old with
  3. Talk about what you’re doing and what the songs mean
  4. Prepare for Sunday services
  5. Model passionate participation in the services
  6. Be aware of all the music your kids are into
  7. If your kids are into music… encourage them!
  8. If your church has a children’s choir, support it if you can
  9. Cultivate high opinions of all types of art
  10. Sing today!

All these ideas are unpacked in detail and are thoroughly inspiring for parents (like me) who haven’t got family worship all figured out yet.

Lastly, at the end are a number of “bonus tracks” with practical suggestions targeted at specific groups of people (Pastors & Elders; Worship & Song Leaders; Musicians, Choirs & Production; and Songwriters & Creatives). Each of these four bonus tracks are wonderful and insightful, even if you’re not currently in one of these specific roles. In short, Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church is one of the best books on congregational singing I’ve ever read. It is immensely readable; while also being convicting, informative, encouraging, and deep. Every pastor, worship leader, and serious Christian should read it.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

For more, check out thesingbook.com

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Wednesdays on the Web (11/10)

Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture

David Murray has put together these relevant reflections on what preachers can learn from TED talks. He outlines seven main arguments, each of which should inform and motivate those who preach today. He writes

I am all for being natural in the pulpit. However, there are certain elements of our nature that we have to control when we are representing Christ. One of the repeated qualifications for an elder is to be “sober.” That means to be “self-controlled,” to be able to restrain and curb some elements of our nature, character and personality. In the light of the seven reasons for seriousness, I would suggest that the natural ability to make people laugh is something we should leave at the bottom of the pulpit steps. Would we crack jokes in the Oval Office?

Learning to Doubt our Fears

Obeying the command to take “every thought captive” begins with our ability to doubt our fears. But what does that look like?

Clinging to the Crutch

Anxiety is all-encompassing, and it has the potential to lead to ultimate destruction, but there’s hope in recognising that we are not in control. We are not masters of our own destiny, but rather when we lean on Christ as the One who bears our burdens and carries our very souls, we find this crutch is more than able to take the weight.

Five Obstacles that Dads Face

I’ve just spent two weeks at home spending quality time with our children while my wife was away (for the most part), and I loved being able to invest time in them, watching them grow, learn to interact, and discover. But I’m not perfect, and kids have a way of revealing the areas in which I still have a long way to go. Scott Slayton puts his finger on a few.

Don’t Freak Out if You’re not Feeling God’s Presence

If you’re dependent on an emotional experience during Sunday morning worship, or expect to always feel God while you’re in prayer, you could be running with some unbiblical thinking. Stephen Altrogge explains.

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The Council of Trent

We’re in a series of articles exploring the councils and creeds of the Christian church. Why? Because when it comes to faithfully and diligently working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) we miss a great deal when we simply try to construct our own “real Christianity” with nothing more than a bible. To take heed from those who have gone before us is to benefit from the wealth found in the most important theological declarations of the Christian tradition.

Today we continue the series with a look at the council of Trent.

Background

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg in 1517. By the 1540s all attempts on the part of the Holy Roman Empire to bring peace between the protestants and the Catholic church have failed. The challenges held by the Reformers still required a response however, and so the Catholic church convened the council of Trent—held in three stages beginning in December 13, 1545 and ending in 1563 with a 235-to-1 vote in favour of the canons established there.

The Council

Put simply, the council’s purpose was to remedy the problems within the Catholic church that had caused the Reformers’ cries of protest. The reforms included correcting abuses of power by the clergy, clarifying the balance of power between the authority of Scripture and church tradition, and issuing official statements on the topics of justification, the sacraments, and purgatory.

Clergy/Institutional Reform

Even today, we can see the abuses of power when a person in leadership holds authority at more than one level in a government or institution. Trent attempted to straighten out the potential for corruption through ruling that Bishops must be resident and serve only where they are placed, and not in more than one location. The most important institutional reform was the decision that (without admitting Luther was right) the selling of indulgences needed to be reigned in and come under tighter scrutiny.

Scripture, Tradition, and Revelation

The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) as the ultimate authority for life, with all other sources of guidance still highly regarded, but subordinate. Trent ruled differently however, determining that Scripture and the traditions of the church (passed down through Apostolic succession) held equal weight. Trent also recognised the Apocrypha as part of the Bible, contrasting the Reformers who held that the Hebrew Bible is the only legitimate Old Testament.

Justification

The most significant doctrinal issue discussed at Trent was how a sinful person comes to be justified before a holy God. Luther argued that all humans are sinful and condemned from birth, and we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, on the merits of Christ alone. The Catholic position however holds that humans work towards a state of being justified through God giving them opportunities to further develop and strengthen themselves into a person that is more acceptable to God. As we respond to God in the right way, our right decision shapes us further into the person He wants us to be, and in this way we prepare ourselves for justification.

Why it Matters

As Trent was a Catholic council, should we immediately assume that contemporary Christians have nothing to learn? The Reformers wanted to see Christians living without fear that the church had power or influence over salvation, or that God requires good works and merit in order to justify us. They wanted Scripture to be available to all believers (not just those who could read Latin), and they sought a hierarchy which cared for all people with fairness and transparency. Even today we see instances where people in church leadership hold more than one office in a denomination (this should not be so), or where people are taught that a man can be justified by his works (this comes in different shapes and packages). We can agree with Trent that the history and tradition of the church (those great men and women of faith on whose shoulders we stand) has much to offer us in living a fuller Christian life. We can further agree that man is not justified by his own works apart from divine grace through Jesus Christ, but that works are evidence of our salvation, not a requirement of it. Lastly, Trent helps us to think with more clarity about our Protestant beliefs by contrasting those things that Trent stands by that differ from our own—in this way we ask questions that seek with humility to take seriously our own faith and the richness of our shared heritage.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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You Don’t Even Have a Bucket, Jesus

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with,
and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
– John 4:11, ESV

If you’ve grown up in church, you’ll be familiar with the story of the woman of Samaria who encounters Jesus at a well, and the way that she reacts to Jesus bizarre, puzzling, not to mention culturally taboo question. If you’re not, pause and re-read John 4:1-45 here. Now perhaps if it were you or I standing there with Jesus, we’d react the same way that this woman did. She looks at Jesus, considering the act of drawing water, and reminds him “but you don’t even have a bucket, Jesus”. It’s not so strange that we can’t imagine the same thought occurring to us. In this woman’s mind, Jesus is failing to meet the basic requirements of water-giving.

How often in our own lives do we find that Jesus is right there, saying to us “I have everything you could ever need” and in our pain, in our uncertainty, in our own perceptions of the exact thing that we need in order to fix our situation we respond “but you don’t even have a bucket, Jesus.”

The gospel tells me “I can heal you of that bitter unforgiveness, Chris.”

“But you don’t even have a bucket, Jesus. Now maybe if you come back with a psychology degree, or brought a ten part DVD series, or at least come with something that makes you look like you understand my situation…. Maybe you should just stick to telling stories and dying for people. Stick to what you know, Jesus.”

But maybe that “bucket” isn’t what I need. And I’m standing at that well so focused on Jesus’ lack of a bucket that my eyes are blind to what he’s actually offering to do for me. Just maybe he knows something that I don’t.

You see, this woman’s issue wasn’t that she didn’t know she was sinful. Believe me, she was painfully aware every day of her immoral lifestyle; having had five husbands and currently living unmarried with her boyfriend. We can say with some confidence that it’s the whole reason why she’s made her way to the well in the hottest part of the day when no one else would venture out—precisely for that reason because she doesn’t want to have to deal with the judgmental glances, the hidden whispers as she approaches, the comments behind her back as she leaves. She knows all about her sin. But there’s a sense in which her sin isn’t actually her biggest problem. I’m more inclined to think that her biggest problem—the one that so many of our friends and family share with her today—is that she doesn’t know Jesus. She doesn’t know the one who has come to die for her sins. The one who freely offers her water, living water….LIFE.

Jesus offers this living water without reserve, without condemnation, and without regard for circumstance. Will you come and drink?

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Wednesdays on the Web (04/10)

Pastor, What’s Your Point?

David Murray: Just because a sermon has points, doesn’t mean it’s got a point.

Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

Our hearts break with the families who are still experiencing the affects of the worst mass shooting in US History. Here’s a round up of encouraging, formative, or reorienting words from Al Mohler, the ERLCGentleReformation, and Russell Moore.

Only the Christian worldview, based in the Bible, can explain why moral facts exist, and how we can know them. Only the biblical worldview explains why sinful humanity commits such horrible moral wrongs. The Christian worldview also promises that God will bring about a final act of moral judgment that will be the final word on right and wrong — as facts, not merely speculation. The Gospel of Christ points us to the only way of rescue from the fact of our own evil and guilt. -Al Mohler

Think Fake News is Scary? Try False Teaching

From Jen Wilkin (via Christianity Today):

We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth. Both fake news and false teaching bow to this principle. To help children sift the digital messages that bombard them, educators now teach media literacy in the classroom to aid critical thinking. The church must act similarly.

Let’s Get Real about Women’s Discipleship

I’ve seen some wonderful women’s resources (and women teachers) become better known in 2017. The 3 points in this post are simple yet transformative, like the gospel it encourages women everywhere to look deeper into.

A Reformation Song

This magnificent song from Bob Kauflin and Tim Chester is an example of the perfect congregational song. Engaging the intellect and declaring wonderful truths (each verse or chorus begins and focuses on one of the Five Solas) while simultaneously making the heart soar. For me, it is exactly what joining together in song is all about.

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What I Read in September

September seemed to be a hot-button issue month. There was less quantity, but significantly more quality with my reading prompting discussions and exploration of people, their stories, and how they relate to what these authors had to say. Everywhere I went these books provoked thought, and I learned a lot. Here’s a brief overview of what sat on my nightstand this month.

God and the Transgender Debate

In this 2017 book Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.  Read my full review.

 

Between the World and Me

Every page I turned in Coates’ book served to profoundly widen the gap between his world (as a black male in America) and mine. The story of race in America is one written on flesh, and this book is laid out as a letter of warning and pedagogy to his teenage son. He writes:

I have seen [The American Dream] all my life. And for so long I have wanted to escape into that Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

Amazing, emotional, and beautifully written.

Enjoying God

R. C. Sproul’s latest work is a soaring, worship-inspiring piece that encourages the heart while engaging the intellect. His exploration of the attributes that are unique to God puts into proper perspective how majestic and mighty the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly are—all the while remaining practical and pertinent to the every day life. I thoroughly appreciate Sproul’s ability to cause my heart to sing while satisfy the “so what?” question asked by my own curiosity. Read my full review.

The Flash Volume 3: Rogues Reloaded

If you’re enjoying watching The Flash from CW (season 3 begins early Oct 2017) then you’ll love this comic book counterpart. I’ve loved the extra character development (particularly of villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and even Suicide Squad member Captain Boomerang) and a slightly different story arc with the same tensions between Barry’s relationships and those of his super identity. The DC Universe Rebirth hasn’t been wholly stellar, but The Flash continues to be my favourite.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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Enjoying God:
Finding Hope in the Attributes of God

R. C. Sproul’s latest work is a soaring, worship-inspiring piece that encourages the heart while engaging the intellect. His exploration of the attributes that are unique to God puts into proper perspective how majestic and mighty the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly are—all the while remaining practical and pertinent to the every day life. I thoroughly appreciate Sproul’s ability to cause my heart to sing while satisfying the “so what?” question asked by my own curiosity.

Along similar lines to the wonderful None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, Enjoying God dedicates a chapter to each of God’s incommunicable attributes (those that can be attributed to God alone), exploring the implications of how the Christian life should be lived in light of it. Chapters include God’s omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, truth, immutability, justice, and love to name a few. My favourite chapter is Sproul’s unpacking of omniscience. I found it both comforting and challenging to consider that God knows everything about everything, and he learned none of it because it was all made by him. Of course, the extension of this notion is that none of us should forget that God also knows every thought and deed, and nothing is hidden from the Judge of all the earth.

While written with the layman in mind, Sproul tends to climb quite high in order to get a view of the whole landscape, occasionally creeping into more philosophical or scientific discussions, and so this book won’t be for everyone. At the same time, Enjoying God is a wonderful resource that encourages every Christian to plumb the deep waters of the beauty of our great God who knows us and has made himself known. Enjoying God will cause you to see that the more we know God, the more we understand how worthy he is of our worship, and our lives as well.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Books Bloggers for review.
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Wednesdays on the Web (27/09)

Christians, Horror, and IT

I’m not persuaded that you can be a Christian, and still find entertainment in work that is designed to glorify evil or lead people astray. Work like this is never good, no matter the craftsmanship. Tony Reinke writes

And I see this conviction as part of the answer to the most beautiful question in the Bible: “Who has eyes that will behold the king in his beauty?” (Isaiah 33:17). Answer: He “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil” (Isaiah 33:15). The beauty of God is for those who do not feed their sensory curiosities with violence and wickedness. On this basis I believe entertainment-by-gore is forbidden in Scripture, even at the level of what gets communicated to my senses as entirely fictional media.

Not all Christians hold to this position, and this article poses some interesting points about how God might use this darker genre.

Correct Ways to Correct

Addressing sin in the church is part of the function of the body of Christ we’re saved into and called to actively submit to and participate in. Christians should be characterised by their desire to become more like Christ, and a big part of this is the humility that is our necessary response to loving correction. Here’s a punchy little post about the need for correction, the goal of correction, and the (right) method for correction in the church.

5 Ways to Murder Your Marriage

This article uses irony in order to demonstrate ways that a person can destroy their marriage. These examples aren’t as rare or nuanced as you might hope.

Worship Is My Life, Not My Role

Bob Kauflin continues to encourage, convict, and spur me on to worship as a “living sacrifice”, not simply the 20-30 minutes I give God in song on a Sunday morning. He writes

Leading worship starts and ends with the way I live my life, not what I do on a public platform.

What does that look like?

Loving God More by Taking Better Care of Your Body

There’s always the risk of discussions like these being taken to far, but the benefits outlined here are obvious, and most of us recognise that we take better care of others when we also take time to care for ourselves.

 

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The Councils of Carthage & Orange

We’re in a series of articles exploring the councils and creeds of the Christian church. Why? Because when it comes to faithfully and diligently working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) we miss a great deal when we simply try to construct our own “real Christianity” with nothing more than a bible. To take heed from those who have gone before us is to benefit from the wealth found in the most important theological declarations of the Christian tradition.

Today we continue the series with a look at the council of Carthage and the council of Orange.

Background

Having now firmly established a solid theology on the Trinity, the person and nature of Christ, and the Person of the Holy Spirit, the church now turns to develop a ‘theological anthropology’ a clear articulation of the nature and sinful state of humankind, and their relationship to God. It was during this time that questions arose around the degree of human responsibility and the extent of God’s sovereignty, especially in light of Adam’s fall, and God’s gracious act through Christ. In the debates at Carthage and Orange, theologians debated human responsibility for sin, and the implications drawn vis-à-vis that responsibility from the reality that we live in a fallen world.

Pelagius & Augustine

Pelagius was a British monk who was deeply devoted to living a moral life. He developed a doctrine of sin and salvation that hinged on good works and good morals. According to Pelagius, sin wasn’t inherently part of human nature but rather comes from bad decisions and habits willingly formed. He was concerned that if Christians held to the doctrine of original sin it would give them an excuse to be defeatist or apathetic towards their own sins. Augustine (a North African Bishop) firmly believed in original sin. Further, he believed that it was by grace alone that a person was freed from the grip of sin, bestowing the ability to resist sin and love God.

The Councils

The eight canons that were passed at Carthage (418 A.D.) expressed significant support for Augustine. They recognised that a sinless life was impossible and that God’s grace – freely given and not earned – was the means by which a person was changed from the inside in order to “know what to seek, what we ought to avoid, and also that we should love to do so.” However, as council was not ecumenical it wasn’t universally accepted, and so a second council was convened at Orange a century later (529 A.D.) to revisit what was passed. After much debate, this council decided once more in support of Augustine; with 25 canons passed, many of which used Augustine’s language word for word.

Why it Matters

Even today Pelagianism (and semi-Pelagian) teachings creep into churches, leading young believers astray. We would like to believe that we have the power to choose good for ourselves, but the rulings of the council (and the words of Augustine) remind us that even if we were empowered with the free will to choose God on our own, due to our sinful nature we never would. The wonder of salvation for Augustine was that God loved him when he was deep (and inescapably) in sin. Rather than waiting for Augustine to exercise his own free will and choose to clean up his moral act, God broke in with scandalous disregard for what kind of person he was. Today we love and serve a God who loved us and saved us by giving his son for us, apart from anything we could or would have done.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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God and the Transgender Debate

When someone experiences a dissonance between their biological sex and the gender they feel they identify with, this can cause deep distress, inner anguish, and no small amount of conflict from without and within. It is a genuine – often unchosen – experience which needs to be met with love and unwavering support; these are real people. In his 2017 book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.

Beginning with a quick history of how we got where we find ourselves today (thanks to events like the Sexual Revolution, and relativism), Walker moves quickly to lay out a helpful definition of terms (sex, gender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgender) highlighting that they’re not the same thing, and that someone struggling with one of these things is not necessarily struggling with one or more of the others. Chapter 5 provides the foundation for any discussion around these terms; it’s God’s sovereignty, his design for humankind as their Creator, and therefore his right to speak (and the words of Jesus) that are the ultimate issue behind the issue. Regarding the fact that gender dysphoria is not sinful, he writes:

It is vital to pause here to make a very clear distinction between experiencing a feeling and acting on a feeling. Come back to Eve in Eden at the start of Genesis 3. Eve was not sinning when Satan spoke to her to tempt her, when she saw the fruit’s beauty, or when she felt it was to be desired. She sinned when she went beyond observing the fruit’s beauty, followed her reason and feelings in opposition to God’s word, and took and ate it.

Walker also unravels the “I was born this way” argument through highlighting that we are all born with broken bodies affected by the fall, with all sorts of tendencies that do not lead to our ultimate joy and wholeness. The way I was born needs constant evaluation against scripture to determine if this propensity or that should be pursued or rejected, for my good. When it comes to modern medicine  – hormone replacement therapy and body-modifying surgeries – the reality is that we can grasp at being men instead of women, but God does not allow it. We are unable to do it and though we can try to change our form, we cannot change our genetic formatting. In truth, Walker says, there is no such thing as transgender. But support for this position is by no means limited to the Christian-worldview. Paul McHugh is one of the most esteemed psychiatrists alive today. He serves as the University Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and is the former Psychiatrist-in-chief at their Hospital. He states:

In fact, gender dysphoria – the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex – belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychological conflicts provoking it.

God and the Transgender Debate would not be complete if it merely defined the terms, stated the issues, and didn’t provide the answers. And so, in the back 7 chapters of his book Walker tackles the tough questions, provides pages of real-world examples of conversations he (as a parent) would have with children of different ages, and discusses at length how the church should best seek to equip itself to compassionately engage with sons, daughters, and friends who experience various sexuality-related struggles in loving community. I’m glad he highlights the blacks and the whites, but I’m more grateful that he explores the grays; every person is different, and there are no easy paths. Love requires listening, and transformation requires truth. While Walker’s words are not intended to be the final word on any of the many critical questions he seeks to provide answers to, they are profoundly helpful, practical, and offer invaluable insight into this complex and challenging debate.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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Wednesdays on the Web (20/09)

Please Read Me Your Email

This is a terrific strategy when it comes to electronic communication, and not just when you’re a Pastor or in a position of leadership. I can see key situations being handled much better (by either the sender, or the receiver, or both) if a system like this was put in place.

Artists’ Spiritual Insights

I think that every bible college lecturer I learned from saw the value that artists throughout history have contributed through their craft to helping convey the beauty and significance of biblical truth. Take the time to pause in front of these examples and see for yourself.

Setting the Tone in Your Home

I will never forget the day that little five year old Sawyer looked up at me and said, “Mama, you’re always mad.” It was a wake up call like no other. The truth is that I hadn’t realized how irritable I had become in that phase of life. But, when he said it, scenes flashed through my mind, revealing the hard truth that I had become increasingly unreasonable in my interactions with my family. I was turning every small inconvenience into a huge show of annoyance, and even though I didn’t necessarily feel angry and upset all the time, as far as my family was concerned, I was behaving like I was.

5 Christian Comedians Who Are Crushing It

These clips will brighten your day.

What Is Biblical Meditation?

It’s funny how this conversation comes up at least once a year for me. Christianity has such a rich heritage of spiritual practices, and yet we still tend to muddy the waters which leads to well-meaning Christians seeking answers in the wrong places. This article helps by discussing what Christian meditation is, and what it is not.

So Many Different Bible Translations

Bill Mounce offers this helpful introduction to why there are different Bible translations, and why they can be trusted.

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Engaging Diversity for God’s Purposes

Australia faces many challenges at present. Economic. Political. Spiritual. Integrity. Globalization. Morality. Others? Which challenge concerns you the most?

One of the significant issues occupying my mind constantly concerns diversity engagement. I know this choice is different to the standard or common selections from the options above. However, diversity is a feature of Australian life, creating potential threats to social cohesion and unity. Numerous headline stories in recent weeks highlight the tensions present currently in society and the struggles to respectfully dialogue with opposing views. The Same Sex Marriage postal vote is causing animosity and igniting extreme acts to shut down the opposing side. The statues in Sydney vandalized over the debate concerning Australia Day have polarized the population. The constant reminder of the fear associated with terrorism threatens to paralyze. Use of the name of Jesus in playgrounds could be banned. The debate over the wearing the burqa is set to continue. As well as the call to abandon Father’s Day and replace with Special Person’s Day. These are just to name a few.

My concern is the potential damage and impact inflicted on social cohesion from such confrontations, and the lasting legacy. Numerous consequences arise. Bullying results in profound hurt, broken relationships, hatred and fear. Respect for the other suffers. The world of blame, rejection, confrontation and insult intensifies. Overzealous minority voices impact freedom of speech as they attempt to seek conformity for their perspective and silence the majority. Enclaves form.

The current Australian context should ignite Christ’s followers to theologically reflect and evaluate the nature of a godly response to handling all forms of diversity. Following Christ brings with it expectations, beliefs and values concerning the response. Paul’s reminder to not conform to the patterns of the world (Rom 12:1-2) comes to mind here. The response contributes to the discussion and communicates non-verbally to the world an alternative pathway for engaging diversity.

My own life journey with diversity commenced when born into an international marriage over 50 years ago. Ever since then I have lived and worked in at least 4 countries, travelled to over 20, parented a son with disability issues with my British born wife and struggled with ongoing generational issues within Christian organizations.

Therefore, I bring some encouragement from my own response to diversity and the intrinsic sources for motivation to manage the threats, fear and relationship challenges. Diversity becomes opportunities for me to learn, grow and deepen my walk with God. Three theologically grounded concepts guide my response for culturally appropriate relationships and cross-cultural servanthood.

Firstly, attitudes to diversity set the tone for behavior. Romans 15:7 where Paul encourages the Roman Christians to accept one another as Christ accepted them is crucial for me. Acceptance builds off an openness to difference and communicates esteem even when differences exist. The combative, selfish-driven and confrontational spirit subsides. The value is seen in Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritan woman (John 4). Elmer in his book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood (IVP, 2006) explores this further.

Secondly, culturally appropriate knowledge and skills deepen the message of acceptance in contexts of diversity. God crossed borders to engage humanity through the incarnation of Christ. Jesus’ example provides clues for intercultural engagement. David Livermore’s book, Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Multicultural World (Baker Books, 2009) proposes a model/tool to approach caring for the other and building bridges across cultural chasms. Cultural intelligence is the capacity to function effectively cross-culturally through 4 capabilities around motivation and perseverance (CQ Drive), knowledge (CQ Knowledge), strategic planning for intercultural encounters (CQ Strategy), and participation in speech and non-verbal acts (CQ Action). Having the skills and knowledge to respond assists the capacity to address diversity and understand the other.

Thirdly, God’s control of all things and activity in the world means functioning in the community and the margins without fear, even of difference. God empowers believers to cope and engage. Frost and Rice’s recent book, To Alter the World (IVP, 2017) encourages believers to consider embracing the role of midwives for God in place-crafting and dialogue.

May the manner in which we engage diversity reflect God’s heart and expectations, and implement the knowledge and skills available to us, especially when empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 


This post was contributed by David Turnbull. David is Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies at Tabor College of Higher Education and has a passion to see God’s people engage the nations with the good news of Christ in a just and culturally intelligent manner. His cross-cultural involvement has spanned over five decades and four continents (primarily Africa) in the areas of training, equipping and facilitating through local churches, mission agencies, Missions Interlink locally and nationally and the Lausanne Movement. He is currently working on his PhD in the area of cultural intelligence.

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A Prayer for the Church

O God, help us to view the Christian Church from a kingdom perspective. May we see the church as You see the church from your heavenly throne; a church without walls, a church without man-made denominational labels and organisational divisions, a church made up only of true believers who are spiritually connected to Christ and to each other through faith and obedience to Him who loved us and gave His life to save us.

Help us to see the big picture; that we belong to a people group who span the corridors to time from Adam to Christ’s Second Coming, a people of faith, a universal church of saints triumphant who have faithfully finished their course in this life and have gone to be with You; and the church militant who continue in this life to fight the good fight and defend the faith once delivered to the saints of the early church.

O God, keep us from becoming institutionalised in dead religion. Reform your church as you did in the Protestant Reformation. Raise up men and women of God who will blow the trumpet in Zion to awaken a sleeping, lukewarm, apostate church; a church given over to worldly business principles and marketing strategies, who peddle the gospel like a profane commodity instead of preaching it as a sacred trust.

Lord God, raise up leaders, shepherds of Israel, to lead Your church in the ways of righteousness and true holiness. Purge the Christian church worldwide from carnal motivations of success and the sins of pride, envy, and a competitive spirit. Rebuke and admonish those who have placed their trust and confidence in the arm of the flesh, (which is to say) their own abilities and human wisdom. Cause them to repent of their wicked ways and to seek first Your Kingdom and Your Righteousness. May the scales of deception and delusion fall from their eyes by the enlightening grace of Your Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, You said that You would build Your church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it; and yet the institutional church, heavily influenced by the Church Growth Movement, has usurped your role, your authority, and have taken custody and ownership of the church and of church growth. O God, convict and convince Your people in every land and in every place, both clergy and laity, that we are not called or commissioned to grow the church; we are called and commissioned to disciple new believers and to spread the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom throughout the world.

Help us to remember always – that one may plant, one may water, but it is You and only You that give the increase. You, O God, are the only one who can cause genuine church growth and the extension of your kingdom here upon the earth. For “Unless the Lord builds the House, they labour in vain who build it”.

Be pleased O God, to therefore forgive us our sins of selfishness, self-sufficiency, self-determination, and self-promotion. Cause us to humble ourselves under Your mighty hand, and to wait upon Your Spirit for all manner of divine enablement and blessing. We pray these things in the name of Your beloved Son; our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


This prayer was taken from Lord, Teach us to Pray by Manfred Wagstaff, 2017.

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Wednesdays on the Web (13/09)

7 Standards for Good Writing

I blog because I enjoy the act of writing; the craft of forming something with words and phrases that is clear, compelling, and convicting (when the piece calls for that). As an author himself, Barnabas Piper always seeks to be a better writer, and offers these global standards to consider.

How to Journal through the Psalms

The Psalms are so important for the Christian life; in them we encounter what it really means to have a God who is big enough to relate to the full range of human emotions and we rejoice. I know a few people who have made the Psalms part of their daily bible intake, and the benefits to journaling are many. Why not put these two great things together?

Beyond Veggie Tales: Forming the Moral Imagination of Your Kids

At a recent parenting conference, Phil Vischer shares how storytelling can be an effective tool for creating a Biblical framework for imagination and creativity. Watch the (16 minutes) video here.

Churchgoing is Beautiful

If you’re a Christian, church attendance is not optional. Pause in this article and see again the beauty of attending the Sunday morning service, called and gathered by the Holy Spirit. We are called to love, and be part of, the church.

Having Mental Health Issues doesn’t make you a Bad Christian

It is tough enough combatting the stigma of mental health in a culture that prides itself on entrepreneurship, self-reliance and curating Instagram-perfect lifestyles. But as a Christian, it was even worse. Speaking up about the emotional pain I once survived or was enduring, I ran into a lie often perpetuated in our church culture about mental health and spiritual fitness: If you’re feeling emotionally broken, your faith is weak or broken.

The Christian and Tithing

 

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Yelling in an Echo Chamber:
Thoughts on the Plebiscite

If you’re in Australia at the moment it’s hard to miss the fact that we’re in the midst of cultural conflict. I am, of course, referring to the upcoming vote on whether Australia should legalize what is being referred to as Same Sex Marriage (SSM). It’s easy to tell because on one hand the editorial columns are filled with statements on why this is a thing that we must do, while my Facebook feed is being filled with people sharing articles on why this would be the worst thing in the world. Both sides have (what they believe to be) a compelling case, but there seems to be a lack of serious, mutually respectful debate and I think we need to take a step back and consider how we’re approaching the whole issue.

Prevalent on social media today are people who share every article they can find about how legalizing SSM will destroy the very fabric of society, stripping religious freedoms, and doing away with logic altogether. The problem is not necessarily the claims themselves, although I cringe when people share the ‘No’ ad (with the claim that a boy was encouraged to wear a dress when the claim has been refuted by the school involved). Indeed from looking at what has happened in other countries following this legislation passing, it is clear that there are some very credible objections that those outside the church could reasonably affirm. (I would argue that all of these are secondary issues for Christians but that is another story) When we consider our own approach to this very public issue, we would do well to carefully consider our audience, and appropriately adjust our tone.

First (before we get to sharing) we should always seek to fully comprehend the context we find ourselves in. Increasingly social media allows us to live and engage in an echo chamber, populated by people who agree with everything that we say and think. We share articles and videos to make our case but the only people who are seeing them are people who are already on the same page as us. On the other side of the equation, our viewpoint is only being reinforced because our friends are sharing the same things, thus we’re not forced to think about the other side of the argument.

Secondly, we are responsible for considering what would happen if (when) we had someone viewing our feed who was on the other side of the argument. Are they going to be persuaded by the dozens of items that we share daily about how society is imperiled by the advancement of the LGBT agenda? More pointedly, are they even going to bother looking at them and engage or are they going to just scroll right past because they don’t agree with the headlines? And what if – God forbid – we actually had a Facebook friend who identified as LGBT? Will their life change (not lifestyle but life) because we shared a video about somebody who didn’t like that they had two mums? I highly doubt it. Given these issues, we need to seriously think about how we engage this issue and ask what would be worse: SSM being legalized or people being so repulsed by our unflinching resolve that they are driven away from Christ?

Where to from Here?

The most important thing that we need to remember is that we’re not just dealing with An Issue, but behind the issue are real, flesh-and-blood people. These people have hopes, dreams, and feelings just like the rest of us and deserve to be treated with the same respect that we expect to receive. Does this mean that we abandon our convictions? Of course not, but it does mean that if we have an opportunity to actually engage with somebody with a different opinion then we should discuss it with grace and love. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

[Author’s Note: I highly encourage reading The Nashville Statement from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for a biblical foundation of this issue and Rosaria Butterfield’s autobiography Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert for further thoughts on how we engage the people on the other side of this issue.]

 


This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.

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Wednesdays on the Web (06/09)

Jesus Isn’t Calling, God Has Already Spoken

I was already on board before listening to this ep from Sheologians; having my own reservations about the popularity of Sarah Young’s book and devotional sequel, even in my own congregation.

One More Time on Game of Thrones

It amazes me that Christians are actually even posing this question, but I’ve seen it a lot. Kevin DeYoung writes with conviction and clarity, and I have yet to see an argument that could oppose his points.

MacArthur and a Response to Racism

While Australia hasn’t had an event like Charlottesville, we’re not immune to racial issues. In this interview MacArthur frames a high-level response through a Christian worldview. Honestly, this would make our world a better place.

Why I Signed the Nashville Statement

Rosaria Butterfield has an amazing story, and is a wonderfully eloquent, highly intelligent, thoroughly engaging communicator. Her book (Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert) opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about. In this piece, she writes

The issue is not whether people are good-intentioned and sincere in desiring things that God forbids.

The issue is whether we all bear the sin of Adam, inheriting an unchosen moral deformity, an energy of opposition to God, a rebellion that bequeaths to us a sin nature that we cannot erase on our own terms and by our own hands.

The issue is whether Jesus rose from the grave, is alive today, and whether His blood and love and resurrection makes any wit of difference in how you fight the original sin that distorts you, the actual sin that distracts you, and the indwelling sin that manipulates you.

The issue is whether you can trust the Bible to tell you who you are, who God is, and which way is up.

Hermeneutics for Parenting: Obey the Word

This helpful blog reveals some common errors to avoid, and a few helpful tips for making solid, biblical applications when it comes to teaching our children the truth of scripture; and it begins with living it out in our own lives.

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A Sea Worth Sailing

I am undoubtedly being taken on a journey. It’s uncharted water, and in some part I feel like a passenger. The journey is about me though, and so I can’t be passive, nor can I come out the other side unchanged. In fact I’m convinced that I won’t even see the shore until I change. To extend the metaphor, this journey has seen wind and waves from many sides, but somehow they’re all pushing me to stay the course until it’s done. So, where have I sailed so far?

Learning to Listen

In the book named for him, James the brother of Jesus writes

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19, CSB)

Over the last few months I’ve repeatedly encountered the importance of listening. Not just hearing, but active and present engagement with the object of my attention. At times, this is another person. Other times (hopefully often) it’s being alone with God. As I’ve come to learn lately, it’s also important to listen to my own emotions and physiological responses in this body God has given me. What follows is a high-level view of what I’m learning about better loving through listening.

Listening to Others

Jesus said that everything the bible teaches regarding Christian living can be summed up like this: love God, and love others (Luke 10:27). As those who are fellow image-bearers of the God we love and serve, the least I can do is give people my full attention. As much as possible, I shouldn’t be distracted by my surroundings. Never interrupt a face-to-face conversation to answer a text unless it is a family emergency, a previously scheduled appointment, or you are in the seventh grade. I know that I often hear – rather mishear – things, so I’m also practicing the habit of repeating things back to people in the form of “so what you’re saying is…” This has been infinitely helpful not only in the passing on of instruction, but also general care, counselling, and conflict resolution. Asking intelligent questions further demonstrates that love is present in my listening, because I’m listening to learn, and not to lecture.

Listening to Myself

God made us with bodies as well as spirits. Jesus came and indwelt human flesh, thus articulating that our bodies are important to him. The New Testament authors speak of the fact that God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies being transformed on that last Day. With this in mind, isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to a sudden rush of adrenaline, muscle tension, that knot in your stomach, or other physiological signals as our bodies know how we’re feeling before we do. Learning to listen to our own bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? Perhaps there’s some underlying anger or unforgiveness that needs to be dealt with? I’m slowly finding the value in learning how listening to my body is intrinsically connected (by many ties) to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.

Listening to God

Finally, how often do I try to squeeze my time with God in amongst the other things on my schedule? We live in a world of distraction; a world of noise and tasks and things simultaneously vying for our attention. This is so true for most of us (read=me) that being fully present in the moment is something of a lost art. Do you read your bible on the same phone that is flooded with notifications from dozens of apps? Have you ever stopped praying to answer the front door or a summons from down the hall, then completely forgotten you were praying? At best, things like this carry a high-probability of distraction, at worst they’re just plain unproductive, and disrespectful to the God of the universe. So lately, I’ve been disciplining myself to kill the biggest hindrance to active listening: multitasking. In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared C. Wilson writes

So if Jesus’s intentional prayer involved withdrawal to deserted places, and he did so often, how awesome do we think we are that we don’t have to follow suit?

When it comes to listening, I want to be the kind of person who treats listening as an act of love. And while I can’t yet see the shore, it’s certainly a sea worth sailing.

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What I Read in August

The Imperfect Disciple

I’m grateful for Jared C. Wilson’s honest, down-to-earth look at what it means to be a disciple who is also human. We all stumble and fall; even Paul knew what it means to “do what I don’t want to do”. Wilson’s writing is easy to relate to, doesn’t come off as holier-than-thou, but rather seeks to walk side by side with us; offering encouragement for the average, broken-yet-striving Christian. One of my favourite sections was his wonderful walk through understanding and applying the beatitudes. For a sneak peak (and plenty to get the grey-matter thinking about), take a look at my top ten favourite quotes from the book.

Batman: I Am Suicide (DC Universe Rebirth Vol 2)

Tom King (and friends) did such a great job with Volume 1; despite the fact that I wasn’t too thrilled that the Justice League had to show up to ‘save’ Batman, like he ever needs that. The artwork is gritty and stunning, the story is compelling, and (without spoilers) introduces Nightwing, Batwoman, and … that’s all I’ll say. Tom King as a former CIA analyst turned writer, knows how to get inside great criminal minds, and doesn’t disappoint.

I am Spock

Leonard Nimoy’s second book is simply delightful. His fascinating (I couldn’t resist using Spock vernacular) story is full of joys and frustrations, and his frequent internal dialog with the ever-present Mr. Spock infuses drama, comedy, and irresistible Vulcan logic to each decision, action, and reaction along his turbulent, successful career. Nimoy writes with the delivery of a master storyteller, and has undoubtedly renewed my love for biography.

The God-Shaped Heart

One of the joys of being a blogger/book reviewer is the opportunity to read and review books before they’re published. Scheduled to hit the shelves on September 5, Christian psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Jennings delivers what he believes to be the keys to spiritual and emotional health in looking to God and his love for us. This book adds another layer to my journey towards better understanding Emotional Intelligence from a Christian worldview. Look out for my review of this one in the near future. Spoiler: I think you’ll love it.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Don Whitney speaks to an area of Christian spirituality that I truly love, in a way that I truly love to hear it. His rich heritage with men like Richard Foster has given him wonderful insight into components of the Christian’s journey that sadly the Church (at least in the West) has lost. Moving beyond the Word and prayer to look at silence and solitude, worship, serving, evangelism, fasting, journalling, and others, Don writes with the knowledge of a scholar and the experience of a seasoned pastor. His practical suggestions for how to cultivate these disciplines in your life have been valuable to me, and my hope is they could help you too.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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Wednesdays on the Web (30/08)

God Loves U-Turns

We live in a world where U-Turns are difficult at the times we need them the most, reserving them only for unusual circumstances (for safety reasons, of course). But living our spiritual lives before God is different. Living authentically with God, and for God, in this world requires innumerable U-Turns.

When I Survey – Voting for Jesus

This is a fascinating statement from Creek Rd Presbyterian regarding the upcoming postal plebiscite on Same Sex Marriage, and why Christians may vote no, yes, or abstain.

Kindness Begins at Home

The fact is nowhere am I more tempted to be selfish and lazy than in my home and my closest relationships. Here Nancy provides a poignant, personal reminder that kindness – while it might look different at home – is so important for me to be actively working on as part of my personal ongoing sanctification, but also in modelling Jesus to my family.

My 7 Least Productive Habits

Not often discussed from the negative angle, here’s a super-helpful and revealing list of activities that drain more than just productivity. I need to keep more than one of these in check.

Theologicon: Australia’s First Pop-Culture Conference

Take your favourite comic book characters, pop-culture icons, and silver screen superheroes, mix in theology… and you’ve got Theologicon: a conference to explore how Christians can engage with the enduring themes and questions posed within pop-culture. This looks like the most fun I could have on a weekend. I’ll be keeping an eye on the event page.

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Top 10 Quotes from The Imperfect Disciple

I‘m grateful that Jared C. Wilson has written a book for disciples like me. The ones who try, and fail, and strive their hardest to walk ‘in step with the Spirit’, but who are broken, messy, and not there yet. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace For People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together is full of real, relatable wisdom and needs to be read highligher-in-hand. Below are (in no particular order) my favourite quotes from this spiritually formative but earthly little book.

What is discipleship, then…

…but following Jesus not on some religious quest to become bigger, better, or faster but to become more trusting of his mercy toward our total inability to become those things?

It all boils down to this:

we have, fundamentally, a worship problem, and so long as we are occupying our minds with little, worldly things and puny, worldly messages, we will shrink our capacity to behold the eternal glory of Jesus Christ, which is the antidote to all that ails us.

Nailing it:

The point of the Christian life is not self-improvement or more Bible knowledge but Christlikeness.

None of us is better than Jesus.

So if Jesus’s intentional prayer involved withdrawal to deserted places, and he did so often, how awesome do we think we are that we don’t have to follow suit?

Oh, and by the way

None of us is ever in danger of praying too much.

To be a Christian is to be a churchman or churchwoman

As I’ve said, the New Testament knows of no vibrant discipleship apart from life in the local church and no authentic Christianity divorced from the covenant of life together according to the biblical structure of the local church.

I just really liked this. Let the reader understand.

I think of the typical Christian Living section in the mainstream bookstore down at the suburban shopping center. Row after row of pseudo-religious gobbledygook promising breakthroughs and victories and super-colossal personal affirmations for abundant living. Jesus is quoted and appropriated in these shiny tomes, their glossy covers invariably featuring successful religious spokespersons grinning big-toothed grins under waves of well-coiffed hair.
“Buy my millstone,” their smiles say. “It’s good for you.”

Be Patient

At its root, impatience is confusion about control. Impatience is the rotten fruit of self-sovereignty. We are impatient because people and circumstances do not tend to operate as if we are the center of the universe.

This is why the good news is so good!

The essential message of Christianity isn’t “do” but “done.” The good news is news, not instruction, and it announces to us not “get to work” but “it is finished.” And so it turns out that the direct route to God-honoring behavior is born not of good behavior but of good beholding.

The church is for people like me

The church has got to be a place where it’s okay to not be okay….
A message of grace will attract people but a culture of grace will keep them.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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The First Council of Constantinople

We’re in a series of articles exploring the councils and creeds of the Christian church. Why? Because when it comes to faithfully and diligently working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) we miss a great deal when we simply try to construct our own “real Christianity” with nothing more than a bible. To take heed from those who have gone before us is to benefit from the wealth found in the most important theological declarations of the Christian tradition.

Today we continue the series with a look at the first council of Constantinople.

Background

The city of Constantinople (named by the ever-so-humble emperor Constantine) played host to three councils, and quickly became synonymous with Christianity. There were a wide variety of issues addressed by these councils; Constantinople I established the full deity of the Holy Spirit, Constantinople II & III elaborated and established the nature and divine will of Christ. As always, these councils were considered ecumenical, as they built on the work of the Christian church previously laid down by former councils. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first of these three gatherings.

Constantinople I

At the council of Nicaea, the church had condemned Arianism and declared Christ “very God of very God”. However, a form of Semi-Arianism survived, whereby people could affirm the words of the Nicene Creed (such as we “believe in the Holy Ghost”), but because the creed said nothing else about it, they could hold that the Holy Spirit was not in fact a person – but more of a power or force – without contradicting orthodox Christian belief. Both sides held a persuasive view of their position, argued from Scripture. On one side, the Semi-Arians could lay hold of verses like Joel 2:28, where the Holy Spirit is a thing ‘poured out’ rather than a person, or Psalm 51 where David asks God not to take the Holy Spirit from him, as though the Holy Spirit is simply a possession to be given. On the other side, the orthodox position argued that the majority of the Bible presented the Holy Spirit as a person; that he possessed personal capabilities like being able to be grieved (Isaiah 53:10) or lied to (Acts 5:3). Also on the side of the orthodox position, historically it had long been customary to baptise new believers into the three names of the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To remove this ambiguity, the Nicene Creed was consequently expanded to read

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father [later ‘and the Son’ was added], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

The Holy Spirit was now identified as a person, co-equal and co-eternal with God, and the final heresy of Arianism was put to rest.

Why it Matters

The invitation to Christian faith is the invitation to participate in the Trinitarian life. The deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit is therefore critical not only for a right understanding of who God is, but for salvation, and the continuing Christian life – the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-26). For modern Christians it is no different; the Holy Spirit is the least talked about and understood of the Trinity, and we would do well to get to know all we can of Him as we seek to obey Scripture by walking “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (23/08)

10 Common but Illegitimate Reasons to Divorce

This article needs no introduction, except to say that I appreciate the clarity, and all Christians would do well to be equipped with a good theology of marriage/divorce/remarriage.

Getting Bored with the Right Things

Jared C. Wilson sagely observes how Christians are all too often prone to outspoken activity (whether it be social, political, or ethical) over that which is temporary, but when it comes to the things of the gospel, we can barely keep ourselves awake.

Anxiety Resources

David Murray provides a number of helpful new books and articles. In particular, I found Before You Advise Something with Anxiety… very insightful.

God and the Transgender Debate

Christians seem to be playing catch-up o the transgender debate. Often the issue is oversimplified, and from a place of ignorance. I’ve just bought this new book from Andrew Walker, because I run the risk of being that Christian too.

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