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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

Wednesdays on the Web (13/12)

Is the Pope Right about the Lord’s Prayer?

I must admit I was fascinated to hear that the Pope has done more than simply recommend that the Lord’s prayer be amended for clarity, but that he’s actually given permission for his clergy to begin using his updated phrasing. To a certain extent, language shifts (or expands) over time, and words can take on a broader semantic range. So is the Pope on the right track here?

UPDATE: Al Mohler weighs in on the discussion.

Why Invest in the Men?

The church should never lose focus on its goal to fulfill the Commission to share the good news of the gospel with those who haven’t yet heard. But the church’s ministry is two-fold, the other side of that same coin being to make those new hearers into mature believers and disciples of Jesus Christ. Here are five excellent reasons why Pastors should proactively invest in the lives of the men under their charge.

Things Pastors Should Never Say

My favourite is number 7: “I have not had time to prepare today’s sermon as thoroughly as I should have.” But in all seriousness, there are good arguments here for why pastors need to adopt a careful vocabulary which excludes these phrases.

Sex Against God

Sex is not about securing pleasure for yourself, but about giving an incredible gift to your spouse.

Should We Capitalize Divine Pronouns?

I’ve been corrected by people on both sides of this argument, and I’ve never really had an opinion—in fact I’ve been pretty ambivalent, oscilating between the two. But I very much like the argument put forward by the highly respected Mounce, and I think it just settled the argument for me. Finally.

How to Grow Your Marriage While Having Young Kids

Jen Wilkin, Melissa Kruger, and Gavin Ortlund have some sage advice on ways to invest in your marriage during the busiest season of family (and they have more kids than me, which I found reassuring).

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My Top 17 Books for 2017

As I look back over the books I read in 2017, coming up with a short list wasn’t easy. There has been so many valuable, entertaining, and formational pages published this year that it’s virtually impossible to select only one book as a category winner. So, in no particular order, here they are. All highly recommended.

The Listening Life

This could well be the greatest book of the 60+ books I’ve read this year. McHugh’s insight into how God as the Creator can potentially use any part of creation as his agent to speak to us is a wonderful way to expand our understanding of the transcended yet immanent God. With chapters on listening to creation, scripture, others, ourselves, and more, this book held so many lessons for a terrible listener like me that I’ll be re-reading this one very soon.

Keep an eye out for my review early in 2018.

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 and no small amount of conflict. It is a genuine experience which needs to be met with love; these are real people. In God and the Transgender Debate Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides, Walker delivers the truth in love, in a way which is helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.
Read my full review.

The Flash (New 52) Volume 1: Move Forward

Opinions are divided, but I love CW’s Flash. After reading Flash REBIRTH, this was a fantastic introduction to where the Flash is now, and where he’s going. The artwork is sublime, and the pace matches the momentum of CW’s Flash. In volume 1, Mob Rule wages a campaign of crime across Central City, plunging the city into darkness, and (in line with what we’re seeing in the current series of CW’s Flash) the only way Barry Allen can save his city is to make his brain function even faster than before — but as much as it helps him, it also comes at a steep price. My clear favourite in the Rebirthed DCU, hands down.

Meet Martin Luther: A Sketch of the Reformers Life

I’ve read a number of books on Luther in 2017 (plus attended a conference on Luther, and preached from Romans from the angle of the Reformation), and I wondered what value this one was going to add. However, in Meet Martin Luther, Selvaggio gives a brief but informative sketch that helps us to see Luther as he was, but I think it also kindles an interest in learning more about him.

None Like Him

In ten chapters Jen Wilkin looks at ten of God’s incommunicable attributes (things that are only true of God), showing that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. In a way that is accessible, but without losing any of its majesty, Wilkin talks about the importance of studying God’s attributes; getting to know this incomprehensibly glorious God who has not only made himself known to us, but wants to be known by us.

The Curious Christian

I quickly discovered that The Curious Christian describes two things simultaneously; the person I’m not and the person I should be. The Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with believing… “I believe, help my unbelief.” We should be people who are characterized by a godly curiosity, and who use that knowledge to connect people and cultures to God’s truth so they too can see God’s glory. Read my full review.

100 Cupboards

In January, February, and July I completed this delightful trilogy by N. D. Wilson. In the first book of the trilogy we meet Henry York, a boy who discovers in his bedroom portals to one hundred different worlds. The story has a wonderful The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-esque mix of the wondrous meeting the ordinary, and Wilson is a creative and talented world-builder.

Being There

Working through depression as he came to terms with needing care on a daily basis, Pastor Dave Furman writes of his journey (shared with his wife and four children) offering highly practical encouragement for how to love those who are walking through pain and suffering. Highly personal and practical, Furman offers strategy for helping those who are hurting, and also for those who are currently in the midst of suffering. Including a helpful chapter on how not to help, books like Being There can help every one of us in the local church to pursue the broken with the healing, restoring news of the gospel. Read my full review.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies. So isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to our own physiological signals. Learning to listen to our bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? I’ve learned that listening to my body is intrinsically connected to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.

Enjoy

Enjoy is a call to delight in the gifts that God has intended for us to enjoy, and see and know Him as the giver of these good gifts. As Newbell infuses her own story into each chapter, the richness of what it means to enjoy giving, resting, sex, food, art, and more is simultaneously encouraging and transformative. Rich with scripture, Enjoy continues to point the reader back to Christ as the ultimate gift of God that we should enjoy in and above everything else. Enjoy is relevant and readily adopted into the life of every Christian. Read my full review.

On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga (of which this is book one) takes the Most Fun Book Award for 2017. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, and their crippled sister Leeli live with their noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. Their adventures see them run from the venomous Fangs of Dang, horned hounds, and toothy cows. They seek after the lost jewels of Anniera, all the while pursued by a nameless evil named Gnag, the Nameless. On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is full of courage, discovery, and destiny. The best part is on the final pages, and I couldn’t click “Buy” on book two quickly enough.

The New City Catechism

I’m all for learning by catechism; after all, what is learning if not asking questions and getting understandable, concise yet comprehensive answers? The NCC is visually engaging, and (as I’ve said elsewhere about similar resources) packages profound theological truth in simple sentences that can be left as they are, or used as a launchpad for deeper discussion, depending on the ages of those seated at your table. Young and old in the faith will benefit from solidifying the foundational truths of Christianity with the NCC.

You Are What You Love

.When it comes to our spiritual formation, the average Western Christian has lost much of the value that comes from practices that quiet our souls and remind us of who we are. From society around us we run the risk of succumbing to bad doctrines and false narratives; carelessly adopting our secular culture’s daily liturgies. In You Are What You Love Smith argues for a return to intentional practices that immerse our souls in “liturgies indexed to the kingdom of God”. Read the full review

The Imperfect Disciple

If (like me) you’re among those who seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus, but are broken and in daily need of grace, then The Imperfect Disciple is for you too. Jared C. Wilson writes “Discipleship is for the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded” This is the best spiritual formation book I’ve read this year.
Read my Top 10 Quotes from the book.

Ordinary Saints

Returning to the biblical language, Devenish defines saints as “all people who have been made righteous through their faith in Christ and who subsequently adjust their mode of living to reflect Christ’s life in the world.” Saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel, because Ordinary Saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved—completely and unconditionally.
Read my full review.

Sing!

In Sing! Keith & Kristyn Getty masterfully communicate five goals; to discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing; to consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives; to cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life; to equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity; and to inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world. Quality reading for every Christian.
Read my full review.

I Am Spock

Currently my favourite autobiography, I Am Spock is so much more than the story of the actor who created the iconic Vulcan. Nimoy writes with the elegance of a seasoned entertainer; each sentence rich with experience and full of emotion. The ongoing dialogue with the internal and ever-present Mr. Spock sprinkles the whole journey with friendly banter as Spock and Nimoy seek to better understand each other, but also provides a fascinating insight into just how pervasive the development of this character became in Nimoy’s life. Thoroughly engaging; fun, gripping, hard to put down. Everything it should be.

So there you have it. My favourite reads for 2017. If you’d like to see the full list of what I read, you can view my 2017 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.

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The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion

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 Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Background

In 1563 when the thirty-nine Articles were completed, state churches were appearing all over Europe and religion and political decisions were inseparable. While not technically a council or a creed, the Articles of Religion intended to clearly establish and articulate Anglican Theology (Church of England) over against the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists.

The Content

The Articles aimed to be catholic; that is, in agreement with the great ecumenical councils of the church about Jesus Christ and the Trinity. They also mention that the Roman Catholic church is indeed prone to error, while maintaining some of their practices (like use of the prayer book and their view of church hierarchy). However, when it comes to theology the Articles lean much more heavily towards a Protestant confession; the sufficiency of Scripture alone, the condemnation of the doctrines of Purgatory, Pardons, and Invocation of Saints. The Articles also call for reform to church structures to allow for services to be held in the common language, and allowing clergy to marry. Finally the Articles are both Protestant and evangelical in that they acknowledge the Five Solas and the number of sacraments, and are moderately Calvinistic in that they teach predestination and reject the idea of transubstantiation at the Lord’s Supper.

In the remainder of the Articles, this confession of the Church of England clarifies its stance on what it considered to be secondary issues; original sin, free will, and infant baptism. The purpose here was to clearly establish her orthodoxy within mainstream Protestantism. The document was very well written; narrow enough to clearly identify the unique expression found in the Church of England, yet  broad enough that all English Protestants could stand by it. The only real point of contention was on the presentation of the twin doctrines of predestination and election. The church warned that these matters must be handled with care, as they were likely to cause offence to the unbelieving.

Why It Matters

The thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a good example of establishing fertile soil in which healthy theological conversation can grow, while simultaneously laying down borders outside which heresy is found. Perhaps the most relevant section for the church today is actually the longest of the thirty-nine Articles; Article 17 on predestination. It reads:

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

I found this excellent article written in May of 2017 which discusses it very well. It concludes by saying “So if you are worried about your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are confident of your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then we will praise and love him in eternal security.”

 

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (06/12)

What Student Ministry Really Needs? Homework

Jen Wilkin is on the money in this article where she communicates that teens should take Bible study as seriously as school and sports practice.

10 Must-Read Posts for Young Christian Wives

Full disclosure: I didn’t read all of the articles linked through here in full, but I poked around in most of them. They’re well written, and will provoke thought, and hopefully healthy discussion.

The inspiration of Wonder Woman & the Disappointment of its Postscript

Melinda Cousins (biblical studies lecturer at Tabor Adelaide) reflects on the success of Wonder Woman, and provides a critique of this portrayal as it continued in Justice League.

Diana Prince in 2017’s Wonder Woman is both empowered and empowering. She is heroic, brave and strong. She is the protagonist of her own story, but the men surrounding her do not appear threatened or emasculated by her. She is portrayed as clearly feminine and yet not overly sexualised. She is emotionally vulnerable, idealistic, perhaps even naïve, and her greatest strengths lie in her compassion, her love and her hope. She upends the assumptions that a parade of men make about her to ensure that she is fully heard and seen. She fires up our imagination of what a girl can be.

Go Set a Watchman

Carl Lentz is back being biblically wishy-washy on Christians ethics. Again.

The 2018 Reading Challenge is Here

I first picked up Tim Challies’ reading challenge a few years ago, and greatly appreciated the way that it forced me to read outside of my normal interests, genres, and worldview. Whether you have a kindle, a library card, your local church, or that friend with too many books at home, there’s a way to enjoy a balanced diet of books that will entertain, challenge, and motivate you to be a better person. The benefits are as plentiful as the books.

Waiting in the Dark

Advent creates space to acknowledge that God’s work of redemption is not yet finished.

God’s Will in Seven Words

The next time you or someone you care about is wrestling with the will of God, try helping them out with these seven words.

One Important Gnome

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What I Read in November

November was a month that felt like it flew past at the speed of light.  In the rare moments I was able to steal this month, I started another book on Luther, my kindle has the first book in the Five Solas series, I purchased a couple of Batman/Flash trade paperbacks, and I’ve continued my read through Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship. Most of my time was dedicated to the two titles below however, and I can tell you that they both made me feel like I was back at Bible College. Both are so weighty; every paragraph bursting with content that felt like a five course meal. As a result, I read slowly, read carefully, took notes, and often felt like having a nap after I finished a chapter. That said, I recommend both these titles as they’re both goldmines that deserve to be plundered for the vast wealth they contain.

This Listening Life

As we’re now in December and there isn’t much of 2017 left, I can say with some confidence that this could well be the greatest book of the 60 books I’ve read this year. I had to read so many chapters more than once, stopped to write 3 blog posts and many more notes, and plan on re-reading the whole thing again early next year. Take it from a guy who is a terrible listener all-round, I am immensely grateful to Adam S. McHugh for teaching me so many things that I need to constantly learn and re-learn on my journey to becoming a better listener.
Keep any eye out for my review of this one early next year. With chapters covering listening to creation, scripture, others, and ourselves, this really is a book for every Christian.

Spiritual And Religious

“I’m spiritual, just not religious.” It’s a phrase that is often heard among churchgoers as a way to downplay their lukewarm Christianity, and sometimes by those who don’t go to church, but still wish to be validated as Christian. But what does this “spirituality” consist of? In Spiritual and Religious Tom Wright argues that, whether people realize it or not, they are often simply reverting to forms of ancient paganism that are very similar to those that confronted the earliest Christians.
This book was another heavy read, and not recommended for the lighthearted—but it puts forward a compelling argument to a very important and prolific problem.

Now What?

December’s reading list has now been compiled, and I can tell you, I’ll be taking it easier over the holiday season. Look out for a longer, lighter list of literary leisure in the coming weeks.

 


See what else I read in 2017:

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I’m Glad Today is about Hope

If there is one thing that the world needs more of, certainly it would be hope. We live in a world which continues to suffer as a result of moral decline. Drawn-out periods of war, political ignorance of the plight of the poor, and widespread support for issues which contravene the created order. On one hand, its easy to see that the world is increasingly a place without hope. However, as I sat with our two youngest boys this morning, we talked about the significance of today in the calendar of the church. Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the season of anticipation in which we look forward to the coming of the saviour of the world; both the arrival of the Saviour at Christmas, and his immanent return. It’s a season filled with hope; but what exactly does that mean?

What I Love about Hope

Scripture speaks of hope as an expectation of the unseen and of the future (Rom 8:24-25), the ground upon which our hope is based (i.e. “Christ in you the hope of glory”, Col 1:27), the confidence of the coming resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6), and objectively about God himself as the author of hope—not merely the subject—the “God of hope” (Rom 15:13). Unlike the poor parody of hope that the world offers, hope for the Christian has its foundation in a God who has already come and fulfilled his promises to us, giving us every reason to trust that what he says, he does. Hope came to the world that night in a stable in Bethlehem; and with his life, death, and resurrection hundreds of God’s promises made known to humanity over hundreds of years through a dozen different authors all came to be fulfilled. So when I talk about hope with my boys, I talk about the joyful anticipation of seeing all of history continue to unfold in the exact way that Jesus promised. For our family, this includes the confident assurance of being reunited with deceased loved ones in the presence of Jesus. It means new, perfect bodies suited for life in heaven. It means no more tears, or pain, or mourning, or depression, or unforgiveness, or hate.

Today is the Sunday of Hope. And this Advent season as we fix our gaze toward the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas morning and the wonder and magnitude of the invitation that accompanies the news of that event, our hearts are filled with joy knowing that the one who came to save the world will soon come again to claim what he has redeemed. Jesus Christ has proven himself to be utterly trustworthy, infinitely powerful, totally sovereign, and unquestionably supreme. Our hope is built on nothing less.

Come, Lord Jesus. Soon.

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Getting (More) Excited about Christmas

Total honesty—I’m not the biggest house-decorating, Santa hat-wearing, festive Christmas person ever. Lest you think I’m the Grinch though, know that every December I anticipate the coming of the Saviour of the world by singing carols with gusto; celebrating family, friends, and food with the same gusto; and participate in the giving and receiving of gifts to remind myself that God gave the ultimate gift to us that night in a stable in Bethlehem. I just don’t tend to get too excited about, well, all the other stuff. All that said, this year I find myself feeling much more enthusiastic about getting into all things Yuletide. So in that spirit, here is a short list of things that I’ve started enjoying (yes, even before the 1st of December):

Music

I’m enjoying two Christmas albums; Lauren Daigle’s Behold, and Christmas Collection Vol. 1 by Sleeping At Last (both released in 2017). I first encountered Lauren Daigle when she sang Noel on Chris Tomlin’s Adore album (see the clip). With New Orleans-style horns and Lauren’s enchanting vocals, Behold is the album that got me listening to Christmas music before December 1 for the first time ever.
My praise for Sleeping At Last’s latest release is similar; I love the fresh, laid-back take on many Christmas favourites (there’s plenty of original tracks too). I enjoyed being surprised by the easy listening, and the lack of literally everything that I dislike about most Christmas music. I have a feeling that both of these albums will enter regular rotation on my Christmas playlist for years to come.

Advent

Beginning on Sunday the 3rd of December, and lasting until Christmas Eve, Advent 2017 is another opportunity for us as individuals, families, and churches to rejoice and contemplate together the two advents of Christ—one already, and the other not yet.

Last year, our family prepared for Christmas with Advent daily readings from The Expected One. They’re short—and like any good book designed for family devotion—package profound theological truth in simple sentences that can be left as they are, or used as a launchpad for deeper discussion, depending on the ages of those seated at your table. In addition to this again, I’ve also just ordered a copy of The Littlest Watchman to read with our two youngest. Although, from what I’ve heard (and what I can see from the artwork) I think we’re all going to enjoy reading this one too.
Personally, I also read through John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, because few people remind me like Piper that Christmas is about adoring Jesus.

Lights

In addition to this, Christmas enthusiasts will give assent upon hearing that we’ve also begun wrapping our house in lights. Unlike some others in our street, we’re not trying to compete with the Eiffel Tower or be seen from space, but our kids are old enough now to enjoy the activity, and the nightly anticipation of waiting for the sun to go down (Christmas runs on solar power at our house) brings a lesson and also a reward.

Last, As I’ve given in to essentially every other Christmassy thing by late November this year, the one thing I’m sticking to my guns on is the tree. For those who ask the question every year, allow me to put the matter to rest for you: as today is the 1st of December, you may now put up your tree. You’re welcome.

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Wednesdays on the Web (29/11)

Why Seminary? Exhibit A: Joel Osteen

…formal theological training at seminary level is not a biblical prerequisite for being a preacher of God’s word. The Apostle Peter, for instance, had no MDiv degree hanging on his office wall. But I’m sure we all agree that his 24/7 intensive, three year internship with Jesus was, um …adequate preparation. But if an excellent theological education is available to you, there is wisdom in being a good steward of that opportunity.

Loving Better by Typing Less

The thing about sinful, broken people is that there is never a shortage of sin and brokenness. However, it rarely (if ever) does anyone any good to be publicly thrown under the bus for wrong thoughts, wrong actions, and wrong words. I’m an advocate for the model of church discipline that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18, and I’d be happy to see less of the former, and proportionately more of the latter.

Sometimes a Light Surprises (A Thanksgiving Poem)

If you are going through a period of spiritual darkness this Thanksgiving, let the truth of Cowper’s poem encourage you to thank God for your trial, knowing that when you least expect, God may astonish you with his truth.

Top 17 Books of 2017

Not sure where to begin with Christmas presents this year? You’re welcome.

Advent Reading Plans

We’ve been through some of these as a family (and will again). For those who need a springboard to launch family discussions around anticipating the coming of the Saviour, these are a great place to start.

28 Non-Numerical Signs of a Healthy Church

Last, do you find yourself (sorry, I meant people you know) too caught up in a church that needs to grow numerically? CT has posted a wonderful list that points us away from an interest in being “A Church Grower”, “Apostolic Multiplier”, or any other kind of numbers-centric motivator. Looking at this list, I would be so bold as to say that numbers are one of the last things from which we should measure the health of a church.

 

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2017: How My Inbox Stayed Empty and Productivity Soared

An empty inbox. It sounds like a dream too good to ever be true. With the sheer volume of emails that some people receive plus meetings, social media notifications, relationships, phone calls, and other demands on our time, an empty inbox can appear as insurmountable as climbing Mt Everest. It’s been done though, so why not this? Here’s a quick summary of how I’ve consistently maintained an empty inbox throughout 2017, and seen my productivity soar.

Emails—an Overview

I run my life from the “Unread Mail” folder on my iPhone. It’s where all my email accounts converge and where the majority of new tasks, notifications, and invitations come to me. Using this folder instead of multiple inboxes means two things.  First, I’m forced to deal with every email I open, as once I close it and my mail client marks it as read, it’s gone from my field of vision. So if I haven’t dealt with it, it’s out of sight and probably already out of my mind. Second, this folder view means I’m freed to not be distracted by the emails of yesterday. The long list of days and weeks worth of already read emails in my Inbox would fill my screen and clutter my thoughts.

So how does this work? Every time I open an email from this folder I need to ask what it is. Do I have the knowledge on hand to reply to this email immediately? If yes, do it. Right now. If not, does it contain something I need to do? Then I close it, and create a task in Todoist (more on that below). Is it an invitation or an appointment that I need to remember to go to? Then I’ll create an entry in my calendar with everything I need to know (I often copy-and-paste the email into the calendar entry for reference), then it’s gone. If my response isn’t either of these, then is it a piece of information I need to keep; a file, a document, an invoice, a snippet of important information? It goes into Evernote, saved in the appropriate Notebook Stack. By categorising all my incoming emails in this manner, every piece of mail that enters my Unread Mail folder is identified, dealt with accordingly, then made to disappear.

Calendar

Anyone who knows me will attest to the reality that remembering isn’t my strongest suit. I have a job where my customer appointments are scheduled for me, and so while at work I live by my calendar. Team managers, personnel schedulers, and peers all have visibility of my day and can slot in appointments, leaving me to fill in the gaps.

My wife and I also have a shared calendar (via Google) which syncs across our iPhones. This way we always know when the other will be taking kids to the doctor or be home late, plus be ready for that wedding/baby shower/BBQ on the weekend. When an email arrives that means I/we have to be somewhere sometime, it goes straight into the calendar, and syncs everywhere it needs to, then it’s gone.

Todoist

This is where I keep my running To Do list. I’ve found the best way to keep things simple here is to keep each task to a short, single line description, beginning with the verb it requires. For example “PAY: Gas bill”, or “RETURN: Tools to Nathan”. The verb gives me a one-word overview of what kind of task it is before I see specifics.

I also love that when I add (for example) “today”, “next Wednesday”, or “Every second Thursday” to the end of a task, Todoist works its magic. When I hit save, Todoist strips off the day/date words from the end of the line, and simply causes the task to appear in my TODAY list, to be dealt with on the day(s) I specified. Does an email require me to complete a certain action? Todoist.

Evernote

Whether it’s an invoice, the next roster for the church ministry I serve in, a shopping list, or just something I want to read later, if it’s not a task and not a calendar appointment, chances are this is where it goes. Evernote holds all my files and information. It has great document capture, web and email clipping, a powerful search tool, and an intelligent photo capture tool for small things that I lose easily like receipts and invoices. The other power of Evernote is found in the use of folders. I currently have top-level folders for Work, Family, Personal, Church, and Study. Has an email come to me with a document I need to proofread? A receipt from an online purchase? Save it to Evernote, then adiós!

So there you have it. There’s a lot more to how each of these systems work, and how to get the most out of the even more intricate and powerful ecosystem they form when used together. But through the simple activity of sorting incoming emails into tasks, appointments, and information, I’ve not only gone to bed at night with zero emails in my inbox, but I’ve got more done, slept better knowing everything is accounted for and no task or appointment will be forgotten, and seen my productivity soar.

Want to know more? Get in touch with me through the email button on the website. I’ll respond the same day.

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Come and Drink

If you’ve grown up in church, you’re familiar with the story in John 4 where a woman at a well encounters Jesus. It’s a wonderful story, and one that carries profound revelation as Jesus Christ evangelises this woman and shows her (and us) what is required for genuine salvation.

Refresh your memory on the story here first.

Lesson #1: Jesus was Mission-Minded

We’re told in the text that Jesus left Judea and he’s making the journey to Galilee. We also read that he ‘had to’ pass through Samaria. This is the first point of interest in John’s story. ‘Had to’. There are multiple ways that one could travel from Judea to Galilee; there was definitely no necessity for Jesus to pass through Samaria as though it was the only way to get to his destination. Although it was the most direct route, it was also the one that Jews (stricter Jews in particular) avoided at all costs. You could easily go to the East up the coastal route or to the West inland over the Jordan River in order to avoid Samaria. This is what most Jews would have done.

You see, to the Jews the Samaritans were an unclean people. John MacArthur explains that Samaritans were essentially a corrupted form of the Jewish race. When the Assyrians came and took much of the northern kingdom of Israel captive, the Jews who remained intermarried with all kinds of pagan nations and so they were a hybrid people who had forsaken their Judaism, committing the most serious of offences by marrying people who worshipped false gods and idols. Samaritans were considered the worst kind of outcasts, even to the point that their land was considered ‘cursed ground’.

Q: So why did Jesus ‘have to’ pass through this region for which the Jews held so much disdain?

A: Like always, Jesus had a divine appointment. He had to, because he was fulfilling the will of his father to seek and save the lost. There was much more than just a geographical convenience at work here.

Lesson #2: Jesus Found Common Ground

One thing you’ll notice about Jesus in the gospels is that he never responds to questions the way we expect him to. And this encounter is no different. Jesus doesn’t answer the woman’s question about why he has spoken to her, and he’s even been so bold as to ask her for a drink. Rather, ignoring all the cultural stuff, in verse 10 Jesus says to her “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”.

This is Jesus’ way of saying “I’m the one who has everything you could ever need.”

But wait. Just a moment ago, Jesus was talking about being thirsty, and the woman having the water. Now suddenly Jesus has flipped the conversation around. He is the one with the water, and she is the one who is thirsty. The woman’s reply was understandable confusion. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep”. She didn’t understand what for us is another lesson in Jesus’ evangelism strategy. Jesus found common ground with the person he was sharing with. Jesus used the need for physical water as an entry point into a conversation about greater spiritual realities.

Lesson #3: Jesus Offered Without Regard for Circumstances

Water is life! And that’s exactly what Jesus is offering; on a much grander, eternal scale. Jesus invites all people to come. Come, drink, and have life. The water that Jesus offers this woman is salvation without regard for her circumstances. It isn’t hindered by her immorality, it isn’t rendered ineffective by her religious indifference, it isn’t voided because of her ethnicity; he simply offers her this living water freely.

This is where Christianity stands in contrast against every other religion. Other religions demand “do this morally”, “do that ceremonially”, or “work hard to be a certain way”. The gospel says “It’s a free gift”. Those who miss out on heaven don’t miss out because they failed to work hard enough, or love others enough, or somehow measure up enough… they’re the ones who simply failed to ask for the water. To accept the free gift.

Jonathan Edwards famously said

“You contribute nothing to your salvation
except the sin that made it necessary”.

Jesus says to her “if you knew who it was that asked, you would have asked me”. And that’s all the sinner can do. Recognise our need, and ask.

 


This post was adapted from a sermon I delivered at North Pine Baptist Church in early 2017.
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Wednesdays on the Web (22/11)

You Are Not Your Personality Profile

I see the value in understanding that I’m an ESTJ. At the time that I filled out the test, I paid extra to receive the extended personality profile results so that I could dig deeper into the quirks of why I am this way (because, for the most part, I fit the categories almost perfectly) and so I understand myself—particularly my flaws—better. However, Aaron is also dead right when he says here that we can take it too far.

2017 Winter Book List

It’s always helpful when someone else puts these lists together, particularly when broken down into categories that are helpful for parents with children of different ages and interests. Not to mention more than a few award-winning reads to add to my own list while I’m there.

Nerds! Get Your Greek On

I’ve studied only one Intro to Biblical Languages unit, and I’m super keen for more. One valuable resource to connect with some more intermediate courses are offered by Zondervan Academic. But in the mean time if you can’t spare the cash, ESV have made the Greek Bible available online for free. How about that.

7 Habits that make People seem Less Intelligent

You always want to put your best foot forward, right? Well here are some things from healthyway.com that you may have thought made you appear smarter, but actually don’t.

The Necessity of Effectively Communicating with Children

When it comes to children, I think there’s a fine line (which I often can’t see) between using the words we want our children to grow up into, and adopting the words that they use today. We have songs playing in our car (right now it’s Phil Vischer’s What’s in the Bible: the Songs) which use words like Pentateuch and Apostatize, which some adults still can’t define. This article presents some good thoughts on how to see that line.

SSM – What will change? What does it mean? How do we respond?

It’s simpler than you might think.

Jen Wilkin on Women as indispensable to the Church

 

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Listening is Loving: Part 2

Listening is something of a lost art which needs to be recaptured, retaught, and reapplied in our relationships with God and with others; both because it will greatly improve our quality of life, and because it lies at the heart of what it means to be like the God who Himself listens to us.

In his book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Adam S. McHugh talks about listening as one of the best gifts we can both give and receive. At the time of writing this I’m six chapters in to his book and already I’ve been encouraged and challenged (see part one) in many ways with regard to listening to God, to Scripture, to my emotions, and to others.

Today, I want to explore what it looks like to be a bad listener, because I saw myself in many of these categories and I’ve learned that active listening is a whole lot more involved than simply paraphrasing and returning what someone has said, or asking open-ended questions (however good the intention).

Here are a few of the usual suspects in the ongoing case of bad listening:

The One-up. “You think that’s something? Let me tell you about what happened to me last week!” Here the listener sits quietly through the other person’s story only to try to trump them with a better, more interesting story. It’s a competition more than a conversation.

The Sleight-of-hand. “Uh huh, that’s great. But what I really want to talk to you about is…” Listening lulls the speaker into a false sense of security so that they don’t see the trick coming, namely, what the speaker’s agenda is for the conversation.

The Inspector. “Didn’t you say last week that…” The listener asks a series of questions, usually closed-ended questions, in a way that feels like a detective questioning a suspect, trying to lure him into a confession. Listening is the lightning before the thunder, the burning fuse before the bomb.

The Reroute. “That reminds me of…” The listener takes the topic the speaker has addressed and rolls it over, however clumsily, into the topic she wants to talk about or the story she wants to tell. Nothing will stop her from talking about what she came to talk about.

The Projector. “I’m totally dealing with the same thing!” The listener projects his problems onto the speaker, and then projects his solutions onto the speaker’s problems. The projector sees himself in every conversation.

The Interrogation. “What do you think about….? What is your favourite…? Why are you moving to…?” The listener gets wind of the idea that listening is about asking questions, which is good, but then peppers the speaker with them like a game of dodgeball, which is bad. Here we learn that questions, as helpful as they can be, can also be very controlling, and that they can be vehicles for the questioner’s agenda.

The Password. “Cheese. I had the best cheese at a dinner party with the mayor last week!” The listener sits quietly through the speaker’s conversation, but then seizes on one word that she uses, amid a sea of paragraphs, and treats it as a password that unlocks a whole new conversation. The original context has no bearing on where the password takes you. It sounds funny, but it happens more than you might think. The password sentence usually starts with “Speaking of…”

The Hijack. You have to give the listener credit with this one: at least he’s honest and doesn’t even pretend to use what the speaker said as a stepping stone. He refrains from speech while the other person talks and then just starts talking about whatever is on his mind, as though they are two deaf ships passing in the night. I’m reminded of a quote I heard once that says most people do not dialogue; they perform a monologue in the presence of another person.

The Mechanic. “Here is what you need to do.” This person listens like a mechanic listens to a sputtering engine, trying to diagnose the problem so she can fix it. Contrary to popular cultural thinking, both men and women are guilty of this one.

The Bone of Contention. “I disagree with that!” There are an unfortunate number of listeners who listen specifically for what they disagree with. Ask a pastor what people talk to him about after a sermon if you don’t believe me. Even if they agree with 99 percent of what a person says, they will pounce on the 1 percent they don’t agree with, and in doing so they ignore what is significant to the speaker.

The Deflector. “Yeah but you…” This one is a refuge for people who have a hard time receiving criticism, which, let’s be honest, is all of us. Someone offers us feedback, so we quickly return the favour without taking the time to absorb what he said.

The Boomerang Question. “Did you have a good weekend? Because I…” Here a person asks a question of another person with the true intention of answering it herself. The question goes out and then boomerangs back. If you know the answer to your own question, you probably shouldn’t ask it. Sometimes when I get a boomerang question, I’ll respond, “Why don’t you just tell me how your weekend went?” ?That usually gets my message across.

If I am “listening” in such a way that the speaker has to make an abrupt shift in focus over to me, then I’m not doing it right. I’ve learned that a good listener must be ruthless in pushing away the ever-present temptation to make the conversation about them. Good Listening always denies the natural selfishness of their own human heart and instead imitates the self-emptying attitude of Jesus who gave his life in love.

 

 


Today’s post was adapted from chapter six of Adam S. McHugh’s book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.

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The Heidelberg Catechism

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 Heidelberg Catechism.

Background

Only a few decades after Luther’s 95 theses appeared in Wittenberg, the Protestant church was already diverse in its theology. Unlike the Catholic church which had a set of central doctrines (established at the council of Trent), there was disagreement, and Protestants were only unified at the level of the five Solas, with various branches of Protestantism able to place their own interpretations over the top of that foundation. The Heidelberg Catechism served as a rallying point for the Reformed Protestant faith, unifying the doctrine while simultaneously providing a way of clearly teaching it to young and old Christians alike.

The Catechism

Aiming to be both of these things (a guide for religious instruction as well as a solid unified confession of faith), the catechism is divided up into 129 questions, which are then also formatted into 52 days to aid in teaching throughout the Sundays of the calendar year. Within these questions, there are discussions of every major area of Christian faith; including the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Supper, the Apostles’ Creed in detail, the gospel, and humanity’s response to the gospel. Question 1 of the catechism captures this summary of the whole gospel:

Question. What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Why It Matters

The Heidelberg catechism is one of the most famous documents of the Protestant Reformation, and not only did it rapidly gain popularity in its day, but 450 years later it is still the official statement of theology for many Reformed Protestant churches. It speaks clearly and without hesitation to divide heresy from sound doctrine in the fundamental issues of Christian faith, especially the content of the gospel.

Heinrich Bullinger wrote of the Heidelberg catechism:

“The order of the book is clear; the matter true, good, and beautiful; the whole is luminous, fruitful and godly; it comprehends many and great truths in a small compass. I believe that no better catechism has ever been issued.”

In short, this document deserves to be frequently read by and taught to Christians of every age.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (08/11)

Looking Like Monastics

I heartily agree with the sentiment in this article. Too often Christian women are encouraged to ‘feel all the feels’ when it comes to their faith; seeking the Spirit but discouraged from engaging the intellect. I’ve been very glad to see so many excellent women bible teachers and theologians recently, and pray this continues to increase.

Hillsong Pastor Carl Lenz in the Spotlight

Pastors can’t dodge hard questions. Pastors are appointed by God to answer hard questions. They are the figures in the cosmos who must speak the truth.

How to Revive Lifeless Prayer

Of all the spiritual disciplines, surely the most essential are bible reading and prayer. But these can be difficult, and often we go through seasons of dryness. Here are 10 tips from The Master’s Seminary on how to breath life into your prayer life.

Emotional Intelligence is a Critical Trait

On this podcast episode, Thom Rainer covers the four characteristics of emotional intelligence that are essential for a pastor/church planter.

9 Ways to Protect your Children from Sexual Abuse

Justin & Lindsey Holcomb have written an excellent book (we’ve have this on our shelf for a few years now), and have distilled a summary of the main points here.

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The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection

Recently I’ve been reading through Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, and I was struck by his exposition of the sixth beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. Bonhoeffer writes

A pure heart … belongs entirely to Christ; it looks only to him, who goes on ahead. Those alone will see God who in this life have looked only to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Their hearts are free of defiling images; they are not pulled back and forth by the various wishes and intentions of their own. Their hearts are fully absorbed in seeing God. They will see God whose hearts mirror the image of Jesus Christ.

A number of things struck me in reading Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this verse. The first was my complete inadequacy to ever be one who possesses a pure heart. What would it be like to never have an impulse or desire that became more important to me than Jesus—even for a second—so that my highest, uncontested desire is always for him and what he desires? I’m the first to admit that I would never have the strength to accomplish that kind of purity of desire on my own. And yet, the second thought that followed in rapid succession was that Jesus gave these commandments to help us realise exactly this. The law was given to point us to Christ, and so it is with the beatitudes. These traits that should be common to every Christian serve to put on display the God who loved us and saved us by giving his life for us.

When I consider the way that Scripture presents the one coherent narrative of God’s redemptive action towards all that he has made, I know that there are answers to be found to this initially impossible task. And I also know that God doesn’t give commands simply to get us down because we’ve realised we’ll never live up to the dizzying high standard.

The answer came to me while reading what God said to King Nebuchadnezzar through his servant Daniel. After interpreting the king’s dream (and not in the way the king was hoping for!) Daniel offers the king this sage advice:

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Daniel 4:27, emphasis mine)

How was the king to make progress towards a pure heart? He needed to break off his sins. But we all know that sin has a powerful hold, and we would almost always prefer the pleasure, fleeting though we know it is. But this is where the words of Daniel go a step further than what often occurs to us. We don’t simply stop doing something—leaving a void that only serves to remind us of the sin we’re trying to leave behind—we replace that desire with a true and better desire. We develop new habits, we form different neural pathways, we desire new delights. Jesus himself tells us that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are blessed because we shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Nothing else will ultimately satisfy these hearts that were made by God and for God, and so we recognise that what we need is the expulsive power of a greater affection. I’ve realised more that if I’m ever going to be successful in breaking off sin, I need to more actively seek after the all-satisfying Saviour.

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Wednesdays on the Web (01/11)

The Proven Path to Mental Health

Christianity turns out to be the greatest, most beautiful story of redemption ever told. It addresses all our greatest and deepest needs and longings. It offers all of us the most hope, no matter who we are and how horrible we’ve been. When holistically believed and consistently lived, Christianity produces the most mentally healthy people history has ever known.

The Reformation and Doxology

A Reformed pastor from Tasmania who makes his opening argument by quoting a Christian hip-hop artist? I’m gonna read that.

Responding to CT’s Editorial Against the Nashville Statement

Denny Burk responds to the recent CT editorial in which the Nashville Statement was critiqued (which is welcome) yet Burk points out that CT utterly missed the mark when it comes to offering any kind of solid argument or scriptural basis for critique. Sorry CT, maybe next time.

The Obscenity of Indulgences

As we think about the issues surrounding the Reformation, the first one that comes to your mind if you’ve ever dipped your toe into reading about the Reformation is probably the practice of indulgences. Here’s a brief overview of the practice, why it was so wrong, and some inferred implications for the contemporary Christian.

The 95 eBooks Sale

Save up to 81% on these key eBooks on the Reformation, Reformed theology, and more.

BONUS: TGC’s Reformation 500 Statement

Wherever we find the Scriptures alone as the highest and final authority, grace alone as the only hope for sinners, faith alone as the only ground for justification, Christ alone as the only atoning sacrifice for sin, and God alone as the ultimate object of our worship—wherever we find these truths sung, savoured, and celebrated, we have reason to rejoice in the Reformation.

Prayers of the Saints Live

Launching on Nov 17, this new live album from SGM is guaranteed quality. Available for pre-order now.

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Not Halloween, Reformation Day!

The fact is, there are plenty of Christians—not to mention everyone else—who struggle to see the relevance of Reformation Day on October 31, and fewer again who could give a comprehensive reason as to why it’s so important. Who was Martin Luther? Isn’t October 31 actually Halloween? And why is he trying to hijack this popular day?

Reformation Day is the symbolic day on which the Protestant Church celebrates Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to the castle door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. These theses were largely a protest against the current practice of indulgences, but included other calls for Christians to return to a more gospel-centric life. While Luther had no intention of sparking a revolution, his actions started a wildfire which spread all across Europe.

The truth is, I don’t know as much about Luther or the Reformation as I would like, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m thankful that I don’t have to pay indulgences. In a nutshell, indulgences were the practice that for a price, sins (either yours or your deceased family members’) could be forgiven for a sum of money, thus reducing or preventing time spent in purgatory (a place the Catholic church invented) before entering heaven. This money then went to help complete construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Seems like a good deal, right? Well, Luther was adamant that it was nothing short of blasphemy, and he said as much in his passionate denials throughout the 95 theses.

The Reformation also gave to the Christian church what have come to be known as The 5 Solas (they weren’t officially called that until the 20th century):

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)—The bible alone is our highest authority
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)—we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)—that salvation comes as a gift of pure grace
Solus Cristus (Christ Alone)—Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and Lord
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)—Glory belongs to God alone.

These 5 Solas sum up everything about the Christian faith and serve as the foundational pillars for the Protestant Church.

Salvation is by God’s grace alone,
on the basis of Christ alone,
received through faith alone,
to the glory of God alone,
made known to us through the authority of Scripture alone.

In addition to the Solas, I’m also grateful for Luther because on this side of the Reformation, we have the bible in our own language; we don’t have to pay financially to lift the guilt-trip (because money never saves); and we don’t have to go through a pastor, priest, or any other mediator to have access to our loving God. So this October 31st , as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation arrives; I’ll be celebrating Reformation Day. And there is much to celebrate.

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What I Read in October

The God-Shaped Heart

I abandoned this book after 6 chapters. It had a promising, even fascinating start but took a turn into dangerous waters when it downplayed God’s justice, denied the significance of Christ’s penal substitution, and flirted with Universalism.

I’d recommend skipping this one.

 

North! Or Be Eaten

Andrew Peterson is a skilled world-builder, has an encyclopedia of fantastic creatures to thrill the imaginations, and writes to engage with an audience of both kids and their parents. I gave high praise to book one of the Wingfeather Saga, and I love when a sequel is better than the original. North! continues the adventure at rapid pace with new places, new foes, and an ending that makes me glad I’ve already got book three in the mail.

Sing!

Singing is one of the most commanded acts in Scripture, and Sing! 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.
Read my full review
.

 

The Whole Christ

This month’s free audiobook from Christianaudio.com, it’s an instant classic. Although it’s a bit dense (at least, it was for me) it is also full of glorious truths about the assurance of our faith, and full of great statements like “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are”. I know I’ll have to read it again to fully appreciate all its contents, but that just adds to my recommendation.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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Wednesdays on the Web (25/10)

4 Reasons to Make Your Kids Go to Church

Want a hot-button issue to divide Christian parents? Mike Kelly believes we should undoubtedly force our children to go to church, even when they don’t want to. Before you pick up stones, read his post.

The Solas of the Reformation: A 5-Day Reading Plan

At the time of its release, we are 7 days away from the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing the theses. Even putting that aside for the moment, the 5 Solas hold the key tenets of the Christian faith, and we would do well to spend time reading scripture with them in mind. This is guaranteed to be a few minutes of your next 5 days well spent.

Simple Prayers for Your Grieving Heart

The shock of loss seems to steal our breath and with it our ability to think clearly. It can be extremely difficult to think of how to pray for ourselves and the people we love so dearly. Thankfully, our faith in God and reliance on Him has greater power and yields greater results than our grief.

11 Resources about the Reformation

I’ve read (or have on my nightstand) 4 of these, and can say with confidence that Christians today have so much more to learn from the Reformation than we first realise. Keep an eye on these titles, buy them, borrow them—just don’t ignore them. Your life will absolutely be richer for it.

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Listening is Loving: Part 1

Listening is something of a lost art which needs to be recaptured, retaught, and reapplied in our relationships with God and with others; both because it will greatly improve our quality of life, and because it lies at the heart of what it means to be like the God who Himself listens to us.

In his book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Adam S. McHugh talks about listening as one of the best gifts we can both give and receive. At the time of writing this I’m four chapters in to his book and already I’ve been encouraged and challenged about the importance of listening with all my senses—not simply listening with one ear while my fingers text and my head writes a shopping list. (more on this in part 2)

When it comes to listening to—and hearing from—God, McHugh argues that although Scripture is the primary means through which God speaks with his children today we would be doing God (and ourselves) a disservice if we were to consider it to be the only means. He writes:

I am prepared to take a liberal position on God’s voice and his communications to his creation. God wants to be known and speaks freely, in a multitude of different ways. I believe all these means of hearing God’s voice are fair game. This entire book is about listening to God because God’s voice fills the universe, and when we listen to any agent we are potentially listening to God. Such a position may make me the most raging charismatic the Presbyterian Church has ever known. But if we want to confess God as truly sovereign, then his means of communication must be unrestricted, and they certainly cannot be less than what the Bible testifies to.

Rather, McHugh believes that the answer is to have safeguards for hearing (what we think is) God speaking to us. In this way we flip the restrictions from how we ‘allow’ God to speak over so the restriction is now on us, our interpretations, and what we do with them. I find this approach excellent, and well aligned with the church throughout history. McHugh suggests three ways that we can rightly filter what we’ve heard in order to use our God-given wisdom to better respond.

The Bible

First, what we hear has to sound like the God of the Bible. If it is inconsistent with what we read about God’s character and ways in Scripture, it must be rejected. Any voice that calls for personal gain at the cost of others, self-aggrandizement, any voice that goes against the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) is inauthentic. Straight up.

The Community

Second, we have been saved into a community of saints with whom we seek to better listen, and with whom we filter our interpretations. Listening is a communal exercise, and God rarely (if ever) gives direction to people in a way that has no benefit for His people—at the very least for the purpose of building each other up in the faith through a shared testimony of His goodness. McHugh writes: “People that hear from God on an island have nowhere to go but into their own egos.” We need the wisdom, experience, and maturity of fellow believers in order to best confirm the words we believe we have been given.

Reflection

Last, we should be people of reflection. It is not simply enough to immediately act, as though we are mindless robots whose only requirement in relationship is to obey. Each Christian has been given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and with His presence comes wisdom to consider the impact of these decisions and we would be wise to take time to reflect. The Holy Spirit is never confused; so if we feel there is a lack of clarity, the best thing we can do is wait.

Recently I was with a group of people who shared their experiences of acting upon (what they felt was) God speaking to them. In my case, hindsight can clearly see that this voice was in fact my own desire colouring the lens through which I saw the right decision. Would I have interpreted the words I heard differently if I’d spent more time with the Bible, the community, and reflection with the Holy Spirit? It’s impossible to say. What I do know is that Jesus tells us that his sheep know his voice, and that should be equally true in the silence as it is in the midst of this turbulent, noise-filled world. To know his voice, I first need to learn how to listen.

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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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