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Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is not the Enemy of Faith

For many Christians, the very idea of having doubt is unthinkable, even sinful. Solid Christians are those who not only know what they believe, but are ready with an answer to tell you why it is the way it is, and why – if those around them would simply read scripture as it should be read – they would come to the same rock solid, unshakable conclusions. Enter Barnabas Piper, who is bold enough to ask the question “what is belief?” and explore the critical difference between doubt based in belief and doubt that undermines belief.

Through personal and often painful story, Piper recounts his journey from being a born-and-raised Christian who went on to graduate from seminary, always having the right answers, to one who learned the stark contrast between knowing God in relationship and simply knowing a lot about him. Many of us (myself included) will find resonance with Piper’s discussion of mental assent; knowing the facts, defending the arguments, even brushing aside wise counsel designed to penetrate and change us with the terse “I know”. Christians need to move beyond mere mental assent – Piper urges –  to allowing what we know to transform us. That kind of belief is what the Bible calls faith. Faith is belief that transforms into action. When we only have the mental assent part, we base our actions on something other than God, namely our own emotions or reasoning. Piper writes:

“When people say they believe in God, what does that mean? It may mean they believe God exists in some form. It may mean they acknowledge God’s moral standard as a genuine guideline. Or it may mean they believe fully in God’s word and God’s way and look to him as the object of their faith. While each of these is an accurate statement and a proper use of the term belief, only one of them is real belief. That is the third use.”

As risky or uncomfortable as we feel doubts and questions can be, Piper argues that it is much more dangerous to live in a safe Christian world refusing to exchange curiosity for comfort over the long haul. The only way to disarm the danger posed to faith by things like divorce, destitution, and disease is to engage the questions (especially with our kids) before they wreak havoc.

Through the prayer of a desperate man in Mark chapter nine (“I believe; help my unbelief”), Piper unpacks the struggle of every Christian; that we will always hold tension between believing and not believing, but we take comfort from the fact that even this prayer takes a shred of faith to pray in the first place, so all is not lost. He discusses evidence of true belief like repentance, prayer, and humility and he effectively shows how doubt is not the opposite of faith, but is in fact a healthy part of it.

As beings created by God, our finitude simply cannot grasp his infinity aside from what he chooses to reveal to us. Scripture doesn’t offer every answer. But it reveals exactly and completely everything God wanted revealed – no more, no less. This is where our belief takes comfort. When we question and wonder in ways that are firmly planted in relationship with God, then it will serve to strengthen our belief. And so our faith seeks understanding and we pray “I believe; help my unbelief”.



Wednesdays on the Web (15/03)

When Suffering is the Megaphone and God is the Whisper

A helpful reminder from Mike Leake that God is faithful to his promises, even when in the midst of our great pain we can’t hear his voice, let alone respond believingly to his promises.

Complaining Never Wins the Culture

In light of recent events – from Trump winning the election to that gay moment in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie – I’ve come to see more clearly that Christians tend to be defined more for what they complain about. I’ve read Trevin Wax’s blog for years, and he’s certainly come (for me) to be a trusted cultural interpreter.
BONUS: J.D. Greear weights in along similar lines, and Nathan Campbell also adds value for the church.

The Kerfuffle around ‘The Benedict Option’

A thoughtful review of Rod Dreher’s much-discussed ‘The Benedict Option.’ I’ve seen this pop up and read the flurry of discussions around it (mostly) from people who haven’t read it and want to tell you why it should be avoided. After reading Don Carson’s comments I’ll be grabbing a copy (plus I’ve already had a few requests for review). Watch this space, but I’d encourage checking it out.

Reclaiming Your Eyes from Pornography

Far from this being a post addressed to men, this is a temptation that has affected everyone at one point or another. Most people realise that this is the kind of sin that can’t be overcome simply by the power of will. Only in replacing a lesser desire with a greater desire will lasting victory come.

Suffering is a Doorway, Not a Dead End

This last week I’ve seen some horrendous suffering. Loved ones dying. People receiving news of terminal cancer. We live in a broken world and suffering is only a question of when. But in the midst of pain and loss, we know that God has designed the church to be a people who are not only marked by suffering but who demonstrate true community; that’s one of the reasons we have all those ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament. I’ve been acutely reminded this week of the importance of having a solid theology around suffering and the sovereignty of God. Walking with God through the deepest possible pain isn’t something that just happens, and we need to know how.


“The true gospel message ransacks the soul and carries off every spoil. It leaves the heart with nothing so that Christ might enter in as everything. It is not wrong to preach a gospel that takes everything away from a person yet leaves them with Christ alone.”
– Paul Washer, The Gospel Call & True Conversion.

What Makes a Missionary?

There’s an underlying assumption in the Christian church that somehow if you travel overseas and help out in an orphanage that you can assign yourself the designation missionary. Building houses, rescuing girls from trafficking, and equipping villages with clean water are all wonderful acts, but it seems to me that this broad use of the term brings with it widespread negative implications for the entire evangelistic enterprise of the church. In a recent article linked to by the International Missions Board the author provides this definition of mission:

[Mission] is God’s plan that people from every nation, tribe and language will come to saving faith in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel.

Perhaps that seems simplistic. And in a sense, it is. But it’s also worthy of unpacking and no small amount of ink has been spilled working through the myriad ways in which it can be faithfully achieved. On the other hand, this concise definition is also revealing; not only by means of what it affirms, but by what it deliberately leaves out.

Mission should never be reduced to performing good works. The key work of a missionary must include (one or all of) evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership training, all aimed at making and growing disciples (see Mark 3:14; Luke 9:1-2; 24:27; Acts 8:4-8; 13:13-52; 14:1-23; Romans 15:17-23; 1 Corinthians 9:16; Galatians 1:15-16). With that in mind, here’s the rub: we must be wary of viewing people around the world as charity cases or tourist attractions; the church providing aid alone (however generous and large-scale) will not give people eternal hope. While you’re undoubtedly meeting a significant material need, the hard truth is that the community you are building houses for is made up of living, breathing, human souls who are headed straight to hell unless they come to saving faith, and that faith comes only by hearing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But our mission isn’t just to do good deeds, but to proclaim.
We can’t witness effectively if we expect others to simply observe our lives and notice Jesus.
They will only see Jesus in us if they hear about him from us.
There is no gospel without words.
– John Piper

Please, don’t mishear the message. Yes, we are unquestionably called to do. We know that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). The Apostle Paul tells us clearly that we have been saved in order that we might perform the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). More than that, it is through our love for one another that we show the world a glimpse of their Saviour. We are called to care for the sick, to shelter the homeless, to love our neighbour, and to do good in all the ways we can. In doing so, we are being like Christ. But our primary calling – the entire reason for which we exist – is to clearly proclaim the lost and sinful state of humankind, the redemptive work of a loving God, and the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of all who would believe. And for this, we need words.

Having a better developed understanding of what makes a missionary is key to the Church’s commissioning and sending of workers into the world. If we know the hopeless state of the human condition and provide rescue, shelter, or clean water without sharing Christ, then what we’re doing fundamentally isn’t love, and it certainly isn’t mission.

We know that God is building his church. Our responsibility is to keep commissioning, to keep sending, to keep taking the love of the Saviour to every nation, tribe, and tongue through practical, tangible means. And when we’re there, let’s take our example from the Apostle Paul who in all his words and deeds “decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified”. In meeting people’s material need in the present, let’s be sure we’re always pointing those same people to the One who can meet their every need for eternity.
That’s a missionary.

Wednesdays on the Web (08/03)

God Wants our Sad

Esther Fleece from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission reminds us that while the culture around us pushes the message that sadness is a ‘negative’ emotion and we should aim to avoid it at all costs (whether by medication, or distraction, or relationship, or whatever) God has not only given us these emotions, but also the language to express them, and a book which is full of lessons on how to face suffering on the days when we don’t have it together.

Pixels are People

In light of its potentially destructive power, why would any Christian use social media? The short answer is because the Lord is sovereign and pixels are people. There are more than three billion Internet users around the world. This is not by accident. The Lord is the author of history, and the church finds herself with unique opportunities to do good in this world and bring Him glory.

Decluttering Evernote

This is me. Except that while I strongly recognise the need to keep things organised (which includes tossing the things I no longer need) the truth is I’m just not aggressive enough most of the time. If you love Evernote like me, consider these tips for tasks, notebooks, tags, and boost your productivity all over again.

Sharing in the Hospitality of God

In this latest formational series from Tabor College in Adelaide, David McGregor contributes some challenging insight into the way our expressions of hospitality are actually representations of and participation in the Divine Life of the Trinity. As I’ve come to expect from David, this piece is rich with history, theology, and conviction.

Resisting the Course of this World

If a rock gets tossed up in the air, it must come down; it can’t help itself. Likewise, when we are dead in our sins we can’t help ourselves but to follow the course of this world. But the gravitational pull from the course of this world has been broken by the crucified and resurrected Son of God.

Chuck Norris Never Misses

I should probably feel bad for laughing so much at this.

Sacrifice, Substitution, and Surrender

Recently I’ve been getting so much out of North Pine Baptist Church’s series on the Temple and Tabernacle that I’ve made an unofficial transcript of the latest message. I’m sharing it here because of the gospel-soaked, scripture-rich content and the immense good news and practical application that it presents for Christians today.

Morning everyone, good to see you all today. Let’s pray shall we.

Father this morning we continue in this series entitled God in Our Midst and we want to thank you that you are indeed here with us this morning. Lord we are in the presence of a Holy God. This morning as we look at this bronze altar and what it signifies – what it points to – we pray again that you might have grace upon us. That you might help us to understand and grasp in a deeper way the significance of sacrifice; of the sacrifice that has been made for us through Jesus Christ. Lord this morning as we hear from your word we ask that our minds and our hearts would be clear; that they would be attentive to what you have to say to us today. Lord convict us in our hearts, help us to know the very things you want to speak to us about this morning. For you – indeed we know – want to speak to us, and we thank you for that. We pray this morning as we open up this passage together that Jesus Christ might be honoured and glorified. Amen.

Romans 6:23 says this: “For the wages of sin is death”. The wages of sin is death. Wages have featured a lot in the news this week. Those of you who have been across the news this week will know that there has been penalty rates and things like that discussed in the media. When we think about wages we understand them to be those things which are owing to us because of the work we’ve done. We work, we get paid; they’re our wages. But the bible clearly states that when it comes to the things that we’ve done, the work that we’ve done, the sin we’ve committed before God, then we have something owing to us for that. And that is death. We all deserve to die because of our sin.

Puts a real cloud down on everything, doesn’t it.

And you might think this morning as we start off this message and we think about sin and the fact that it deserves death you might think “well you know what, that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”

Last week as we began the series on the tabernacle, we focused on the fact that God is a holy God. That his holiness points to his absolute perfection. His absolute purity. His absolute goodness. His absolute glory. His absolute justice and righteousness. His separateness or his apartness from everything else. Nothing can come even close to this holy God because he is so perfect and glorious and righteous and just. He is so pure. If we liken God in his holiness to the sun, it is both good and terrifying at the same time. It brings heat and light in order for life to grow and flourish, but it also has the capacity to kill anything that comes close to it. And because God is holy, it means that he is like that sun in that he cannot have anything to do with sin, that as soon as we draw close, as soon as sin comes anywhere in the vicinity of God it is consumed by his holy fire. His holiness naturally condemns and destroys sin and anything affected by it.

Well then, how do we ever hope to approach this holy God? How can we ever hope to have any kind of relationship with him? To come into presence? Well we discover how we do that through this imagery of the brazen altar in the tabernacle. This bronze altar. And we’ll see this and what it ultimately points to.

Forgiveness: Rarely Easy, Never Optional

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus tells of a servant who owed his king a great sum of money. The king ordered the man be sold, along with his wife and children to pay the debt. However the servant fell on his knees imploring the king to have patience with him, and the king ended up forgiving him; the servant now completely released from the debt. But then that same man went out and seized a fellow servant who owed him a relatively small sum and demanded he paid back what was owed, throwing the man in prison until the debt was paid. Having witnessed this, several people went and told the king and the unforgiving servant was himself thrown into prison until he could pay his debt in full. Jesus brings this parable to a point by declaring “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

When Jesus teaches his disciples about forgiveness, he tells Peter to forgive his brother “[not] seven times, but seventy-seven times.” It can be hard for us to accept such an unqualified statement. Perhaps if we were there, we would have countered Jesus’ global statement on forgiveness with some caveats of our own, such as “but Jesus, what if they keep doing the same thing?” or “Hey Jesus, some sins are bigger than others though, right?” or even “Jesus, surely it would be different for crimes involving children?” The fact is, Jesus made no such qualifiers. In teaching his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6, they learn to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. Jesus ends the lesson with words worth heeding:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating blind acceptance of ongoing, sinful circumstances here. While forgiveness is commanded, wisdom in harmful situations is also required. Moreover, nowhere in the gospels (or anywhere else in scripture) do we read that forgiveness will always be an easy or cheap decision. On the contrary, forgiveness can often be very costly, especially when the pain or trauma caused by the offender has left open, lasting wounds. However, we take courage to know that Jesus was made like us in every respect, and that included enduring the most horrific agony imaginable at the hands of cruel, sinful men. We have a Saviour who suffered as we suffer, and who knows what it feels like to be wronged. And yet the scandalous truth of this gospel is that Jesus Christ not only prayed for forgiveness for those directly responsible for his death, but he paid in full our debt of sin  – all sin – and now we who have been forgiven for our daily and hourly wronging God are called to forgive those whose sins he also died for.

As we come to grasp more fully the forgiveness that has been granted to us through the finished work of Christ on the cross, we realise that while it isn’t always easy, forgiving isn’t optional because it’s what Jesus gave his very life for. This is a radical statement. But it goes hand-in-hand with the reality that we don’t get to define the categories for big sins and small sins; when we do that we’re saying that God isn’t doing a good enough job, and we’re putting ourselves in the place of God as judge. We are commanded to forgive regardless of the perceived size of the sin because however we choose to view it, we must look to the cross and see that in Jesus God’s infinite love found a way to conquer our infinite sin.

Forgiving flows from forgiven-ness.

Give Up Lent for Lent?

Recently The Cripplegate published a thoughtful piece on why evangelicals should consider giving up Lent. Like everything on the Internet, it was praised or pummeled with opinions from every point along the spectrum. The post contained a helpful overview of (Catholic) church history pertaining to the development of Lent, followed by a self-diagnostic of sorts where we take a good look at our motivations for participating in Lent and step back to look at the way in which we’ve choosen to engage with it. In short, this author felt that the act of giving something up as a way of preparing for Easter is simply anachronistic. Far from a response that would be titled ‘here’s why I think he’s wrong’,  I offer these thoughts to encourage what I think is a biblically faithful approach to the season leading up to Easter.

For many, Lent is so identified with Roman Catholicism that it’s difficult to imagine an evangelical observance of it. I often hear the question “what did you give up for Lent” met with the quip “Roman Catholicism”. But Lent (like Advent leading up to Christmas) is what we make it, and it is no more exclusively Roman Catholic than Easter itself. Personally, I’ve found great benefit in intentionally practicing something for the days leading up to Easter; and far from wearing the symbol of the ashen cross on my forehead all day on Ash Wednesday, there are many ways in which I can intentionally be reminded of why Christ came to die.

Coincidentally this Sunday just gone I listened to two sermons, both of which contained a discussion about sin. In the first sermon, I was encouraged to look around and see the state of the world and the fallen nature of man and respond with the thought “this is not the way things should be”. In the latter sermon, I was reminded that the wages of sin is death, and that Jesus bore the wrath of a holy God, being crushed in my place even while I was still his enemy. The former had a dangerously diluted, underdeveloped doctrine of sin; the latter an orthodox one. For me, Lent is a season of brokenness leading to repentance as I consider that (in Bonhoeffer’s words) “what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

The biggest takeaway about Lent for me is remembering that it isn’t simply a practice of “putting off”. Unlike the Roman Catholic notions of fasting (or other forms of self-penance), I take this season as a time to be reminded of the crushing weight of sin, that I am nothing apart from God, and that through a costly, scandalous act of pure grace, Christ paid the full penalty of my sin. I’ve used different resources and practices to help orient my heart to repentance and gratitude as Easter approaches, and sometimes I find that my plate is full and I need to take something off in order to make room (hint: we’re not talking about food anymore) but whatever the vehicle it travels in, the outcome is not “self-made religion” but a deeper gratitude and a humbled love that sings of the glorious grace of God through Christ.

Wednesdays on the Web (29/02)

Marriage, Hospitality and the Spiritual Life

Dr. Stuart Devenish makes four observations for Christian couples. He writes

“if our faith isn’t being put to work in our marriage-relationships,
it can hardly be put to work in relationships outside of marriage”

Why Papa of The Shack is not Aslan of Narnia

The follow-up to last week’s post on why you should not waste your time or money on the upcoming movie of The Shack. Challies has three excellent points (he had me at allegorical fiction). Read this, and you’ll be persuaded that life is too short for bad films.

Growing (in) Humility

If the world, the flesh, and the devil continually tempt us to pride, and humility is essential for spiritual progress, what are some practical steps that we can take to kill our pride and grow in humility?

Pastor Scott Slayton reminds us of why Christians never graduate from the gospel, but being saturated in it every day through the means of grace given to us is where we find strength to grow in Christ-likeness.

5 Steps to Serving Children with Autism, ADHD, and Attachment Disorders

For all I’ve read, the conferences and speakers I’ve attended to and tuned in to on disability, the gospel, and the people of God, I really don’t know 1% of what there is to know. I make articles like this a regular part of my reading diet to help open my eyes. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

The Three Gods Riddle

If you love logic (really love logic), then this super tricky logic puzzle is supposed to be up there with the best of them. I can see why.

On My Table:
Life & Books with Brian Douglas

This month’s On My Table comes from Brian Douglas, Associate Pastor at All Saints Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and chaplain at the Wyakin Foundation. He was previously a teacher, sold books and outdoors gear, and was a security guard. He grew up near Miami, but his mom raised him to love Detroit Tigers baseball.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

Throughout 2017, I’ll be reading Calvin’s Institutes with a bunch of friends. Wilbourne, Union with Christ. Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age. Re-reading Keller, Reason for God in anticipation of reading Making Sense of God. And I’m slowly cooking my way through Peláez & Silverman, The Cuban Table.

Next in the queue: Taunton, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, and Gjelten, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba. I read whatever I can find on Cuban history and culture.

What was the last book you left unfinished?

García’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was 150 pp. into the book when my wife stole it & read it. For the second time.

Is there a book you feel guilty for not reading?

Wallace, Infinite Jest, because I’ve started it four times, I think, but haven’t finished it yet.

Is there a book you wish you’d written?

I very strongly wish I could write poetry. Ideally something like Hopkins or Millay, but at this point I’d settle for any decent poetry at all. Maybe someday I’ll have a book of beautiful, thoughtful, readable poetry.

What was the last book you gave as a present?

I just sent Backhouse, Kierkegaard: A Single Life, to my friend, Claire.

Best biography you’ve ever read?

The one that impacted me the most was probably Edith Schaeffer, L’Abri.

What 5 books would you take to a desert island?

Potter, 3 Theories of Everything
This tiny book makes my brain think hard and well.

Reymond, A New Systematic Theology
He was a family friend growing up, so I was literally raised on this material. It’s a book I revisit often.

Hemingway, The Complete Short Stories
Best short stories ever written.

Anything by Rudyard Kipling
He’s just a fantastic storyteller. I especially love “The Man Who Would Be King.”

Wallace, Infinite Jest
Because it’s entertaining, and it would take me years to finally finish reading it.

What book has most frustrated you?

Probably what I’ve read by Richard Dawkins.

What is one book (apart from the Bible) you’d encourage every Christian to read?

Currently Wilbourne’s Union with Christ is pretty high on my list. It’s fantastic. Please read it!

How does reading fit into your life?
And what does your routine look like?

It’s far more haphazard than I’d like. When I’m reading well, it happens mostly in the morning and evening, as the day is starting and winding down. But I don’t often read well.

Wednesdays on the Web (22/02)


Please Stop Saying “God Told Me”

Unless this kind of language is immediately followed by Scripture, it’s a big red flag. Josh Buice discusses why (oh, and I agree with him).

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

‬This post is a little longer than normally keeps my attention span, but John MacArthur has been doing this a long time. His words are carefully chosen and they’re well worth your time.

For Better Conversations

Here’s some insight into the lost art of conversation from the President of Christian Communicators Worldwide. Off the back of Barnabas Piper’s new book: The Curious Christian this is a fascinating, valuable read.

Keep your focus on the other person as you talk to each other. Look at him or her, probe for insight (there is a perspective inside that person that you need to reflect on, even if it seems unwise), reach into their mind, imagination and experience out of genuine interest. Be persistent to find out how this person thinks, feels, experiences, hopes. Conversation is an adventure in knowledge acquisition. And if you grow in that, you are going to have to make the conversation about the other person most of the time, and not about you.

7 Reasons Worshipers need the Church

I’ve been doing a little more reading into this of late, but here is an accessible summary of seven key reasons why the Christian needs to attend the corporate gathering with other believers under the leadership of pastors and elders in order to flourish.

Why I won’t be seeing The Shack Movie

I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with Tim Challies when it comes to matters of theological persuasion. He makes an interesting case here (and it might not be for the reason you think!) when it comes to (not) seeing this movie. At the time of writing this, he’s promised a follow-up post to address concerns from folks who have written in to voice their disagreement. I won’t be watching the movie either, but I’ll watch these conversations with keen interest.

Theology Matters

Joshua Harris and I share a love for encouraging people towards a good theology; because we’re all theologians, so why not be a good one.

The Temple and the Tabernacle

To be honest I think what initially attracted me to J. Daniel Hays’ The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation was the fact that it boasts over 60 full colour images in its almost 200 pages. Many pages of Scripture are filled with events taking place in or around a tabernacle or temple, and I was hoping to get a better handle on the particulars of each of these structures which played such a large role in the life of God’s people. Hays delivers an accessible, enjoyable survey of how these structures came to be, but he also demonstrates how the prominent biblical motif of “temple” weaves its way through Scripture from Genesis to Jesus, and the implications for the people of God today.

Hays begins with Eden as the Garden Temple where God dwells and relates to the people he created (this is the underlying reality of the later tabernacle and temple structures), and he shows 9 ways in which this place serves as the divinely constructed prototype for the later tabernacle that Moses built, and the temples of both King Solomon and Herod the Great. What I appreciate most about Hays’ work is his detailed summaries of the construction projects, including the extravagant furnishings with their function and symbolism. He places each of these structures (and their contents) in their historical and theological contexts, and follows Scripture’s naturally growing anticipation as he discusses the role that all these things play in foreshadowing greater future realities.

After admiring the significance of Eden, Moses’ tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, the postexilic rebuilding events recorded by Ezra and Haggai, and finally the temple of Herod the Great, we find ourselves entering the New Testament period. Here we come to learn that it’s been 400+ years since the presence of God has chosen to return to any temple, that is until Jesus Christ walks in through its gates. Hays brings together every untied thread; using Scripture to show how the temple, the sacrifice, the priesthood, the ark, and the very temple itself all come to find their fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. After centuries of carrying out the blood-soaked requirements of the old covenant, and witnessing the constant rebellion and sin of God’s chosen people, Hays writes

“God is very clear throughout the Old Testament about the righteousness demanded by his holiness. That is, the whole point of the stepped gradations of holiness in the tabernacle and temple (moving from the courtyard to the holy place to the most holy place) is to stress that the powerful and dangerous holiness surrounding God’s presence cannot allow sinful or unclean people into his presence.
…But with the death and resurrection of Christ, all of this changes dramatically.”

After a detailed examination of the second temple in the time of the gospels and the book of Acts, The Temple and the Tabernacle finally reaches the glorious event that all Scripture has been anticipating for hundreds of years: the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God’s presence once again has come to dwell with his people, and through the sending of the Holy Spirit God now dwells in the newly constituted temple – his people. It is within the context of the sweeping arc of all salvation history that Hays has brought his readers on a journey from the garden temple at creation to the arrival of the Creator, and now he looks forward to the fullness of God’s presence in the ultimate climactic temple city of Revelation 21-22.

As the people of God today, we understand that the beauty of these remarkable structures does not lie in their being impressive feats of architecture, nor in the tons of precious resources that went into their construction. Rather, it is that God was present in them, relating to his people who came to worship him. Through them we are reminded of the immense privilege that Paul reminds us of in 1 Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

May we be humbled and awed as we consider that because of Jesus’ removal of the multiple layers of separation (courtyard, holy place, most holy place) the God who dwelt in unapproachable glory in the heart of the temple now chooses to dwell in our hearts. The Temple and The Tabernacle will leave you not only with a greater understanding of the reason for these old covenant structures and a greater appreciation for the unity of Scripture, but most importantly you’ll add meaning and depth to your own Christian journey by coming to see the daily joy and responsibility of living as those in whom this holy God has chosen to dwell.

Marvel at the Jewels

Humans were made to wonder. Built into each of us is a curiosity about things and a capacity to pause and ponder.

When it comes to meditation, it shouldn’t surprise us that the world has taken hold of this means of grace that God designed to aid our spiritual journey and turned it into a human-centric self-help endeavour. Whereas world religions (and other groups) would define meditation as the act of stilling your thoughts, emptying your mind, and focusing on nothing outside of yourself, Christian meditation is different. Almost the complete opposite in fact.

God designed us to hear his voice, primarily through the reading of his written word. Moreover, he not only wants us to hear but also to reflect on what we’ve heard. In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Donald S. Whitney defines meditation like this:

“[Biblical meditation is] deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”

Christian meditation doesn’t require the stilling of our thoughts, but rather encourages us to dwell on the truth found in Scripture; not the emptying of our minds, but the fixing of our eyes and affections on Jesus Christ and his gospel. Christian meditation should never be seeking to discover an inward strength to the exclusion of all outside influences; but the intentional reminding ourselves of the riches of the glorious reality of Jesus Christ. Never will true and lasting satisfaction be found when we look to ourselves in silence to meet our needs, but only when we acknowledge Jesus as our all-sufficient Saviour.

David Mathis leaves us with this great illustration in helping us understand the role of meditation:

There is a place in Bible reading for “raking” and gathering up the leaves at a swift pace, but when we “dig” in Bible study, we unearth the diamonds. In meditation, we marvel at the jewels.

For the Christian, meditation means “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16) and it is a wonderful means of God’s daily supply of grace to us through his word.  The Psalmist declares in the longest Psalm in scripture:

Psalm 119:15 – I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

Psalm 119:23 – Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.

Psalm 119:27 – Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.

Psalm 119:48 – I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.

Psalm 119:78 – Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.

Psalm 119:97 – Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 119:99 – I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.

Psalm 119:148 – My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.

And so we press the bible to our hearts and we pray for the stirring of our affections as we return to the glorious truths of this gospel that has set us free. Let’s make sure we regularly dig deep in scripture, but also take time to marvel at the jewels.

Wednesdays on the Web (15/02)

Marital Love Must be Sexual

In the last of a four part series on the Puritans’ theology of marriage, Joel Beeke makes a solid case from scripture (and the Puritans) as to why marital love absolutely must be sexual. While the Puritans would never be seen as reducing marriage to sex, they emphasized that sexual intimacy is the “due benevolence” that married people owe to their spouses, and in this way they demonstrate God’s design for marriage as the fullest, most intimate form of love on earth.

An Intro to the Institutes

More and more lately I’ve become convinced that I need to get into Calvin’s Institutes. Karl Barth once said: “I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.” I know a few guys who are reading through the Institutes, (and sharing via blogs) over 2017. There’s more than enough value for every Christian to engage in all that Calvin has laid out. Set aside the trepidation, and see for yourself.

The Goal of Church Discipline: Repentance unto Restoration

I’m enjoying this series from the guys at The Cripplegate. I continue to think about the notion of doing “house church” and those who choose to break away from the institutional church; this is one of the biblical reasons why I’m not sure that idea lines up with the church that Jesus is building.

Just as there is a great need for law and order to keep the peace in a civil society, so also is there a need for such law and order in the church. A civil society that has no laws, or that has no system of order to enforce those laws—no system to punish and rehabilitate offenders—is doomed to chaos. So severe is the nature of human depravity that a society of depraved human beings unrestrained by law and order is just unthinkable.
And the same is true of the church.

Manna: Resources for Life & Ministry

The school of Ministry, Theology, and Culture at Tabor Adelaide have produced issue #1 of their magazine for the church. There’s some great stuff here.

Sometimes college lecturers are accused of “living in an ivory tower”, “being too theoretical”, and “not concerned with the life of the church.” This stereotype doesn’t apply at Tabor; we are part of the church, and we want to see it grow in faithfulness to Jesus.

Abortion and Race

Thabiti Anyabwile gives a few short minutes on the parallels between abortion and slavery, and why both are completely unacceptable.

You and Me Forever:
Marriage in Light of Eternity

Having recently reviewed Dave Furman’s excellent book about the most important things to do (and not do) when it comes to showing true love for someone who is hurting, and how to ensure you take care of yourself in the process, Francis and Lisa Chan’s book on marriage in light of eternity overlaps in many wonderful places. Their first chapter Marriage isn’t that Great is Francis’ usual provocative style in which he reminds us that while we should be invested in nurturing, growing, and protecting our marriages we must always remember that our worship is to be directed only to God. In firmly fixing our gaze first and foremost on the all-satisfying God, we plant ourselves by the stream of living water from which we draw all the nutrients necessary to take care of ourselves and out of which we can truly love and care for our spouse. He writes

We need to prioritize our eternal relationship with our Creator above all things.
When two people are right with Him, they will be right with each other.

Francis affirms that while we are called to love and care for our spouse as we love ourselves, we should always keep God in the front of our minds in order that the love we have for our family doesn’t eclipse all others. God is far beyond us, and so our love for him should be far beyond our love for all others. Here’s our normal way of prioritising our affections (left) contrasted with the biblical mandate (right).

Lisa Chan supplements this by reminding us (in the same vein as Dave Furman) that it is when we find our identity and fulfillment in Christ that we have all the love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness to pour into our spouses. He fills us up so much that we don’t need anyone else to meet our needs; rather we spend our lives blessing our spouse and investing this limitless grace into their life for their good, and God gets the glory.

In the middle of You and Me Forever the Chans work through their take on the famous marriage pericope found in Ephesians 5. Francis begins by addressing the husbands on what the aggressive, sacrificial pursuit of loving your wife “as Christ loved the church” looks like. Lisa then follows with a word to women on the importance of shifting the focus more towards wives who strive to possess the humility of Christ rather than over-thinking how our culture bristles against the biblical command of “submit to your own husband, as to the Lord”. In both instances there is no better way to model to the world the mutual love between Christ and church than through our sacrifice and submission, which is ultimately loving obedience to God.

The thread that runs through each paragraph and page of You and Me Forever begins in the book’s subtitle. God’s mission is bigger than your marriage; and once cast in the light of eternity, you and your spouse will come to see that – paradoxically – it is in pursuit of God’s Kingdom above all else that your marriage will flourish like never before.

The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage.

You and Me Forever is as good a book as I have ever read on marriage. It is sensitive and insightful, but also gospel-soaked and Christ-exalting. Francis and Lisa Chan write to exhort couples everywhere from their experience of life and marriage that seeks to love God and love each other while walking together in the obedience of faith. I commend it to everyone.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

The Ugliness of Knowledge without Conviction

Even today one of my greatest struggles is refusing to let my knowledge of God stand in the place of genuine faith in God. Sometimes I can barely tell a difference. Am I speaking from conviction or from a head full of knowledge? Am I acting rightly out of a sense of moral obligation and knowing it’s “the right thing to do” or out of a life that seeks to honor Christ? Am I speaking the truth out of love or out of a desire to impress? Motives are rarely clean and pure. It is difficult to delineate, especially since knowledge is part of faith. But the difference shows up in how I feel about my actions. If I find joy in honoring Christ when nobody notices, it is real. If I stand by what I said because I believe it to be true and right instead of waffling, offering caveats, or backing down, it is real. If I find joy in one person being blessed by what I say or write instead of needing acclaim, it is real. In the end, faith looks like Jesus and knowledge looks like something a whole lot hollower and uglier.
– Barnabas Piper “Help My Unbelief”

I read this passage from Barnabas Piper recently and it got me wondering if he was reading my thoughts. To be honest, I felt that throughout most of the book, but this particular part has stuck with me because it puts a finger on something and pushes hard. It asks why I do what I do, why I act how I act, why I write, and why I share things on Facebook? If there was a clear, consistent answer in my life then it would be easy to move on but I keep finding myself drawn back to it. Do I do what I do for the glory of God or for my own? Too often the answer is, to some degree, both.

To me it’s a constant reminder of my total depravity, not that everything I do is utterly depraved but that even in the good things that I do there is an element of sin; and if nothing else that keeps me humble. It reminds me that however righteous I’m feeling at any particular time, I’m in need of God’s mercy. In the words of Jimmy Needham, there’s vice in all my virtue.

So, how do we react to this issue?
Do we stay silent until we know that our motives are pure?

I’m encouraged by Philippians 1:15-18

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Obviously we want to follow the model of Paul; preaching purely out of love for Christ and indeed that should be our goal. However too often we find ourselves sitting at least somewhere in the middle preaching for selfish ambition. Paul takes comfort in the fact that even from those people – people like us – Christ is proclaimed. At the same time, we shouldn’t content ourselves with our flawed nature but should always try to keep our motives pure, striving to live our lives in a manner pleasing to God to whom all honour is due.


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.