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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

A Blogging Sabbath-of-Sorts

I‘m going to be taking a break from regular blogging for the remainder of 2018. There are a couple of really good reasons for this:

First, our family of five will be moving house in late October. While we hope that this will be a good thing for us in the long term, it does mean that
while we’re busy searching for our next property our lives are slowly being packed into boxes, and we get to experience all the fun that goes with that.

Second, I’ve decided to take on a major learning project for myself (the details aren’t important), and I so wanted to free up other self-imposed deadlines in order to make space to read, write, and focus on this specific thing. I hope it’s going to be really valuable for myself personally, for my family discipleship, and for my ministry to the church, but it requires carving out a chunk of time, so something’s gotta give.

Third, I’ve reached my reading goal for the year early (52 books completed). So, while I still have a number of books from publishers that are waiting to be reviewed, I’ll be limiting myself to posting those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and I’m going to slow right down on writing/reviewing here for the months of October to December.

What does that mean for the blog? It means there’s not going to be any new content until Jan 2019, although I may drop in a post about Christmas—because that’s a fairly important event, y’know?—and perhaps a quick post on My Top Books for 2018 if other priorities permit.

There’s plenty to be done over the next 3 months, and our family appreciates your prayers.

See you in the new year!

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What I Read in September

September has seen me reach my 2018 reading goal of 52 books for the year. I’ve read some formative theology, some quality comic books, a few great biographies/memoirs, and even found a few fiction authors I’m going to get more of. Reaching this goal means I’ll be taking a break from posting what I’ve read for a while (more on that in my next post) but for now, here’s what I read in September.

Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter

Dr. Tom Schreiner has written an important book discussing the spiritual gifts, and whether or not those gifts have continued into today in a form that is consistent with the New Testament. His book is conversational, compassionate to those who hold a different conviction, and compelling in his unpacking of the Biblical text. A very helpful contribution to an ongoing controversy.
Read more of my thoughts here.

Even Better than Eden

I have a particular love for Biblical Theology. So when I heard of a book that traces not one, but nine wonderful themes through the pages of Scripture, I couldn’t get hold of it fast enough. I love the way that Guthrie traces from Eden to eternity so many wonderful, rich ways in which Scripture progressively reveals the ongoing activity of God the Redeemer through history.  I also love how Guthrie demonstrates how these stories powerfully shape our own stories, simultaneously offering transformation and hope to all of us who see life not going as planned. This is a tremendous, applicable, easy to read resource for every Christian.

Batman (DC Universe Rebirth) volumes 3-6

After the raging success of the first two Batman issues in the DC Universe Rebirth, volume 3 had a lot to live up to with the story arcs that Tom King was clearly developing for the long-haul. And I think he delivered. The darkness that haunts both Bane and Batman due to a tragedy in childhood provides a wonderful juxtaposition of reactions; Bruce fighting the darkness in order to see the light. What Bruce is willing to endure to save one life both glorifies and humanises him at the same time. Plus, I agree that David Finch was pretty much born to draw Batman comics.
Thanks to the local library, I have also managed to sneak in volumes 4, 5, and I’m currently reading 6.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

This is my new favourite book on all things sentences and semicolons. With chapters dedicated to the comma, the full stop, the semicolon, and more; I found myself laughing, cringing, and learning on every page. This helpful resource is also peppered with amusing examples of how not to do punctuation; plus arguments for and against stylistic choices like the Oxford comma. Highly enjoyable and educational to boot.

Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

Suffering isn’t a question of if but rather a question of when. There isn’t a person among us who has not suffered, or who will not one day experience the pain of loss, the sting of betrayal, or the weakness of their physical body failing. Writing out of his own life-altering suffering,
Tripp writes, “[t]here could be no more stunning declaration packed with more practical hope than Jesus’ words, ‘I am with you always.'” Tripp’s book is a gritty, street-level reminder that the hope of redemption is not just reserved for eternity but is a real, living, present hope; rooted in the fact that God is with you, in you, and for you right here, right now. This book packs a powerful dose of gospel courage as Tripp unpacks the traps of temptation that greet every sufferer and the comforts of grace that are available for those who fear God and trust their lives to his sovereign love and grace in the midst of difficulty. Tripp provides comforting truth for everyone who has suffered and solid gospel preparation for those who haven’t.

See what else I read in 2018:

 

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The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection

All of us who have committed our lives to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ know that we are called to be distinct from the world. Maybe we looked the same as the world when we first encountered the saving love of God, but God doesn’t love us ‘just the way we are’ without also loving who he sees us becoming through Christ. Think about the Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes; our calling to be salt and light; increased prohibitions against things like anger and lust; and the call to love our enemies, and give to those in need. Every New Testament author writes of how inward transformation leads to outward transformation, and that the world will always find this peculiar. Perhaps the most well-known text is Romans 12:2 where Paul writes by the mercies of God, please do not any longer be conformed to the world, but be transformed. Do not be guided by the world: its principles, its entertainment, its values. You can almost hear him pleading with the church: be different.

Scripture makes clear that the Christian life is one of growing in grace towards Christlikeness, while simultaneously putting to death the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. In short there is both sanctification and mortification in the Discipled Life. But, do we even realise that we’re also being discipled by the world around us? Don’t we feel some degree of need to be on top of what the world is watching, reading, and talking about? We fill our minds with the latest Netflix series, the latest celebrity scandal, or perhaps we’re the ones ‘confiding’ with our friends over the latest character flaw our spouse, boss, or family member demonstrated rather than building them up and spurring one another on in love (Hebrews 10:24).

In Philippians 4:8, Paul exhorts Christians that whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy, these are the things we should be watching, reading, and talking about. Think about these things. Hang out with these things. Watch these things. Discuss these things. We must be set apart from the world; but conquering our desires for these impure, untrue, or un-praiseworthy things can only be driven out by what Thomas Chalmers (b.1780) called “The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection.” Matt Chandler said recently, “it’s the holiness of heaven that drives out the filthiness of the world.” It is the beauty of Christ that compels us to say “no” to what is broken and sinful in the world. Paul says “if it’s pure, dwell there”. I want to fill my life with joy-bringing, Jesus-exalting beauty.

Please don’t hear me wrong. I have a TV. I have a Netflix account. They’re not the devil. And yet, I am deeply concerned with how many Christians feel the need to be equipped to engage in conversation about whatever the world is currently being entertained by. I’m not trying to place myself above anyone else; Scripture seems clear that being entertained by what God finds deplorable is probably not the best use of your—or my—time. If I find myself entertained by horrific violence, sexual perversion, or evil spirituality, what does that say about the direction in which I’m being transformed? And I have yet to see anyone come to faith in Christ because the preacher was able to put a Game of Thrones reference into his sermon.

What’s the answer? I love the one-two move that Paul provides in the small verse of Romans 13:14 that you could easily skim past:

1. Put on Christ, and
2. make no provision for the flesh.

There it is. Make Christ the grid through which you run every decision, and as for the desires of the flesh? No opportunity. No chances. No provision. Don’t play with sin. Daniel shares this with King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:27 where he instructs, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practising righteousness”. Daniel knew the expulsive power of a greater affection—that only by being immersed in the all-satisfying person and life of the Triune God would the attraction to the things of the world grow dim.

There’s something broken in our minds because we seem to think that somehow we’re in control of sin. We’ve got it, and we’ll only allow it to roam so far before we rein it back in. So we’re fine. Jen Wilkin tells a story about a man in New York City who kept a lion in his apartment. He raised it from a cub—so everything will be fine, right?—and one day it turned on him, tore up his arm, and he showed up at the ER desperately trying to come up with a convincing alibi. You might think that you can keep sin at home; take it for walks, keep it on a leash, feed it just enough to keep it compliant. But one day, it’s going to turn on you and kill you. Don’t play with sin. Make no provision for the flesh.

I’m so grateful for what Jesus prays in John 17, and also for what he doesn’t pray. In verses 15 and 16 Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Do you see what he’s asking? We’re not to be removed, neither are we to be immersed. We’re meant to be in but not of. We are citizens of heaven; living as an imperfect foretaste of the perfect purity and total joy that is the life to come.

The point is not that Christians are a people of prohibitions. Rather, we recognise that God came near to us out of pure grace and having saved us has now outlined how we are to live as his peculiar people. When Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is describing the natural inclination of a heart that comprehends the fullness of its salvation. Out of this love, let’s live as those who know that God will one day judge our every action according to his standard of what is true, honourable, just, and pure. Rather than continue to commit treason against the God who loved us and saved us by shedding his blood for us, let’s be people who are peculiar. Peculiar in what we watch, peculiar in what we read, peculiar in what we say.

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Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter

Cessationism is the belief that certain spiritual gifts in the New Testament—namely the more miraculous gifts—have ceased. However, far from concentrating on controversy Dr. Tom Schreiner’s approach is conversational, compassionate to those who hold a different conviction, and compelling in his unpacking of the Biblical text. Schreiner seeks to remind his readers that while he holds a nuanced cessationism (a term he fully explores in the book) this is not a first-order issue; we are not discussing the person of Christ or justification by grace alone through faith alone. At the same time, I appreciate the seriousness with which he approaches the matter of spiritual gifts. There are many churches today that either seek to quench the Spirit through a strict liturgy that allows little room for remembering that our religion is one of relationship, while others engage in hyper-spiritualised ecstatic experiences that have little or nothing in common with the spiritual gifts as they were practiced by the apostles and the early church.

So this is an important book.

Schreiner begins by defining spiritual gifts as “gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church”. This definition is important, because it immediately builds a framework which is corporate and not focused on benefit to the individual. All spiritual gifts are given to believers so that we would equip and strengthen other believers, thus the gifts are others-centred and not self-centred. Edification comes through understanding; thus Schreiner argues that gifts like tongue-speaking without interpretation is useless and should not be permitted in the congregation (more on this later). We are only edified if we can understand what is being said. Most importantly Schreiner reminds us that all the spiritual gifts are nothing without love. Paul makes clear that love is the wellspring from which all our doctrine and our practice flows.

In the second half of the book, whole chapters are dedicated to the gift of prophecy (chapters 6 and 7), understanding the nature of the gift of tongues (chapters 8 and 9), and exploring the arguments for and against the cessation of the gifts (chapters 10 and 11). These chapters are captivating, and deserve the length and breadth that Schreiner has given them.

The Gift of Prophecy

Those who prophecy communicate spontaneous revelation from God. God communicates his word directly to the mind of the prophet. Prophecy isn’t always predictive; it can also be regarding present circumstances. These words are always intended to instruct, encourage, and warn the people of God. Schreiner argues convincingly that both Old and New Testament prophets were infallible when functioning in their gift—that is, when they spoke what God gave them to speak it was completely free of error and communicated precisely what God intended. The main text for his position comes from Ephesians 2:20 which says that the church “is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” First, Schreiner argues that we must hold New Testament prophecy (just like Old) as authoritative and infallible. With regard to exercising the gift of prophecy today, he writes

If prophecy still exists today, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the foundation established by the apostles and prophets hasn’t been completed”

So, in Schreiner’s judgement what most call prophecy in churches today isn’t the New Testament gift, because that gift is always inerrant. Rather, we could rightly categorise what is happening today as the sharing of impressions; God may impress something on the heart of a person, and they may share that impression to help others in their spiritual walk. This does not diminish the encouragement the impression can provide, or the love the person shares it in; it’s merely a better definition of terms (and one that separates it from infallibility, so that the hearer can be discerning in the reception of it).

The Gift of Tongues

Arguing from Acts and 1 Corinthians, Schreiner makes a compelling case that the gift of tongues is the divinely-given ability to speak in other human languages, and not the ecstatic utterances today that lack both cognitive content and linguistic pattern. When it comes to arguments for ecstatic speech from verses such as 1 Corinthians 14:2 Schreiner shows them unconvincing, for tongues cannot be interpreted without a structure or code to be deciphered (something not present in random vocalisation) indeed the very word for tongue points to discernible language. In short, there is no compelling evidence from Acts or 1 Corinthians that different kinds of tongues-gifts are referred to. Rather, in both instances it was a human language and could be interpreted in order to function as spiritual gifts are intended. It logically follows then that the overwhelming majority of tongues-speaking which takes place in church today does not fit the New Testament’s description of the gift. Schreiner re-emphasises (as he did with prophecy) that this does not mean that those who would speak in ecstatic language are necessarily doing anything wrong, but that it should not be claimed that this is the same as the gift found in Scripture.

A Nuanced Cessationism

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 tells us that the gifts will not persist into the new creation. Schreiner suggests that simply because this text tells us that gifts will end when Christ returns, this does not require that they all continue right up until that point. When it comes to apostleship, the foundation of the church has been laid; we no longer have (or have need of) apostles functioning today. Apostolic authority is enshrined in the Scriptures, and we need not add to it. When James died in Acts 12, he wasn’t replaced with a new apostle, showing that the gift of apostle did not continue into subsequent generations. Paul too saw himself as the last apostle to be appointed (1 Corinthians 15:8). Those who believe apostles continue today open themselves up to a range of dangers and even potential heresies and abuse. Schreiner writes

Most evangelicals agree that no human beings have the authority of the original apostles, and the distinctive authority of the apostles is preserved in the New Testament.

The same is true for the spiritual gift of prophecy as it functioned in both the Old and New Testament. The infallible foundation of the church has already been laid (past tense) by the apostles and prophets, and as such there are good grounds to conclude that this gift as it functioned in the pages of Scripture has also ceased. The very authority of Scripture is threatened if people believe they are functioning in the infallible, Biblical role of prophet today.

Miracles and Healing

Finally, when it comes to gifts such as miracles and healing Schreiner recognises that God can and does still heal and perform miracles according to his will, and we praise him for this. His nuanced cessationism doesn’t mean there are no miracles or healings, but this is counter-balanced by the belief that these things don’t exist as “gifts” in a person today. Miracles and healings may happen, but they are not normative and regular in the weekly experience of churches everywhere, and certainly not to the blind-seeing, dead-raising degree that the New Testament church saw. This is why his position is “nuanced cessationism”; because while Schreiner holds that these gifts are not persistenly displayed in any individuals to the degree that it would be considered equal to the New Testament gift, he keeps open the possibility that God may continue to grant great signs and wonders in certain “cutting edge missionary situations.”

Why This Book?

I found Dr. Schreiner’s writing to be compelling, kind, and a valuable contribution to the way Christians think about what they see and hear of the practice of spiritual gifts in the church today. It is important to be reminded that these gifts are given by the grace of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church. They are not primarily intended for evangelism, for building a personal platform, nor are they proof of the salvation or greater spiritual maturity of an individual. I also appreciated Schreiner’s point that the great theologians whom God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation were themselves all cessationists; not because they wouldn’t have loved to see God move in the miraculous in their day, but because of their conviction developed from studying the Scriptures. Schreiner’s nuanced cessationism leaves me with much to think about (and certainly his presentation of arguments against the cessation of gifts helps me to form a solid position). There are many more conversations to be had, and Schreiner’s work will inescapably be a part of those discussions moving forward.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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What I Read in August

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

It’s true we are creatures who learn from story. As Butterfield recounts stories without end that demonstrate the messy, costly, rewarding ins-and-outs of what ‘Radically Ordinary Hospitality’ looks like, you will find yourself constantly convinced that hospitality is indeed the cornerstone of the Christian life. Sure, it means changing your budget to allow for extra meals for people, unexpected guests at your table, or taking care of a neighbour’s pet while they’re out of town. But it also serves to reveal Christ’s redeeming purpose in the world: making strangers into neighbours, and making neighbours into family.
This book will leave you thinking more deeply about what Christlike hospitality might look like in your home, and how you might consider making space in which hospitality can flourish.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally

Piper continually reminds me that I have no excuse for not taking the time that is necessary to read and understand the Bible. It is infintely worth my time to drop anything else in order to love God with my heart and mind in this way. I loved this book because it reminded me that the Bible is the only book in which I encounter the living God—and the primary means by which he speaks to me and answers me. If I want to hear him speak, I simply read. This book also served to remind me of my total dependance on God the Holy Spirit in order to understand what is written. While not a review, here’s a thought I posted before I had finished.

Beren and Luthien

The story of Beren and Luthien is a heroic tale mixed with unquenchable romance, danger, and noble sacrifice. But this wonderful tale was diminished in its delivery (in this book) by the endless discussions and interjections by the author (Christopher Tolkien) offering sidenotes, thoughts, and lengthy retellings of conversations that he had with the publishers, editorial decisions about the book that he made, how he poured over the combining of multiple manuscripts from his father’s work into one coherent whole. This made the book very hard to read; authors, never do this. A wonderful story, but disjointed due to real-life discussions that no reader would be seeking.

12 Faithful Men

We can all be greatly encouraged by learning more about great men of the faith. As Christians, persecution and hardship should not come as a surprise; and these men are no strangers to testing times. The faithfulness shown throughout these 12 testimonies not only points us to a God who is faithful in times of need, but also the reality of the dark times encourages us by recounting their failures right alongside their victories. We are not expected to be perfect in this life, but these 12 faithful men point with their lives to the one who is.

Mere Hope

Mere does not mean “barely”, but rather “true” or “real”. The “thicker” hope that Duesing would have us see is that inextinguishable flicker that God ignites in our souls to keep us believing in the prevailing power of his light even when we are surrounded by utter darkness. Presenting a solid biblical theology of hope, Duesing demonstrates this in four key ways: “Look down” at the good news of the gospel as our foundation, “look in” to Jesus Christ as the hope within us, “look out” to see the flourishing of hope shared among the nations, and “look up” to the focus of our hope both now and in the age to come. This book was a great encouragement, but it also served to reinforce that gospel foundation on which we stand firm in these trying times. Recommended.

See what else I read in 2018:

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What Was Said Concerning Himself:
Dr. Tremper Longman III

Last night I had the privilege of attending a lecture delivered by renown Old Testament scholar Dr. Tremper Longman III, where he discussed the importance of understanding how to responsibly read the Old Testament as a Christian. Understanding the theological relationship between the testaments is a crucial area for Christians to grasp today in their reading of the whole Bible as the inspired word of God. Dr. Longman demonstrated masterfully through two specific examples of biblical trajectories (the tabernacle, and God as warrior) how the contours of expectation roll through the pages of the Bible until they reach Jesus, and that the resurrection is the hermeneutical key with which to interpret all of Scripture; just as Jesus demonstrated in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus.

Probably the most valuable insight that I took away was that a responsible reading (and subsequently, responsible preaching) of the Old Testament text necessarily requires that we must first hear what Brevard Childs called the ‘discrete voice of the Old Testament’. It is so important that upon first reading an Old Testament text, we don’t move too quickly to seeing Christ in the text (a very easy danger to succumb to, as we naturally read the Old Testament with knowledge of the New Testament in front of our eyes). Rather, we should slow down and linger to see the richness of what Longman called the ‘cognitive environment’ of the original audience, in order to see how YHWH relates to his people, and the lessons to be learned therein. After this comes the time to do a second reading of the same Old Testament text, wherein we can now open our eyes to begin to see the biblical trajectories, Christological expectations, and the way in which Jesus often takes these texts and not only fulfils them, but imbues them with greater, fuller meaning and requirement.

Dr. Longman firmly believes that when it comes to preaching from the Old Testament, this is the most faithful method of study/delivery and that we should incorporate into our preaching time dedicated to drawing lessons from both the first and second reading in this manner. Further, he disagreed that allegory is an appropriate way to preach the Old Testament stories (Goliath does not represent your struggle with your broken toaster, and Daniel’s den of lions is not a picture of your difficult situation at work). He does believe that they contain moral lessons that carry forward to us today, but these are brought out through a proper treatment of their historical context first, and greater awareness through the lens of the New Testament second.

This was such a valuable lecture, and very timely given the current discussions around the importance of the Old Testament in the life of the contemporary Christian. There’s much more to say, but the reminder of the Old Testament’s utter relevance to the Christian today, and his methodology on how to faithfully apply the Old Testament were invaluable to me. I praise God for his gifting men like Dr. Longman with minds that can wrestle with these issues, and clearly communicate them in ways that I can understand.

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Two Testaments, One Bible:
Responding to Andy Stanley’s call to ‘unhitch’ the Old Testament’

What is our relationship to the Old Testament? Aren’t the Jewish scriptures simply an interesting historical backstory? What was the foundation on which the New Testament church was built? It wasn’t any book. There wasn’t one. It wasn’t the Bible. There wasn’t one. And it wasn’t the Old Covenant because that didn’t tell the story of Jesus. The foundational event was the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so Moses is out, and Jesus is in. Christianity doesn’t need propping up by the Old Testament, so shouldn’t we feel free to “unhitch” it from our faith?

This declaration, preached by Pastor Andy Stanley in April 2018, should ring alarm bells for Christians everywhere. After all, Jesus and the apostles were absolutely convinced of the supreme authority of the Old Testament. Yet, Pastor Stanley would rather new Christians not leave the faith because of a struggle with the Old Testament; instead, he has encouraged them to “unhitch” it as the New Testament church did.

Join me on Monday, 20th August at 7:30pm (North Pine Baptist Church) as we explore Stanley’s comments, and seek to answer the question, “Can you retain the Christian faith while rejecting the Old Testament?”

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How My Bible Reading Changed
(and why that’s a good thing)

Off the back of finishing John Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally (a book which was so helpful that I listened to the audiobook and also read the Kindle edition) I have been challenged to thoroughly re-evaluate the way that I approach not only my reading of Scripture but to overhaul the way in which I structure my devotional times. Typically, we are taught to read the bible and pray. Read the bible, then pray. This has been my practice for a long time, only changed in recent years to praying both before and after reading. But Piper’s book has turned that upside down and inside out in a remarkably helpful way; it’s one of those experiences where you can’t possibly understand how you were doing things the old way now that you’ve been shown a better way. For a full treatment of this radical overhaul, you’ll need to grab the book (because chapters are dedicated to each of these things, and much more) but to summarise, I want to share the main thing I’ve learned from Piper, and mention the first amazing thing that came out of this shift in my life.

APTAT

This method of prayer and bible reading—while not as catchy or roll-off-the-tongue-ish as something like ACTS—has been nothing short of transformational for me. Here it is in brief, taking place before, during, and after reading:

Admit that without Christ I can do nothing, least of all rightly understand scripture and apply it. Reading begins with the renunciation of pride. We must be humble and realise how depraved our minds are, and how our hearts desire other things more than God. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

Pray for God’s help, whatever form of help I need. Piper says “how much light have we forfeited by failure to pray over the word we are reading!” Pray before. Don’t simply invite the Holy Spirit to join you as you read, cast your full dependence on him as the one without whom you can achieve nothing lasting. What is the help I need? To see the supreme desirability of all that God is for me in Christ, in all my circumstances.

Trust a specific promise of God that is tailor-made for my situation or a general promise that applies. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Act in obedience to God’s word, expecting God to act under and in and through my acting, so that the fruit is decisively from his acting. I act the miracle, but God is the decisive cause. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7)

Thank God for whatever good comes. I give him the glory. “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)

Remember that each of these points was an entire chapter in the book (with surrounding chapters that provided additional thoughts, tools, and practical instruction. It’s well worth grabbing the book in order to dive deep into the waters of what each step holds.

Let’s Get Started

So on a quiet Saturday afternoon, while my children slept or played quietly and chores were under control, I picked up my bible to meet with the Lord in this new way. I had recently been listening to Jen Wilkin’s In His Image and was remembering the reference she’d made to a passage in the book of Nahum to support her (very good) point. I haven’t read Nahum since it rolled around in 2017’s bible reading plan, and my fingers aren’t as fast to find it as Romans or Psalms, so I thought I would break from the plan for this moment. But before I pick up my Bible, I pray. I plead with God to encounter me through the word; to reveal, to edify, to transform. Not a long prayer, but one that covered as many things from Piper’s example as came to my mind. Then I take up and read. Nahum chapter 1.

1An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. 2The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;

And that’s it, I’m done. Undone might be more apt. Immediately I’m floored by all of the things that I give more time to than God. I’m flooded with thoughts of things that are looking dangerously close to being idols, considering the anticipation I have when I look forward to them, and the withdrawal I feel when it’s been too long. When I read this, I remember that God isn’t jealous the way people are jealous. We should never ascribe to God the definition of a word in the same way we ascribe it to human beings; for God is the only one for whom jealousy is perfect, true, and the complete opposite of sinful—because that’s exactly what he is. So my bible reading reaches an abrupt halt and in repentance, I pray that God would continue to remind me of his ultimate worth. That when I consider how to spend my time and where to invest my resources, that he would be my supreme treasure, and that I am never wholly satisfied until I am satisfied in him.

I didn’t read much that day, and my reading wasn’t the same.
And I know that’s a good thing.

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What I Read in July

July seemed to be a month of revisiting the fundamentals of the faith. With contributions from old theologians and new, these books were a valuable read and likely to be oft-referenced resources in the future.

Being a Christian

Allen writes with a love that comes from his head as well as his heart about how the Christian life extends into every area of our existence. Containing chapters about the gospel and marriage, money, work, rest, the church, and more, Being a Christian is equal parts convicting and encouraging.

 

Mere Christianity

With a very secure position on my ‘Top 10 Books Every Christian Should Read’ list, I was amazed at how much of this book was already familiar to me. Familiar because—as one who has grown up in church my whole life—I’ve heard many of these sentences and illustrations used in sermons and pastoral conversations many times over (with great effect) without knowing their source. With the content divided into super-short readable chapters, Lewis speaks with an economy of words that communicates complex concepts in powerful, practical chunks that I can take away and mull over later. Mere Christianity will make you think about God, and yourself in relation to God, and that’s exactly where we should all begin.

The 5 Solas Series: Faith Alone

You could be wondering why so much needs to be written on the doctrine of justification and why it matters. Enter Schreiner who writes a compelling and informative tour of the development and discussion around Sola Fide. Because this is such a huge topic, Schreiner had to focus on breadth and not depth; meaning that every page is packed with pointers to additional content for those who want to go deeper. My favourite chapters were discussions around Justification as defined at the Council of Trent, the Catholic/Protestant differences, and two chapters on the New Perspective on Paul with a focus on the work of N. T. Wright, because that’s how I roll.

Fusion

Searcy’s book is full of strategies to turn visitors to your church into fully engaged members. These include frequent free gifts for visitors, gathering information repeatedly through connection cards, regular contact through handwritten letters, and intentional follow-ups. I know this model is highly acclaimed and has worked well in many places, but I would caution that it runs the risk of over-commercialising the church and attracting people for the wrong reasons. This book should be read with a Bible in the other hand to ensure a good balance is maintained.

Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot

In our Fifty-Shades-of-Orange-is-the-New-Kardashian world, Mo Isom (New York Times bestselling author) writes with clarity, conviction, and brutal honesty about her struggles with a distorted picture of sex, and the damage it wrought on her body, mind, and soul. But sex is God’s idea; and through powerful testimony of her encounter with an even more powerful truth in the person of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, Mo calls on the church to not simply declare the “do not’s” of sex but to articulate a full, beautiful picture of the intimate and Christ-exalting image that sex is. It’s time to invite Jesus back into the bedroom.

50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding & Teaching Theology

Gregg R. Allison (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Perhaps not since Packer’s Knowing God has there been a book that I have been so grateful for in terms of taking multiple systematic theology textbooks and distilling them down into short, powerful, understandable chapters on the core doctrines of Christianity. This book should be read by every Christian, but it is also designed to be used as a launch-pad for studies (each of the 50 truths include a section on how to enact that doctrine, as well as how to teach it). This is a fantastic resource for any shelf, especially to quickly capture key truths in a few short pages for those who don’t have a desire to dig deep into larger systematic theology texts. (Unless that’s your jam…then go for it.) Allison’s book is well written, well sized, well delivered. Five stars.

See what else I read in 2018:

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Knowing Love from Love

If you’ve ever read The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (or, more recently, Jen Wilkin’s excellent 2018 book In His Image) then you’ll be aware that in spite of popular opinion love isn’t love. Lewis (who wasn’t the first to clarify this distinction, but popularised it) wrote of the four Greek words for love, providing helpful categories in which we can place the ambiguous, indiscriminate, and unhelpful ways that we use ‘love’ today. I love my wife. I also love pie. Having one word in English to capture such a broad linguistic use is surely problematic, and perhaps especially so for the Christian life. Arguably, we could use more words to better define what we’re talking about, and lately I’ve been reading Scripture with a desire to understand the difference between love and love; especially when it comes to the call of Christ to love my children, my wife, my church, my community, and those who don’t love me in return.

Love in Four Words

When we look to the Bible, the first two words, storgē (family affection, like the parental love for a child) and erōs (romantic love) don’t appear in the New Testament at all. Philía (brother/sisterly love) appears 54 times in the New Testament. More on these in another post. Most important for the Christian life is the fourth word: agápē. The greatest of the four loves, this word captures the love of God and appears 259 times. So with this clear emphasis, it’s worth exploring and defining what agápē seeks to communicate.

Beginning with God, we quickly see that the love which God has bestowed on us should never be thought of as merely an emotion. Rather, in God, we see that agápē is an act of will. Before creation, God chose to be for us. Paul writes

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In agápē he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
(Ephesians 1:4–6, emphasis mine)

He chose to create us, to love us, to give himself to us and for us, and to ultimately bring us into his loving self-existence. God hasn’t loved us because he felt good feelings towards us, because we were attractive or somehow inherently deserving, but because in his graciousness, he chose to. Further, once we truly recognise our own depravity and the sinful state we are in apart from the saving love of God, we are forced to re-evaluate not only why we love God, but also how we choose to love others. Jesus sums up the entire meaning and thrust of the Old Testament—all of God-breathed Scripture up until his arrival—in two overarching commands:

And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall agápē the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall agápē your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37–40, emphasis mine)

So we’re looking at a specific form of love. Not the inadequate English word that we use to describe affection for our spouse and appreciation for sport within a breath of each other, but the selfless, patient, kind, forgiving agápē of God. Knowing this, we can no longer subconsciously categorise people as ‘lovable’ and ‘unlovable’. And this parsing of persons doesn’t simply apply to our neighbour (which Jesus defines as everyone in his parable of the Good Samaritan, by the way) but it must extend as far as God’s love extended toward us; to our enemies. Hear Jesus command in the gospel of Luke:

But agápē your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
(Luke 6:35, emphasis mine)

So what exactly is this love we’re called to live out? What practically defines it over-against storgēerōs or even philía in our daily lives? The most help comes from Paul’s treatment of this word 1 Corinthians 13:

Agápē is patient and kind;
agápē does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Agápē bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Agápē never ends.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8, emphasis mine)

Having delivered much teaching on living the Christian life, Jesus adds weight to his words by driving home the point that loving all people in this way—before, and even without, the requirement of reciprocation—is not simply how we love others, but also how we demonstrate our love for God. He says “If you agápē me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:21, emphasis mine) When I respond with a frustrated tone to my wife because she’s doing something I would do differently, I reveal that I believe agápē is earned. I see a pattern of behaviour inconsistent with my expectations, and I withhold patience and kindness, instead offering irritability or resentment. But when I remind myself of God’s unconditional love for me, I should be stirred to love my wife—to agápē her according to 1 Corinthians 13—in my tone as well as my words, because how many times she’s done that thing is irrelevant to Jesus’ command and example. Put simply, in light of my being unconditionally forgiven and loved, I now unconditionally forgive and love.

What is love? Love is obeying the commandments of Christ, because of the love we have received from Christ, resulting in our conforming to the image of Christ. This necessarily precludes much of what the world would seek to store in the container of ‘love’. It goes against our nature, flies in the face of society’s attempt to expand love to broader definitions, and it costs us in time, resources, preferences, comforts, and expectations. At the same time, when we begin to follow Christ through laying these things aside we are rewarded with increasing joy perfected in real love because our ultimate delight and satisfaction can only be found in him who loved us and freed us by giving his life to save us.

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6 Things to Look for in a Church

One Sunday. It’s not like I was gone for weeks, and yet I sorely missed not being able to join my family as they left me at home sick that Sunday morning. Perhaps that’s strange to you, or maybe it seems a bit extreme to experience sadness from missing church just one time. The body of Christ isn’t an added extra for me though; it’s not another club I’m part of that gives me something to do or keeps me entertained for a few hours on Sunday. I need to go to church. I have an ache inside for the presence of God, the radiance of the saints, the authority of the gospel. I don’t go to church out of inertia or custom. I go because I need God, you, song, prayer, gospel, freedom from self, and more. As I think about the beauty of the body of Christ and what she means to me, here are six things I want to encourage you to look for in a church.

1. Gospel-soaked Prayer

When Karyn and I first took our family to check out our current church, something that captured me immediately was the congregational prayer. I don’t remember who spoke the words, but I remember feeling my mind called to attention and my heart filled with thanks as I was reminded of the gracious God and all that he has done. The theological depth of this carefully crafted prayer reflected the heart of the church to lovingly, deliberately invest good doctrine into those who listened. The prayer included a clear articulation of sin and our need to repent, Jesus as our only hope and redeemer, the obedience of faith as our response, and our mutual commitment to the pursuit of holiness as the body of Christ. Prayers like this consistently came from every person who shared a role in the liturgy; the gospel-soaked vocabulary of prayers rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ. Notably absent from these prayers were me-focused subjective declarations; these prayers pointed people with precision to the beauty of God in the gospel.

2. Christ-exalting Worship

We all know that music can stay with us long after the words of the sermon are over. Songs have a habit of popping into your head whenever they please, and we are influenced by what we sing. As a parent with kids in the service, I feel an extra responsibility to pay close attention to what is sung as well as what is said. This is a service to my own spiritual well-being as well because we are all called to worship God with our minds. With my ears up during worship, listening to what we are learning through song, I find with delight that every song minimised human-centric language making much of Christ and his infinite worth. I still remember songs I sung in church growing up, and I’m grateful for the good theology instilled in me from a young age. Rather than “we have overcome”, make sure your church is singing “Who is like the Lord our God?” because when we sing songs that are deeply rooted in Scripture, we sing to exalt Christ—an act in which the Holy Spirit is eager to join with us.

3. Scripture-driven Sermons

No one would disagree that a lead Pastor’s main role is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God to the people under his care. Further, part of this responsibility is discerning the needs of his congregation, by answering the questions that are burning in their hearts. For this reason, I don’t assert that topical sermons are wrong-headed, but perhaps (like me) you’ve sat under topical sermons that are helpful in doing life better, but you realise you’re at the end of the sermon and your Bible is still sitting closed on your lap. I would simply seek to encourage those who adopt this style (when they feel the need arise) to work equally hard on these sermons as their regular exegetical walk through books of the Bible. The danger lies in approaching the Biblical text with an idea or a theme and reading that topic into the text before plucking that verse out of its context and attempting to extract three points of application for the hearers. It’s too common for pastors to either (a) serve their congregation pre-packaged content prepared by someone else or (b) sever parts of Scripture from their Biblical-historical context for a need that it was never intended to address. The former can be the theological equivalent of serving your children take-away food five nights in a row, the latter short-changes people in their growth and simply won’t develop mature disciples.

4. Family-minded Community

The church is called, gathered, and held together in fellowship by the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit. For this reason we should place a high value on church membership because we know that it is primarily for the benefit of other church members that we have been given various gifts. It’s the people in the church community with whom we have been adopted and made into one loving family. John writes

Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us,
that we would be called children of God (1 John 3:1)

The church should never be thought of as purely a gathering of like-minded people who then disperse back to their lives without much outside contact with those they warmly shook hands with on Sunday. Be part of a church that embraces the messy, noisy mix of chaos and love that family is, and that in every way communicates the importance of commitment to a local body of believers as a vital step of obedience in the Christian life.

5. God-pursuing Leadership

When it comes to making decisions, there are churches that adhere to wise business principles, and then there are those who adhere to a faithful application of the principles of Scripture. These two sets of values are not always at odds with each other (in fact, quite often they can align) but the primacy and ultimate authority of Scripture alone must prevail when tough decisions need to be made. Too often damage has been done to whole groups of people when church boards make “the better business decision” in the face of clear (counter-cultural) gospel imperatives. The qualities of God-pursuing leadership are outlined for us in two places in the New Testament (in addition to qualities that mark Christians in general), and as such no church member should ever feel uncomfortable about approaching leaders—Bible in hand—about decisions that have been tabled for comment, and leaders should always be able to provide answers consistent with the gospel for decisions, and not simply a good business case.

6. Intentional Discipleship

It’s one thing to take time before, during, and after the Sunday service to chat about our week and the weather. But no one has ever become a more mature disciple of Christ without intentionally coming together with other believers and carving out time to work out our salvation. We need each other; we see in our very design as image-bearers of God that we are deeply designed for community. When we join with other believers to search Scripture for answers to our circumstances, confess and root out sin, and in prayer seek the ongoing help of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, we truly grow in grace and bring glory to God as those who better reflect him on earth. A church that promotes deep, personal relationships as well as offers classes and groups for the deeper exploration in and application of God’s living Word in our lives is a church that is fulfilling the Great Commission to

19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
(Matthew 28:19–20a, ESV)

This is why I love the church.

Recent years continue to see Christians abandon the institutional church in favor of expressions of the faith that are supposedly more ‘pure’. Christians meeting together at McDonald’s in twos or threes, Christians meeting together in homes or in local parks. This, say some, is a true, pure, biblical expression of Christian community. But I love the historical, institutional church, and believe that she is central to all that God is doing in the world. My prayer is that every Christian would find for themselves a place in which each of these Six Things (and more) is preached, practiced, and promoted for their good and God’s glory.

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What I Read in June

Growing Down

I enjoyed this latest work from Michael Kelley, and would absolutely recommend adding it to your library when it comes to thinking about discipleship, as well as your own posture towards walking in the obedience of faith. I took some quality highlights away but at the same time it felt like The Curious Christian and Do More Better (which are both excellent) got together and had a baby; it had its own personality and new things to offer but it seemed quite obvious who the parents were. The central idea is that in order to become more Christlike, we need to become more childlike—that is, dependent. The book is thoughtful, engaging, easy-to-follow, and definitely unpacks a necessary change in thinking when it comes to what it looks like to grow in grace.

How to Ruin Your Life

David was called a man after God’s own heart, and he gave us wonderful, timeless Psalms like Psalm 23. But David wasn’t perfect and sometimes the lessons we learn from his life are those of what not to do. When it comes to his tragic downfall through the taking of Bathsheba, Geiger points to three lessons; three traits that David failed to handle correctly that led to his ruin, and could just as easily lead to mine too.

Read my full review.

The Warden and the Wolf King (Wingfeather Saga, Book 4)

The ending brought tears to my eyes. Here Andrew Peterson brings a wonderfully well-rounded conclusion to the great story of the Throne Warden, Song Maiden, and High King of the Shining Isle. In what could very likely be my current favourite fiction book to date, the rich, immersive world and the deep, engaging characters constantly filled my imagination while I made my way through the largest book of the saga. To be honest, while I love Peterson’s songs and lyrics, I love his books much more. Five stars.

The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor

Since well before I graduated from seminary, I’ve known that the path God put me on would lead me to be either a scholar or a pastor. But are these roles really to be thought of with this binary distinction? With over 30 years in their fields, Pastor Piper demonstrates that his head has never truly left the academy, and Professor Carson shows that his heart has never truly left the church.
This book is important, and personally very helpful as I think about where God is calling me and shape that should take.

What are you reading?

See what else I read in 2018:

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Parenting: an Example of Grace

If there’s one surefire way to bring sin to the surface and show me who I really am, it’s being a parent. Nothing shines a huge spotlight on my selfishness like a kid crying in the night. I always thought I was a fairly patient person—up until the time when none of my kids are doing the right thing, and all of my kids are refusing to listen. It’s been said that kids are like mirrors: they show you who you truly are by reflecting your less desirable mannerisms back at you, but also by revealing what’s being drawn out of your heart in your reactions. My behaviour in those moments is also an indictment of just how nonchalant I can be towards sin because every instance of being sent to time-out is a chance to share the gospel—to discuss how we all do things that don’t please God and how we all need repentance and grace—and too often tiredness or forgetfulness just maks sure they say a quick apology to their hurt sibling before we all move on. Discipleship opportunity, gone.

We often pray (or, we should) for God to forgive us our sins, keep us from sin, and even to reveal our sins so that we can repent of them and be made clean. The truth is that that last one is a killer, and we all wish God would find a kinder, gentler way to bring our sin to the surface. Why? Because sanctification is H-A-R-D, sin is ugly, and dealing with it is painful. At the same time, we know that if we don’t kill it, then it will kill us. It sounds hopeless, if not for the gracious work of God on our behalf. At the end of the book of Romans, Paul concludes his letter about overcoming sin and walking in ‘the obedience of faith’ by reminding the church in Rome that while sin is a great enemy, God has secured the final victory for us through the death and resurrection of Christ. We know that it is through the power of Christ’s victory that we can resist temptation, put sin to death, and be steadily changed away from sin’s corruption and into Christ’s sanctification.

So, how do I respond to that news today?

First, it drives me to worship

When I spend any time at all thinking on everything that Christ has done in order to save a broken, corrupted person like me my heart overflows with thanks and worship. But as necessary as worship is in our response—and as worthy as Christ is of every millisecond of it—Paul tells me that there’s more to worship than singing or whispering prayers of gratitude. Romans 12 exhorts me to offer my entire life as an act of worship; every thought, word, and deed. So when I find a thought, word, or deed that doesn’t worship him, I need to kill it first and ask questions later. Worship includes working out my salvation—Paul’s ‘obedience of faith’—by actively removing those attitudes and behaviours that don’t demonstrate Christlikeness. Worship isn’t passive, it includes work too.

Second, it calls me to community

John contrasts God and sin by using the imagery of light and darkness. God is light, and sin hates the light. Here’s how John puts it:

5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1:5-10, ESV)

God isn’t simply saving individuals, then in isolation preparing them for heaven. Rather the natural result of being brought ‘into the light’ is that we now live in the community of the body of Christ. The New Testament has at least 40 passages that contain the words “one another” like this one in James 5:16 “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed”. A big part of sin keeping us in darkness is the lie that tells us we can deal with sin on our own. But the Bible teaches us that having fellowship (read mutual accountability against sin) with one another is a critical means of killing sin. There is a deeper love to be found in the Christian community.

Third, it demands genuine example

If there is one thing we all know about kids, it’s that they are quick to call us out when our walk doesn’t match our talk. In those moments when daddy loses his cool and responds in a way which is disproportionately harsh; or he lets things slide for too long before stepping in with discipline, these are the times to better model everything we’ve just mentioned. Dealing with sin begins with me, and if I’ve got anything to improve it’s being quicker to admit sin, ask forgiveness, and celebrate grace. These are the opportunities for deliberate discipleship where I not only have the responsibility to share with my kids the gospel of grace, but I have the equally great responsibility to model for them the gracious God.

 

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5 Podcasts I Recommend

Brisbane traffic can be a long, slow roll at a third of the speed limit, especially at peak times. I’ve got nothing against having a little quiet time—in a house of 3 boys, there’s not exactly a surplus of silence— but I like to make the most of my time on the commute. To that end I have around a dozen podcasts that I listen to regularly. These include sermons (Grace to You, North Pine Baptist Church), Christian Ethics & Engagement (Countermoves, Al Mohler’s The Briefing), Conference Addresses (The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel), and others of various kinds. Here are five specific podcasts that I’m really enjoying at the moment, and maybe you will too.

Reading Writers

(run time: approx 25-35 minutes)
I read a lot. I try to write a lot. Mostly about Christian-y things but I’ve recently re-ignited a love for fiction, history, memoirs, and other quality non-fiction works. Reading Writers is exactly what the name implies: Christian authors getting together to discuss what they’re currently writing, reading (and sometimes how movies ruined that) and how the joy of reading widely can help us as Christians in many and varied ways.

5 Minutes in Church History

(run time: approx 5 minutes)
I took at least 3 church history classes during my M.Div, and left every lecture wanting more. Dr. Stephen Nichols helps to keep that hunger under control by throwing me 5 minute tid-bits that are packed full of value and interest about the people, places, and events of the church throughout history. I love this podcast because—like the intro says—for the Christian it’s not just a long list of disconnected things that happened in a different place and time, but this is our story, our family history. Learning from these episodes enriches my life, enlarges my understanding of God, and engages my worship for the great God who orchestrates history.

Word Matters

(run time: approx 20 minutes)
This is a very handy podcast wherein each episode Brandon Smith and Trevin Wax explore one of the most confusing passages in the Bible. I find this podcast helpful overagainst other similar discussions, because as well as working through a confusing or controversial passage, Brandon and Trevin discuss the popular interpretations (some right, some less so), offer potential solutions, and finish by talking through practical ways to teach the passage, which serves to help me not just in discipling others, but in proper practical application to my own life.

The Happy Rant

(run time: approx 45 minutes)
These are semi-serious conversations between intelligent people that aren’t too proud to laugh at themselves and their tribe, or rant about how Christianity intersects with culture, entertainment, and sports with varying degrees of success and humor. The Happy Rant always makes me laugh, makes me think, and gives me a break from the (often depressing) deluge of disasters and devastion that the world suffers through today. In short, Barnabas Piper, Ted Kluck, and Ronnie Martin cheerfully rant about things that don’t matter all that much and a few that do. They also have a coffee blend named for them, and I can personally attest that it is delicious.

Questions Kids Ask

(run time: approx 15-20 minutes)
This is a fun, easy listen with a different guest each week sharing about how discipleship looks with their kids, what the best parenting advice they’ve received has been, and talking out how they’d answer tough questions about God. Host Mary C. Wiley holds Bachelor degrees in Theology and English, and is pursuing a Masters in Theological Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Juggling studies with her role as Women’s and Kids Book Strategist at B&H Publishing Group, plus her 2 kids under 3 means she’s well-equipped to offer help with working out how to fit big theological concepts into packages that little minds can understand.

So there are 5 podcasts that are a regular companion in my car at the moment. Maybe you’re listening to something similar to these, or maybe you’re into something completely different. I’m always interested in recommendations, and I’d love to hear from you.

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How to Ruin Your Life

More often than I care to admit I come across a book that seems like it was written just for me. I say that I don’t care to admit that because these aren’t books about winning at parenting, nailing a solid devotional life, or cracking the secret to my Best Life Now. No, I’m talking about the books that light up the biggest areas of sin in my life like a glowing neon sign. Eric Geiger’s How to Ruin Your Life: And Starting Over When You Do illustrates from the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) the ease with which I can bring ruin to my own life.

David was called a man after God’s own heart. He gave us wonderful, timeless Psalms like Psalm 23 and we hold him up as one who in many ways was a prefiguring of Jesus. But David wasn’t perfect and sometimes the lessons we learn from his life are those of what not to do. When it comes to his tragic downfall through the taking of Bathsheba, Geiger points to three lessons; three traits that David failed to handle correctly that led to his ruin, and could just as easily lead to mine too.

Isolation

First, David’s downfall was caused by isolation. David remained in his palace while his servants and all Israel went out to battle (2 Samuel 11:1). This left David more vulnerable to making foolish decisions—enter Bathsheba—because those who normally acted as his checks and balances were nowhere to be seen. In choosing to withdraw from those people who would say something when he needed it, David succumbed to sin.

Scripture connects walking in the light with having fellowship with other believers; walking in holiness with living in community. A drift from Christian community is an inevitable drift into darkness. A step away from community is a step towards implosion. Geiger writes

The Christian faith is not an independent faith but an interdependent one, a faith that relies on other believers for encouragement, care, prayer, forgiveness, and support…
…To set yourself up for an implosion, simply fail to surround yourself with people who will say something to you when they see your life unattended. To implode, choose isolation over community.

The story of David’s implosion reminds me that anyone can fall. My sin needs to be kept in check, and the body of Christ is the place God has designed for these checks and balances to be. I’m reminded that it’s when I am alone that I’m most tempted to ignore my responsibilities, let my guard down, and give in to my sinful nature.

Boredom

Second, David’s downfall was caused by boredom. Geiger points out that boredom isn’t simply ‘having nothing to do’ as though David the king had some lack in his life for things to occupy his time. Rather, boredom is more fully understood as ‘the unfulfilled desire for satisfaction’. David’s ruin came because when he was bored, he forgot the joy of his salvation and took his eyes off God.

Like David, my problem isn’t a lack of things to take up my time. And (unlike David) while my boredom will likely never lead to adultery, I’m confronted with the question that asks “how often am I unfaithful to God in my sin because in moments of boredom I failed to avert my eyes from temptation and instead fix them on the one who saved my soul?” The nineteenth-century theologian Thomas Chalmers writes of our desire for Jesus overshadowing all other needs, calling it “the expulsive power of a greater affection”. To avoid ruin in the face of temptation, I must see Christ as my all-satisfying Saviour.

Pride

Finally, David’s downfall was caused by pride. Upon realising the seriousness of his sin, David could have owned his failure and approached Bathsheba’s husband in humility and repentance. Instead, he plotted to cover his sin with yet more sin; arranging to have Uriah killed and taking Bathsheba for himself. Only when finally confronted by Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 did David write Psalm 51 out of desperate repentance.

Geiger writes of the lesson for me

Continuing in our pride is what will lead to our ruin. The way to avoid self-destruction is to recongise our pride and quickly repent, to own it and fall fast.

My pride is possibly my biggest sin. I struggle with correction and find it even harder to own my failures to my wife and children. And just like David, too often I try to cover the sin with more sin, which only makes the inevitable failure more tragic and costly. But I’m grateful that the story of David doesn’t end there, rather it points me to the truth that no matter how I ruin my life God’s grace continues to be greater than my sin.

What now?

Geiger tells us that when David rejected community, he fell short of God’s design for relationships. When David lusted after Bathsheba, he missed the mark of God’s holy love. When David was bored, he missed the mark by failing to reflect on God’s beauty. When he plotted Uriah’s murder, he missed the mark of trusting God as the giver and taker of life. When he attempted the elaborate cover-up, he fell short of God’s truthfulness. Through every stage in his fall, David missed the mark.

If you’re reading this and—like me—feel confronted by the sting of your own failures, Geiger reminds you and me that from the union of David and Bathsheba came Solomon, and the sacred lineage continued all the way to Jesus. God fashioned a beautiful story from the mess David made of his life, and God can fashion a beautiful story from our ruin too.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Christian Classics: Round 5

The Christian life is meant to be lived out in community. Rather than doing our best to “work out our salvation” in isolation from other believers, intentionally spending time with and learning from our brothers and sisters in Christ is richly rewarding… actually, I’d say it’s required. On this shared journey towards Christlikeness, we work together to deepen our understanding of God through the means of grace (scripture and prayer) and the church community is the crucible in which we learn how to better apply the teachings of Jesus to the way we live our lives.

In addition to regular church attendance (also required for Christians), I’m part of a group that meets together regularly to read, discuss, and learn from the writings of great men and women of faith throughout history. These spiritual forebears of ours have much to speak into our lives today from the timeless words of scripture, and we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t take time to listen to what they have to say. Most recently, the group has spent time studying the works of Christians such as Karl Barth, J. I. Packer, and Martin Luther. We’ve loved learning more about spiritual disciplines, evangelism, personal piety, loving one another, understanding the person and work of Jesus, and living the Christian life.

Who is the next author, and what does he have to say?

The next round of Christian Classics is about to begin, and members of the group will soon be placing orders for the next book with anticipation. We’re taking a look at G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. It’s been said of this work that

Men and women have become Christians solely from reading this one book. If you are not a Christian, beware this book. It will possibly convert you. If it does not, then it will probably irreparably harden your heart. A book to save you eternally or to damn you to hell forever. Amazing.

Considered to be Chesteron’s finest work, this book is still remarkably relevant. He addresses evolution, feminism, and cultural relativism within the context of religion. The book also examines religious skepticism by exploring questions such as “How does one sustain belief in Jesus Christ—and the Church—when, throughout history, the key to religious truth has been constantly reshaped?” According to Chesterton, what matters is an emphatic affirmation of Christian faith, and the book seeks to equip Christians with the tools, while being written with Chesterton’s characteristic wit and wisdom. Perhaps most importantly, it appeals to the mind as well as the heart.

We truly stand on the shoulders of giants. We have so much to learn from the great men and women of the Christian faith who have forged a path for us; why don’t you join us as we read through some of their most classic works and discover more of the glory of Christ together.

Contact me via social media (buttons can be found here on the site) if you’d like to be involved, either in person or online.

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What I Read in May

Just Open the Door

Jen Schmidt calls hospitality a cornerstone of the Christian faith. It isn’t the responsibility of those specific few who possess the ‘gift’ of hospitality, nor is it all about having the perfectly set table and immaculate house. Schmidt seeks to reframe our understanding of Christian hospitality through taking a look at Jesus (who, as our model of hospitality didn’t even own a home). Her book is full of wonderful, heartfelt stories and practical suggestions, but most of all she shows that demonstrating Christ’s love in our everyday is no more complicated than simply opening our door.

Kiss The Wave

Dave Furman knows a thing or two about disability, depression, and dark nights of the soul. His latest work is a real, raw look at what those times look like, what developing a solid theology of suffering can do for you in those times, and the immeasurable joy that is available to the Christian when they see their circumstances as being from God, with God, and ultimately for God. Kiss the Wave is loaded with gospel and insight into the life of the suffering Christian. This book pulls no punches, and I loved it.

How to be a Writer

With 20 years experience teaching Writing at Harvard Divinity School, Barbara Baig believes that you don’t have to be born a writer; you can become one. Her book has so much to offer those who would seek to develop better writing craft, and the book is full of methods, tools, and practices for writing suited to any genre. From high-level collection of content and the practice of freewriting, through to the development of a Zero Draft and recognising how to engage with different categories of readers, I’ve already built her practices into my current writing. I’m looking forward to her second book: Spellbinding Sentences.

Crazy Busy

DeYoung wrote this book for me. As someone who has a hard time saying no to ‘the good’ when I should only be saying yes to ‘the best’, Crazy Busy helped remind me of the need for vision and focus in choosing how to divide my time. I also need to be told continually that rest isn’t simply something good for our mental, spiritual, and emotional health, however, it’s actually an act of faith and dependence on the God who works when we don’t. A timely reminder for today.

See what else I read in 2018:

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You and I Are Barabbas

When it comes to reading ourselves into the great stories of Scripture, many of us would like to think that we’re David—the unlikely underdog who was victorious at conquering the giant in his life—or perhaps Job who went through immense trials but due to his continual clinging to God came out with great blessing and restoration. We often read Scripture in this way as a means of encouragement that although the Christian life is hard, the Bible has good news for us ‘weary Christian soldiers’ that the blessing is worth the battle and God is indeed for us. In his 2018 book Kiss the Wave Dave Furman points out that you and I are in fact a character in the central story of Jesus Christ himself. But we’re not the glamorous, conquering Bible character that we often think we’d like to be.

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus was arrested and taken for trial, where he was sentenced to death. Matthew 27:22-24 reveals that Pilate didn’t truly want to send Jesus to death, but he bowed to the overwhelming pressure of the crowd. At this time on the Jewish calendar, it was Passover. Tradition held that the Roman Empire would allow one prisoner to go free, the Jews being the ones who had the power of choice. Seeing an opportunity to avoid condemning an innocent man Pilate offered the crowd their choice: take Jesus (who had done no wrong) or Barabbas; his worst prisoner, a murderer, and essentially a terrorist.

But the crowd chose Barabbas. Pilate asked the crowd three times to be sure. When he asked the crowd what should be done with Jesus, this man who had done no wrong, they replied together “Let him be crucified!” The crowd chose a murderer over the one who brought the dead back to life. They chose evil over the one who taught love of neighbour and who himself loved others perfectly.

Often when this story is read we think about Pilate, the cruel crowds, and Jesus. But recently it’s been Barabbas that I’ve seen in a more profound light. Barabbas was under the sentence of death for his crimes, and he knew he deserved it. Under the Roman Empire there was no hope for him; no appeals, no parole, no rights. All he can do is wait. Then the day comes when the guards open the door and take him from his cell, bringing him out into the light and the view of the crowd—except they’re not here to see his execution but are instead celebrating his release! The murderer goes free. Barabbas hears the shouting: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” but it’s for a different man. The guards are now dragging Jesus of Nazareth to his death. They place a cross on his back; the cross meant for Barabbas. And Barabbas realises that’s my death he’s dying. Barabbas is the one person in history who can literally say that Jesus died in his place. Barabbas was given the freedom that Jesus deserved. Jesus bore the guilt and shame and disgrace and death that Barabbas deserved.

This is the gospel; the Jews chose the wrong man, but God put forward the right one. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Friend, you and I are Barabbas. We are all living under the sentence of death, powerless to save ourselves. We need someone to take our place, and thankfully as we read the stories of Scripture we not only see who we truly are, but we see Jesus Christ who—in the greatest exchange in all of human history—loved us and freed us by giving his life for us.

I wonder if Barabbas eventually heard the news.

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Just Open the Door

When it comes to hospitality, the first image that pops into our minds might be the Instagram-worthy dinner table, with perfectly aligned silverware and meticulously arranged centrepieces. Our kids’ birthday parties have become not-so-subtle competitions to see which über-creative mother can lay out the most ornate table of tasty treats, under brightly coloured bunting (homemade, of course) and vintage lights. For many of us (perhaps women in particular) inviting people into our homes and our lives might feel like inviting judgment of our entertaining skills, and so hospitality can feel like a drain on already limited resources or already maxed-out schedules. This is exactly why Jen Schmidt’s new book Just Open the Door (released on 10th April 2018) is such a calming, liberating breath of fresh air as she writes to reframe our whole picture of what Christian hospitality actually looks like.

She writes

Somehow we’ve dressed up this simple desire to gather, and we’ve laced it with imposing expectations and the pressure of performance. We’ve packed the calendar so full of busyness that it’s created unnecessary bondage, making the concept of margin merely a myth. Why have we made community so difficult? And how do we—how do I—help bring back what’s been lost?

As Schmidt searched Scripture for the varying roles that hospitality played, she repeatedly points out three main purposes: encouragement to other believers, discipleship, and evangelism. Loving our neighbour and investing in the lives of those around us doesn’t require an agenda, a clean home, or a picture-perfect high tea. In fact, Schmidt points to the fact that her image of a cozy, home-based hospitality was “drop-kicked into the end zone” when she first realized that Jesus, the One we model hospitality after, never owned a home. Yep, ponder that for a minute. Jesus, who embodied the ultimate lifestyle of hospitality—the living portrait of all things welcoming—did not own a home. And yet Jesus knew how to take seemingly insignificant moments where all we’re doing is putting others at the top of our priority list for a time, and become fully present in those moments to cultivate authentic relationship with people that we are commanded to love, then watching as God does whatever he desires to do with it from there.

When it comes to extending invitations Schmidt points out that long before Facebook or the Internet, the table was the first and most important social platform ever built.  She writes:

We need to get up from our safe, anonymous distance behind our heated Facebook debates and our opinionated rants and actually live like Jesus lived. Get messy. Be real. Stir up your guest lists, instead of stirring the pot. Our table, like Jesus’ table, should be one that offers radical, even scandalous grace. To all. To anyone.

Schmidt’s writing is beautiful and from the heart. For years she has been encouraging women to drop the idea of entertaining, and instead just open the door—just as we are—so that our guests may encounter the gospel of grace in the everyday. We invite and gather because God did it first. As I read Just Open the Door I felt lovingly encouraged to widen my understanding of what Christian hospitality looks like, and to see that loving others well doesn’t happen by chance. Plus, when we extend the boundaries to deliberately welcome more variety and diversity into our homes we begin to unearth the uniqueness others bring to the conversation. By widening the table to a wealth of new discoveries and shared perspectives, that’s how we most vividly reflect the true kingdom of God.

Just open the door.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Make Much of Him

I was listening to Jackie Hill Perry’s new album recently and was struck by some lines from Shai Linne in the song “Hymn” in which he says “Why we gotta talk about him? Hmm, wrong question. We ain’t gotta talk about him.  We get to talk about him. We were made to make much of him”. It’s a thought that has stayed with me and has been swirling around in my head. I’ve found that so often these days we don’t really talk about God so much. Instead, we focus on living a holy life and God pops up as a side character in our pursuit of a better life. We say that Jesus is the centre of what we do but we never actually focus on him.

Before people start getting the wrong idea let me be clear. I’m certainly not opposed to sanctification or teaching on living a holy life. What I think we get wrong is the starting point. So often we start with looking at wrong behaviours and actions when I think we should start by looking at who God is and what He is like. There are passages in scripture that I think we can use to support this. One that comes to mind is Isaiah 6.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah 6:1-5

The passage puts the full focus on God and his holiness. There’s no practical application in this text, there’s no Five-Step Plan, no handy tips on how we should live. God doesn’t tell Isaiah to live in a particular way. Instead, God brings Isaiah into his presence and lets him see God’s holiness and glory. Isaiah sees this and responds appropriately, namely in grief and repentance. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that this vision and his subsequent cleansing by God then affected how he lived his life. We see a similar thing happening at the end of the book of Job. God speaks and spends the better part of four chapters highlighting his greatness. How does Job respond to this? With grief and repentance.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Job 42:5-6

So, what do we do with this? Let us look full at the Glory of God. Let us see His holiness and greatness through his revelation in the Old Testament and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Let us stand in comparison to the almighty God, despite our sinful selves and fall at the foot of the cross in grief and repentance. If we come to truly see who God is, we will see ourselves and through our repentance will be sanctified.

 

Jackie Hill Perry’s Crescendo can be purchased on iTunes or is freely given at Humble Beast.

 


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

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EVENT: God and the Transgender Debate

Can a boy be “trapped” in a girl’s body? Can modern medicine actually “reassign” sex? And what is the most loving response towards a person who is experiencing conflict between the gender they appear to be, and the gender they feel that they are?

The phenomenon of transgenderism raises many important questions and is full to overflowing with ontological assertions; the big idea being that people are who they claim to be, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. But is this conviction—that we are the sum total of what our feelings say we are—supported by biology, psychology or philosophy?

This Monday (21st May 2018) I will be examining the transgender movement in light of current scientific and psychiatric research, and showing how the gospel of Jesus Christ calls the church to respond to the transgender community in several unique ways, ultimately pointing them to the redemption and healing found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Questions? This 45 minute presentation will be followed by a time of open Q&A.

Monday 21st May, 7:30pm
North Pine Baptist Church
44-46 Ogg Rd, Murrumba Downs, Queensland

 

For the event, directions, and details see the Facebook event page.

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Supernatural Power for Everyday People

Hot on the heels of Jared C. Wilson’s brilliant May 2017 release The Imperfect Disciple (which I said a few words about), there are so many things that I recommend about his latest release Supernatural Power for Everyday People. At first glance, you might expect that a book with a title like this has come from a charismatic preacher or slightly off-target Pentecostal—but Wilson has worked hard to produce not only a solid introduction to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, but to develop a practical theology for the way in which ordinary saints can walk in step with the supernatural Spirit every day. His book is an enjoyable read and easy to understand. Because I just couldn’t narrow it down, here are 10 of my favourite quotes from the book.

The first mistake we make is looking inside ourselves for the help we need. We won’t find the solution in the place where the problem is.

Too many of us spend our Christian lives waiting on something big to happen, completely oblivious to the fact that the biggest thing that could ever happen to us already did, and it’s more than enough. In fact, to be greedy for something more is to suggest that what’s been given is somehow deficient.

Our souls are dry from sin and striving, and we’re in the oasis of the world drinking up more sand. Then God comes down with living water. And so we have divine power for life. But also divine power for godliness! The same gospel power that justifies us also sanctifies us (1 Cor. 6:11). The same power that regenerates us now counsels and convicts us and leads us into all truth. The same glory that demands we be holy begins to make us holy!

This is why many churches conclude public Scripture readings with the declaration, “This is the Word of the Lord.” It may seem to some like merely a liturgical flourish, some kind of rote religious formality. But for many of us, it is a way to remind our hearers and ourselves that these words are different, that these words are special, supernatural. These words come from God himself, and when they are read, whether silently or aloud, God is speaking.

Your time in the Bible is the primary means by which the Holy Spirit empowers you to live your life. If you don’t want this power, by all means, don’t go to your Bible. Go to Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. Go to cable news or satellite sports. Go to the movies or a self-help seminar. Go anywhere else if it’s not power you’re interested in. But if you want to dwell daily in the supernatural realm of God’s kingdom and hear the very words of God, your Bible is where it’s at.

Is prayer powerful? Yes, definitely, but specifically because the one being prayed to is powerful. The one doing the praying is, by her praying, demonstrating that she has no power in and of herself. That is functionally what prayer is—an expression of helplessness. If we were powerful, we wouldn’t need to pray.

So how do we reach contentment? We start where we are, not looking ahead to what is next. We begin with a hope for deliverance, provided we are really in need of it, but also with a trust that God is refining us through the circumstances in which he has presently placed us. It is just that—being present. Show up, in this moment, for submission to God. Wave the white flag. Trust that the cross you are bearing is not the end of his story, but accept that cross as necessary and get everything out of it that is there to get.

The Holy Spirit is not creating supernatural lone rangers. He is doing something through our redeemed relationships that in our narrow individualistic vision we would never have conceived of ourselves. The Holy Spirit is making a church.

When you choose to sin with the world, you go the way the world is going. But when you choose to join the sinner-saints in the body of Christ, the same people you sin with are the people you’ll reign with. If you are going to spend eternity with these people, you should probably start figuring out how to live with them now. This is the whole point of human relationships, really—to glorify God by living graciously with others as Christ has lived graciously with us. When you think about it that way, taking the risk of engaging relationships in the church is no risk at all. And yet it’s startling how many people try to do Christian life apart from church.

In Paul’s way of thinking here, it is not that we aren’t doing something. We are. We’re walking (5:16), we’re following a lead (5:18), and we’re keeping in step with the Spirit (5:25). We’re not passive. But the real work of transformation is coming by the Spirit through the gospel. And just as that gospel is like a mustard seed that becomes a tree big enough for all the birds of the air to come make their nests, the gospel is like a seed in our hearts that, cultivated by the Spirit, grows into an amazing harvest of precious fruit.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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What I Read in April

Ready Player One

This is another one of those “they’re making a movie, so I should probably read the book” decisions. Due to a heavy reading load this month in other areas, I grabbed this one from Audible to give my eyes a break. Narrated by Wil Wheaton (who was brilliant), Ready Player One turned out to be a highly entertaining story, filled with more 80s pop references than I ever thought possible. It was a fun, emotive, creative world with the right amount of unyielding, unbeatable villain and highly satisfying for a child of the 1980s. I enjoyed the (audio)book so much that I probably won’t see the movie for fear of disappointment.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

How could you possibly add to The Princess Bride? You can’t of course unless you’re Cary Elwes and you write a book of memories about the whole journey from film creation, shooting, and reunions while participating in the 25th anniversary reunion with the cast. Then, make it an audiobook narrated by Cary, and mix in interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner. This book was an absolute blast. With story after story from multiple members of the cast (read by them), this audiobook is a must-have for fans.

Christianity and the Transgender Phenomenon

I’m in the process of preparing to teach a short lesson at my local church about transgender. I’ve been researching heavily in preparation for this highly sensitive topic. While I feel the weight of the issue, it’s actually about people. And so this presentation is aimed at growing an awareness of the main arguments, but equally about developing a good biblical ethic and a gospel-centered framework for communicating the truth in love. If you’re local and would like to attend, you can see the details of the talk here.
     
See what else I read in 2018:

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4 Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

There are many things I’m enjoying in life right now. These things include quality coffee with my Aeropress; Avengers: Infinity War; being a dad and watching my younger kids (age 2 and 3) discover new things; my own (hopefully) journey of growth in understanding my wife more; learning new things about Jesus; Jesus himself (roughly in that order, ascending). But, here are four more things I’m specifically enjoying this week.

1. Writing

Lately I’ve found myself spending more time with pen and paper. I’m not a neat writer or a fast writer either, but I’m still particular about the tools I use. Being left-handed I can’t tolerate pens that pool ink or take too long to dry, and I don’t like cheap notebooks with paper that bleeds through or binding that can’t handle a little bending. So when I pull out my moleskine notebook and Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen (which is the greatest affordable pen in the world) I have confidence in the tools, which means I can write with less distraction and put more focus into carefully crafting sentences. I’ve been writing more lately (even if no one else will ever read most of it) and reading more about becoming a better writer too. Finally, paper and pen bring the added benefits of being Internet-free (no pop-up notifications), and they don’t require a power supply.

2. Night Walks with my Dog

What began as an obligation to the new four-footed member of our family has fast become a routine that I’ve not only tried hard to maintain, but have come to take full advantage of. After our 2 young ones are in bed, I head out with our puppy (who is almost 12 months old) because he is frustratingly nocturnal and gets his biggest energy boost after the sun has gone to bed. But these walks under star-filled skies with only my thoughts and my dog have come to be a time to debrief the day, think and pray through lessons learned, and re-center myself. Mornings are for to-do lists and making appointments; night walks have become a chance to theologically reflect on the day, and listen for ways I can become better for tomorrow.

3. Productivity Apps

I have a terrible memory. Thanks to apps such as Todoist (which I talk about here and here) I’ve managed to build scaffolding around this weakness and make my way through life without disappointing everyone who I’ve made a commitment to in one way or another. Unfortunately, my iPhone was broken recently and my employer issued me a Samsung phone to replace it—which incidentally you’ll find at number 1 on my ‘5 Things I’m Decidedly Not Enjoying Right Now’. Despite this setback, Todoist still plays an integral part in nudging me to run those errands, pay that bill, and pray for that person. I’m grateful because it gives me freedom to fix my active attention on the things that matter most, while not forgetting the things that still need to be done.

4. Bandcamp

Lately I’ve been living in Bandcamp’s Jazz>Big Band section. I love the trumpets, the fast-moving keys, and the women whose smoky, full-bodied voices take you back to the swing and jazz of the 1920s with all the quality and clarity of an album produced in 2018. I’m also enjoying discovering bands I’ve never heard of like Moonshine Rhythm Club (Nashville, Tennessee), Hot Sugar Band (Paris, France), and Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles (Denver, Colorado). There’s no ads, I don’t have to tolerate ‘suggestions’ of other artists mixed in with my songs of choice, and yet I can still try whole albums before I buy, and buy cheaply to boot.

What have you been enjoying lately?

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Reflections on a Mental Health Forum

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a live panel discussion between a number of people whose lives have been marked by anxiety, depression, or related mental health issues. I say privilege because for a person to be vulnerable enough to share their story with another (let alone a room full of people) shows remarkable courage, and the first words that come to my mind are thank you. We have all contended, are contending, or likely will contend at some point in our lives with issues that affect our mind, our psychology, or our understanding of who we are as human beings. To sit and listen to these shared experiences was a wonderful, astounding experience for which I am humbled and profoundly grateful.

As a Christian (which includes being both a member of society, and an active member of a local church) I was both impressed by and drawn to this event; that a church would create a safe forum for people to raise real issues in real lives is something there should be much more of. As the Church, we could do worse than forego the odd Sunday sermon or two in place of taking the time to expand the average Christian’s (often underdeveloped) theology of suffering. As I listened to each of the speakers, I knew immediately that I sat among those who still know nothing about the depth, darkness, and damage that can come without invitation, and sometimes seem to stay without end.

What struck me the most while listening to these four people share their stories was the incredible self-awareness that each of them had during their hardest times. As I have not yet experienced any significant struggle with anxiety, depression, or other ‘dark night of the soul’, I have no point of personal reference as to what it’s like when all the emotion, logic, and social parts of your brain simply shut down. While it isn’t everyone’s experience, one person reflected that when they’re in that place, they’ve learned to simply ‘ride the wave’ and wait for the worst to be over. I couldn’t possibly know what this is like, so I listened with my whole being to learn ways in which I can be a better help for those who are hurting. Weaved too into every story were powerful moments of victory. Celebrations of progress, of milestones, and of tangible benefits resulting from an increased dependence on Christ and his unwavering faithfulness towards them. Hearing acknowledgments like “I’m not where I want to be, but I’ve come a long way from where I was” showed me another way in which the gospel of Jesus Christ declares the most powerful message for us broken and frustrated creatures: there is hope.

The forum’s host church had many commendable things to say when it came to their position on mental health. Speaking from personal experience, the lead pastor shared about his gratitude for God’s common grace to us all: the benefits of helpful medical supplements, the practice of grounding techniques to help prevent oncoming anxiety attacks, as well as encouraging people towards compassionate Christian counselors and medical practitioners. As the forum drew to a close, it was in the stories of each individual that I heard clearly how Jesus is the steady anchor that holds them fast as the wind and the waves rock them. A strongly shared sentiment from the panel was “I don’t know how people get through this without Jesus”. And for far too many people, the reality is that they don’t. Taking Jesus’ words from Matthew 6, the lead pastor encouraged the room that God is our ever-present, unchanging Father, whose love for us is as unwavering as his very existence is sure. Jesus is the only light that can truly, lastingly penetrate this darkness, and the light of his love is brighter than any despair, depression, or even death. The hope that the depressed Christian can carry with them at every moment is the gospel that our world so desperately needs to hear. The gospel begins with the life-saving words of Psalm 56:9

This I know, that God is for me.

What a glorious truth that even when we don’t feel, don’t comprehend, don’t understand. Even then, we can know.

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