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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

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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What I Read in March

The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down

R. Albert Mohler’s latest work (Feb 2018) is a spectacular journey through the most important prayer for Christians ever prayed. He skillfully responds to the lament that many Christians today read the Lord’s Prayer too automatically—without thought to its meaning—by closely examining the power and significance of each and every line of the prayer. As the framework that Jesus provided for how we are to think about prayer, Mohler takes the time to unpack what it reveals to us about the God to whom we pray, ourselves as those praying, and how we should live in light of our relationship with him.

Supernatural Power for Everyday People

Far from focusing on the miraculous, supernatural displays of God’s presence and power that might have popped into your mind when you first saw the title, Wilson’s latest work looks at how God the Holy Spirit is building his Church. It provides a spectacularly practical, down-to-earth perspective on the real work of transformation in the life of the ordinary Christian by the Spirit through the gospel. Full review coming soon.

Transgender

This small book about one of today’s biggest issues gave some excellent advice on how Christians should respond (and not respond) as the culture around us attempts to change the design of their creator, preaching a gospel that says truth is subjective and the individual has the highest value and final say. A helpful, insightful, and loaded resource packed into less than 100 pages.

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders Book 1)

It’s been a few months since I finished the Farseer Trilogy, and that’s been an advantage, because the second trilogy by Robin Hobb introduces a whole new cast, delivered in a whole different writing style, in a whole different part of the same world. Because of this—and having grown accustomed to the style and pace of Farseer—the first few chapters felt a bit like trudging slowly through deep mud. But one thing wasn’t a surprise; the effort is well worth it, and Hobb rewards your persistence with an exhilarating read that begs you to immediately pick up book 2.

This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel

I’m so glad I grabbed this as an audiobook (read by Trevin). This is Our Time is a book for any Christian who wants to understand western culture more in light of the gospel. It could be one of the most eye-opening books you will read this year. Not only does Wax address the common narratives that we live our lives by, but goes larger to society, asking the question “How can we be true to the gospel in a world where myths and false visions of the world so often prevail?”

See what else I read in 2018:

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On Tragedy, Loss, and Learning

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog lately. It’s been an emotionally turbulent time for my family over the last six months; hard news and unexpected changes seem to continually be cropping up despite our efforts to keep life uneventful. The most recent blow came when our baby of 13 weeks went to see his Saviour before his eyes even saw this world. I’ve never experienced the loss of a child before, and I’ve found myself without the right categories to think about all the ways in which this has affected me, my wife, and the life we never expected. These are a few thoughts that I’m working through as we grieve the loss of our precious baby boy.

I was driving back from a work trip, desperately trying to make it back in time for our scheduled scan. I missed the appointment and so agreed with Karyn over text that I should carry on towards home where Grandma was taking care of our younger children. I stepped inside the front door, and my phone rang with the news no one wants to hear. I was numb. I knew what I’d just heard but my mind was blank; I had no words and it seemed that I was suddenly enveloped into a bubble in which time stood still. In the hour that followed, I cried as my mind swirled with confusion, disbelief, devastation, and uncertainty. As thoughts of the family who needed me gradually crept back into my mind, the emotions seemed to dull a little and a kind of autopilot seemed to kick in as I began going through the motions of a regular weekday afternoon with 3 kids.

Is this what grief looks like for me?

Everyone Grieves Differently

I’m not naturally a very compassionate person. For me, coming up with the right words to love someone who is hurting (especially when you are sharing that hurt yourself) can be like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet while blindfolded, riding a horse. In the midst of processing my own grief, the mental work required to also say the right thing—and not say the wrong thing—to another who is grieving takes everything I have, and I still only get it right part of the time. Here’s the lesson: everyone grieves differently. Men and women grieve differently, but more specifically—and most importantly—my wife and I grieve differently. Love requires that I take time to listen to, learn from, and care for my wife in ways that are meaningful to her, not necessarily to me.

I’ve been greatly honoured by conversations with couples who have walked this road before. They’ve shared their journey of becoming more self-aware as they come to understand how they cope with tragedy, but also of how tragedy increased their understanding of their spouse. Many husbands have shared with me how their experience was markedly different from their wives; often not showing a great deal of emotion until they were alone in the car, or after their households had gone to bed and they could fall apart on their own. Wives have shared with me how they didn’t feel that their husband fully understood the breadth and depth of the devastation this event had wrought, and only after the storm had passed had they realised that he had grieved too, just differently. By far the most encouraging thing said to me by these couples has been that it’s OK for me to feel the way I feel. The last thing you need while working through grief is the added weight of guilt that thinks perhaps the way you’re feeling isn’t enough, shows that you don’t understand, or reveals that you’re simply insensitive. I was so grateful to be reassured that my feelings are valid, my uncertainty about how to act and what to say is normal, and that many other husbands have felt this same inadequacy and simply tried their best to love their wives anyway.

We All Need Grace

There are two more things that I’m learning about dealing with tragedy and loss. There’s an extra large measure of patience, love, and grace required of a grieving person (which seems like an impossible ask) in order to not be offended by supportive words or actions which are well-intentioned but poorly delivered. In offering support for Karyn and I, not everyone got it right. As someone offering support, how do I best reach out? What words do I use? What are the unhelpful things that should be left unsaid? I’ve needed to remind myself that if a person has never had this (or a similar) experience, they can’t possibly know what poorly chosen word will trigger offense or hurt in the one grieving, and so their words should not be held against them. This is by no means an excuse for thoughtlessness from the person offering support though; because the same patience, love, and grace is also needed on their part to discern how grief is different for each individual, and to choose their words in a way which is sensitive to the one grieving.

At the time of writing this, it’s only been a few weeks. We’re still sad, and thoughts of our little boy still fill our minds; questions of who he would have grown up to be and how he would have affected the world around him. And yet our tears are undergirded by joy, because even though Remi was only with us for a short time, he’ll be part of our family forever. And we look forward to seeing him again; but on that day it will be with tears of joy.

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That’s a Wrap! (24/02)

Digital Tech is Killing our Relationships

It’s not just “The Internet”, it’s our own sinful nature manifesting itself through insecurity, desire for attention or affirmation, and lack of love for our neighbour. This post contains links to many resources making the point that we’re all aware of to some degree, but highlighting this “third person” of our smart phone or other Internet-capable presence in our relationships needs to be done. David Murray writes:

Successful relationships cannot happen unless the people involved have a clear sense of personal identity. But we cultivate and project so many social media personas that we’ve forgotten who we really are.

When Bible Study Goes Wrong

There is Bible study, and there is Bible study. The Bible is not primarily about the Bible. It is not primarily about morality. And the Bible is not merely an encyclopedia of religious knowledge. Scripture’s goal is faith in the life-giving Messiah.

Three Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Billy Graham

Here are three things we should carry with us all the time.

Mass Shootings, Mental Illness, and Local Church Ministry

I appreciate these words from Brad Hambrick.

Our initial ministry goal is less teaching people how to think theologically, which is vitally important, but can only be achieved after helping people realize church is a safe place to talk about their experience. Anxiety about whether a conversation is safe interferes with people’s ability to assimilate, much less apply, information.

On /Colourblindness, Race, and Imagining a Reconciling Church in Australia

On Saturday, a friend of mine spoke at an event “Gracious Conversations”; it was designed to be an event where Christians could get together to particularly talk about how we love our indigenous neighbours and support indigenous Christian leaders. This post is long, but with good reason. It’s worth making time to read.

Jesus was Not a Feminist (and maybe you shouldn’t be either)

She said it.

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What I Read in February

The Emotionally Healthy Leader

Scazzero continues to tell the story of who I am, where I’m at, where I want to go, and who I want to be. He doesn’t simply write intellectually, but his insights forged in the crucible of experience offer so much value with regard to what it means to be emotionally mature; self-aware, others-focused, and to holistically lead by listening to emotions and perceiving needs within your team. These are all things I needed to understand, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Green Lantern: New Guardians, Vol 1: The Ring Bearer

When Kyle Rayner becomes a Green Lantern, the last thing he expected was that he would also be chosen by the red, indigo, yellow, blue, pink, and orange rings of power too. Featuring Sinestro, Archangel Invictus, and a supermassive white hole that has formed a space/time tear to another universe, this issue sees Rayner make a journey from the safety of earth to the citadel of the Guardians of the Universe, and beyond. This is one heck of a story.

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture

This book was written with a pastoral heart that has seen first-hand the agony of failure in ministry and the burnout that comes at the end of not knowing when to say “no” and rest. But it also speaks as one who possesses the peace found through re-evaluating and re-calibrating life’s rhythms around regular days, weeks, and seasons of humbly accepting our own God-given limitations. Murray writes so clearly and with such compassion that every chapter is like he has his hand on my shoulder, lovingly encouraging me to embrace the gospel and develop strategies so that I can finish the race with my faith intact. Read regularly.

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

This punchy little book captures in just a few chapters exactly what you’d hope for from a book in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. I didn’t feel like its aim was to contribute anything new to the current position on the Biblical view of marriage, but if you’re looking for something that covers all the important bases in one accessible and quick read, then look no further.

Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death

The way in which Russ Ramsey reflects on encountering his mortality and the limitations of his own brokenness is the story of us all. His immense pain and confusion intersected with his faith in a healing and all-knowing God, and the lessons were long and hard for him, his family, and his congregation. Loving God, loving others, and loving yourself during these trials like these gets as broken and remade as Ramsey’s body. But this story has something to offer all of us, because it’s about all of us.

See what else I read in 2018:

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Fillers & Drainers

Humans are finite creatures. We have limits placed in our design to help us recognise our dependency on our creator, and we flourish when we reorient our lives towards this truth. Each morning we wake up with a limited energy reserve, and we must use our God-given wisdom to determine which activities will fill those reserves and which will drain them. In Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, David Murray encourages us to maintain a healthy balance of these fillers and drainers through regularly evaluating our fuel consumption. We all have lives that require a mix of things we love and things we don’t, but Murray’s words are aimed at preventing us from puttering out, or doing permanent damage to our engines.

As I consider my own lists of fillers and drainers, they look something like this:

Fillers

Quality time with my wife; reading in a quiet place; singing at church with my family; good coffee and conversation with like-minded people; preaching a sermon that goes well; the beach.

Drainers

Conflict; not getting enough sleep; administration (paying bills, filling out time sheets); difficult relationships at work; over-committing; times when all my children are cranky, all at the same time; being late.

When you stop to consider what these lists might look like for you, you may find that mine look totally foreign. That’s because none of us are the same; just look at how many personality types can be identified from only the top 3 profiling tools currently available. Self-awareness plays a vital role here—it is in our best interest to know what fills us and drains us, then (as much as possible) keep ourselves in mind when we choose how much of ourselves we’re able to give to something. Paradoxically, there are also things that appear on both lists, with results to match. Murray writes:

Another example of this double listing is physical exercise—it obviously drains me at the time and for an hour or so afterward, but the net affect of if in my life is a huge boost of physical and mental well-being.

Drainers are unavoidable. We all have to pay bills, return phone calls and emails, and endure difficulties in relationships. The key is to ensure that we remember to counteract the drainers with regular replenishment. We must never feel guilty about taking time to refill our tanks. Whatever stage of life we’re at it’s important (read vital) that we find ways in our weeks to engage in leisure, rest, and refueling, whatever that looks like for us. We’re no good to anyone (including ourselves) if we go through the week running on empty; so let’s take time to evaluate what impact every activity has on us, work hard to balance the scales, and be good stewards of the gifts God has given us for our good, and his glory.

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That’s a Wrap! (17/02)

Six Reasons Reformed Christians Should Embrace Six-Day Creation

Although this is a rapid-fire response containing many ideas that are worth unpacking in greater detail, if you’ve ever wondered which side of the argument you fall on when it comes to the creation narrative, this One Stop Shop should get you thinking in the right direction.

29 and Single: When Life doesn’t go as Planned

If marriage is your primary goal, then you are limiting God. You are limiting Him from pouring out blessings you will never know because your heart is set on something that the world is telling you should be a top priority.

BONUS POST: From the ERLC, 3 reasons why God may be extending your singleness.

When You Lose Your Temper with your Children

It’s humbling to accept that this is your fault. Your kids push your buttons, but ultimately you are the one who chooses how to respond. Excuses abound: “but I’m frustrated”, “I’m allowed to feel this way”, “they need to know they’ve crossed a line”, but none of these change the fact that we won’t grow children with Godly character through anger, harsh words, and flying off the handle. Kids are one of God’s greatest gifts for sanctifying your self-control.

History’s Biggest Food Fight: Catholics and the Eucharist

I attended a Catholic Mass for Ash Wednesday (see Reflections from Ash Wednesday), and one of the things that fascinated me was the way they take the Eucharist. This article sheds some light on why I was fascinated, and why it matters.

He Reads Truth: Lent 2018

He Reads Truth exists to help men become who we were made to be, by doing what we were made to do, by the power and provision that God has given us to do it, for the glory of Jesus Christ. If you’re looking for a Scripture reading plan that will take you through Lent, the team at HRT have a great resource.

Need a new Podcast?

One of my favourite podcasts has just returned for season 2, and now with a co-host to make things even more interesting. It’s a fun ride with authors about what they’re writing, what the’re reading, and where to go to find joy in reading widely. Find it in iTunes; you’ll be glad you did.

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Reflections from Ash Wednesday

Yesterday I attended my first Ash Wednesday service at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, a few blocks from my office in Brisbane city. It was a remarkable, foreign, fascinating experience with which I found a number of resonances (not just off the Cathedral walls) and a few reservations (because hey, they’re Roman Catholic). Before I begin, you might want to read Four Thoughts on Lent 2018 to get a picture of where I’m coming from, before you decide to come for me. A few thoughts:

A Time to Focus on Sin

The opening words were a solemn call for repentance. The speaker highlighted that the world knows nothing of sin proper; they understand making mistakes, errors of judgement, and bad decisions (consciously, or in hindsight) but not sin—because sin requires thinking in terms of God as the one whom we sin against. Therefore as believers in Christ, we have a foreign category to the world when it comes to considering our wrongdoing, not only because of God’s law to which we are held accountable, but also because we know God himself and his righteousness requirements. Further, we know of Christ’s finished work on the cross of Calvary on our behalf, we acknowledge that we are sinful creatures who are unable to pay the penalty due us apart from the saving work of Christ, and so we come to God without anything in our hands except the sin that made our salvation necessary, and plead Christ’s atoning sacrifice. On this point, I say a hearty “amen”, and am struck by a profound sense of my own poverty before a holy God—something that lies at the heart of Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the Lenten journey.

Oh The Irony

The liturgy of the service was almost completely made up of responses from the congregation; for which there was no paper or guide, and it was at this point where I’m certain those around me noticed that ‘one of these things is not like the other’ as I remained still, not knowing what to do or say for the bulk of the responses (I did try hard to look appropriately contemplative). Apart from the Lord’s Prayer, I had no clue what to say, and no way to participate. Lastly, it wouldn’t have been a Roman Catholic Mass if not for a ceremony replete with the respectful bow or bending of the knee to the crucifix before entering or leaving the stage or the pews (respectively), the Bishop frequently kissing the altar, or signs of the cross being made over various things throughout the service. For me, the contradiction of being saved by grace alone yet frequently performing all of these works was hard to miss.

Repent and Believe the Gospel

When it came time for the imposition of ashes (the tradition that paints an ashen cross on your forehead as the outward sign of beginning this season of repentance), the words “repent, and believe the gospel” are spoken over you. Here—all the Roman Catholic pomp and ceremony aside—I found myself recognising these words straight from the lips of Jesus at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and found it to be possibly the best exhortation one person could give to another. I returned to my seat with eyes that were pointed to Jesus, considering the words of John Newton that I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Saviour.

Overall, I was grateful for this experience as one that helped to put me into the right frame of mind entering the season of Lent, contemplating Jesus’ journey towards the cross and our great reward because of his great sacrifice. While there is a time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord over the entire created order, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that to be raised to life again, there must first have been death. Surely the reward tastes so much sweeter once we first take time to remember the cost.

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Write!

Arguably the thing that writers wish for more than any other (except perhaps a good publishing deal) is a distraction-free environment. It takes time and focus to get ideas out on the table, push them around, change their order or size, and arrange them into a carefully crafted piece of prose that somebody, somewhere might enjoy reading. Thankfully, there are ways to help us get closer to this Ideal Writing Zone; audible distractions can be reduced with noise-cancelling headphones, and visual distractions can be cut out by finding a quiet cubicle at a local college campus or library. But when it comes to technology, we live in a world of push notifications, constant connectivity, and the incessant demands of email, text messages, and social media. Being writers at heart, the creative team behind Write! are perfectly placed to develop a writing app which is clean and encourages focus, while capturing all the features I need in an uncluttered interface.

All the Mod Cons, and a Kitchen Sink

Write! has all the modern conveniences that we’ve come to expect from an app of this kind: full cross-platform, multi-device support; frequent auto-saves to cloud storage, so everything you write is safe and sound; multiple workspaces for different areas of your life, each containing as many tabs as your writing requires; and not only is there a multitude of font and text-formatting options, but everything is tucked away so that literally all you see is your next masterpiece (or the next blog post, if you’re less ambitious, like me) in a borderless user interface.

How I Use Write!

By far my favourite feature is Focus Mode. Activating this feature gives you the option to fade out all surrounding paragraphs except for the one you’re currently working on. I also appreciate the custom right-click drop-down menu containing the font, style, and colour options at a click, and without having to search through toolbars. The other neat thing I’ve come to love is the productivity boost provided by the plethora of shortcuts for text and paragraph formatting which (once you commit a bunch to memory) help to make better use of whatever writing time you have, especially when coupled with autocomplete and the spellchecker for those long or often misspelled words.

Publish to WordPress

As a regular blogger, this feature (added in Jan 2018) was the icing on top of an already impressive-looking cake. For all the features that I’ve come to love; the quick keys, the shortcuts, the unlimited Ctrl+Z (even after I close and reopen the app), the seamless, pain-free integration with my WordPress site is a thing of beauty. Just enter the specifics, and hit publish. There are so many reasons why Write! is the best app I’ve come across for writing of all kinds.

 

 

This post has been sponsored by the creators of Write! via a free license for review. I was not required to write a positive recommendation.
Check out Write! Here

 

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For Whom is God “Father”?

God is the Creator of everything. So, logically this makes him the father of all people, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. Recently in my Christian Classics reading group, we’ve been taking a look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, found inside his book Discipleship (Fortress Press, 2015). In Matthew 6, Jesus gives his companions a great gift in the form of a prayer; a prayer which contains many great and wonderful lessons that earnest disciples can find regarding how they are to pray, to whom they pray, and what this prayer reveals about who they truly are.

Jesus begins his prayer in Matthew 6:9 with the words “Our Father”. Bonhoeffer observes that by the Holy Spirit, the disciples have been called out of the world and brought into the family of God—the family of which Jesus is a part—and, as brothers and sisters in Christ they can now share with him in calling God their father.

But it has not always been this way, and it is not automatically this way for everyone simply by virtue of being created by the same God. In his 2018 book, The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution Al Mohler writes

…the term “fatherhood of God” has often been used to imply that God is a father to all people, without distinction and without regard for a person’s faith in Christ. Of course, there is a sense in which God is fatherly toward all his creation. But Scripture affirms that we only come to know God as our Father personally when through faith in Christ we are adopted into God’s family.

God is indeed fatherly towards all his creation. However passages in Scripture such as Ephesians 1:4–5, Galatians 4:4–5,  Romans 8:14–15, and others attest to the reality that sonship (and thus our ability to call God Father) is only attained through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, and the acknowledgement of Jesus as Saviour and Lord by those who would come. Scripture is quite clear with the answer to this question, and we would be wise to take heed, lest we make the mistake of the Jews in John 8, who thought they were safely part of the family of God by virtue of their natural heritage. To them Jesus says

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. …Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:44, 47)

Those who can call God “Father” are not the ones who are his children by virtue of being his creation only, but rather those who entered his family by virtue of adoption through Christ. This wonderful truth of the gospel should give us cause (as Jesus did) to comfort the frightened, but also frighten the comfortable. Once we were his enemies, but for those who have come to acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, through Christ we can call God our Father, and he loves us no less than he loves his own Son.

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That’s a Wrap! (10/02)

Jen Hatmaker and the Power of De-Conversion Stories

De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their crusty, backward, outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. A person simply shares his testimony of how he once thought like you did but have now seen the light.

Eschatological Discipleship by Trevin Wax

I’m an advocate for making disciples in a way that helps followers of Christ navigate the darkness of our contemporary age. As people who recognise they are living in the kingdom of God, our focus should be on bringing the values of the kingdom that is soon to be established in all its fullness to our world and issues today. Trevin’s new book looks like a valuable contribution to this important discussion.

Counseling and the “Inconsonable Things”

At the close of 2017 and into the new year, I’ve been making more intentional efforts to establish some key relationships with trusted mentors and a spiritual director. There’s only so much growth that I can undergo on my own, and we were made for community. None of us will be perfect until Jesus comes again, but the great gift of his Holy Spirit gives us faith and strength to go into the ring; so we keep fighting the good fight.

Pursue God, Not Pornography

There are some great resources linked here, in what is still one of the most prevalent areas of ongoing sin—for Christian men as much as any other. This quote in particular demonstrates its destructiveness:

I am not being hyperbolic when I call porn use a civilizational calamity. The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood.

Countermoves: A New Podcast from ERLC

I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts that will stimulate, entertain, or grow me in my awareness of the world around me. This new monthly podcast from Andrew Walker (author of God and the Transgender Debate) seeks to provide a Christian review of ideas shaping church and culture, and I’m keen for the first episode any day now. Maybe it’s your thing too.

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The Soul-Soothing Rhythm of Sabbath

Biblical Sabbath is a 24 hour period where we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God. As my life gets busier I’ve come to realise that while the day of the week doesn’t matter, protecting the rhythm of regular routine does. The benefits are many, and there really aren’t any drawbacks to dedicating time to pause from hurry, unplug from time-consuming technology, and breathe knowing that the world continues to turn without you. But with deadlines to meet, plans to make, small children to care for, limited time for house and yard work, and the effort of preparing for another week, my plans to practice a regular biblical Sabbath can easily be thwarted. Strange as it sounds, I almost found myself needing to be convinced that Sabbath was a good idea. In his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero discusses his weekly Sabbath (he’s chosen 6pm Friday to 6pm Saturday) in terms of these four things:

Stop Work

Step back from answering emails, hold off returning phone calls, avoid social media (especially if it is tied to your work). Don’t give in to the demands of an untidy house that could be cleaned, and resolve not to catch up on unpaid work like paying bills or organising the family budget.

Enjoy Rest

God rested after his 6 day creation work, and we are to adopt the same rhythm. Again, the key is to rest from what you consider paid or unpaid work. There’s intent at play here though, because resting from unpaid work requires careful planning; in order to enjoy a guilt-free Sabbath where you can truly come to a place of peace and rest, there might be some rearranging of the other 6 days in order to get things done in advance. Discipline takes determination, but the rest is its own reward. Free yourself to play sports, have a date night, go to bed early, read something, watch a movie, or enjoy the good company of friends.

Practice Delight

What brings you joy? As Christians, we most of all should know how to enjoy and delight in creation and in God’s good gifts. Perhaps it’s nature. Maybe it’s enjoying good food. Libraries and book stores spark my curiosity and inspire creativity. Think about what you love and work within your means to find ways of doing that which is good for your soul.

Contemplate God

What sets a Biblical Sabbath apart from just taking a day off is that we are not taking time off from God. This is an invitation to let go of lesser things and remember the goodness of God in the midst of our rest. We recognise that these good gifts come from his hand. It doesn’t mean that you spend the entire day in prayer, but it does mean acknowledging God’s goodness as you practice that which is soul-soothing for you; thank him as you enjoy a good meal, or wake from a nap, or survey the view from a mountaintop. God is good, and he is pleased when we acknowledge him as God and give him thanks for every good gift.

Where to from here?

The danger of Sabbath is to get bogged down in the details. Scazzero encourages us to take a step back, remember the purpose of the gift, and re-frame our thinking into one that has the sovereign God at the centre and me as a dependent, loved child. Some wrongly associate Sabbath with legalism. Constantine actually legally mandated a Sabbath. The Talmud (Orthodox Jewish writing) stipulates 39 prohibited activities (considered ‘work’) that must not be performed during this time. But Jesus says something different. We are reminded by him that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around; we are not slaves to a religious system but rather this 24 hour period was given as a gift to us by a God that knows we require rest. Mental, physical, and emotional peace is found in remembering who God is, and resting in that knowledge.

This practice isn’t essential to your salvation. But neither is reading the bible or prayer—and yet no one would argue the point that you cannot possibly grow as a Christian without these two things. I’m coming to realise that keeping a regular Sabbath is a key spiritual discipline that has much benefit for the believer, and Sabbath is a wonderful vehicle to carry grace from God to us via an intentional time of slowing down and trusting in his sovereignty while the world spins on without us. It takes creativity and commitment to make the leap from simply having a day off to actually having a Biblical Sabbath, and anyone who has tried to do this seriously will tell you that there is planning and the establishment of boundaries needed in order to truly stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God as the loving father who knows exactly what we need.

Sabbath is a good gift, and one that I’ve left unopened for far too long.

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Four Thoughts on Lent 2018

Every year as Lent approaches, I encounter mixed opinions in the Christian world regarding this season on the church calendar. Here are a few simple thoughts on why I embrace Lent as a season of anticipating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and honour him by making space to examine myself as the one in whose place he died.

Lent Reminds Me of Who I Am

John Calvin wrote that true wisdom consists in two things: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. For Calvin, there could be no knowledge of self without first knowing God. Like the rhythm of a regular Sabbath, or unplugging from technology once or twice a year, Lent is an invaluable period in my calendar where time is deliberately carved out to consider that the same God who made me is also the God who came and saved me. My identity is found in Christ, without whom I am a wretched, evil sinner condemned to a just and eternal punishment for my offences to this holy God. During Lent, I drop something of lesser importance, in order to dwell on truths that are of the greatest importance.

Lent isn’t Purely a Catholic (read Not-For-Christians) Practice

For many, Lent is so identified with Roman Catholicism that it’s difficult to imagine an evangelical observance of it. I often hear the question “what did you give up for Lent” met with the quip “Roman Catholicism”. But Lent (like Advent leading up to Christmas) is what we make it, and it is no more exclusively Roman Catholic than Easter itself. Personally, I’ve found great benefit in intentionally practicing something for the days leading up to Easter; and far from wearing the symbol of the ashen cross on my forehead all day on Ash Wednesday, there are many ways in which I can intentionally be reminded of why Christ came to die. After all, he didn’t die purely for the Roman Catholics.

Lent Gives my Family a Framework to Consider the Cross

Also like Advent, Lent allows for Easter to be more than Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. By pausing on the journey towards Easter through reading a Lenten devotional that walks the Passion road towards Calvary, my family and I are reminded of the journey that Jesus walked; the determination that he had, the love that he displayed towards humanity in his every word and deed. It reminds us that before the creation of the world, our loving Father had a plan to rescue us and restore us to relationship with himself. Devotions for Lent are easy to come by, and these brief daily glimpses of gospel celebrate how God’s love and wrath came together for our good and his glory.

Finally, Remember that Lent isn’t a Show

As with everything in the Christian life, the purpose of Lent is to grow into a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ, becoming like him in mind and action. So, when it comes to taking up the practice of sacrificing something (whether it be a particular meal each day, social media, or something else of value that takes much of your time), any practice than creates more space than usual for personal reflection is a good thing. However, the popular counter-argument is this: many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. But the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Also, Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18).

So, when it comes to giving up something, there’s no need to announce it. “Hey everyone, I’m giving up Facebook for Lent”—do that, and you’ve already received your reward in the recognition of man.

Where to from here?

My hope for Lent 2018 is that it would be a time of prayerful introspection; examining the heart, revealing and uprooting sin, and soberly remembering that the only thing that I contributed to my salvation was the sin that made it necessary. Lent is a time of contemplating what it means to be human, who we are in light of God’s saving grace, and how those things lead us inevitably to consider the cross. I pray it would be a gospel-soaked stock take of my life, to help me see what things can be set aside in order to make more room for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.

Finally, the attitude behind Lent should in no way be reserved for this short season leading up to Easter; the Christian life is characterised by thinking and acting upon this process continually. But I (and I suspect I’m not alone) appreciate the discipline of a season for focused prayer and penitence, and so I’ll be practicing Lent, and I know I’ll be better for it.

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That’s a Wrap (03/02)

Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth

Rosaria Butterfield knows exactly what she’s talking about. Having been converted out of a life of disbelief and lesbianism to a life found in Christ, she writes from a place of deep empathy and experience when she rebuts Jen Hatmaker’s position that you can have your LGBT relationship and Christ too. I agree that the church has a long way to go in order to love the LGBT community well, but what Butterfield says is also true:

The cross symbolizes what it means to die to self. We die so that we can be born again in and through Jesus, by repenting of our sin (even the unchosen ones) and putting our faith in Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. …And this war doesn’t end until Glory.

10 Things You Should Know about Suffering

Dave Furman has written another book (released 31st Jan, 2018) to help us better see the way God designs and uses trials for our good, encouraging us to embrace the God who is always near, even in our suffering. While you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, here’s 10 things to be informed and encouraged by.

Two Strategies to Win the War on Lust

Many Christians try to solve temptation only by resistance, but that just won’t work in the long run.

 The Dangers of Echo Chamber Leadership

Perhaps like me, you’ve been in rooms where opposing the leadership’s decision isn’t wise if you like your job. In this short post Thom Rainer defines echo chamber leadership, and identifies six key issues that will help avoid going too far down that dangerous road.

Depressed and Thankful: 6 Ways to Find Joy

A melancholy side to my personality makes me prone to see the glass as half empty. I realize that for many individuals, medication is truly necessary. But the weapon that has made the most difference in my life in fighting depression…

Don’t “Share Your Faith”

I’ve always loved John MacArthur’s scalpel-like precision when it comes to penetrating our subjective, post-whatever use of language. MacArthur’s clarification here is more than just an important shift in perspective, but also remarkably liberating for the believer.

It’s Own Proof

I think I would have preferred someone read this to me, so that my eyes could have been spared. But it’s excellent Calvin, nevertheless.

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What I Read in January

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

It became clear to me very quickly why this book made so many Best of 2017 lists. Chapters 1 & 2 were so convicting, but simultaneously so eye-opening that I felt like I should stop and go over them again. Doing an excellent job of evaluating these 12 Ways, Reinke does an outstanding job of remaining impartial; not ever being pro-phone or anti-phone, simply laying down the facts and observing the ways culture has changed for good or ill. Read my full review here.

Batman/The Flash: The Button

Batman finds on his cave wall the bloody smiley-face button of the Comedian, the iconic symbol of Alan Moore’s Watchmen series from the 1980s. The story-behind-the-story is set for the upcoming Doomsday Clock twelve-issue series, which has just begun. The Button sets the stage for Doomsday Clock with a story of Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen investigating the source behind the appearance of this button. It’s very hard to talk about anything without giving spoilers, but it can be said that this was the most popular DC release in a long time, with multiple reprints needed as copies flew off the shelves.

The Monster in the Hollows

Finally I’ve got around to this, the final book in the trilogy of The Wingfeather Saga. These books go on my All Time Best list, and I look forward to reading them with my kids as soon as they’re old enough. As with the previous two books, Peterson is a skilled world-builder; drawing the reader in to every sight, sound, and smell. The book moves quickly, but with so much detail that every experience is shared and felt. The new places are wonderful, the creatures terrible, and the journey of self-discovery for the High King of Anniera is gritty and glorious.

Making All Things New

When it comes to the pain brought about by sexual sin, Jesus has come to renew both the wayward and the wounded, the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that his grace extends healing to those suffering in sin, and to those who have suffered because of sin. In order to rightly renew sexuality, David Powlison writes that first “we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what’s gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation.” In Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken, Powlison presents that better way—a way where victims of betrayal or assault can live a better life than just “Survivor”, and those currently trapped in dark and hidden sins can walk towards the Light and be free from shame.
Read my full review here.

 

What have you been reading?

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Contend for the Gospel

Recently I noticed a church saying “let’s be known for what we’re for, not what we’re against”. While this is a nice idea and appeals to a generation desperately clinging to positivity and acceptance, it’s unrealistic—and frankly negligent—of a church to not be willing to say what they’re against. This pervasive theme of compromising biblical truths, sometimes masked in ‘ecumenicism’, is resulting in a church unwilling to stand for biblical truths if it means being labelled ‘divisive’ or the ever-increasing ‘bigot’.

Would the early church have been as effective in their faithful ministry had they not out-rightly denied early heresies like Arianism or Gnosticism? There is a responsibility upon 21st century Christians to stand for the gospel, and stand against that which seeks to attack the gospel.

Look at Jude’s epistle. Jude uses the entirety of his epistle to warn about ungodly people and call the church to persevere and contend for the faith. Instead of his initial desire to write about their common salvation, the need to appeal to the church to fight for the gospel takes precedence. He writes

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
(Jude 3–4, ESV)

Jude is appealing with great urgency for the church to contend earnestly for the faith that at this point, had been established and fixed by the apostolic teaching. If Jude, inspired by the Holy Spirit, believed there wasn’t much point contending over biblical truths because it can be divisive, or if he thought it best not to ruffle any feathers, he likely wouldn’t have used this strong exhortation to call the church to fight for the gospel. Verse 3 also draws attention to something of great significance. We contend earnestly for the faith because it has been “entrusted to God’s holy people”. The Greek word for ‘entrusted’ here is paradídōmi which means to give over into power or use, or to give into the hands of another. It’s emphasis is on stewardship. It is used in Matthew 25:14 in the Parable of the Bags of Gold – “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them” (emphasis added). Our faith has been given and entrusted to us by God and it is our responsibility to steward this in a way that brings honour to Christ. This stewardship requires a willingness to fight for the faith once for all delivered to God’s holy people by affirming things consistent with Scripture, and denying that which is against Scripture.

At this point, fundamentalists and hot-heads can begin to cry “amen!” while holding their bible more like a weapon. Contending earnestly for the gospel entrusted to us is not done with a sledgehammer. We must always be prepared to give a defence for the gospel, and do so with gentleness and meekness. This doesn’t mean accepting every view as true and valid. It means disagreeing and rejecting anything against God and his word in a respectful and loving manner. This brings honour to Christ. Agreeing or even inadvertently affirming that which is against Christ does not honour him.

So as Jude used his only epistle in the canon to urge those in Christ to contend earnestly for the faith entrusted to God’s holy people, this is an exhortation to Christ’s church to fight for the gospel in the midst of a world where many are losing the willingness to stand for truth. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19), but let us not neglect that which has been entrusted to us and be diligent in our fight for the truth of the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ.

 


This post was written by Tom Edwards. Tom is husband to a beautiful woman named Jasmine and carer of a cheeky and chubby pug named Spencer. He loves Christ, theology, and seeing God save souls and build His church.

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That’s a Wrap! (27/01)

Seven Reasons Why Church is Difficult for those Touched by Mental Illness

As a parent—but also as a person—I understand some of the challenges addressed here. Stephen Grcevich, MD (child and adolescent psychiatrist) writes:

Evangelically-minded churches have made great strides in recognizing the struggles common among persons in the church with mental illness. Where we have much work yet to do is in connecting with individuals and families outside the church and formulating strategies for welcoming them into our worship services and including them in activities most critical for making disciples.

Something Better than the Gospel

Fred Sanders. He said it.

An Open Letter to Christians who are Using Porn

The biggest thing about secret sin is that it’s secret. Tim Thornborough succinctly writes that the first step to exterminate it is to expose it.
BONUS: Tim Challies’ review of Vaughn Roberts new book The Porn Problem (currently AU$6.41 on Book Depository) is well worth reading.

A Guided Tour to 2017’s Bestselling Christian Books

Oh man, this post is not what you think it is. What is happening in the world?

How Curiosity Feeds Creativity

Barnabas Piper wrote the book on curiousity (no really, you can read my review here). He writes:

People are created to be image bearers of God. One of the primary, unique ways we do this is through creativity, and the only way to be truly creative is by being intentionally curious.

Disguised Destruction

Wise words from Katelyn Milligan. Do you often find yourself saying “The words I said were fine. And I’m allowed to say them that way, because I’m frustrated.” How we say things is equally-if-not-more important than what we’re saying. Milligan writes:

When one speaks without considering how it might affect others, not only is it selfish, but it’s reckless, and recklessness is destructive—destructive to oneself and to relationships.

Dads, Spend Time with your Kids One-on-One

Maybe it’s obvious (and if it isn’t, it should be) but there is a special demonstration of love and grace that takes place when a parent sets aside time to get inside a child’s world as an individual. This doesn’t disregard or discount important family times, devotions, discipleship opportunities in the car or at the dinner table, but there’s opportunity for eternal investment here that should not be missed.

My Favourite Tweet this Week:

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Three Personal and Professional Updates

The beginning of 2018 has not been uneventful for the MacLeavy family. It seems that life is always full, and often when it rains it pours. But we know that there are people out there who love to both pray, and offer practical support in many other ways. So I thought it was time we shared a few of our happenings (both personally and professionally). We’re thankful to God for placing us in a community of loving, praying, supportive people and so here are three quick updates we’d like to share with you.

House & Family: Well, it seems the house we’re currently renting was sold on the weekend. While we’re yet to find out any of the details, if you’re in our area you can probably expect a call from us in the near future requesting moving boxes. Our lease doesn’t run out for several months, so finding out whether the house has been sold to investors or owner/occupiers in the first step. Also, if you’re local, you may have noticed that we bought a new car recently. While it makes sense to upgrade from our 2004 model to a shinier 2011 model, the main reason is actually much more exciting. We’re expecting another baby in August, and we’re going to need more room. Buying a third baby seat for the car was a little bit daunting, and we’ve also decided not to find out the baby’s gender. So over the next few months, we’ll be working towards a new place with extra space!

A New Theology Project: Recently I was invited to be part of a new initiative that will be launching soon in 2018 at North Pine Baptist Church. Running a couple of times each term, we’ll be holding some adult theology classes. With the aim of discussing topics that are more easily addressed in a class-style environment, these talks aim to be much less formal than a Sunday sermon, and include a generous time for Q&A at the end. I’ll be teaching a few of these classes, addressing a range of contemporary topics from a Christian worldview. It’s going to be exciting!

Career Questions: There have been a number of internal restructures within the company I work for recently, and this continues to cause a low-level anxiety in most of the staff who remain. While I’m fairly confident that my position is secure, as the sole income earner for our family of five I’d prefer to know for sure. With another restructure looming on the horizon, please pray with me that I would have wisdom to manage what God gives our family, and have trust in his sovereignty to not only meet our every need but orchestrate every circumstance for our good and his glory.

 

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Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken

When it comes to the pain brought about by sexual sin, Jesus has come to renew both the wayward and the wounded, the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that his grace extends healing to those suffering in sin, and to those who have suffered because of sin. In order to rightly renew sexuality, David Powlison writes that first “we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what’s gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation.” In Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken, Powlison presents that better way—a way where victims of betrayal or assault can live a better life than just “Survivor”, and those currently trapped in dark and hidden sins can walk towards the Light and be free from shame.

To get an understanding of just how multifaceted this issue is, in chapter three Powlison introduces five knots we must distentangle as we work towards the holistic renewal of sexuality. In summary, these are Unholy Desires (sins of overt immorality—in person or in your imagination—with the wrong object of desire), Unholy Pain (when you’ve been treated like an object, the very thought of sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hand of others), An Unredeemed Sense of Guilt (for those trapped in sin, guilt turns them inward. Grace reminds us just how vast forgiveness is), Not Just a Male Problem (sexual immorality is no respecter of gender. Thankfully, Jesus’ mercy extends to all sinners with the same gender-blindness), and Sexual Struggles within Marriage (marriage is not a garden of uncomplicated sexual delight. Your sexuality will be remade in part by dealing with every other sin, as husband and wife walk with Christ).

A Christ-redefined life offers no quick fixes or instant removal of all the pain and baggage brought about by sexual sin. In chapters 4 – 9 Powlison shows how repentance of sin commences a sexual repatterning in us1.

Renewal is an ongoing journey, and Powlison encourages us to “have a vision for a long process (lifelong), with a glorious end (the last day), that is actually going somewhere (today).” Getting uncomfortably practical, Making All Things New unpacks the reality that while an immoral act or fantasy is a sin in itself, such behaviour always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God; loving something more than him. Whether it’s pornography or promiscuity, adultery or abuse, the battle for renewal is wider and deeper than simply struggling with the behaviour. Sexual sin is symptomatic, and is merely the manifestation of the deeper war for the heart’s loyalty.

We are people in process. Having discussed the direction we’re headed, the hard road to restoration, and the destination of rightly-oriented loving relationships, Making All Things New concludes with the greatest encouragement for the sin-sufferer and the suffering sinner. It is God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3); it is God who works in us (Jude 24), God who strengthens us (Galatians 5:16), and God who has promised to never leave us (Psalm 23:4, Hebrews 13:5). At every decision point, before every fork in the road, we recall that the living God walks the road beside us. While we are not yet what we shall be, we are growing towards it with the one who truly forgives, and truly renews.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

 

1. I loved the idea of repentance commencing a holy, Christ-oriented ‘sexual repatterning’ in us, from the book endorsement written by Rosaria Butterfield (former professor of English at Syracuse University).

 

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That’s a Wrap! (21/01)

Engaging with the Bible Beyond Merely Reading

Melinda Cousins (Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Tabor) writes of the wonderful, less practiced ways in which we can—and should—engage with the Biblical text.

As someone who became a Christian as a teenager in the 1990s, I was taught to read the Bible in my daily “quiet time” as a private, silent, individual, and visual exercise. (And to feel quite guilty when I found this difficult or unexciting). Studying and teaching the Bible in more recent years, I have been challenged by the idea that this is not the only way to engage with God’s Word, and perhaps not even the ‘best’ way. It is certainly not the way most members of the community of faith throughout history have engaged with this text.

Lord, Help My Stupidity

There’s not much to say about this post. I get this. I am this. Lord, help my stupidity.

Gender Equality and Gender War

I’m in the middle of taking an in-depth look at sex, gender, identity, and the Christian worldview. This post (and the linked articles) share some interesting—and not always obvious—implications and connections.

5 Myths About Marriage

As always, Paul David Tripp might appear to be stating the obvious, however it’s often the simple truths that we need to be reminded of. In an age where many views have downgraded marriage to the changing belief that marriage is no longer about God’s original intent but rather a social/sexual arrangement between two people (no matter their gender), these thoughts offer a valuable reminder.

What Did Early Christians Believe about Hell?

With the existence of heresies about the afterlife (such as Universalism, in all its variant forms) still prevalent today, I appreciate Cold Case Christianity compiling this post of statements from early church fathers and writings. Notwithstanding the Bible as the final authority, there is much weight to be added to the discussion from these great early believers.

Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency’

Tim Keller nails it.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

Why We Desperately Need C.S. Lewis’ “Newspaper Rule”

This was not about Lewis seeing all reporters and papers as “fake news.” It was about recognizing their (and his) limits and understanding our temptation to judge others. When you read or see a negative story about someone, how quickly do you jump from “That was bad” to “They are bad”?

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