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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

The Great Book Giveaway

Our home library is a carefully tended collection of kids books, fiction, biographies, history, and Christian books of all kinds that I’ve accumulated over my years at Bible College. I love that our kids love to read, and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with them as they read through our library in the coming years. Personally, I know that my relationship with God is richer thanks to many authors who have teased out how to practically apply the teaching of the Bible for myself and my family. I’m grateful for the resources that help me understand hard doctrines or difficult parts of scripture. Recently however, I’ve come to realise that there’s also a hidden risk of pride, greed, or worse that could take root as a result of our ever-growing library, and there’s a number of reasons why I’ve decided that there’s value in taking steps to ensure books remain the slave and not the master.

We Have Limited Space

I love books. Books that have to be posted, arrive in the mail, and be held, smelled, and flipped through… books that take up space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m increasingly investing in e-books these days; but my love for the physical remains undiminished. Although, having purchased yet another bookshelf for our home recently (and with the threat of moving house looming on the horizon) I’m becoming more reticent when it comes to choosing print over pixels. The truth is I really don’t need hundreds of books, and quantity doesn’t always equal quality.

Books are Made to be Read

A book that sits on my shelf after being read once or twice isn’t doing anyone any good. Sure there are reference books that hold ongoing value for research, sermon prep, that kind of thing. But on the whole, I tend to read a book once (I’m a big fan of reading highlighter-in-hand, I read every footnote and appendix, and sometimes I write a review), then I shelve it. I’m not precious about my library though; I love being able to loan books to people when I know it would speak into their situation with more eloquence than I could (which is always). For the most part however, my books are enjoyed once or twice by me, then sit on the shelf.

My Library Changes with Me

Just like I no longer read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (at least, not by myself), there are plenty of books on my shelf that I read five years ago that I simply wouldn’t pick up again. That’s not to say they’re not great, but there are numerous reasons why I won’t return to them; I was interested in a particular subject that has now been replaced by a new interest, changes to lifestyle (i.e. becoming a parent) has shifted my focus, or as I’ve (hopefully) grown spiritually I’m simply seeking books that are addressing things from a different perspective. But even though I may have changed, somewhere there is a person for whom these books will be the perfect fit.

The Risk of Idolatry

What I’ve come to realise lately is that there’s a degree of selfishness – even greed – in holding on to these books that could be detrimental if left unchecked. It’s not sinful to give away books, but it may be sinful to hold on to them. Along similar lines, if I’m sharing with people what this or that author says on a certain topic rather than drawing on what the Bible has to say then I’m at risk of giving books too much worth. The reality is that these bits of paper can’t come with me to heaven, and when I’m more interested in having an impressive stack of bedside reading than I am in picking up my Bible, that’s idolatry. And that’s a problem.

Where to From Here?

So how do I keep my love of books in check? I’ve decided to adopt an ‘Add-a-Book, Remove-a-Book’ policy. My library is now at the point where everything I have is high-quality, so I can confidently give away a book that I know will benefit someone else every time a new book is added to my shelf.

How Do You Get Involved?

If you’d like to participate in this ongoing promotion, all you need to do is hit the button below and subscribe to the blog; then each time I purchase a new book, I’ll choose a name from the list of subscribers, and get in touch with you via email to let you know what titles are up for grabs.

Just subscribe to chrismacleavy.com below and be eligible for free books!

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Wednesdays on the Web (16/08)

A Christian Response to Charlottseville

This week, I realised that as a white Australian, I don’t have all the categories in which to process the events that took place in Charlottesville recently. My mind boggles and my emotions reel at the horrific scene and the disturbing attitudes that are still very much alive in parts of American culture. There have been any number of responses to this painful experience, including Righteously Angry, Graciously Hopeful by J. D. Greear; The Five Crowds of Charlottesville by The Cripplegate; A Time for Moral Clarity by Denny Burk; and The Gospel Coalition’s What Now in Charlottesville?

The Meaning of Marriage

David McGregor, Senior Lecturer in Theology at Tabor Adelaide offers his thoughts on Tim & Kathy Keller’s book. I love the way McGregor writes, and if you’re unsure whether you should read the Keller’s book, McGregor can show you why.

Both single and married people need to realize that, as wonderful as marriage is, it only works best if it is not held up as the ultimate in and of itself – the “Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family that our hearts were made for” can only be found in the love that God has for us, and our true brothers and sisters in the Christian community who share our ultimate hopes.

Be Who You Are: Teaching Kids about Gender

The second biggest topic to break my newsfeed this week was a tie between SSM and gender dysphoria. Here are some thoughtful insights about the latter.

Why We Struggle to Pray in the Digital Age

None of these are ground-breaking discoveries or insights into our technology-addicted no-attention-span society. But Scott Slayton also offers some challenging remedies which are sure to shake things up in your schedule.

Like I said, the fact that Christians do trust God in the midst of their suffering should be intriguing to atheists. What do Christians see in God that makes knowing Him worth any amount of suffering they experience? Christian, every time you trust God in your suffering, you’re making an argument for the value of God, and everyone can see it.

 

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Love, Enjoy, Resist the World

When it comes to Scripture’s use of world, it’s easy to misinterpret the term in one verse or another. The Christian who doesn’t carefully consider context can find themselves living with too much legalism or too much liberty. In his book The Disciple-Making Parent, Chap Bettis reminds us that God loves every person in the world, and as followers of Jesus He calls us to do likewise. Further, God made the world that we live in and He declared it good. He made the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon, and he gifted us with every good thing the world contains for our enjoyment. But at the same time, Christians are clearly called to leave the world behind and wholeheartedly follow Jesus.

Love, Enjoy, Resist

The disciple-making parent teaches their children to love the world and enjoy the world, while simultaneously resisting the world. But what does that look like?

Love the World

When it comes to the New Testament authors’ positive use of world as the object of our loving, it should be clear that these passages aren’t referring to the broken, sinful, spiritually corrupted system that is opposed to God. Rather, this should bring to our minds those people for whom Jesus died. The New Testament presents a coherent message that as Christians we are to love our neighbour (read: everyone) and Jesus told his followers that second only to loving God, we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

Enjoy the World

Because God made all things good, a Christian can – and should – find pleasure in music, books, sports, movies, and food to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Jesus’ call to discipleship doesn’t mean we have to leave behind us the enjoyment of a sport or the exhilaration of a symphony; as disciple-making parents, we should point our children to the Creator through the enjoyment of his good gifts.

Resist the World

At the same time, Scripture teaches us that as Christians, we are not to be conformed to the pattern of the world (Romans 12) and John tells us “do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer writes:

A whole new generation of Christians has come up believing it is possible to accept Christ without forsaking the world.

This is the negative use of world that refers to those things which would seek to overthrow God as the primary object of our affections. Again, this doesn’t mean that being a Christian means we’re anti-fun or anti-possessions. My household loves all things Marvel; our bookshelves contain the latest comics, our kids wear Avengers pyjamas or sleep under Iron-Man sheets, and we never leave the cinema before watching the very last post-credit scene. However, if we’re talking about Marvel more than we’re talking about Jesus then we’ve got an idol, and we have a problem. Disciple-making parents need to talk about Jesus and his kingdom more than we talk about bands, movies, clothes, food, or things.

Why It Matters

When our children are young, they are forming their values, beliefs, and the way they look at the world. Christians parents are charged with helping these young disciples to navigate the waters of loving the world and enjoying the world, while resisting the world all at the same time. God wants us to enjoy his good gifts while remembering that our greatest pleasure is found in God Himself. One way to achieve this is by allowing Christ’s kingdom to graciously invade our conversations; that in our joys, encouragements, corrections, and conversations our children would see Christ as our treasure and goal. As disciple-making parents, we want to instill in our children an ability to delight in knowing Jesus Christ in, through, and before all other things.

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Councils & Creeds: The Athanasian Creed

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

Today we continue the series with a look at the Athanasian Creed.

Background

The Athanasian Creed is refreshingly straightforward in its presentation of the Trinity, in particular. By 1090 AD the great theologian Anselm held the Athanasian Creed as part of the Tria Symbola; the three great Creeds of the Christian Faith (The Apostles’, The Nicene, and The Athanasian Creeds). According to Martin Luther, the Athanasian Creed was “the most important and glorious composition since the days of the apostles.” John Calvin also counted it among the three great creeds.

The Creed

The Creed consists of 42 articles (I’ve removed the numbers to aid in reading) and can be divided into three sections: [1] the Trinity, [2] the Two Natures of Christ (as defined and defended at Chalcedon), and [3] the condemnations or “anathemas” defining the boundaries outside which is no longer orthodox faith.

It reads:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; there are three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.

Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

Why it Matters

Christian faith is not merely a matter of the heart. As thinking creatures, we will be held accountable for giving intellectual expression to our belief. Creeds like this serve as a healthy check that we’re believing what Christians have always believed about God, Christ, The Trinity, eternal life, and other fundamentals of the faith. But for all of the theological statements, there is a wonderful richness and joy found in right-thinking about the God we love and serve. As revealed in Scripture (and articulated by the Creeds), the Father sends the Son; the Son reveals the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son to comfort, teach, and guide in the truth. How much richer is our Christianity, our prayer life, our love for God, ourselves, and for our neighbour when we seek to better know and understand each member of the Trinity rather than merely “love God”. The Athanasian Creed helps us see each Person of the Godhead, gives us insight into their mutual loving relationship, and helps us to realise that salvation is actually an invitation by this God for us to enter into the eternal joy that is the Trinitarian life.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (09/08)

I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones

I don’t expect those who are strangers to the light to be bothered by the darkness. But for conservative Christians who care about marriage and immorality and decency in so many other areas, it is baffling that Game of Thrones gets a free pass.

The Gospel is the Entire Meal

Often and in various ways, well-meaning Christians may try to supplement the gospel with more “meaty” teaching; as if the gospel were a side-dish, or at best the appetizer designed to whet your appetite for the rest of the meal. But the gospel is a great and glorious meal, and the only one we’ll ever need.

On “Orthodox Christianity”

This post from James K. A. Smith encourages Christians to be more astute when it comes to employing terms like orthodox. It’s longer, but well worth the read. There’s also a very interesting follow-up article titled “Orthodoxy, Sexuality, and the Local Church” which provides some poignant food for thought.

How to Tell Your Friend the Hard Truth

Remember the gospel. Remember your need for grace.

5 Things to Know about the Transgender Debate

There’s an enormous difference between the political aspects of the culture war surrounding transgenderism and the reality that there are precious persons who have genuine struggles with gender dysphoria — a condition where a person senses that their gender identity (how they feel about being male or female) may not align with their biological sex and experiences emotional distress as a result.

Christians cannot avoid the transgender debate. In his new book Andrew Walker from the ERLC helps Christians to understand a more biblical posture towards an issue that requires equal amounts of conviction and compassion,

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The Simple yet Costly Call

A few years ago, I took a week-long prayer retreat on a small island off the coast of Queensland. It was a time of crisis in my life, and I needed time to process, pray, and pursue God’s will for my present, but also my future. The afternoon that I arrived on the island, I took the sage advice of my pastor; I dropped my bags inside the door, and went straight to sleep. This might not have felt like a particularly appropriate or highly spiritual way to begin a prayer retreat, but actually it was both. Trying to seek God when I was emotionally exhausted and mentally spent would have been unfruitful; likewise – as my pastor encouraged me – taking time to rest was actually one way in which I was living out my being made in the image of God, and uninterrupted sleep was the best spiritual act I could have started my time with.

I’ve never really been one to pray in a way that expects God to speak to me in an audible voice; I know that God’s primary means of revelation has always been through the Word (both in Jesus, and in the written words of Scripture). Sitting on the beach with nothing but my bible, paper, and pen, I made plans to seek God by prayerfully reading through the gospels, writing as I went. I began at Matthew 1:1, and asked the Holy Spirit to comfort my grieving soul, speak to my troubled mind, and show me himself and his will for me through these accounts of the person and work of Jesus. You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you that God showed up. You’ll probably be equally unsurprised when I tell you that it wasn’t in the way I expected, nor was it with the answers I think I was subconsciously hoping for.

As I reached the end of the gospel of John, I was struck by Jesus’ call to Peter that bracketed the life of this disciple. Beginning in Matthew 4:19, Jesus sees Peter fishing and calls to him “follow me”. Then in John 21:19 after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus once again finds Peter back in his boat and repeats the call to him “follow me”. In between these two calls is the life shared between Jesus and Peter, with Peter experiencing both the wonder of being close to Jesus and the overwhelming guilt of betrayal as he denies Jesus exactly as prophesied.

In the turmoil of my own life, I suddenly realised how true this was of me. I had accepted the call to follow Jesus, to sit under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of the Bible, and yet in a time of extreme hardship I had taken my eyes off Jesus and returned to the familiar comforts of sitting in my boat. For me, that meant expecting to find the answers within my own head knowledge, thinly veiled in acts of personal piety that I knew were the right activities to engage in. There on that beach, Jesus repeated his profoundly simple yet costly call to me, revealing these idols that I had made in trying to get it together on my own, and calling me back out of the boat.

It suddenly became clear that Jesus’ call to me contained everything I had been seeking in limitless measure; comfort, wisdom, and direction. All I needed to do was drop my nets and follow.

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Councils & Creeds: Chalcedon

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

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

Background

Back at the First Council of Ephesus, Christians sought to better articulate the position stated by the Nicene Creed regarding the relationship between the man Jesus Christ and the eternal Son of God. However, thanks to men like Nestorious the waters remained muddied, and the definition remained vulnerable to misinterpretation. In 451 the council of Chalcedon – the fourth ecumenical council of the church – came together to finally settle the questions surrounding how to rightly think about the two natures of Christ.

The Controversy

After Nestorius, a man named Eutyches (staunchly anti-Nestorian) posited a view called Monophysitism (physis being the Greek word for nature) which held that while there were two natures before the union of the incarnation, after the incarnation there was only one. This meant that rather than a union, the divine nature and the human nature mixed together to form a new “third nature”, categorically neither divine nor human.

The Result

Over five hundred bishops, including representation from Pope Leo himself (who had written his comprehensive “Tome” on Christology), came together to draft the most significant Christological statement the church had ever seen. The first draft presented to the council generally pleased everyone, except for the language used to define the two natures of Christ. Changed were made inspired from Leo’s Tome which read “two natures are united without change, and without division, and without confusion in Christ.”

The resulting statement of faith pays respect to previous ecumenical councils and tradition, and presents orthodox Christology which is neither the Nestorian heresy (two persons in Christ) or Eutychean heresy (one nature in Christ). It reads:

Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before all ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognised in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.

Why it Matters

The definition of Chalcedon defined the incarnation event as the true descending of the Second Person of the Trinity, while denying that a man was converted into God or that God was converted into a man. There was no mixing or confusion of the human and the divine; the two remained distinct in the one person. In the end, Chalcedon did not seek to define how the union took place, but it set the limit beyond which error lies. If you go outside of the Christological boundaries set by Chalcedon about the person of Jesus Christ, you’re talking about a different person. Chalcedon is also comforting, because when we think on this Christ, we’re reminded of a God who fully relates to our humanness, and yet is also the Holy, awesome Creator and Judge of the earth.

Finally, without seeing Christ through the lens of Chalcedon, one finds it difficult to see how salvation was accomplished. In the God-man Jesus Christ, we see God’s promise of reconciliation extended to us on one side, and the fulfilment of that covenant by humanity on the other side. It is only in Jesus as fully man and fully God that the price for sin could be paid and our salvation secured.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (02/08)

Making the Most of Working from Home

I’ve used Evernote for many years and consider myself a power-user, but one feature I’ve under-utilised is their blog. This post has a great deal of wisdom when it comes to successfully being able to manage your work/life balance, while also dispelling some common productivity myths.

Are You a Healthy Church Member?

A healthy church member is someone that, in one sense, shares all the sensibilities of a good pastor. They’re going to have a concern for the spiritual growth of others, they’re going to have a concern for the right teaching of God’s Word, and they will have a concern for the church’s witness to the community, for reaching their neighbors and friends. They’ll do that as people who have a high view of what it means to be a member of a church.

Read a Biography this Summer

I’ve always embraced the idea of taking rest seriously. I’m a firm believer that when we rest, we’re actually being like God.

Five Necessities of Soul Care

This month I’m reading Don Whitney’s book on Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Dave Higl from the Wesleyan Church puts his finger on five wonderful disciplines to counteract our modern mindsets of multitasking, and take time to put ourselves in a position where God can work in us for our good and his glory.

Christian Discipleship’s Most Important Ingredient

If you’re an imperfect follower of Christ like me, you’ll be grateful for Jared C. Wilson’s focus (and encouragement) in this new book.

Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of My Diving Accident

Joni Eareckson Tada reflects on 50 years of trusting God through chronic pain and quadriplegia. Joni continually teaches me more about the depth of grace and dependence on God in a way that I’ve never experienced, but long to live in.

The Enemy We Need

Russ Ramsey calls suffering “the enemy we need”. He writes

The day will come when sorrow and death will be no more. Until that day, we will struggle with the limits of living in this broken world. And we will suffer. But our Lord uses our suffering to produce endurance, which produces character, which produces a hope that will not disappoint.

And part of this character is produced when God uses our seasons of affliction to dredge the floor of the heart to bring to the surface pride, which we would never confront and may not even see if we did not suffer.

This is his merciful continuing work in me.

Bad Joke Telling

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What I[‘m] Read[ing] in July

July turned out to be a whirlwind month filled with all sorts of unexpected curveballs and unseen circumstances. As a result, I didn’t get through the books I had set for myself for this month, and so this edition of What I Read gets renamed “What I’m Reading”, because I’m mid-way through everything.

The Disciple-Making Parent

This could be the best book I’ve read on parenting so far. There are plenty of books that teach about parenting as connecting with the heart of your child, taking expected and unexpected moments to disciple your children, and infusing the gospel into your conversations as well as your corrections. But the value that The Disciple-Making Parent brings has been the importance of highlighting that discipleship begins with you as a person before it’s about you as a parent… and then brings in all the other things as well. This is where I’ve spent most of my July; and if you’re a parent, you won’t go wrong investing your money in this book.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Pete Scazzero’s book was recommended to me by my Christian Spirituality lecturer to help me become more emotionally intelligent, because I still have much – actually everything – to learn about EI. I’m finding that I relate to much of Scazzero’s book already (I’m about 1/3 of the way through) and can see how this is already helping me to become more and more open to how God works through our emotions. God is present to us in many ways, and that includes not only transcendentally (i.e. external, look outside of yourself etc.), but also immanently. A fascinating read.

The Flash

I’ve been able to catch up on a number of single issues of The Flash lately (much to my brain’s relief) and am really enjoying the direction that DC’s Rebirth is going, particularly with Barry Allen. It’s been nice to see the return of villains like Mirror Master, Captain Cold (probably my personal favourite), and even see Iris West (but no spoilers).

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboard, book #3)

I’ve been really fortunate to be introduced to some high quality fiction this last 12 months. Robbin Hobb leads the way for me, but N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy has been a blast, and I’m looking forward to reading it with my boys one day. The Chestnut King finishes off the trilogy, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

 

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Know Christ’s Love

Last night I checked out Hope Centre Church’s Worship Together event. In many ways, it was everything I expected it to be (and that’s all I’m going to say about that) but I was deeply encouraged by the short sermon delivered by Pastor Nathan, and I want to share my brief – albeit slightly unrefined – notes in the hope that you too might be spurred on to pursue Christ more fervently.

Preaching on Ephesians 3:14-19, Pastor Nathan captured the thrust of this section of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus this way:

[Paul speaking] “I’m not going to pray for your specific life issue.
Rather, I’m going to pray that you encounter more of God’s love.”

Why Does Paul Pray That?

Because he knows where our priorities should be. Put simply, we need to seek Christ above every other pursuit and treasure him above every other thing. In his commentary on this passage, Martin Lloyd-Jones writes “Indeed, our chief defect as Christians is that we fail to realize Christ’s love to us.” Let that sink in for a moment. Do we really understand how much Jesus gave up for us in love? Do we fully grasp the extent of this love for us? Do we go about our lives every day in the confidence that nothing can separate us from that love?

Lloyd-Jones goes on to add

“How important it is that we should meditate upon this love and contemplate it! It is because we fail to do so that we tend to think at times that He has forgotten us, or that He has left us.”

If you’re a Christian (and frequently, even if you’re not), you know in some sense about God’s love for you; but Paul’s prayer is that you would know it. D. A. Carson in his A Call to Spiritual Reformation points out that just as a loving home is required for children to grow to personal maturity, so we must come into the knowledge of Christ’s great love for us, in His household, the church, if we are to grow to spiritual maturity.

There are three points worth unpacking from this idea:

1. Christian people find Jesus beautiful. Religious people find Jesus useful.

You don’t come away from worship with 3 points on how to fix your life; and if you do, you’re doing it wrong. Rather in finding Jesus beautiful, everything else fades from the foreground, and troubles fall into their rightful priority and place. Finding Jesus beautiful is actually the most useful thing you can do.

2. Paul calls us to pursue love in community.

Nobody graduates from the love of God. We must constantly strive to love better, love more completely, and in order to do this we must begin with knowing the One who loves us unceasingly and unconditionally. Paul prays specifically that the Ephesian Christians would experience God’s love together “with all the saints”; regardless of their personality or propensity towards a particular kind of Christian pursuit, we should go after more and more of God’s love unified with fellow believers in heart and mind. We do this together, because God’s love is expressed in community.

3. Seeking after God’s love is not (purely) an intellectual pursuit.

While a deeper relationship with God necessitates studying him, learning about him, and getting to know him through the community of saints, encountering God’s love surpasses knowledge; you’ve got to experience it. When you read Scripture, you do so to encounter the living God revealed in it’s pages. When you pray, you don’t simply recite religiously, but to seek God and grow into maturity. Rather than just knowing about his love, why not regularly re-calibrate your life by creating space to actually encounter God and be refreshed in his presence?

Karl Barth (acknowledged as the greatest theologian of his century) was asked by a student if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a single sentence. Barth is said to have responded: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Go hard after God’s love.
Experience it.
Encounter Jesus.
That’s all you need.

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Wednesdays on the Web (26/07)

Meet the Puritans: Union and Communion

I’ve enjoyed this series, and this article is particularly comforting for those who face death, but who know of their union with Christ. Death no longer holds us captive to fear, and Jesus has made our hope for resurrection secure.

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

This article fascinates me, and I’ll admit I’m still thinking through all the applications for the many and varied situations that divorces arises from, and the “lies” that this author seeks to address from the gospel.

Dear Church, You’re Wrong About Sex

Phylicia gets down to business.

Dealing with Disappointment

Depak Reju has written some quality work (I have one of his books still on my wishlist) and this article further supports that statement. Along similar lines to the excellent You Are What You Love, Reju appropriately shines the spotlight back on us.

No One is Born a Child of God

This one often comes up when people talk about God being ‘unjust’ towards people, but there are plenty of other false narratives that would be corrected, if we just realised this simple truth.

The doctrine of Adoption is arguably one of the sweetest doctrines in the Bible, but it doesn’t make any sense if people are already born children of God.

Theologicon: Australia’s First Pop-Culture Conference

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

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Councils & Creeds: Ephesus

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

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

Background

The First Council of Ephesus sought to further clarify and better articulate the Church’s understanding of the person of Jesus Christ, more specifically how he is both human and divine. The orthodox position has always been that Christ is both God and man (true God from true God… born of the virgin Mary) but what did this actually look like, and how did these two natures co-exist? Answers to these questions run the risk of over-spiritualising or over-humanising Jesus, thus distorting not only our understanding of him, but necessarily undermining the work he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection.

The Controversy

The two major players in this council came from two of the most powerful cities in the world; Nestorius (Patriarch of Constantinople) and Cyril (Patriarch of Alexandria). It must be said from the outset that both these men were deeply concerned with understanding the nature of Christ in a way that was true to Scripture, however they erred in that Nestorius held a literal approach to Jesus which emphasized his humanity, while Cyril emphasized his godhood.

Nestorius

Nestorius developed a view of Christ that aimed to refute both Arianism (Christ was created as god-and-man together, see The Council of Nicea) and Manichaeanism (matter was evil, thus Christ wouldn’t fully become human, but rather was a completely divine being merely ‘wearing’ a human form). This led Nestorius to the conclusion that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, but these parts were separate. For Nestorius, Christ could therefore suffer on the cross in his human part, while the divine part remained unaffected and in control. He emphasized that Jesus was human in every possible way, which he believed is crucial if we are to share in his suffering and benefit from his sacrifice.

Cyril

With a sharp focus on the other side of the argument, Cyril believed that Nestorius dangerously diminished the divine in Jesus, and that this produced two different people (one human, one divine) that were only loosely tethered to each other in Christ. Cyril held that it was only through the divine Jesus also bearing the infinite punishment for infinite sin on our behalf that he was an effective High Priest for humanity.

Why it Matters

In the end, after a lot of underhanded political maneuvering and power plays between the parties of both Cyril and Nestorius, the council decided in favour of Cyril’s Christology which better balanced the two natures, and had Nestorius stripped of his rank and exiled. While we should be glad for this outcome with regard to developing an important theology, it could also be concerning for those at the time; if a decision of a church council was reached largely because of politics, how could they be sure the right call was made? What we must remember is that even with all the posturing of the day, both parties were seeking as best they could to be faithful to Scripture and facilitate the expansion of the true Christian faith across the world. Throughout the pages of the Bible we frequently see how God uses imperfect people and even evil acts to accomplish his good purposes, and always despite the inadequacy of those he uses.

We would do well to remember the council of Ephesus when engaging in disagreement with fellow believers. Ephesus reminds us that we should exercise humility, care, and a posture that seeks to listen in order to better understand. Today we look upon the events at Ephesus with gratitude, because it was here that the church came closer to our current understanding of the dual nature of Christ and how Christ accomplishes our salvation.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Ephesus tends to leave the modern reader with the impression that a clear statement of beliefs on Christ’s two natures hasn’t been clearly articulated yet. And that’s really right; it isn’t until the council of Chalcedon in 451 (approx. 20 years later) that a full Christology is made clear. Stay tuned!

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Making Disciples Starts with You

I try to include books on parenting and family as a regular part of my reading diet. I began this month with Chap Bettis’ book The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ and I’ve been so convicted in the first couple of chapters that I’ve not only had to re-read them, but I’ve decided to blog my way through the remaining content.

Not pulling any punches, Bettis is quick to get to the real heart of the matter when it comes to effective disciple-making. Quoting Scottish pastor and theologian Robert Murray M’Cheyne, he writes

“What my children need most
is my personal holiness”

It might seem obvious, but how can I effectively disciple someone if I’m not a disciple – being discipled – myself? As a student, I often observed that what I learned at seminary wasn’t just information; I came to love what my teachers loved. I caught their curiosity for the course content, and I inherited their desire to go deeper. This didn’t happen simply by what they taught, but by how they taught it. The same thing is true for Sunday sermons; what the congregation hear in that 30 minutes is (hopefully) the result of hours of careful study and constant prayer. What I bring to my children in family devotions and daily discipleship must be the same; the overflow of my own times in the word saturated with prayer for the growth of their faith and love for the Lord. To expect them to grow by a make-it-up-as-I-go-along impromptu delivery is likely to be disastrous.

For me to be the best parent I can be, I must acknowledge my complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. I must be careful not to make an idol out of having perfect Christian children, but I should be encouraged too that God has promised to lead, teach, guide, and fulfill his promises when I put him first in my life. It sounds counter-intuitive at first, but the beginning of family discipleship really has nothing to do with children. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 shows us the order of our priorities:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

This command makes plain for us that we must love God with – and for – our own selves before we can teach our children to follow. We must have his laws written on our own hearts before we can effectively model what it means to be a Christ-follower. My most sincere hope is that I don’t simply teach my children about a deity that I know with my head, but rather introduce them to a Lord and Saviour that I treasure with my whole being. It begins with me.

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Wednesdays on the Web (19/07)

Fill out a short form to get this free e-book from Mark Dever on the gospel & personal evangelism.

The Radical Difference between Believers and Unbelievers

Different worldviews, different rules, different kingdoms, and ultimately different kings.

Every Book of the Bible in One Word

There were a number of reasons why I really enjoyed this. A good summary helps my memory, but also asks me the question “do I know why that is the word chosen for this or that book?”

It’s a Date Night: What Did You Expect?

Joshua Waulk via Balight Counselling:

“It may seem like a settled matter to some, but from the first session of counseling I hold with any couple, I seek to convince them of the primacy of hope in Christ and his gospel alone for their marriage, rather than any particular tool, intervention, or methodology that we may discuss or employ. This would include, for example, date nights, even if they appear to have been helpful, or the latest best-selling book on marriage, even if it’s all the rage in the Christian blogosphere.”

The Agonizing Ordeal of Eugene Peterson

Thoughtful reflection from Albert Mohler on the brouhaha that was Eugene Petersen last week. How can I look at the cirumstances, actions, reactions, recants, re-reactions, and consider how I might learn from this. Not only to ensure I always speak with truth and clarity but to avoid – as Mohler suggests – being next.

The Words of my Mouth

This honest piece is very relatable; both as who I am, and who I strive to be. A good reminder of the wisdom that came from the brother of Jesus. Lore Wilbert writes:

I have spent decades trying to figure out how to bridle my tongue, going from one extreme to the other, from utter silence to rampant zingers. This discipline of letting the Word of God be my bit and reins for a bridled tongue is the only thing that’s changing me really, from the inside out.

 

Luther: The Man and His Theology

This event is happening in Brisbane next week, and tickets are almost sold out. Come and celebrate 500 years of Martin Luther’s legacy; and learn not only about the man and his theology, but why the Reformation still matters for Christians today. (At the very least, come and get the free CSB Bible for attendees)

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You Are What You Love

When it comes to our spiritual formation, the average Western Christian has lost much of the value that comes from practices that quiet our souls and remind us of who we are. We live in an age of addiction to speed, multi-tasked productivity, compressed thoughts, and condensed experiences. Even when it comes to our spiritual life we find ourselves too busy to pray, too distracted to just “be still”, and even see some churches try to preach shorter sermons out of fear that they will lose the attendance of our attention-deficit generation. And from society around us we (the church) run the risk of succumbing to these bad doctrines and false narratives; carelessly adopting our secular culture’s daily liturgies.

In You Are What You Love Smith argues for a return to intentional practices that immerse our souls in “liturgies indexed to the kingdom of God”. He recognises that we are restored by being re-storied; and we have a deep need to change the rhythm of the narratives that we live by. The truth is the same whether we are considering the habits of our own lives or the environment of our local church; where we invest our time reveals where our love truly resides.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t ask people to gather wood.
Rather, teach them to long for the sea.”

But we can’t re-calibrate our hearts merely from the top-down. Intentional discipleship isn’t a purely intellectual exercise (although, I believe that it needs to begin as one). Smith helpfully points out that his solution isn’t to shun knowledge – as though being anti-intellectual would somehow make you more ‘in tune’ with matters of the Spirit – but to focus on the connection between our habits and our desires. We need to recognise the power of habit. As Christians, I think we understand routine. We strive to read our bibles regularly, we gather together every Sunday to worship as a community, but we are also bombarded with the many unhealthy cultural liturgies that would seek to distract our hearts and steal our affections. We check our social media before – or more frequently than – our time spent with God, and we are lazy about sticking to spiritual disciplines that we know are good for our souls.

Smith is quick to point out that ​we won’t be “delivered from deformation simply by new information” bur rather reflection must propel us into new practices. By grace we have been provided the means by which to nurture our love for the good and beautiful God, found in the rich practices of the historical Christian church. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to your habits, your morning routine, the order in which you sub-consciously prioritize your tasks and time. Smith reminds us that in the midst of a world of “hurry sickness”, there is infinite value in receiving and adopting the historic Christian practices as enduring gifts that help us rightly order our loves, just as they have for Christians down through time, and he shows how this deep continuity remains a radical call to discipleship.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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Councils & Creeds: Council of Nicaea and The Nicene Creed

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

Today we continue the series with a look at the council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed.

Background

The Nicene Creed is actually the culmination of effort from two ecumenical councils (Nicea in 325 AD and Constantinople in 381 AD) and a century of wrestling over the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. During the reign of Emperor Constantine the most divisive schism that the Christian church had ever experienced broke out. This great controversy – known as Arianism (after it’s loudest voice, Arius of Alexandria) – taught that Jesus Christ was a creature and not equal with the Father. Arius’ followers believed that despite Jesus being an incomparably great creature, still “there was [a time] when the Son was not.” This teaching caused the church to think through the orthodox view of the Trinity in a clearer way than stated in the Apostles’ Creed.

The Council

The very first ecumenical council of the Christian church saw 318 bishops from East and West branches of Christianity come together for two months. Here a number of secondary issues received decrees, but the issue of primary importance was the Arian controversy (it was also known as subordinationism, because it subjected Christ the lesser to God the greater). Things escalated quicker than expected, when soon after the council opening someone called for a reading of the Arian position as a place to begin. One of the Arian bishops read a statement which clearly denied the deity of the Son of God, designating him a creature and not equal with the Father. Expecting to hear something more moderate, the bishops were horrified at such blatant heresy, and the riot only stopped at the emperor’s command. The council immediately turned to articulating a clear statement of orthodox Trinitarian belief.

The Creed

Patterned after the Apostles’ Creed, but adding wording to clearly exclude Arianism, it states:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us humans and for our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming human, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit.

The original creed ends at this point, finishing with a statement specifically condemning those who would assert that Jesus isn’t completely co-equal and co-eternal as the second member of the Trinity.

Why it Matters

Statements like “being of one substance” and “light of light” serve as the analogy we can hang our Trinitarian thinking on. How can you separate light from light? You can’t. Neither can the Father and Son be separated; Jesus is of the same substance and thus truly God. Although we may simply accept it without question today, the fact that Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are equally God is non-negotiable for Christians. Arian heresies are far from dead; Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, and others deny the true deity of Jesus, and the Nicene Creed settles this point, ascribing to Jesus his proper glory and majesty.

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Christian Classics: Round 4

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 are placing orders for the next book with anticipation. We’re taking a look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influential work: Discipleship. We’ll be using the more accessible Reader’s Edition from Fortress Press, as it divides his content nicely for our fortnightly meetings, and the modern translation and supplemental material help to make clear Bonhoeffer’s theology amidst his unique social context. Bonhoeffer has much to say about Christ’s call to discipleship and what that looks like for us as disciples, and he takes the time to discuss the more practical aspects of the church of Jesus Christ and discipleship (doing life together as members of the body of Christ). The largest section of this famous work is his discourse of the Sermon on the Mount which can be said (without exaggeration, I think) to have influenced almost every evangelical theologian since it was written.

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. Why not get a head start, and order the book from Book Depository.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Wednesdays on the Web (12/07)

Good News for Difficult Times

Our circumstances may be difficult, even insurmountable, but we have good news to preach to ourselves that will change the way we respond to difficult circumstances.

Scott Slayton provides a valuable reminder here (rooted in Romans 8 and coupled with Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression), which I really need to read.

You May Not Love What You Think

A timely reminder for me, as I’ve just finished reading James K. A. Smith’s book on this. Here, he writes “how are you curating your heart?” through the activities you invest in and the priorities you choose (consciously or subconsciously). How do we engage in self-awareness rooted in scripture for the good of ourselves, our families, and the glory of Christ?

The Law of Love

Barnabas Piper writes for hereadstruth.com (follow it, if you don’t already) about law, Christian liberty, and love.

What Hogwarts Can Teach us about Friendship

…friendships are part of the triumph of the good. The final victory over evil demands love seasoned through the years. Every time that Harry tries to accomplish by his own strength, even if his motivations are noble (like keeping his friends out of harm’s way), Ron, Hermione, and others intercede on his behalf.

What Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ Taught Me About Parenting

Even if you’ve never read Augustine, there’s gold in this post.

What is the Purpose of Fasting?

I’m currently reading my second book by Don Whitney, this time Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The book is full of insight into how to understand and mature your Christian faith, and the many benefits that come from intentional investment in relationship with God. Here’s a short clip on one discipline that I found helpful.

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Moving Beyond Small-Talk

To be “saved” according to the New Testament means to become part of the people of God. A person is not simply restored to relationship with God in order to live as a Christian individual, isolated from the world and separated from the church. Rather the Christian becomes part of the body of believers; the community which has been called and gathered by the Holy Spirit, among whom God can dwell and through whom he can reveal his life and character to the world. In considering the fact that we now live as part of the Christian community, there are a number of implications for how we live both for ourselves, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Aside from the many means of grace we have been given to aid our own spiritual development, there is one loving service we must not shrink back from supporting each other with – I believe – much more.

When it comes to confession of sin, pride for our status or concern for someone else’s opinion of us can cripple us from fulfilling this scripture-mandated imperative. Even though we’re fundamentally the same, our natural self-protection tells us its better to preserve our dignity than to make ourselves vulnerable in such a way. Conversely if we were to lovingly navigate another person away from this or that specific sin, it too could be seen as pride in us; a kind of holier-than-thou attitude. Both of these are false narratives, and need to be dismissed if we are to grow. When Christians live together in community, we must recognise as a matter of primary importance the obvious reality that we are all sinners saved by grace alone. Addressing sin does not mean that that person is being dishonoured or demeaned. Nor do we look any worse than we already are as those who desperately rely on Christ every day. Quite the opposite is actually true; they (and us) are paid a great honour when we admonish one another in the way we should go, in the knowledge that we are all sinners who belong to each other through Christ.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.

John Wesley was never one to shy away from the seriousness of sin, habitually beginning his class meetings with “what sin has overtaken you this week, brother?” James 5:16 tells us “confess your sins to one another”. It is entirely possible for people to meet together, worship together, pray together, and yet be utterly isolated from each other because they enjoy fellowship as believers, yet not as repentant sinners. If we are genuinely saved, if we are legitimately concerned with growing in Christ, and if we are intentional about not staying the same but continually “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), then we must move beyond general sweeping confessions of “sin” and engage in acknowledgement and repentance for specific sins. Scripture tells us that sin won’t be conquered in isolation, but if we are to put sin to death and grow in our walk with Christ, it happens in the community of the saints.

We must choose to go deeper; to love each other harder and hate sin (in ourselves, as well as in others) more. I pray that we would be a people who grasp the seriousness of sin; humbly but urgently exhorting one another through tears to turn from sin when sin is apparent, quick to accept in humility when it is pointed out in us, and always with rejoicing because of the forgiveness that is ours in Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace.

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Councils & Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed

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

Today we begin the series with a look at the Apostles’ Creed.

Background

Over the years, Christians have appealed to a variety of voices as sources for authority. While Scripture is clearly the ultimate and final source of authority on all matters to which it speaks, much of our theology was articulated and defined in the first 500 years of the Christian church. Often expressed in the form of a confession or creed, the Apostles’ Creed is perhaps the most well-recognised. So named because it is acknowledged to be a summary of apostolic teaching (i.e. taught by Jesus’  Apostles) many churches still recite it today as a reminder of the essentials of Christianity.

The Creed

It states:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Why it Matters

While within the creed there are plenty of key doctrines that need further ‘fleshing out’, if you knew nothing else about Christianity but what was contained here, you would have something that Orthodox Christians of every kind could hang their faith on. The Apostles’ Creed speaks of God as Creator; the incarnation of God the Son; the gospel (Jesus died and rose again); forgiveness of sins, the gathering of the church by the Holy Spirit, and the hope of eternal life.

The Apostles’ Creed represents a set of uncompromising core beliefs for Christians. Much like the opening chapter of J. I. Packer’s Knowing God where he prompts the reader to stop and make sure they agree on and believe certain foundational truths before they continue into the deep waters of his book, the Christian must be able to affirm each sentence, stanza, and summary statement contained in the creed in order to grasp what Christianity through the ages believed and continues to believe.

The Apostles’ Creed reminds us that our faith is not mythological, nor is the work of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit disconnected from our daily lives as disciples of this seeking, saving, three-in-one God. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us of this reality in clear, simple terms.

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Wednesdays on the Web (05/07)

4 Essential Tips to Transform your Bible Reading Experience

Every Christian knows the importance of this fundamental means of grace. Scripture is one of the primary ways through which God speaks to his people today. And yet, we’ve all experienced peaks and troughs as we engage in this discipline. Time to get back on track? Try this.

Resources During Suffering and Lament

Suffering isn’t a question of if; so when the storms come, I would like to have a solid foundation under me. Having my feet firmly cemented in these truths is what I need.

Make Time to be Bored

It’s school holidays for us right now, and boredom is a very real thing. But is it a thing to be avoided? And what about the adults? This is a worthy reminder.

5 Questions to Ask Singles Instead of “How’s the Love Life?”

We all know single people. Beautiful, ambitious, life-giving people who just happen to not be married right now. While culture is in a state of fluidity and liberty when it comes to relationships and the status of being “married”, there’s a lot more to a person that this; why not get curious about something different?

The Order Matters

It mattered to them, and it matters to us.

 

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What I Read in June

Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer

Gary Millar managed to find something that I didn’t think existed in 2017: an angle on prayer that no one has ever explored before. Millar presents the first full biblical theology of prayer I’ve seen; from Genesis and the Pentateuch, through the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, Paul’s writings, and finally prayer in the remainder of the New Testament letters. All throughout, Millar adds weight to his thesis that prayer is essentially “calling on the name of Yahweh to fulfill his promises”. He adds that for us, praying “in Jesus’ name” is the New Covenant re-imaging of the this formula. This book will change how you look at prayer, and cause your prayers to be richer, more relational, and ultimately more rewarding.

Ordinary Saints

Stuart Devenish expounds the life of the ordinary saint, which he defines as “all those who have been saved by grace and through their faith in Christ subsequently adjust their mode of living to reflect Christ’s life in the world”. These character qualities are also richly demonstrated throughout the book with many stories and examples of ordinary saints living out what Devenish describes. These stories serve to inspire and delight; it is true that saints have currency today because their lives are revelatory; saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel. Ordinary saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved – completely and unconditionally.
Read my full review here.

Commentary on Romans

Martin Luther’s theology is arguably not made clearer in any of his other works as much as it is here in his rich commentary on the New Testament letter to the Romans. This work has had significant influence on a number of great fathers of the faith, most well-known are the famous words from John Wesley:

That evening he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

This is a wonderful, practical insight into Paul’s letter. And well worth reading slowly.

The New City Catechism

I made the time to study this on my own before inaugurating our next round of family devotions. This is a wonderful, simple yet solid launchpad from which to teach your children the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Suitable for all ages, because you can choose to simply read the question and an abbreviated answer (including scripture), or use it to go deep into a conversation about any of our beliefs and practices. Free on iPad, but our house already has enough ‘screen time’, so I opted for the paperback.

Erasing Hell

I love learning from Francis Chan. So it’s not surprising that this was the first book I’ve read for a while where I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading it cover-to-cover in one sitting. Chan has a remarkable ability to communicate urgency and emotion in the midst of serious and sobering content. This book goes straight on my Every Christian Should Read This list.

You Are What You Love

Much of my 2017 has been spent contemplating my regular practices, habits, call them liturgies if you will, and how they reveal where my love truly lies. This book has been formative in understanding myself better, and seeing how my heart needs constant re-calibration to point to the “true North” which is Christ.

The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows

Merging seamlessly with the content of both Ordinary Saints and You Are What You Love, James Bryan Smith’s work has a wonderful spiritual direction to it; helping me to learn how to better live as one who is following after Jesus, and how every day is an opportunity for spiritual formation; re-aligning and re-honing my habits and focus on loving the God that Jesus knows. I particularly loved the way James Bryan Smith ends each chapter with small group questions and a spiritual formation exercise; because Christian growth happens in community.

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Wednesdays on the Web (28/06)

Most Christians Have Non-Christian Worldviews

While this is written from the American church perspective, I found it interesting as a launchpad for discussion, particularly in light of the recent Australian census data. I find it fascinating that so many Christians look down on other Christians because of their ‘sheltered’ or ‘myoptic’ worldviews, but the title of this article is revealing, and shows us how much we still have to have our minds renewed.

A Painting of Come Lord Jesus, be our guest…”

A dearly loved friend introduced me to this prayer a few years ago, and only recently had I come to appreciate the beautiful theology behind it.

Meet the New ‘Twicer’

“I came across an interesting expression recently: the twicer.1 From what I understand, ‘the twicer’ used to refer to the person who went to church twice a day (think of the days of morning and evening prayer). It then began to refer to the nominal churchgoer who would attend twice a year, the ‘Christmas and Easter’ Christian. When I heard the phrase recently, it was used to refer to the committed churchgoer. That is, to describe a regular churchgoer—who attends church just twice a month on average.”

Analyzing Annihilationism

While discussions about eternal destinations should be carried out with sensitivity, urgency and (often) through tears, the guys at The Cripple Gate speak clearly and biblically to questions relating to Hell. There’s some truth in here for those who would hold a Universalist position too, particularly in the statements from fathers of the faith throughout history at the bottom of the article. I think it’s important to know the truth on matters like this; though they are difficult, they too point us to Christ.

How to Stay Productive while Living at Home

Easy to talk about. Easy(ish) to implement. Sticking with it? Well, that often feels like pushing a boulder, up a hill, in a snow storm (without pants).

A Spiritual Barometer Check

This quick post poses questions that are well worth returning to on a regular basis. Growth must be intentional, and have checks and balances to make sure we’re getting somewhere.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I appreciate this piece from Jessica Hughes so much. Too often in the West we suffer from a sort of ‘destinationism’; the feeling that what we’re doing isn’t important enough (yet), that we’re made for something more, something less mundane, and we need to keep striving to find our fulfillment. This article is filled with grace and gives peace.

A New (and important) Site You Need to Check Out

Gospel in Society Today is a committee of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland. Their purpose is to write about complex issues and how to think through them as people who love Jesus. Their newly launched website already has papers on issues such as how to think carefully about domestic violence, transgender and sexuality, the environment, and more. This is well worth keeping track of, and the committee love interaction, so get on a discuss these important issues.

 

 

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The “Gift” of Evangelism?

Today’s guest post comes from Stuart Millar. Stuart is the founder and director of Train to Proclaim Inc. He trains Christians to be more effective in sharing the gospel and develops quality and innovative resources to equip contemporary Christians everywhere. With 23 years as a full time evangelist, he is passionate about Christians being the best we can be at communicating the best message of all time. I asked Stuart the question

Do you need the gift of evangelism to do the work of an evangelist?


Stuart: I have been offering $1000 in many churches over the last decade if anyone can find anywhere in the Bible where it says that evangelism is a gift. In the two big “gift chapters” that cover the manifestational and motivational gifts, 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, there is no mention of evangelism. Why? Because evangelism is not a gift, it is simply sharing the gospel, which is a command that Christ gave to all believers. A bit like His command to love one another. We don’t say “I don’t have to love people because I don’t have the ‘gift of love’.” There is no such thing, of course, loving one another is not an option, we have been commanded to do so and hopefully desire to do so! Likewise with evangelism, we are commanded to do so but hopefully also desire to do so out of our love and deep concern for others. This is not the great suggestion, but the great commission. It is a universal command of Christ not a gift just for some. This is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.

The role of the Evangelist is described in Ephesians 4:11-12 as someone who equips believers for work of ministry. Evangelists train and empower Christians to be effective at sharing the gospel, not to do all the evangelism themselves!

So can someone who is not an evangelist do the work of an evangelist? Sure! Paul wrote to Timothy (who was a pastor) to do the work of an evangelist. He was not asking him to evangelise, everyone in the early church was already evangelising. Rather he was asking Timothy to be involved in equipping the believers to evangelise.

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house,
they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news,
that Jesus is the Messiah.”   (Acts 5:42, NIV)

This was the norm for the early church, as followers of Christ, they just did what Jesus had asked them to do. If you were not sharing your faith regularly you would be the odd one out. Sadly today if you do, then you are the odd one out.

Even though He could, God doesn’t just do everything Himself, he involves us in His rescue plan for the world, and that is an exciting thing to be a part of! God is the only One who can save people, we can’t save anyone – all glory to God. Jesus is the Saviour of the world, not me. This relieves a huge weight off my shoulders, I don’t need to save the world. But I do have a part to play, to share the Gospel, and I need to take my responsibility seriously. God asks us to be involved in this process, we can be a part of making an eternal difference in someone’s life!
Let’s get involved.

 

For more resources and to connect with Stuart, check out Train to Proclaim as well as their Reaching People video series.

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Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life

Rarely do I find a book so wonderful and easy to read that I fly through it fifty pages at a time. And yet, right from the outset its clear that in Ordinary Saints: Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life Devenish would encourage me to take it slow; to look under every rock, touch every leaf, smell every flower. In so doing, I learn in the pages of his book not only how I should live as a Christ-follower, but I see clearer how I am called to live Jesus’ kingdom vision for my family, for my work life, and for the way in which I am called to have an influence on the world around me.

With the movement of time and the development of language, one could easily find themselves picking up Ordinary Saints with a range of preconceived ideas and prejudices and so Devenish begins with a most helpful and illuminating definition of terms: what are saints? Returning to the biblical language, he defines saints as

all people who have been made righteous
through their faith in Christ
and who subsequently adjust their mode of living
to reflect Christ’s life in the world.

Over against the more commonly used disciple Devenish clarifies “whereas the word disciple highlights the obedience that the disciple offers to Jesus, the word saint highlights the kind of life that the Christian disciple lives before the watching world”. Before even leaving the introduction it became clear that Ordinary Saints is a highly practical, challenging, and encouraging word designed for all of God’s people.

Laying a foundation for what characterises the ordinary saint, Devenish discusses the qualities he believes should be present in their every day lives. These are: (1) love for humanity, (2) overflowing joy, (3) generosity of spirit, (4) willingness to suffer, (5) deep humility, (6) essential goodness, (7) profound wisdom, (8) holiness of life, (9) the practice of prayer, (10) an eternal perspective, (11) readiness to resist evil, and (12) forgiving one’s enemies. I found this chapter simultaneously encouraging and convicting, knowing that as Devenish drilled down into each one of these characteristics, I still have a way to go.

Chapter seven (titled “Holy Wounds”) expands on the model for the saints’ lives. Included in this chapter is a concept he has coined called “voluntary vulnerability”, which he defines as when a person who is whole, healthy, happy, and right with God through faith in Christ, nevertheless chooses to give up their “right” to ensure their own needs are met. Instead, they relinquish any claims to their own comfort and well-being, in order to act in the best interest of others, not themselves.

This pattern is richly demonstrated throughout the book with many stories and examples of ordinary saints living out what Devenish describes. These stories serve to inspire and delight; it is true that saints have currency today because their lives are revelatory; saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel. In considering everything that ordinary saints have to contribute to the life of the Christian today, Devenish writes

History as a narrative rehearsal of past events is punctuated by the life stories of men and women who have performed their character and faith in the past, in such a way that they shape and influence the present (not to mention the future). History would not exist as we know it today without those cultural, religious, and political heroes who have left their “notch” on the stick of time. To that extent, the present moment springs forth from the heroic imaginings of yesterday’s people, who lived their lives not accidentally but intentionally towards making their tomorrow (our present) a better time and place.

None of the qualities that Devenish expounds in the life of the ordinary saint come naturally to any of us. And yet, this is precisely the life that those who have been saved by grace are called out of the world to live. Ordinary Saints is both a call to intentional transformation and an encouraging reminder of that great ‘cloud of witnesses’ that has gone before us, laying down their lives for the spread of the gospel in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless.

Ordinary saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved – completely and unconditionally.
Read it, then go and do likewise.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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