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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

APTAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Started

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

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

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

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

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What I Read in July

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

Being a Christian

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

Mere Christianity

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

The 5 Solas Series: Faith Alone

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

Fusion

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

Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot

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

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

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

See what else I read in 2018:

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Knowing Love from Love

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

Love in Four Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Things to Look for in a Church

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

1. Gospel-soaked Prayer

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

2. Christ-exalting Worship

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

3. Scripture-driven Sermons

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

4. Family-minded Community

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

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

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

5. God-pursuing Leadership

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

6. Intentional Discipleship

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

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

This is why I love the church.

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

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What I Read in June

Growing Down

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

How to Ruin Your Life

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

Read my full review.

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

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

The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor

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

What are you reading?

See what else I read in 2018:

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Parenting: an Example of Grace

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

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

So, how do I respond to that news today?

First, it drives me to worship

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

Second, it calls me to community

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

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

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

Third, it demands genuine example

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

 

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5 Podcasts I Recommend

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

Reading Writers

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

5 Minutes in Church History

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

Word Matters

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

The Happy Rant

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

Questions Kids Ask

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

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

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How to Ruin Your Life

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

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

Isolation

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

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

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

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

Boredom

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

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

Pride

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

Geiger writes of the lesson for me

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

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

What now?

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

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

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Christian Classics: Round 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What I Read in May

Just Open the Door

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

Kiss The Wave

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

How to be a Writer

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

Crazy Busy

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

See what else I read in 2018:

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You and I Are Barabbas

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder if Barabbas eventually heard the news.

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Just Open the Door

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

She writes

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

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

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

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

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

Just open the door.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Make Much of Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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

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EVENT: God and the Transgender Debate

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Supernatural Power for Everyday People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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What I Read in April

Ready Player One

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

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

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

Christianity and the Transgender Phenomenon

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

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4 Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

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

1. Writing

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

2. Night Walks with my Dog

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

3. Productivity Apps

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

4. Bandcamp

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

What have you been enjoying lately?

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Reflections on a Mental Health Forum

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

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

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

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

This I know, that God is for me.

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

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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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