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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

Reflections on a Mental Health Forum

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

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

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

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

This I know, that God is for me.

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

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What I Read in March

The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down

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

Supernatural Power for Everyday People

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

Transgender

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

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders Book 1)

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

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

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

See what else I read in 2018:

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On Tragedy, Loss, and Learning

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

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

Is this what grief looks like for me?

Everyone Grieves Differently

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

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

We All Need Grace

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

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

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That’s a Wrap! (24/02)

Digital Tech is Killing our Relationships

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

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

When Bible Study Goes Wrong

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

Three Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Billy Graham

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

Mass Shootings, Mental Illness, and Local Church Ministry

I appreciate these words from Brad Hambrick.

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

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

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

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

She said it.

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What I Read in February

The Emotionally Healthy Leader

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

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

Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death

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

See what else I read in 2018:

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Fillers & Drainers

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

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

Fillers

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

Drainers

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

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

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

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

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That’s a Wrap! (17/02)

Six Reasons Reformed Christians Should Embrace Six-Day Creation

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

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

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

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

When You Lose Your Temper with your Children

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

History’s Biggest Food Fight: Catholics and the Eucharist

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

He Reads Truth: Lent 2018

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

Need a new Podcast?

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

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Reflections from Ash Wednesday

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

A Time to Focus on Sin

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

Oh The Irony

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

Repent and Believe the Gospel

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

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

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Write!

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

All the Mod Cons, and a Kitchen Sink

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

How I Use Write!

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

Publish to WordPress

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

 

 

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

 

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For Whom is God “Father”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s a Wrap! (10/02)

Jen Hatmaker and the Power of De-Conversion Stories

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

Eschatological Discipleship by Trevin Wax

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

Counseling and the “Inconsonable Things”

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

Pursue God, Not Pornography

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

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

Countermoves: A New Podcast from ERLC

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

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The Soul-Soothing Rhythm of Sabbath

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

Stop Work

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

Enjoy Rest

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

Practice Delight

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

Contemplate God

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

Where to from here?

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

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

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

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Four Thoughts on Lent 2018

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

Lent Reminds Me of Who I Am

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

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

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

Lent Gives my Family a Framework to Consider the Cross

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

Finally, Remember that Lent isn’t a Show

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

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

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

Where to from here?

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

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

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That’s a Wrap (03/02)

Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth

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

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

10 Things You Should Know about Suffering

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

Two Strategies to Win the War on Lust

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

 The Dangers of Echo Chamber Leadership

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

Depressed and Thankful: 6 Ways to Find Joy

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

Don’t “Share Your Faith”

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

It’s Own Proof

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

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What I Read in January

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

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

Batman/The Flash: The Button

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

The Monster in the Hollows

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

Making All Things New

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

 

What have you been reading?

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Contend for the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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That’s a Wrap! (27/01)

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

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

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

Something Better than the Gospel

Fred Sanders. He said it.

An Open Letter to Christians who are Using Porn

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

A Guided Tour to 2017’s Bestselling Christian Books

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

How Curiosity Feeds Creativity

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

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

Disguised Destruction

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

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

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

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

My Favourite Tweet this Week:

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Three Personal and Professional Updates

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

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

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

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

 

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Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken

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

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

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

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

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

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

 

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

 

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That’s a Wrap! (21/01)

Engaging with the Bible Beyond Merely Reading

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

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

Lord, Help My Stupidity

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

Gender Equality and Gender War

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

5 Myths About Marriage

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

What Did Early Christians Believe about Hell?

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

Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency’

Tim Keller nails it.

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

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

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

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Why it’s Better to Dive than Water Ski

work hard to be picky about what books get to sit on my nightstand. I follow bloggers and publishers whose opinions, works, and theological viewpoints I’ve come to trust over the years. This means that in general, even though I’m reading a high volume of books, I can also look back and say that I’m reading a high quality of books too (because honestly, life is too short for poor prose and dodgy doctrine). 2017 was a great year for books. The ways in which my life has been enriched through the theologians, biographers, story-tellers, artists, and authors of all kinds in 2017 are many. Although I still have a long way to go, my eyes have been opened and my worldview expanded, and the point of convergence for this newly acquired knowledge is an increased self-awareness and me developing strategies to change myself for the better.

Dive, Don’t Ski

As I sat in the first week of the new year and considered all that I wanted to achieve, I recalled an analogy used by Tony Reinke in his 2017 book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. Reinke talks about how we live in a world of tweets and short, rapid content; he likens our reading styles today to water skiing over the surface of the ocean without ever taking the time to simply stay in one place and dive deep. The wonders that reside sometimes only a few feet beneath the waves are so often passed over in the temporary exhilaration of breadth, distance, and speed.

So, how has this changed my approach to reading in 2018?

As much as I loved the overwhelming majority of the books I read in 2017, it’s easy to read simply for breadth, amusement, and information. If we make the Bible the ocean in Reinke’s analogy, it is not a book that should be read cover to cover and added to the “completed” shelf. Nor is it a book to recreationally ski across the surface of by quickly reading a page here or there. Rather God’s word requires more lingering, exploratory reading; reading that intentionally dives down deep with the desire to encounter, and discover, and know. That’s what I need to do more in 2018.

Reading More by Reading Less

This year I might not read the same number of books I read in 2017. But I’m making the decision to protect and prioritise my reading of scripture over and above other books, and to choose a reading plan that doesn’t only let me tick the “completed’ checkbox, but takes me further into this book in which I encounter the living God, and am forever changed. And when my church starts a 2 month series on Colossians (Or 1 John, or Psalms) maybe I’ll swim to that same spot. Although it might be hard to resist the temptation to move on at first, I’ll have my oxygen tank and underwater camera at the ready, and I’m going to learn to dive deep.

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The Listening Life

Possibly the most transformative book I read in 2017 is Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life. Every page was like looking in a mirror; the sentences revealing how little I knew about true listening. McHugh writes

I got serious about listening when I realised I was missing things. Layers of meaning and opportunities for connection lurking near the surface of my relationships, but I wasn’t hearing them, even with those people I loved most. I was skilled at saying wise and empathetic sounding things; I was more skilled at holding people at arm’s-length. Whenever a conversation turned towards emotions, I started looking for an exit.

One of the characteristics of a genuinely good book of this genre is the ability of the author to speak personally in a way that makes us wonder how he was able to write directly to our thoughts and behaviours, while simultaneously speaking from a position of having seen things get better, and sharing a practical path forward to those goals. This is one of those books.

A Brief Review

The question that drives The Listening Life is “how would our relationships change if we approached every situation with the intention of listening first?” McHugh laments how much we have lost the art of listening in our technology-centric, modern convenience, noisy and distracting world. And so the book begins as it should, by laying a foundation for what listening truly looks like: a practice of focused attention. In order to understand ourselves and how we are truly meant to be, chapter two points us directly to our example, Jesus Christ The King Who Listens. Then the book opens up, and McHugh takes an in-depth look at how we approach, listen, and seek to better understand God (chapter 3), Scripture (chapter 4), creation (chapter 5), our neighbours (chapter 6), and our own bodies and emotions (chapter 8) through the discipline of listening. Cultivating this posture of listening not only lies at the heart of a true and mature spirituality, but greatly equips us to better participate in God’s saving mission in the world.

One Profound Takeaway

When it comes to listening to God, Scripture, or creation, I can (usually) find a quiet place and focus. Leaving my phone out of sight and keeping a notepad and pen within arms reach for those nagging thoughts pretty much does the trick. But when it comes to conversations with others, McHugh has shown me just how lazy and unloving I was being without even realising it, and how a little discipline would go such a long way in better emulating the listening Saviour who draws close and listens to me. In his chapter on loving others, he writes about Pushing The Arrow:

Imagine that there is a big arrow hovering over the space between two people engaged in a conversation. It is a very smart, mind-reading arrow, and it swivels to point at whomever the attention in the conversation is focused on. To listen, we remind ourselves, is to pay focused and loving attention on another. So, as the listener in this conversation, your goal is to keep the arrow pointing at the other person for as long as possible. That’s it. Push the arrow toward the interests, needs, and heart of the other person. Encourage the other person to keep talking, to take an idea further, to go deeper into a story, memory, or emotion. Then you are listening. If you remember nothing else from this chapter, remember this.

I was inescapably struck so many times in this chapter by how much I listen in order to respond, to offer advice, to one-up a story, or simply hearing out of obligation (all the while thinking about other things). In the last few weeks, I’ve intentionally entered every conversation with the aim of ‘pushing the arrow’; but not purely for the exercise or social experiment, but because I want to be a person who loves through listening, and you can only reliably listen in the moment if you have become a listening sort of person—someone who has developed a listening heart. When it comes to better loving God and loving others, Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life has been the most helpful, most revealing, most profound and practical advice I’ve ever read on how to be a listener, not just someone who occasionally listens.

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That’s a Wrap! (13/01)

Don’t be Content with Sloppy Christianity

Josh Buice writes

If we’re not satisfied with sloppy football, sloppy airplane pilots or flight attendants, sloppy lawyers, or even sloppy waste management services—we should not be content with sloppy Christianity within our local church.

Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings

New York Times opinion writer and feminist Daphne Merkin shines a side light on the current hot topic of #MeToo. I appreciate her call for a broader, earlier prevention strategy which includes ownership by individuals, parents, and society-at-large.

Evaluating your Life for Fillers and Drainers

I thoroughly appreciate the depth to which David Murray has taken his exploration of a life which is balanced, healthy, and has room to rest. I’ve purchased his recent best seller Reset, and will be getting to it in Feb (hopefully). In this article, he writes

At first it’s difficult to figure out, but eventually we notice that some activities fill our tanks while others drain us. Then, we figure out that we have to balance fillers and drainers so that when we engage in a draining activity, we follow it with something that fills us; otherwise we’ll be running on fumes, which won’t last long. Managing our energy consumption is as important as managing our money and our time.

In 2018, Don’t Forget Humility

This article struck me in many ways, particularly point 4 “Welcome some correction into your life”. This year, for the first time I took my wife out one evening and asked her to help me write a list of all the ways she would like to see me improve in 2018. I should have taken a bigger notebook and a second pen; and the list wasn’t an easy one to hear. It’s true that few practices further humility like this one.

Raising Sons in a “Boys will be Boys” World”

This is the word.

How manhood plays out in the various personalities, interests, gifts, and cultures is wide and diverse. But what it means to be a man is unchanging. I’m less concerned about whether they play sports, and more concerned about if they stand up for the kid getting picked on. I’m less concerned if they choose cooking over a drill, and more concerned that they honor women as co-image bearers. You see where I’m going with this? I don’t want to make the mistake that the culture makes, and make manhood about one thing (in the culture it’s about sex and in some church contexts it’s about hyper-masculinity). The stereotypes don’t help anyone—man or woman.

Theology Matters?

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12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

Self-criticism in the digital age is a necessary discipline. The way we live, the way we interact, our personal habits, and our desire for distraction have all experienced a radical shift since the emergence of mobile Internet, the smart phone, and the built-in camera. The results are that often the smart phone has become our instantly accessible non-pharmaceutical antidepressant; providing instant gratification, escape, or the temporary high of acceptance that briefly lifts us out of our mundane. While our smart phones can be a God-send, in many ways pulling the lever on the slot machine of random distractions is the devil. In his 2017 book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke reveals how smart phones have created a new set of struggles, and why it’s so important for us to not simply identify the changes in our behaviour, but actually respond with wisdom, setting boundaries for ourselves and our families, for their good and for ours.

Have our phones really re-wired our brains? Have we been reprogrammed by these same devices that boost our productivity, increase our ministry reach, and connect us to treasured loved ones in a way that (if left unchecked) can cause significant damage to our relationship with God and with others? Reinke poignantly observes

Whether it’s a “breaking-news” alert, a direct-message prompt, a text message, or a news app, our phones make our lives vulnerable to the immediacy of the moment in a way unknown to every earlier generation and culture. Social media and mobile web access on our phones all drive the immediacy of events around the world into our lives. As a result, we suffer from neomania, an addiction to anything new within the last five minutes.

Reinke also points to the way our lives have now been totally transformed, often lived with the aim of being “Instagram-able”. Through social media our lives have become moments of shareable stageplays—he pleads with us to consider the motives behind our constant self-promotion (either as a parent sharing every moment of their child’s growth: a behaviour he called “sharenting”, or that person who can’t possibly go on a ‘missions trip’ without stopping to take that selfie with all the kids outside the orphanage) in light of the gospel of the humble and self-sacrificing Saviour.

A neat feature of the way Reinke seeks to address these issues is that the book is organized into a chiasm. So, while each chapter contributes something valuable to the overall discussion, the chiasm means that chapter one is thematically paired to chapter twelve, chapter two is paired with chapter eleven, and so on. As an example, our phones feed our craving for immediate approval (chapter three) which promises to hedge against our fear of missing out (chapter ten). Here’s the full twelve chapters so you can see for yourself where he’s going:

1. We Are Addicted to Distraction
2. We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood
3. We Crave Immediate Approval
4. We Lose Our Literacy
5. We Feed on the Produced
6. We Become Like What We “Like”
7. We Get Lonely
8. We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
9. We Lose Meaning
10. We Fear Missing Out
11. We Become Harsh to One Another
12. We Lose Our Place in Time

The central chapters are six and seven, where Reinke explains how “our phones overtake and distort our identity (6) and tempt us toward unhealthy isolation and loneliness (7)”. But it isn’t just about warnings, for within each of the chapters are life-giving disciplines to flip the chapter title into something aimed at helping us protect and preserve our spiritual health in the digital age. These include minimizing unnecessary distractions in order to hear from God (chapter one) by embracing our place in God’s unfolding history (chapter twelve), and seeking God’s ultimate approval (chapter three) to find that in Christ we have no ultimate regrets to fear (chapter ten).

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is a book that all of us need, and some of us need desperately. Reinke writes with great humility, including himself in the narrative to help us see him not only as a teacher but also as a fellow struggler. I completely relate to (and am very guilty of) Reinke’s lament that some days he feels like his phone is a digital vampire, sucking away his life and time; while other days he feels like a cybernetic centaur as body and phone blend seamlessly into something more powerful and productive than either could be on their own. Reinke’s observations are simultaneously sage and stinging; and I can’t avoid walking away with new awareness of just how reliant I am on this small rounded rectangle. I’m challenged to enter a new era of engagement with my phone; recognising that often the dings and rings can wait, that I need not be so concerned about the scrubbed-up version of my digital self, and that in my relationships my phone habits will help or hinder me in pointing people to the all-satisfying Saviour.

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Going Analog

I am unashamedly a child of the Internet age. I am the IT expert in my family and I work in IT. I always have my phone within 10 metres of me and I read about half of my books on an electronic device. As an extension of that I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I haven’t used a physical Bible in any significant way for almost a decade. Instead I have the YouVersion app on my phone which gives me access to every conceivable Bible translation in a few seconds. So why is it that I’ve just ordered a physical Bible?

Firstly, I’m changing how I’m reading the Bible this year. In past years I’ve followed plans that will take me through the entire Bible in a year. While I have found this beneficial I’m looking to read more deeply this year. One of the many podcasts I listen to on a weekly basis (I did say I was a child of the Internet) is John Macarthur’s Grace to You. A couple of months ago he had a series on Bible memorisation which really challenged me; so this year I’m going to put more focus on doing that, and a physical Bible will be my tool of choice. The location of words on a page are an aid in memorisation, and you lose that on a phone. Also, reading on a phone lends itself to rapid skimming so I’m hoping that having the physical book in my hand will cause me to focus more.

Secondly—and following on from the goal of focusing—my phone contains a large number of distractions. From my phone I could access Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, the Internet, my Kindle App, or Email. These are all available at my fingertips when I’m sitting in church with my Bible app open. I’d like to say that I never check any of these things out when I’m in church but that would be a lie. It doesn’t even take much conscious thought for that to happen, my fingers just do it when I’m holding my phone. So, what is the solution? A physical Bible. I can have the Bible open and the various apps on my phone can sit in my pocket out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, I have a two year old daughter and I’ve been thinking about how to raise her in the faith. While there are a lot of factors to this I firmly believe that one of those factors is to live out my own faith in full view of her. This is also a multi-faceted thing; one of those facets is demonstrating a clear habit of Bible reading. Given that there are so many things that I could be doing if I spend an extended period of time looking at my phone, it seems that a physical Bible is the only way to make this obvious without explicitly saying it.

So, am I saying goodbye to the digital Bible? No. I still see great value in it; if I need to find a particular verse and I don’t know where it is or if I want to compare a verse in various versions, I’m still going to pull out my phone. There’s also going to be plenty of times where I won’t have the physical Bible with me, but my phone simply won’t be my primary Bible anymore. So this year, in this regard, I’m going analog—and I think it’s going to be incredibly beneficial.
 


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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