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Month: December 2016

Wednesdays on the Web (27/12)

So it’s that unusual time of the year between Christmas coming to an end and the new year having not quite begun. That time of year where I’m not really sure where I am, or what to call it, or what I should be doing. I haven’t found much time for technology in general (which, of course is a good thing in many respects). Here’s this week’s round-up.

Christmas (and Shopping) for Others

Jessica at Wondering Fair shares some wonderful reflections.

While Jesus’ birth announces the coming of a kingdom of peace and justice, the coming of that kingdom is also a new proclamation of war against the brokenness, suffering and evil that so frequently characterize the world.

Dealing with Darkness at Christmas

A beautiful heart poured out in a meaningful song, and some convicting words from father Bob Kauflin who reminds us of those who find it hard at Christmas, and what our posture towards those people should be in the light of Jesus.

Pastor, Am I a Christian?

We all have doubts. Doubt isn’t the enemy, however. This is a great Q&A between Nicholas Kristof (New York Times) and Tim Keller.

Do You Need to Repent of Book Hoarding?

I have no comment here. If anyone needs me, I’ll be culling my shelves.

The Great Parental Freak-Out

“The world doesn’t depend on you being perfect. And neither do your kids. So do what you can, be grateful for what you have, and pray like crazy.”

 

BONUS: If you haven’t watched this, it would be in my Top Ten YouTube clips for 2016 (if I had one).

Your Family Needs Your Theology

Perhaps something strange was said in a sermon. Maybe a curious question was raised by a friend over a coffee or at school. Maybe sinful nature and doubt will simply get the better of them some days when things seem too hard to handle. Whatever the situation husband, your family will be subjected to dialog, doubts, and deceptions that will often run contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ with near-daily frequency.

If you’re a Christian, I’m sure you’ve met people in church (perhaps even in your own church) who hold firmly to the “I don’t ‘do’ theology, I just love Jesus” line. These are the type of people who will look down their noses at the “thinkers” of the Myers-Briggs personality type; claiming that theology is unnecessary and clouds issues, some going so far as to say that theology in itself is in fact a tool of Satan and has been used to undermine and divide the church (in fact, it is the very reason for the creation of so many denominations and splits throughout Church history). What these people may not realise is that in holding that position they too have a theology; and a dangerously poor one at that. It’s a total turning away from this kind of biblical illiteracy that is so desperately needed in our churches and our families today.

In a recent article (check it out here) Ronni Kurtz of the ERLC hypothesized about how the story of Genesis 3 might have gone down, had Adam stepped in with greater theological understanding. He writes of the serpent tempting Eve to take the fruit:

Imagine Adam standing up at the beginning of the dialogue and saying, “Eve, no. We know that God, who gave us each other and the garden, is our satisfaction and delight. We lack nothing when we have him.” While we’ll never know if this hypothetical situation would have changed the outcome, the moral of the story remains: husbands should seek theological awareness—and obedience to that knowledge—for the good of their marriages.

As the God-ordained head of your own local congregation; whether that be your wife and you alone or children too, you have a responsibility to lead your family in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Lead your family by leading them to the Word and leading them in prayer. Show your family that diligent study of God leads to a greater love of God. Theology isn’t dull or dry, and it certainly isn’t irrelevant or unnecessary. On the contrary, if the history of the Church has shown us anything it’s that we are being bombarded with lies every day; lies about who we are, what we ought to be, and what we should say, or wear, or seek after. The Church has sought to respond to these lies by forming doctrines – statements of belief – and husbands would be wise to learn them and teach them to their families if they want to better discern when these deceptions would seek to destroy the souls that God has entrusted to their protection and care.

Husbands, let’s not be those who would be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14) but rather, decide to take the time to study God; never being content to simply “love him” without the faintest clue who he is or what he’s like. When it comes to marriage, husbands are called to love their wives like Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25). Imagine what it would be like to see someone get married, then after a year ask them some particular detail about their wife only to have them reply “Oh, I don’t really spend time getting to know her, I just love her”. I wonder how long you think that marriage would last. Be honest about your need to grow in knowledge about God, and to equip those God has given to you.

In a world of so many false religions, nominal Christianity, and those who would seek to lead genuine believers astray, I’m convinced that knowledge about God is absolutely essential, and husbands have a weighty responsibility to own a faith which is always seeking understanding.

Husbands, your family needs your theology.

Wednesdays on the Web (21/12)

A Tip for Husbands

Erik Raymond offers this über-practical, easy, fast tip for husbands who are looking for another way to show their wife they love and care for them. Personally, I’m on board.

What Does the X in Xmas Mean?

I see this pop up year after year on social media. The Christian community is exclusively concerned with this apparently critical issue; with often polarising outcomes. Read as R. C. Sproul gives a logical, level-headed take on the scandalous X.

A Must for Christmas Reading

I’ve only recently come across Kim’s blog, but I’m loving her style (I mostly love it because it’s different to mine). Having read the book she’s recommending earlier this year myself, I wholeheartedly agree, and I love that she’s making a tradition out of it.

The 10 Best Apps of 2016

With a family of five and a single income, I’m not a rich guy. All these apps are free, or they have a free version with enough features to keep you going.

How to Help Your Children Become Better Sermon Listeners

David Prince offers his thoughts on helping our little ones grow in hearing and understanding the gospel through the discipline of listening, and some practical age-appropriate tips on how to cultivate this important skill.

Love: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Having re-lit the candles of hope, peace, and joy, we take this fourth Sunday of Advent to reflect on the coming of love. In God taking on humanity to seek and save humanity, we see clearly the greatest loving act that the world has ever known. This transcendent God – who himself made everything that was made – loved broken humanity so much that he humbled himself to take the form of a man and lived among us. The arrival of God incarnated in human flesh was itself a wondrous, supernatural, history-changing event; yet the Bible tells us that he had no great status, handsome features, or charismatic personality with which to draw a crowd. But come the crowds did. This Jesus, born in a stable to an unmarried virgin, had the greatest gift any person could receive: love.

Advent is a season of expectancy. Much like a pregnant woman who knows that her time will one day come, so we too look forward to the coming of the expected Saviour of the world, promised hundreds of years before his birth by God through the prophet Isaiah:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel”
(Isaiah 7:14)

When the angel Gabriel came to Joseph in a dream to announce that Mary would be the one about whom the prophet spoke, Gabriel makes clear that these things are taking place that the prophecy of God through Isaiah might be fulfilled. While the events of Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension were full of supernatural, God-glorifying miracles, it is important for us to remember that they are also actual, real, historical events grounded in space and time. We look forward to the second coming of the Expected One because we can look back with certainty regarding his first coming, and the concreteness of the events that surrounded his words and deeds.

Love isn’t a word that we use to describe God in the sense that this adjective captures a part of his character while still being abstracted from him. No, rather it is distinctly the other way around. When we want to describe something else as love, we first look to God and who he is, because he alone defines it, and he alone embodies it. God is love. And God’s love is demonstrated for us in such immeasurable, limitless expression in the person and work of Jesus Christ that nothing short of our full love and worship will do as a fitting response.

The life of Jesus reveals to us what God the Father is like because (Colossians chapter one tells us) he is the image of the invisible God. When it comes to grasping the true meaning of Christmas this season we see love shared around a dinner table, love exchanged in presents around a tree, and even love demonstrated through helping those less fortunate than ourselves during a time of giving. But let’s remember during this Advent season the incomprehensible blessing of God giving us the ultimate gift of love; not another possession or thing, but himself. And with this gift, we will never seek a greater gift ever again.

Wednesdays on the Web (14/12)

14 Words of Advice for Guest Preachers

Sam Bierig offers these punchy pointers for the times when you may be extended an invitation to preach at a church other than your own. Adhere to these, and you just might get asked to come back again.

Don’t Take Your Religion So Seriously

“I have no religious beliefs.  None…. There’s a better word for what I am: an apatheist.  It’s a neologism that fuses ‘apathy’ and ‘theism.’ It means someone who has absolutely no interest in the question of a god’s (or gods’) existence, and is just as uninterested in telling anyone else what to believe.”

Ryan Dueck from Wondering Fair ponders the plausibility of this statement by a Canadian journalist offering apathy as an alternative religious worldview.

Three Books and Five Tips for Fighting Porn

David Murray lists these resources and recommendations for winning the fight.

Who Was Saint Nicholas?

Kevin DeYoung provides some thoughts on the mysterious saint, and how he came to be associated with the jolly man in red.

5 Reasons You Should Start (or Continue) Blogging

The last thing the Internet needs is another person giving their opinion. right? And besides, who would read it anyway? Well, in this short post Thom Rainer offers some deeper reasons to help you consider if blogging is for you, and how God can use that platform for your growth and his glory.

 

Finally, here’s a fun attempt to write out the genealogy of Jesus Christ as found in the first 16 verses of Matthew, set to a song by Andrew Peterson.

Joy: The Third Sunday of Advent

Having spent the last two weeks considering that Jesus is both our hope and our peace, we come to the third Sunday of Advent and remember that Jesus is our joy. We live in a society that is pulled between two poles when it comes to joy. Either life and the world pull us down so much that we have no joy or we find our joy in our life and the world. To both of these positions Christmas reminds us that Christ is our joy.

For many people this year has been tough; it seems like everything has gone wrong and to top it off the world around us is becoming increasingly unstable. Culturally the Church has become largely irrelevant at best and hated at worst, standing against the oncoming moral revolutions. In the midst of this turmoil God reminds us through Christmas that Jesus is our Joy.

(Although everything is going badly…)
“yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
(Habakkuk 3:18)

When the world is crumbling around us we can rejoice that we have a God who isn’t content to leave us in our turmoil and our sin but actually chose to come and save us.

To other people – and sometimes the same people on different days – the world can bring us so much pleasure. Whether it be music, sport, a good book, the latest Marvel movie, friends and family, there are many things in life that bring us pleasure. When everything is going well for us God also reminds us through Christmas that Jesus is our Joy. The little pleasures in this life are not bad (mostly) but they are temporary. Paul says in Philippians 3:8

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”

Christ is so much greater than the little pleasures that we experience here on earth. It is not for nothing that the Westminster Shorter Catechism opens by saying that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” In Christmas Christ opened the way for us to truly fulfil our purpose in glorifying God and in doing so we can and will have eternal joy. Hear the words of Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

This advent, let us not get bogged down by the troubles of the world or distracted by the pleasures of the world but let us fix our eyes on the true source of joy.

 


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.

Review: The Mission of God (C. H. Wright)

The mission of Israel was to live as God’s people in God’s land for God’s glory. But what of the Christian living in the twenty-first century under the New Covenant? How should the story of Old Testament Israel influence our reading of Scripture, and by application transform how we live? In clarifying his missional hermeneutic for the whole bible, Wright begins with a definition of terms. Most crucial is the acknowledgement that mission is not ours; mission is God’s. For Wright, a Christian worldview asserting that there is one God at work in human history and that (from the point of view of humanity) ‘mission’ means our committed participation in his purposes for the redemption of his creation is essential.
Using this as the basis of a hermeneutical framework, we read the bible in light of God’s election of Israel, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and God’s calling of the church (as the newly constituted people of Israel united in Jesus Christ).

When it comes to scripture establishing our authority to carry out mission (and the command that we should do so) we find in the story of the Old and New Testament the imperative of mission as appropriate, legitimate, necessary, and indeed inevitable. Through its presentation of the reality of this God (YHWH – the biblical God), this story (the universe-encompassing grand narrative from which we get our worldview), and this people (the identity of Israel, including their anticipated future) we find a missional hermeneutic that is not simply a call for obedience to the Great Commission nor a reflection of the missional implications of the Great Commandment; for behind both we find the Great Communication – the revelation of the identity of God, of God’s action in the world, and of God’s saving purpose for all creation. For every Christian today this demands the recognition that the church was made for mission, and this (being entrusted with making YHWH known) is a fundamental part of the identity-transformation that salvation brings.

In his exploration of the monotheistic faith of Old Testament Israel, Wright unpacks how knowing YHWH (and making him known) has formed the primary driving force behind mission since it was first commissioned to Abraham in Genesis 12. Human beings are invited to know YHWH as God, with the knowledge that he can be known and he wills to be known. In fact, Wright proposes that the bible is itself a product of God’s mission; the text itself is a living record of mission in action. Ultimately those who have come to know subsequently bear the responsibility to both live in ethical obedience to YHWH, and to declare to the nations who it is they have come to know.

The two par excellence accounts of this unfolding grand narrative are the exodus, and the return from exile. In the story of the exodus, YHWH reveals himself as Israel’s gō’ēl thereby declaring himself to be responsible for Israel’s redemption, restoration, and liberation from all shackles (political, economic, social, and spiritual). In following this trajectory chronologically forward, Wright sees this model of liberty and return (restoration) worked out further in the provisions of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-12). Wright argues that YHWH never intended Jubilee to remain within the confines of theocratic Israel but rather the strong eschatological implications are picked up clearly by the New Testament authors. Wright states that the new community of Christ, now living in the eschatological age of the Spirit are to live lives marked by jubilee ideals such as social and economic equality. Obedience to YHWH is surely part of the missional declaration to the nations that they have been redeemed. Jesus too endorsed the moral priorities of the Old Testament, thereby upholding the Scripture-based missional priorities of God’s people.

Wright argues that it would be vastly inadequate to see the Christian’s mandate for missions as beginning in the New Testament; rather he sees Scripture’s four point narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Future Hope as the mission of the biblical God. The story reached its climax in Jesus Christ; about whom the New Testament authors intentionally make use of scriptures in a way that unequivocally identifies him with YHWH. In asserting these identifying claims of Jesus as Creator, Judge, and Saviour, Wright demonstrates that New Testament salvation is as Christ-shaped as Old Testament salvation was YHWH-shaped.

In part III the foundation of the entire framework for Wright’s biblical theology of mission is God’s covenant with Abraham. Wright summarises:

“Having been chosen, redeemed and called into covenant relationship, the people of God have a life to live – a distinctive, holy, ethical life that is to be lived before God and in the sight of the nations. This too has crucial missional relevance, for… there is no biblical mission without biblical ethics.”

It is in Genesis 12 that Wright sees the launch of God’s redemptive mission. This is not to be read simply as the nations being blessed by Abraham (and his offspring) in some purely passive way though. Rather it is in the nations having turned away from all forms of idolatry and coming to know the God of Abraham that they will indeed share in Abraham’s blessing as they identify with the whole biblical grand narrative and acknowledge their inclusion in and through the story that began with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant too weaves its way through to the New Testament where it finds fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Through his survey of the Pentateuch, the historical books, the Psalms, and the Prophets, Wright leads the reader along the bible’s grand narrative to see how the nations will not only come to experience God’s blessing, but become the agents of it. Finally, it is because of God’s self-revelation in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Abraham’s seed) that the Abrahamic covenant can truly be viewed now as both “the gospel in advance” and “the Great Commission in advance”.

As people who have now come to share in Israel’s identity, and who have grasped that the whole bible communicates the mission of God, we cannot avoid reading scripture through the hermeneutical lens of YHWH’s grand missional purpose of saving a ‘particular’ people for ‘all’ nations. The result must be our living in ethical obedience to the God of the whole canon, but also recognising the bible’s demand for our participation in this unfolding story as citizens of the missional people of God.

Peace: The Second Sunday of Advent

Having lit the candle of hope last Sunday, we take time this week to remember that as well as being the hope of the world, Jesus is also our peace. In the busyness of the Christmas season, it’s easy to get carried away with the pressures and anxieties that society places on us through the expectations of the season (or, what we in the West have imposed on it). But God desires that those who place their trust in him should not live as ones who are characterized by stressfully straining to succeed with the perfect presents or the most magnificent meal.

Rather, we remember that after God created the heavens and the earth he rested (Gen 2:2), that Jesus taught us seek to peace and reconciliation with our enemies (Matt 5:24), and that one Day there will be no more tears, or conflict, or mourning, or death (Rev 21:4).

This Advent season we take encouragement from God’s words to us spoken through the prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Jesus did come. He was born. And John the evangelist records for us this great gift that he bestowed upon his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The good news is that the peace Jesus bestows wasn’t only for his disciples back then. Nor is it only a future peace for which we must wait. Rather, this peace is available to us today, and Jesus not only gives it to us, but he calls us as his followers to be peacemakers; those who would carry his peace with them to a world that is definitely not at peace. He entrusts it to us.

This Advent, we ask for this peace as we prepare for our Lord’s birth. May divisions in ourselves and in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Lord, help us to see the choices that cultivate peace in every aspect of our own lives, and then give to us the courage to choose. Lord, let us remember that in you only will we truly find peace, and continue to look forward with longing for your arrival.
Come, Lord Jesus.