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Month: January 2017

What I’m Reading in February

Reading for 2017 is well under way (check out what I read in January here). Here’s what I’m looking forward to this month.

Habits of Grace: David Mathis

So far I’ve read the forward (by John Piper) and I love the way he sets the reader up with the expectation that Mathis’ aim is to help believers enjoy Jesus through the spiritual disciplines. Having practiced (or at the very least become aware of) many spiritual disciplines from various branches of Christianity throughout history, I’m very much looking forward to the encouragement of Mathis in deepening my Christian spirituality, and enjoying Jesus more.

Assassin’s Quest (Farseer Trilogy, Book #3): Robin Hobb

The Farseer Trilogy are the books that I both want to finish, and don’t want to finish. I love everything about the way that Robin Hobb’s immersive style of writing irresistibly and completely draws you in to the world she’s created. At the same time, there are another ten or so books after this one that Hobb has written in the same world; so I’m keen to get finished in order to get on to the next one.

Why We Love the Church: Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck

This topic never seems to be settled; it reappears in conversations of all kinds (somehow) with a far too regular frequency. The fact is, I love the church. I don’t think you can be a Christian and be isolated from attending the regular institution that is a local body of believers. I’m looking forward to reading how these two men I’ve followed for years articulate the deep love all Christians should feel for the church.

Help My Unbelief: Barnabas Piper

I’ve been struck lately by the importance of having the kind of faith which is both secure and yet possesses a healthy ability to ask questions and not shy away from (or supress in others) the difficult or controversial questions. Barnabas Piper’s book (recommended by a friend) encourages an increased understanding of curiosity and its role in the Chrisitan life.

Dandelion Fire (100 Cupboards, Book #2): N. D. Wilson

I thoroughly enjoyed book one of the 100 cupboards; I think it’s my favourite kind of fantasy. In a very The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -esque mix of the wondrous meeting the ordinary, this is the ongoing story of Henry York, a boy who discovered in his bedroom portals to one hundred different worlds.

See what else I read in 2017:

Wednesdays on the Web (25/01)

Reading Out of Love for Others

As an avid reader who sometimes feels guilty for taking ‘selfish’ time to read, I appreciated every point that Tim Challies makes here. As with most things, reading is about the motivation of your heart. This is a great list to help keep me in check by asking “who am I reading for?”

Your Responsibility to the Church

Contrasted with the prolific (and dangerous) variety of “churches” available today, John MacArthur sums up everything a church should be.

So what is an ordinary church? What do you mean an ordinary church? I mean a normal, customary, regular, common, ordinary church. Well, what would that be like? Well, here we go. You’d have a saved congregation, a saved congregation; that’s a church. They would be subject to the authority of Scripture gladly. They would be led by mature godly pastors and teachers. They would be devoted to sound doctrine and serious theology. Their worship would be elevated, beautiful, and have a tone of seriousness. They would be constantly in prayer. They would hold strong convictions based on sound doctrine. They would be spiritually discerning. They would be protective of God’s flock, protecting them from all sin and error. They would be pursuing holiness and humility, loving each other sacrificially, discipling one another, and proclaiming Christ by corporate testimony and individual witness. That’s a church.

Fix Your Eyes.. Personal Jesus vs Functional Jesus

Loved by Christian parents everywhere, Colin Buchanan is a gifted communicator with a solid grasp of what matters most.

The World Needs Love but not as the World Gives

Great thoughts by Paul Lewis. He writes

We believe we are owed: respect, love and honour. But herein lays the problem; that is not the love the world needs, because such a love does not fit into the human context – because we do not always reciprocate. Let us listen to what Jesus says on the matter. In Luke chapter 6, verses 32-36 Jesus says

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?
For even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?

[re]evangelise

The Malyon Traverse Centre is hosting (with the Lausanne Movement) the [re]evangelise Gathering of Young Leaders to dive deep into big issues facing evangelism in Australia over the next 10 years. Think secularism and secularisation, globalisation, mental health and questions of sexual identity, and partnership for the common good in a polarised church and world.

When: 11th Feb, 9:00-2:30
Where: 53 Prospect Rd, Gaythorne QLD 4051, Australia
Cost: $25 (includes lunch)
Details: See the Events page here

On My Table:
Life & Books with Ben Smith

This month’s On My Table comes from Ben Smith. He’s a husband and a father, a self-confessed geek, and a theology nerd. He lives with the conviction that all people should be honoured and respected while ideas and beliefs should be tested and challenged.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

One of my missions for the year is to read through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I’m also reading through Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans with some friends of mine. Both books have been absolute gold so far.

I’m also reading The Rise of Rome by Plutarch. It’s a selection of his Parallel Lives where he compares Greek and Roman heroes. I read “The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives” last year as part of the Challies 2016 Reading Challenge and enjoyed it so much that I was keen to read more of his work. I’m finding it to be really interesting on two levels. Firstly, Plutarch is a masterful writer and it’s great learning about these people, most of whom I’ve never heard of. Secondly, I’ve found that it’s actually provided some great insight into the culture at the time. For example, in the course of speaking about one hero he talks about the Roman view of vultures. Contrary to our modern perspective where we think of them as dirty scavengers the Romans considered them to be a symbol of purity because they don’t kill anything.

I’ve also got a few books lined up to read including Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (I’ve heard a lot about it and I’m curious to read it to form my own opinion of it), Playing Before The Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Hayden (I’m trying to read more biographies lately and this one sounded interesting) and Romain Puertolas’ The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped In An Ikea Wardrobe (how can you possibly walk past a book with this title?)

What was the last book you left unfinished?

I’m a bit of a completionist so I don’t like leaving books unfinished. The last book I left unfinished was either Augustine’s Confessions or Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. I managed to finish both of them as part of the 2016 Reading Challenge though which makes me feel a bit better about it.

Is there a book you feel guilty for not reading?

Not really, I read for pleasure and to learn and the books that I read reflect that. If there’s a book that I feel that I have to read then I’ll categorise it as something that I want to read as opposed to something that I’m obliged to read which takes any sort of guilt out of it. I figure life’s too short to feel guilty about reading or not reading something. There’s plenty of other stuff in life to be legitimately guilty about.

Is there a book you wish you’d written?

I think on one level or another I wish I’d been able to write a lot of books that I read. Whether it’s wanting to have the ability to write a great work of fiction or the theological understanding to write a book like Knowing God. Ultimately though I’m just grateful that God has blessed the world and the church with great authors and I’m content with the fact that I’m not one of them.

What was the last book you gave as a present?

I’m not sure what it was exactly but the last book that I gave as a present was a book that a friend of mine needed for Bible College.

Best biography you’ve ever read?

D.A. Carson’s biography of his father “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor” would have to be at the top of the list. It’s a fascinating look at a man who was deeply flawed and didn’t have an international platform but who served God faithfully.

What 5 books would you take to a desert island?

John Calvin’s Institute of the Christian Religion
Even the little that I’ve read of this so far has shown me that it’s a work that I need to spend a great deal of time with, going over and over it. I suspect that I could read it many times and never run out of things to learn from it.

Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy
This is a trilogy that I read purely for pleasure. I know I’m cheating because it’s three books but it’s one story so it totally counts. I’ve read these books several times over the years and they’re highly enjoyable. They’re also long so they’re going to take a bit of time to get through.

Tim Keller’s Prayer
Prayer is something that I’m honestly not good at but Keller’s book is something that I have learned from and will continue to learn from.

J.I. Packer’s Knowing God
We read through this book last year and I think it deserves its status as a classic. I suspect it’s something that I’m going to read once a year for the rest of my life.

C.J. Mahaney’s Humility
If there’s one thing that I need to always be reminded of it’s to be humble. This is another book that I’m planning to read every year.

What book has most frustrated you?

I’ve had a few books that have frustrated me because I’ve found them difficult to get through (see the books that I’ve left unfinished) but the book that’s frustrated me the most has done so due to the content. One of the categories in Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge was to read a book by someone of a different ethnicity to me. The book that I chose was Deepak Chopra’s The 13th Disciple. I knew enough about Chopra to not expect great theology but Christianity got so badly misrepresented that it actually infuriated me.

What is one book (apart from the bible) you’d encourage every Christian to read?

In today’s culture I’d recommend James White’s What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur’an. Obviously Islam has become a significant factor in society and there’s a lot of rhetoric that gets thrown around with questionable validity. White has a look at the history of the Qur’an as well as some of the theology that it contains and highlights some of the inconsistencies and issues with it.

How does reading fit into your life? And what does your routine look like?

Growing up reading was a big part of my life but over time it got replaced by games and TV. Last year, however, I participated in Tim Challies’ 2016 reading challenge which I’ve mentioned once or twice already. The challenge was to read 104 books in different categories. I went in to it intentionally to get back into reading but with an attitude to see how I would go. I didn’t expect to read books in all 104 categories but expected to get something around the 70-80 book mark. As it turned out I managed to finish it by the end of November. Because of that reading has come back to being a big part of my life. Also, the reading challenge has encouraged me to read widely so where I used to primarily read Sci-Fi and Fantasy I’m now intentionally reading more variety. I’m trying to read on average one biography a month, several theological works and other non-fiction works in addition to some fiction.

As far as my routine goes, I catch the train to work so have about 35 minutes each morning and afternoon where I read. I tend to get to work about 20 mins early so if I’m in the middle of a chapter or just generally engrossed with a book I’ll use that time for reading as well. Finally I tend to have about an hour between 10-11pm at home to use for my own entertainment that I sometimes read in. At the moment I’m using that time (when I read instead of doing other things) to read Calvin’s Institutes so that I don’t have to carry it on the train (it’s quite a hefty book). Finally, I have a number of blogs that I subscribe to through Feedly that I read at various points during the day.

Wednesdays on the Web (18/01)

When a Marriage Dies

This profound, humbling honesty from Barnabas Piper still resonates with me a week after reading it. Piper writes with self-awareness and insight (both of which I could use more of); whether or not you can personally relate to his subject matter, you’re guaranteed to be moved by his words.

Christianity and Transgender

I’m almost positive that I don’t have the right categories in which to rightly think about this. Sam Allberry shares some thoughts on how and why Christianity offers the only real solution to transgender issues.

Why You Should Not Use Your Phone for Personal Devotions

Perhaps you’ve never struggled with using a phone for your devotional times (like I have). David Murray argues five reasons to avoid using technology for this crucial part of your day.

I Love My Life

writes

“what a transition. The transcendent Object we exalt in our songs is increasingly not God, or Her, but Me.
The gospel we nod to today is something like: believe in yourself. Be authentic. Be you. You’re beautiful. Fulfill your dream.”

Tim Keller Goes for a Walk

I can’t even begin to tell you how funny this is.

You Never Lamb Alone

Finally, the 2017 Australia Day commercial. I think they nailed it.

How to Love Those who are Hurting

Ten years ago Dave Furman developed a nerve disorder resulting in chronic pain and a disability that prevents him from using both his arms. Working through depression as he came to terms with needing care on a daily basis, Furman now writes of the journey (shared with his wife and four children) offering highly practical encouragement for how to love those who are walking through pain and suffering. The first two chapters address the suffering of those who daily care for the needs of another. In a very personal way, Furman recognises that oftentimes the friends and family of the sufferer don’t have their experiences addressed or needs validated, and so he begins with two chapters called Grieving Your Loss in Another’s Pain and Walking with God. He writes

If you’re going to help the hurting, your heart needs to be healthy,
Your efforts in your own strength can only go on for so long.

Furman’s desire is to see those who care for the hurting remember that Jesus Christ should remain our greatest affection and our constant source of hope. To love and continue loving requires the help of our loving Heavenly Father, and we should tend to our own hearts through regular communion with God in prayer, immersion in scripture, and being part of a loving community of saints. I found such a strong resonance with these thoughts from chapter two; I know both as one who has experienced suffering and as one who cares for those who suffer that my walk with God has enormous impact on my capability to care for others in their pain. I would hand out copies of this book en mass even if it was only composed of these two chapters.

From chapter three onward, Furman offers practical strategy for helping those who are hurting. He begins by taking the example of the three friends in the book of Job – mainly as an example of what not to do – in order to discuss some ways in which we can minister to the hurting as faithful friends. Job’s friends question, accuse, explain, and condemn him during their time of ‘support’ but there is something they do well at the beginning. They sit on the floor with Job in silence… for seven days. There is a kind of ministry that is without words; and often just being there can be the timely balm for someone’s soul. Perhaps we have answers. Perhaps we know that God is sovereign and he has a plan. Perhaps they know it too. But – Furman writes – rather than slapping our favourite Bible verse as a Band-Aid on suffering people’s wounds, offering loyalty, longevity, and unwavering love through the darkest times can actually meet the deepest need.

Later in the book, there are four heart questions. Jesus was the suffering servant who not only condescended from the glory of heaven to become like one of us, but actually stripped off his outer garments and washed his disciples feet, wiping them with the towel he was wearing. Thinking about our own service in light of this humility, Furman asks

  • Do I get upset if no one recognises me for my service?
  • Am I ever inconvenienced in my service?
  • Do I feel too embarrassed to be treated like a servant?
  • Do I complain about the ministry of serving others that God has given me?

In this revealing self-diagnosis, I found I have a long way to go, but Furman also reveals that to be selfless and humble like Jesus is a sweet thing, and that God is most glorified in our service when people see the Saviour through the servant.

Still firing on all cylinders, the second-to-last chapter provides an insightful, helpful discussion entitled Whatever you Do, Don’t Do These Things. This chapter is brilliant, and because I’m constantly messing up how to care the way I should, it’s worth regularly re-visiting. The list of ten things in this chapter (which could have also been called “please don’t do these for your hurting friend”) includes: 1. Don’t Be The Fix-It Person, 3. Don’t Make It Their Identity, 5. Don’t Encourage Them to Just “Move On”, and 10. Don’t Condemn Them.

Being There is a powerful, insightful, and gospel-saturated resource for everyone who is called to care for those who are hurting. But to limit this book to the readership of carers would do it a grave disservice; Furman points out that to be a follower of Jesus Christ means to continually consider others as more important than ourselves. In order for the love of the suffering servant and sovereign king to be displayed in the people (not simply delivered from the pulpit), books like Being There can help every one of us in the local church to pursue the broken with the healing, restoring news of the gospel.

Wednesdays on the Web (11/01)

Are You Curious?

I don’t know a whole lot about what I’ll be doing in March, but I know I’d love to be checking out Barnabas Piper’s new book The Curious Christian. While I wait (with bated breath, whatever that means..), I can content my curiosity by checking out his 12 Ways to be a Curious Person. In this teaser to the book, Piper outlines ways in which curiosity is a gift from God which we are to engage for our growth and his glory. Alongside encouragements to explore, ask (and really listen!), read, and try new things, he reminds us

Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God then we must know Him and scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. We should apply every step – look, listen, record, ask, explore, try, and read – to it with rigor and constancy. Without scripture all our other curiosity is at great risk of pursuing falsehood. Scripture is our plumb line, our compass. Every discovery we make can be stacked up against it, so we must, must, return to it time and again.

Why Simple Wins

Each day, more than one hundred billion e-mails are sent and received, but fewer than a seventh of them are actually important. On his journey towards digital detox in 2017, David Murray discusses a book that can help all of us to see the necessity – and possibility – of simplicity. As someone who feels the need to multitask but knows it to be a bad decision, I found a desire (more like a conviction that led to a desire) in the Six Characteristics of a Simplifier. Maybe you will too.

Opposites Attract

This article by Leslie Schmucker provides a valuable reminder for all those who wonder if they’ve married the wrong person because differences seem endless and love languages don’t align. Her words are a wonderful, humbling reminder that Christ calls us to remain steadfast, and gives us not only the strength to do so, but she writes “I am still very far from conquering my relentless regard for self … but I know that our yoke is held firm by the One who put it there.”

Sound Theology: Keith Getty on Teaching your Congregation through Song

As someone who loves leading people in times of congregational worship, I resonate strongly with Keith Getty’s passion for teaching through song. Every bit as important as the words delivered from the pulpit are the lyrics chosen by the worship leader each week; and often these words set to catchy tunes linger in the minds of the singers long after the sermon has faded. Getty does well to remind those who select songs about the weight of responsibility they bear for discipling their congregation as they sing.

The Leap of Faith

Although I’m a long way from being a die-hard fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I’ve clocked up my own fair share of game hours and can appreciate the faithfulness with which the screen adaptation portrayed a world I’m familiar with. Satisfaction with the characters and choreography aside, learning that the leap of faith (a 125 foot head-first free fall) was performed for real by the stunt man definitely next-leveled the film for me. Check out this impressive feat below.

Is Your Personal Testimony Enough?

I am an American Ninja Warrior Fan. There’s something about watching people going through obstacle courses and performing feats of endurance, athleticism and strength that I could only dream of doing. I’ve seen 7 seasons so far and amidst all of the amazing feats there is something that has stuck out to me because of its familiarity. One of the big things that they do is try and get to know the contestants and there’s been a familiar story that comes through over and over again.

“I was a drunk/drug addict/suicidal/depressed/didn’t have a place in the world…
but then I discovered American Ninja Warrior and I started trying to do some of the stuff
and it helped me turn my life around and now I’m here, and life is amazing.”

It’s a story that I’ve heard a thousand times throughout the course of my life, only I didn’t hear it first on TV. No, I heard it in church when people give their testimonies.

Now, I don’t want to diminish what God has done in peoples’ lives. I am sure that becoming a Christian has led to some amazing life transformation but I do question whether this is the thing that we want to be using to encourage people to become a Christian, especially when somebody on a competitive TV show can have the exact same story; only swapping out God for an obstacle course and physical fitness. If we are convinced that becoming a Christian is something absolutely necessary – and I believe it is – then we need to be able to point to something that can’t be replicated by Ninja Warrior, Alcoholics Anonymous, and literally every other religion.

It just so happens that we actually do have something different. Where so many other people are presenting something that affects us in the here and now, the Christian message is firmly rooted in eternity. While some Christians are saved and see a radical life transformation many others don’t. For many the Christian life is a long walk looking to a future where all of the things that we struggle with will fall away in the presence of the Almighty God. Primarily the Christian message isn’t about life change. It’s not about making ourselves better. The Christian message is about God, and not just any God but it’s about the Creator God who came to Earth as Jesus Christ and died on a cross because he saw our sin and decided to save us from it. It’s not a self-improvement message because the message is that we can’t improve ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Any change in us happens through the Holy Spirit and there’s no promise that that will happen in this life.

It’s remarkable that the message of the apostles in Acts wasn’t directly about any change in the lives of the hearers but it was about God; about what God did for us, and then about what our response should be to that God. As the old song goes

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face
and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.”

This is what the Christian message calls us to do. Not to be better but to look to Jesus in all of his glory and to see him for who he is. If we present life transformation as the goal then we will just blend into the multitude of options that people have to change their lives. It’s only when we present Christ that we can truly say that we have something unique to offer the world. Reading the book of Acts, it seems that their approach worked pretty well.

Maybe we should look into doing it again.

 


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.

Wednesdays on the Web (04/01)

More Than Just a Mom

Gloria Furman snapshots a correct biblical theology of motherhood to correct misconceptions. There’s no such thing as “just” a mother.

2017: A Year of Digital Detox

David Murray has decided to dedicate much of his time on the Head Heart Hand blog this year to opening our eyes to the reality that digital technology is not only diminishing our relationships (with others and with God), but killing our peace, our health, and our morality. We need a serious overhaul of our self-control, self-awareness, and digital self-discipline, and Murray is determined to help us get there.

Digital technology has punctured every part of our being and is slowly psssssssing the life out of us.

I, for one, will be following along with what he has to say throughout the year, and look forward to doing more of what truly matters.

14 (Not Easy) New Years Resolutions for Christians

Not rocket science, but terrific and fitting as we think about the new year and how to make the most of the time we have to advance the gospel, minimise distraction, and magnify Christ in how we use our time, how we engage with those around us who bear the image of God, and where we invest our time and energy. Which of these would most grow you and glorify Christ in 2017?

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful

These are some great, thought-provoking words from Phylicia Delta. When it comes to the common theme of women’s ministry gatherings that “You are beautiful, special, and chosen by God”, she writes

The solution is simple. Stop preaching the easy message, and start preaching the right one. Stop exalting us as women and start exalting Christ. And here’s the amazing thing about a gospel-centric women’s ministry: when all women do is worship Jesus, the insecurities, fears, and anxieties pale in comparison to His everlasting glory.

John MacArthur’s 10 Lessons for our Children

I remember reading MacArthur’s 2014 Being a Dad who Leads again not too long ago. It won’t be the last time I read it, but MacArthur has a new (2016) book on this topic now called Brave Dad.  This post is a helpful summary to make you want to buy it, and apply it.

The 2017 Reading Challenge Begins

Now that the new year is here, I’m well underway with mapping out the books I’m excited about reading in 2017. I found last year’s choices enriching and enlarging (read that post here) and I’m looking forward to maintaining that wide variety and varied diet in the year to come. Below are the first five books I’m diving into in January (I doubt I’ll have time to review them all).

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest work from J.K. Rowling when it lit up the silver screen. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll fare given that her screenwriting debut has been presented through this hardcover in movie-script style (complete with stage directions, scene numbers, etc), but I’m looking forward to taking the images that I’ve already seen and adding further vibrancy to them with the new colours that the book will bring.

Being There

Buying this book a few months ago, I’ve since seen it appear on quite a few “best books of 2016” lists. The best way to convey my interest in this book is to point you to the video of Dave and Gloria Furman as they discuss their life as it pertains to this book. Also on my to-read shelf at the moment is Gloria’s Missional Motherhood, which I’ll get to later this year.

The Temple and the Tabernacle

With over fifty full colour diagrams, photos, schematics, drawings, artworks, and other visually stunning resources to help the reader get a better understanding of the significant dwelling places of God throughout the history of Israel, this looks like the most exciting, educational read on the structures that feature so prominently in the Bible that I’ve ever seen.

Theologically rich, wonderfully informative, and (at first glance) easy to flick through or dive into, I’m really looking forward to this.

You and Me Forever

I’m trying to mix in a book on marriage | parenting | family every few books this year, and this is the first one off the blocks for 2017. I quickly grew to love Chan. First via YouTube, then with Crazy Love. His ability to communicate life-altering truths so effortlessly and memorably is winsome, and I’ve always loved the way he’s taken what I thought I knew and flipped it around. Like this quote from the back cover:

“Jesus was right. We have it all backwards. The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage.

100 Cupboards

Along with On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (the first book in the Wingfeather Saga, which I’m really digging right now) book #1 of the 100 Cupboards series looks like it’s going to be a fantastic read, making enjoyable brain-candy for those times when I feel like reading something a little lighter.

The last interesting thing about these first five books is that they’re all paperbacks. I won’t be bringing out the Kindle until after I’ve made my way through these first few; but while my bag might be a little bit heavier for a few weeks, the truth is I actually like it that way.


See what else I read in 2017: