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Month: March 2017

What I Read in March

I read a bunch of great stuff in March. I haven’t included everything, as there will be some reviews being posted over the next few weeks, but overall March was a great month with marriage, means of grace, history, intelligent design, and some good old (new) superhero adventures.

Know the Creeds and Councils

Having sat in more than one class on church history, I’ve seen plenty of material covering heroes and heretics, councils, creeds, and controversies of the early years. This little book by Justin Holcomb was such a great springboard; every chapter short and punchy, and closed with a “so what?” for Christians today. While you’ll move through this book easily, if you’re like me it will act like a living map where the more you look at it the more you’ll see new places pop up, waiting to be found and explored.

Batman Vol 1: I am Gotham

The DC Universe rebirth has been underway for a while now, and while my budget doesn’t allow me to keep track of all the characters, there’s always room for Batman. First, I really enjoyed this. I like the point at Bruce Wayne’s life where this story arc has picked up, and while I think Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns will always be my favourite Batman, despite what could be perceived as a slow start, I think this Batman is going to shape up to be among the best to date.

This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence

Piper spends the first 5 chapters laying a biblical foundation for what it means to be humans, together in a marriage relationship, and what that God-designed relationship ought to look like, and why. Having established first things first (love, unwavering commitment to covenant, forgiveness and forebearance, parallels to Christ and the church), Piper moves to two chapters on a biblical foundation and application of a husband’s headship in his family, and a chapter on the beauty of Christlike submission in light of the gospel. The book closes with chapters on having children and making (them) disciples. With wisdom and encouragement for singles as well as married, this is worth a read.

God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway?

The way in which Lennox unravels Stephen Hawking’s arguments is impressive, somewhat amusing, educational, and convincing. His conversational style (given the high-brow nature of the arguments) makes for a book that simple guys like me can follow, nodding in assent as pure logic (Lennox is a mathematician) is employed to dismantle seemingly intimidating and complex structures of thought. Accessible, helpful, and compelling, this book is also designed to encourage you to explore the arguments – and counter-arguments – in more detail in Lennox’s other works. I’ll get to those in the months to come.

Praying the Bible

Do you find yourself falling into the same routine when you pray? Are your prayers repetitious, or predictable to the point that your kids could pray them with you (not after you, but at the same time because they never change)? Don Whitney has a simple time-tested solution that will not only revolutionize the way that you pray, but will grow your prayer life and propel you forward in your knowledge and application of scripture at the same time. Praying the Bible is small, but packs plenty of punches.

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

Among the most important questions in Christianity are around how we practically ‘work out our salvation’. Far from easy-believism or cheap grace, I found this to be a super-helpful systematic look at the common questions around the call of Christ, the response of humanity, what genuine conversion looks like (in light of getting the previous two right) and the demonstration of saving faith ongoing in the life of the Christian. I listened to the audio book for this one, and found myself wishing I could take out a highlighter and mark plenty of paragraphs on the way through.

Here’s what I read in


See what else I read in 2017:

Wednesdays on the Web (29/03)

Productivity or Virtue?

It’s uncanny (and simultaneously encouraging) how much this author is like me, both then and now. The ability to be self-aware of how I’m prioritising goals, relationships, and unexpected demands for my time is vital if I’m to be the kind of person I think I should be.

Preaching and Personality

I’ve mentioned this article more than a few times in the last week, and I continue to think about it in light of my preaching this week. Gary Millar is as qualified as anyone to discuss the tension between being faithful to the text, but also recognising that God is interested in letting your personality tell the story, as long as Christ remains the only focus.

10 Fun Things to do with your Teens

Lately I’ve been searching (desperately, at times) for things to do with our almost 14 year old. It’s funny how some of the things on this list appear as though they’d never fly; but I’ve found that when I suggest them and they’re rejected the first time, more often that not the idea sticks, and I’ve been asked to do that very same activity the next time boredom strikes.

Bearing Grief through Truth and Worship

My grieving friends are going to be ok, even though they can’t see how just yet. So until they can, we’ll all grieve, remember the truth, and worship God together. Someday their hope will be renewed and our bond of love in Christ will have grown stronger from sharing this dark path. Grief will not win, because death has already lost. Thank you, Jesus.

What The Benedict Option Is and Isn’t

My corner of the Internet continues to be abuzz with discussion and dissension around this new book. Some find it too extreme, some feel it neglects The Great Commission entirely, some see merit, but would approach it differently. Some have found it a healthy, thought-provoking prod for the average Christian to consider how they live as light in the world, and how the call to live as community while simultaneously on mission holds true for them. I found this article from Karen Swallow Prior (English Professor at Liberty University, and research fellow at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) very helpful.

“The Benedict Option’s” vision is not to make nuns and monks of modern Christians. Nor does it propose a bunker (whether literal or figurative) from which to establish merely an updated version of the fundamentalist separatism of yore. Nor is the turn to Benedict a quixotic attempt to recapture a romanticized past.
To the contrary, “The Benedict Option” calls Christians wherever they live and work to “form a vibrant counterculture” by cultivating practices and communities that reflect the understanding that Christians, who are not citizens of this world, need not “prop up the current order.” While the monastery that birthed the Benedict Rule was literal, the monastery invoked in “The Benedict Option” is metaphorical. It is not a place, but a way.

This

Someone has seamlessly integrated Rogue One into A New Hope. It’s glorious.

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is not the Enemy of Faith

For many Christians, the very idea of having doubt is unthinkable, even sinful. Solid Christians are those who not only know what they believe, but are ready with an answer to tell you why it is the way it is, and why – if those around them would simply read scripture as it should be read – they would come to the same rock solid, unshakable conclusions. Enter Barnabas Piper, who is bold enough to ask the question “what is belief?” and explore the critical difference between doubt based in belief and doubt that undermines belief.

Through personal and often painful story, Piper recounts his journey from being a born-and-raised Christian who went on to graduate from seminary, always having the right answers, to one who learned the stark contrast between knowing God in relationship and simply knowing a lot about him. Many of us (myself included) will find resonance with Piper’s discussion of mental assent; knowing the facts, defending the arguments, even brushing aside wise counsel designed to penetrate and change us with the terse “I know”. Christians need to move beyond mere mental assent – Piper urges –  to allowing what we know to transform us. That kind of belief is what the Bible calls faith. Faith is belief that transforms into action. When we only have the mental assent part, we base our actions on something other than God, namely our own emotions or reasoning. Piper writes:

“When people say they believe in God, what does that mean? It may mean they believe God exists in some form. It may mean they acknowledge God’s moral standard as a genuine guideline. Or it may mean they believe fully in God’s word and God’s way and look to him as the object of their faith. While each of these is an accurate statement and a proper use of the term belief, only one of them is real belief. That is the third use.”

As risky or uncomfortable as we feel doubts and questions can be, Piper argues that it is much more dangerous to live in a safe Christian world refusing to exchange curiosity for comfort over the long haul. The only way to disarm the danger posed to faith by things like divorce, destitution, and disease is to engage the questions (especially with our kids) before they wreak havoc.

Through the prayer of a desperate man in Mark chapter nine (“I believe; help my unbelief”), Piper unpacks the struggle of every Christian; that we will always hold tension between believing and not believing, but we take comfort from the fact that even this prayer takes a shred of faith to pray in the first place, so all is not lost. He discusses evidence of true belief like repentance, prayer, and humility and he effectively shows how doubt is not the opposite of faith, but is in fact a healthy part of it.

As beings created by God, our finitude simply cannot grasp his infinity aside from what he chooses to reveal to us. Scripture doesn’t offer every answer. But it reveals exactly and completely everything God wanted revealed – no more, no less. This is where our belief takes comfort. When we question and wonder in ways that are firmly planted in relationship with God, then it will serve to strengthen our belief. And so our faith seeks understanding and we pray “I believe; help my unbelief”.

 

 

Wednesdays on the Web (15/03)

When Suffering is the Megaphone and God is the Whisper

A helpful reminder from Mike Leake that God is faithful to his promises, even when in the midst of our great pain we can’t hear his voice, let alone respond believingly to his promises.

Complaining Never Wins the Culture

In light of recent events – from Trump winning the election to that gay moment in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie – I’ve come to see more clearly that Christians tend to be defined more for what they complain about. I’ve read Trevin Wax’s blog for years, and he’s certainly come (for me) to be a trusted cultural interpreter.
BONUS: J.D. Greear weights in along similar lines, and Nathan Campbell also adds value for the church.

The Kerfuffle around ‘The Benedict Option’

A thoughtful review of Rod Dreher’s much-discussed ‘The Benedict Option.’ I’ve seen this pop up and read the flurry of discussions around it (mostly) from people who haven’t read it and want to tell you why it should be avoided. After reading Don Carson’s comments I’ll be grabbing a copy (plus I’ve already had a few requests for review). Watch this space, but I’d encourage checking it out.

Reclaiming Your Eyes from Pornography

Far from this being a post addressed to men, this is a temptation that has affected everyone at one point or another. Most people realise that this is the kind of sin that can’t be overcome simply by the power of will. Only in replacing a lesser desire with a greater desire will lasting victory come.

Suffering is a Doorway, Not a Dead End

This last week I’ve seen some horrendous suffering. Loved ones dying. People receiving news of terminal cancer. We live in a broken world and suffering is only a question of when. But in the midst of pain and loss, we know that God has designed the church to be a people who are not only marked by suffering but who demonstrate true community; that’s one of the reasons we have all those ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament. I’ve been acutely reminded this week of the importance of having a solid theology around suffering and the sovereignty of God. Walking with God through the deepest possible pain isn’t something that just happens, and we need to know how.

 

“The true gospel message ransacks the soul and carries off every spoil. It leaves the heart with nothing so that Christ might enter in as everything. It is not wrong to preach a gospel that takes everything away from a person yet leaves them with Christ alone.”
– Paul Washer, The Gospel Call & True Conversion.

What Makes a Missionary?

There’s an underlying assumption in the Christian church that somehow if you travel overseas and help out in an orphanage that you can assign yourself the designation missionary. Building houses, rescuing girls from trafficking, and equipping villages with clean water are all wonderful acts, but it seems to me that this broad use of the term brings with it widespread negative implications for the entire evangelistic enterprise of the church. In a recent article linked to by the International Missions Board the author provides this definition of mission:

[Mission] is God’s plan that people from every nation, tribe and language will come to saving faith in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel.

Perhaps that seems simplistic. And in a sense, it is. But it’s also worthy of unpacking and no small amount of ink has been spilled working through the myriad ways in which it can be faithfully achieved. On the other hand, this concise definition is also revealing; not only by means of what it affirms, but by what it deliberately leaves out.

Mission should never be reduced to performing good works. The key work of a missionary must include (one or all of) evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership training, all aimed at making and growing disciples (see Mark 3:14; Luke 9:1-2; 24:27; Acts 8:4-8; 13:13-52; 14:1-23; Romans 15:17-23; 1 Corinthians 9:16; Galatians 1:15-16). With that in mind, here’s the rub: we must be wary of viewing people around the world as charity cases or tourist attractions; the church providing aid alone (however generous and large-scale) will not give people eternal hope. While you’re undoubtedly meeting a significant material need, the hard truth is that the community you are building houses for is made up of living, breathing, human souls who are headed straight to hell unless they come to saving faith, and that faith comes only by hearing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But our mission isn’t just to do good deeds, but to proclaim.
We can’t witness effectively if we expect others to simply observe our lives and notice Jesus.
They will only see Jesus in us if they hear about him from us.
There is no gospel without words.
– John Piper

Please, don’t mishear the message. Yes, we are unquestionably called to do. We know that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). The Apostle Paul tells us clearly that we have been saved in order that we might perform the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). More than that, it is through our love for one another that we show the world a glimpse of their Saviour. We are called to care for the sick, to shelter the homeless, to love our neighbour, and to do good in all the ways we can. In doing so, we are being like Christ. But our primary calling – the entire reason for which we exist – is to clearly proclaim the lost and sinful state of humankind, the redemptive work of a loving God, and the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of all who would believe. And for this, we need words.

Having a better developed understanding of what makes a missionary is key to the Church’s commissioning and sending of workers into the world. If we know the hopeless state of the human condition and provide rescue, shelter, or clean water without sharing Christ, then what we’re doing fundamentally isn’t love, and it certainly isn’t mission.

We know that God is building his church. Our responsibility is to keep commissioning, to keep sending, to keep taking the love of the Saviour to every nation, tribe, and tongue through practical, tangible means. And when we’re there, let’s take our example from the Apostle Paul who in all his words and deeds “decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified”. In meeting people’s material need in the present, let’s be sure we’re always pointing those same people to the One who can meet their every need for eternity.
That’s a missionary.

Wednesdays on the Web (08/03)

God Wants our Sad

Esther Fleece from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission reminds us that while the culture around us pushes the message that sadness is a ‘negative’ emotion and we should aim to avoid it at all costs (whether by medication, or distraction, or relationship, or whatever) God has not only given us these emotions, but also the language to express them, and a book which is full of lessons on how to face suffering on the days when we don’t have it together.

Pixels are People

In light of its potentially destructive power, why would any Christian use social media? The short answer is because the Lord is sovereign and pixels are people. There are more than three billion Internet users around the world. This is not by accident. The Lord is the author of history, and the church finds herself with unique opportunities to do good in this world and bring Him glory.

Decluttering Evernote

This is me. Except that while I strongly recognise the need to keep things organised (which includes tossing the things I no longer need) the truth is I’m just not aggressive enough most of the time. If you love Evernote like me, consider these tips for tasks, notebooks, tags, and boost your productivity all over again.

Sharing in the Hospitality of God

In this latest formational series from Tabor College in Adelaide, David McGregor contributes some challenging insight into the way our expressions of hospitality are actually representations of and participation in the Divine Life of the Trinity. As I’ve come to expect from David, this piece is rich with history, theology, and conviction.

Resisting the Course of this World

If a rock gets tossed up in the air, it must come down; it can’t help itself. Likewise, when we are dead in our sins we can’t help ourselves but to follow the course of this world. But the gravitational pull from the course of this world has been broken by the crucified and resurrected Son of God.

Chuck Norris Never Misses

I should probably feel bad for laughing so much at this.

Sacrifice, Substitution, and Surrender

Recently I’ve been getting so much out of North Pine Baptist Church’s series on the Temple and Tabernacle that I’ve made an unofficial transcript of the latest message. I’m sharing it here because of the gospel-soaked, scripture-rich content and the immense good news and practical application that it presents for Christians today.



Morning everyone, good to see you all today. Let’s pray shall we.

Father this morning we continue in this series entitled God in Our Midst and we want to thank you that you are indeed here with us this morning. Lord we are in the presence of a Holy God. This morning as we look at this bronze altar and what it signifies – what it points to – we pray again that you might have grace upon us. That you might help us to understand and grasp in a deeper way the significance of sacrifice; of the sacrifice that has been made for us through Jesus Christ. Lord this morning as we hear from your word we ask that our minds and our hearts would be clear; that they would be attentive to what you have to say to us today. Lord convict us in our hearts, help us to know the very things you want to speak to us about this morning. For you – indeed we know – want to speak to us, and we thank you for that. We pray this morning as we open up this passage together that Jesus Christ might be honoured and glorified. Amen.

Romans 6:23 says this: “For the wages of sin is death”. The wages of sin is death. Wages have featured a lot in the news this week. Those of you who have been across the news this week will know that there has been penalty rates and things like that discussed in the media. When we think about wages we understand them to be those things which are owing to us because of the work we’ve done. We work, we get paid; they’re our wages. But the bible clearly states that when it comes to the things that we’ve done, the work that we’ve done, the sin we’ve committed before God, then we have something owing to us for that. And that is death. We all deserve to die because of our sin.

Puts a real cloud down on everything, doesn’t it.

And you might think this morning as we start off this message and we think about sin and the fact that it deserves death you might think “well you know what, that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”

Last week as we began the series on the tabernacle, we focused on the fact that God is a holy God. That his holiness points to his absolute perfection. His absolute purity. His absolute goodness. His absolute glory. His absolute justice and righteousness. His separateness or his apartness from everything else. Nothing can come even close to this holy God because he is so perfect and glorious and righteous and just. He is so pure. If we liken God in his holiness to the sun, it is both good and terrifying at the same time. It brings heat and light in order for life to grow and flourish, but it also has the capacity to kill anything that comes close to it. And because God is holy, it means that he is like that sun in that he cannot have anything to do with sin, that as soon as we draw close, as soon as sin comes anywhere in the vicinity of God it is consumed by his holy fire. His holiness naturally condemns and destroys sin and anything affected by it.

Well then, how do we ever hope to approach this holy God? How can we ever hope to have any kind of relationship with him? To come into presence? Well we discover how we do that through this imagery of the brazen altar in the tabernacle. This bronze altar. And we’ll see this and what it ultimately points to.

Forgiveness: Rarely Easy, Never Optional

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus tells of a servant who owed his king a great sum of money. The king ordered the man be sold, along with his wife and children to pay the debt. However the servant fell on his knees imploring the king to have patience with him, and the king ended up forgiving him; the servant now completely released from the debt. But then that same man went out and seized a fellow servant who owed him a relatively small sum and demanded he paid back what was owed, throwing the man in prison until the debt was paid. Having witnessed this, several people went and told the king and the unforgiving servant was himself thrown into prison until he could pay his debt in full. Jesus brings this parable to a point by declaring “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

When Jesus teaches his disciples about forgiveness, he tells Peter to forgive his brother “[not] seven times, but seventy-seven times.” It can be hard for us to accept such an unqualified statement. Perhaps if we were there, we would have countered Jesus’ global statement on forgiveness with some caveats of our own, such as “but Jesus, what if they keep doing the same thing?” or “Hey Jesus, some sins are bigger than others though, right?” or even “Jesus, surely it would be different for crimes involving children?” The fact is, Jesus made no such qualifiers. In teaching his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6, they learn to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. Jesus ends the lesson with words worth heeding:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating blind acceptance of ongoing, sinful circumstances here. While forgiveness is commanded, wisdom in harmful situations is also required. Moreover, nowhere in the gospels (or anywhere else in scripture) do we read that forgiveness will always be an easy or cheap decision. On the contrary, forgiveness can often be very costly, especially when the pain or trauma caused by the offender has left open, lasting wounds. However, we take courage to know that Jesus was made like us in every respect, and that included enduring the most horrific agony imaginable at the hands of cruel, sinful men. We have a Saviour who suffered as we suffer, and who knows what it feels like to be wronged. And yet the scandalous truth of this gospel is that Jesus Christ not only prayed for forgiveness for those directly responsible for his death, but he paid in full our debt of sin  – all sin – and now we who have been forgiven for our daily and hourly wronging God are called to forgive those whose sins he also died for.

As we come to grasp more fully the forgiveness that has been granted to us through the finished work of Christ on the cross, we realise that while it isn’t always easy, forgiving isn’t optional because it’s what Jesus gave his very life for. This is a radical statement. But it goes hand-in-hand with the reality that we don’t get to define the categories for big sins and small sins; when we do that we’re saying that God isn’t doing a good enough job, and we’re putting ourselves in the place of God as judge. We are commanded to forgive regardless of the perceived size of the sin because however we choose to view it, we must look to the cross and see that in Jesus God’s infinite love found a way to conquer our infinite sin.

Forgiving flows from forgiven-ness.

Give Up Lent for Lent?

Recently The Cripplegate published a thoughtful piece on why evangelicals should consider giving up Lent. Like everything on the Internet, it was praised or pummeled with opinions from every point along the spectrum. The post contained a helpful overview of (Catholic) church history pertaining to the development of Lent, followed by a self-diagnostic of sorts where we take a good look at our motivations for participating in Lent and step back to look at the way in which we’ve choosen to engage with it. In short, this author felt that the act of giving something up as a way of preparing for Easter is simply anachronistic. Far from a response that would be titled ‘here’s why I think he’s wrong’,  I offer these thoughts to encourage what I think is a biblically faithful approach to the season leading up to Easter.

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.

Coincidentally this Sunday just gone I listened to two sermons, both of which contained a discussion about sin. In the first sermon, I was encouraged to look around and see the state of the world and the fallen nature of man and respond with the thought “this is not the way things should be”. In the latter sermon, I was reminded that the wages of sin is death, and that Jesus bore the wrath of a holy God, being crushed in my place even while I was still his enemy. The former had a dangerously diluted, underdeveloped doctrine of sin; the latter an orthodox one. For me, Lent is a season of brokenness leading to repentance as I consider that (in Bonhoeffer’s words) “what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

The biggest takeaway about Lent for me is remembering that it isn’t simply a practice of “putting off”. Unlike the Roman Catholic notions of fasting (or other forms of self-penance), I take this season as a time to be reminded of the crushing weight of sin, that I am nothing apart from God, and that through a costly, scandalous act of pure grace, Christ paid the full penalty of my sin. I’ve used different resources and practices to help orient my heart to repentance and gratitude as Easter approaches, and sometimes I find that my plate is full and I need to take something off in order to make room (hint: we’re not talking about food anymore) but whatever the vehicle it travels in, the outcome is not “self-made religion” but a deeper gratitude and a humbled love that sings of the glorious grace of God through Christ.

Wednesdays on the Web (29/02)

Marriage, Hospitality and the Spiritual Life

Dr. Stuart Devenish makes four observations for Christian couples. He writes

“if our faith isn’t being put to work in our marriage-relationships,
it can hardly be put to work in relationships outside of marriage”

Why Papa of The Shack is not Aslan of Narnia

The follow-up to last week’s post on why you should not waste your time or money on the upcoming movie of The Shack. Challies has three excellent points (he had me at allegorical fiction). Read this, and you’ll be persuaded that life is too short for bad films.

Growing (in) Humility

If the world, the flesh, and the devil continually tempt us to pride, and humility is essential for spiritual progress, what are some practical steps that we can take to kill our pride and grow in humility?

Pastor Scott Slayton reminds us of why Christians never graduate from the gospel, but being saturated in it every day through the means of grace given to us is where we find strength to grow in Christ-likeness.

5 Steps to Serving Children with Autism, ADHD, and Attachment Disorders

For all I’ve read, the conferences and speakers I’ve attended to and tuned in to on disability, the gospel, and the people of God, I really don’t know 1% of what there is to know. I make articles like this a regular part of my reading diet to help open my eyes. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

The Three Gods Riddle

If you love logic (really love logic), then this super tricky logic puzzle is supposed to be up there with the best of them. I can see why.