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Month: June 2017

Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life

Rarely do I find a book so wonderful and easy to read that I fly through it fifty pages at a time. And yet, right from the outset its clear that in Ordinary Saints: Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life Devenish would encourage me to take it slow; to look under every rock, touch every leaf, smell every flower. In so doing, I learn in the pages of his book not only how I should live as a Christ-follower, but I see clearer how I am called to live Jesus’ kingdom vision for my family, for my work life, and for the way in which I am called to have an influence on the world around me.

With the movement of time and the development of language, one could easily find themselves picking up Ordinary Saints with a range of preconceived ideas and prejudices and so Devenish begins with a most helpful and illuminating definition of terms: what are saints? Returning to the biblical language, he defines saints as

all people who have been made righteous
through their faith in Christ
and who subsequently adjust their mode of living
to reflect Christ’s life in the world.

Over against the more commonly used disciple Devenish clarifies “whereas the word disciple highlights the obedience that the disciple offers to Jesus, the word saint highlights the kind of life that the Christian disciple lives before the watching world”. Before even leaving the introduction it became clear that Ordinary Saints is a highly practical, challenging, and encouraging word designed for all of God’s people.

Laying a foundation for what characterises the ordinary saint, Devenish discusses the qualities he believes should be present in their every day lives. These are: (1) love for humanity, (2) overflowing joy, (3) generosity of spirit, (4) willingness to suffer, (5) deep humility, (6) essential goodness, (7) profound wisdom, (8) holiness of life, (9) the practice of prayer, (10) an eternal perspective, (11) readiness to resist evil, and (12) forgiving one’s enemies. I found this chapter simultaneously encouraging and convicting, knowing that as Devenish drilled down into each one of these characteristics, I still have a way to go.

Chapter seven (titled “Holy Wounds”) expands on the model for the saints’ lives. Included in this chapter is a concept he has coined called “voluntary vulnerability”, which he defines as when a person who is whole, healthy, happy, and right with God through faith in Christ, nevertheless chooses to give up their “right” to ensure their own needs are met. Instead, they relinquish any claims to their own comfort and well-being, in order to act in the best interest of others, not themselves.

This pattern is richly demonstrated throughout the book with many stories and examples of ordinary saints living out what Devenish describes. These stories serve to inspire and delight; it is true that saints have currency today because their lives are revelatory; saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel. In considering everything that ordinary saints have to contribute to the life of the Christian today, Devenish writes

History as a narrative rehearsal of past events is punctuated by the life stories of men and women who have performed their character and faith in the past, in such a way that they shape and influence the present (not to mention the future). History would not exist as we know it today without those cultural, religious, and political heroes who have left their “notch” on the stick of time. To that extent, the present moment springs forth from the heroic imaginings of yesterday’s people, who lived their lives not accidentally but intentionally towards making their tomorrow (our present) a better time and place.

None of the qualities that Devenish expounds in the life of the ordinary saint come naturally to any of us. And yet, this is precisely the life that those who have been saved by grace are called out of the world to live. Ordinary Saints is both a call to intentional transformation and an encouraging reminder of that great ‘cloud of witnesses’ that has gone before us, laying down their lives for the spread of the gospel in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless.

Ordinary saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved – completely and unconditionally.
Read it, then go and do likewise.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Wednesdays on the Web (21/06)

Stop Telling Me God is My Father

In light of American Fathers Day recently, this article provides a poignant perspective from a person whose story is more common than we realise, and yet we can be remarkably dismissive through our Christian clichés.

The Problem with Pet Sins

There’s a number of reasons why I find this post fascinating and valuable. First, because I’m currently reading James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love in which I’m seeing more clearly the importance of self-awareness when it comes to re-calibrating our hearts away from the practices of the world and forming habits that align our spiritual compass to the ‘true North’ of Jesus Christ, and second because it answers the popular question of “Does God always answer prayer?” with the less popular “Actually, no”.

Sin is Cosmic Treason

North Pine Baptist Church is currently in a series on Heaven & Hell, and this continues to prompt a number of questions (some healthy, some less so) about God’s love vis-a-vis his righteous justice when it comes to eternal destinations. This post adds value to that discussion by reminding us of the seriousness of sin, the scandal of the cross, and God’s glory displayed in and through everything he does.

Re-calibrating Life

This short post continues a theme I’m seeing in my reading lately; one of reorientation away from the things of the world that would seek to distract, depress, or destroy and lift one’s eyes to him who redeems and restores. In this author’s case, the Psalms are a helpful way to still our souls and fix our eyes on Jesus.

10 Things You Should Know about God’s Attributes

Easy to read and with plenty of headings, this is a list that you could skim through in under a minute. And yet, I’d encourage you to pause; smell the flowers, touch the leaves, turn over the stones. These attributes are wondrous, and they lead us to worship.

3-2-1: The Story of God, the World, and You

When Authenticity & Holiness Collide

I read an interview recently with a Christian artist who was asked about his use of an expletive in a recent song. His response was that this particular word is something found in his normal vocabulary so it would be “disingenuous to leave it out.” It got me thinking; when did we start valuing authenticity over holiness? We are seeing more and more people in public arenas – particularly musicians and pastors –  who are using expletives and the justification tends to be that they are just being “real.”

Now I understand that there are Christians who don’t have an issue with swearing, but while there is a conversation to be had with regards to Ephesians 4:29, that’s not something I’m going to take up at the moment. Instead, I would argue that we need to consider 1 Corinthians 8. Paul addresses the issue of the consumption of food that has been offered to idols. He recognises that there are Christians who know that idols are nothing, and so they understand that there is no significance in food being offered to these idols thus they have no issue with eating it. Paul affirms their understanding and supports their right to eat the food.  Having recognised this attitude and affirming their right to eat the food Paul then goes on to give a caution. He warns the Corinthians that while they understand that there is no sin in eating food offered to idols there are others in their midst who genuinely view this activity as a sin who could be led to act against their conscience. He instructs them to consider their weaker brothers and not eat the food in their presence.

This situation is comparable to those who believe that expletives are just a natural part of language and so feel comfortable using them. Again, not taking up the argument on whether Christians should swear, but it is important to remember that there are many Christians who believe that swearing is sinful. Because of this surely it is the responsibility of any Christian with a public platform to speak and act in a way that is not going to cause others to sin against their conscience while they are in public, regardless of how they act in private.

Does this mean that we should present ourselves as being perfect people without any flaws? Of course not. Let us, however, always try to make sure that we don’t glorify those actions and behaviours that our Christian brothers and sisters consider to be sinful in a manner that would cause them to stumble. Instead, let us point to them as evidence for our continual need for Christ.

 


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 (14/06)

The Gospel Domino Effect

Here Courtney Yantes discusses “the grand chain reaction of dominoes”, and how these dominoes continue to crash into each other throughout human history for our good and the good of others.

Proceed at Once to the Text

I was reading a sermon by Charles Spurgeon not too long ago, wherein his opening remarks he stated, “Let us proceed at once to the text!” That little, almost insignificant phrase struck me in a way that made me pause. No jokes, no personal stories, no novelty; just procession to the text. How could the man dubbed the “Prince of Preachers” attract thousands upon thousands, week upon week, by simply proceeding to the text?

A Graphically Expressed Third Way on Gender Stuff in a Messed Up World: Complementarian? Egalitarian? Or the Cross?

There has been some valuable (respectful) discussion on the Internet about this issue in recent weeks. Everyone from Scot McKnight to Rachel Held Evans have opinions – strong opinions – on this issue that will remain contentious until Christ returns. In the mean time however, Nathan offers an alternative which is winsome and worthy of further discussion.

Life lessons around the Dinner Table: Guarding Family Time

As a parent, I urge you to radically prioritize family time and local church time over these things. Nobody can teach your child about life like you can. God uniquely knit you together to be the most effective life-teacher your child can have in this world. You are the chisel with which God wants to shape your child.

Understanding Your Emotions

Lately I’ve taken a greater interest in Emotional Intelligence. Largely because I’m terrible at it, and know very little about it. Psychology Today contributor Sarah-Nicole Bostan provides this helpful intro for understanding a little more EI, pointing out good ways to regulate emotion (while simultaneously highlighting how not to). I found this EI primer (of sorts) insightful.

Councils & Creeds

Over the coming weeks, I’m inviting you to join me on a journey through an important part of the history of the Christian church. Many Christians today aren’t aware of the substantial debt we owe to our forebears who paved the way for us to grasp concepts that we now learn about in Sunday school. By wrestling with issues like God as Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, and the inerrancy of Scripture, they hammered out for future generations a clear understanding of these significant doctrines. Essentially now our Christianity 101, these crucial theological positions that make up the foundation of orthodox Christianity were formed at councils and by creeds, some over many years. Orthodox here is defined as “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church” so a departure from any of the tenets that we’ll be looking at over the next several weeks marks a departure from Christianity as attested and accepted by two millennia of faithful followers.
In summary, this is important stuff.

This series is a primer; a quick (but hopefully helpful) look at significant events and documents that have aided in the establishment and defence of orthodox Christian doctrine throughout the centuries. Each article will present the conflict or controversy that called for a response, then focus on the resulting doctrine or document and demonstrate why it has such lasting value for the Christian church today.

Whether you’re new to the Christian faith, or you’re familiar with these events already, I hope you’ll join me. We have much to benefit from examining our rich heritage, and much to learn from those who have gone before.

We truly stand on the shoulders of giants. Watch this space.

Only The Good Stuff

High on my list of new podcasts for 2017 is Stephen Altrogge’s latest project Only The Good Stuff. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable so far, with an upbeat tone that is refreshing as well as entertaining. The show’s intent is to feature zero complaining, no negativity, only discussion about things that his guests are truly enjoying. I love the premise, and so after listening to several episodes, I became inspired and set about making a list of my own. So here’s ‘the good stuff’ that I’ve been enjoying in 2017.

1. The Note Sleeve by Bellroy

Simply the best purchase I’ve made so far this year has been this wallet by Bellroy. In concert with the Stocard app for iPhone, I’ve simplified my wallet from two dozen credit cards, membership cards, rewards cards, and licences down to a super slim form (at least an inch thinner) that now fits in my pocket so easily I barely know its there. The design of this wallet gives me three quick access slots for my most used cards, and hides the rest away for their less frequent use. Carrying my wallet has always been an annoying necessity and a bulky irritation that no one has come up with a better solution for. Until now, and I’m loving it.

2. Todoist

I have a terrible memory. But a conversation in late 2016 brought a moment of clarity that has revolutionized the way that I organise my thoughts and plan my actions. Always concerned that my terrible memory would be hurtful at worst or seen as a negative at best, the enlightening statement went something like this “think of making lists as placing scaffolding around your weakness”. Suddenly, leaning on to-do lists no longer feels like a cop-out. Enter todoist, the app that helps me to keep track of everything that my brain would otherwise have forgotten five minutes after I thought of it. Todoist is my task manager; whenever I think of something I need to do, it goes straight into todoist as a snappy one-line item such as “ARRANGE: Truck hire for Saturday”. It gets a due date, and its saved. The pressure is off, but the task isn’t forgotten. Win/Win.

3. De-cluttering

My family moved house a fortnight ago, and into a home which has more storage space, more floor space, just more space. But here’s the funny thing; in unpacking everything from boxes in the garage to their final resting places in drawers, cupboards, or shelves, even though we’ve nearly finished and still have plenty of room I’ve actually found that continuing to reduce our material possessions has been wonderfully therapeutic. While being grateful that we still have an empty shelf here and there, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed multiple runs to the local dump, giving clothes to charity by the box load, and generally asking whether we really need this or that. There’s all sorts of theological reflections that can be made here, but suffice it to say that living more simply and getting down to what really matters has been good for my soul, and I’m finding great joy in letting go of a lot of things that don’t matter all that much in order to make space for the things that do.

4. The Kindle Voyage

The time was long overdue when I decided it was time to upgrade my Kindle – purchased over a decade ago – for a newer model. To give you an idea of what I was reading on, my old Kindle had no light, wasn’t a touch screen, and boasted a full manual keyboard at the bottom. I’d considered the cost: at AU$300 this wasn’t a small purchase, but at the rate I buy books (and averaging $20 per book) the Voyage would set me back the cost of only 15 books. The adaptive light sensor means I can literally read anywhere anytime in perfect clarity, and simply applying pressure on the bezel to turn the page means I can keep a comfortable hold – no more buttons. I love to read. And as much as I love paperbacks, we’ve just bought our fourth bookshelf for the house. So transitioning more of my purchases to e-books saves dollars, and makes sense.

Wednesdays on the Web (07/06)

The Danger of “Has God Called You?”

You will notice that missing from the list of qualifications of elders and deacons is an “inner call”. It’s just not there. So why then do we add extra-biblical qualifications? I wonder if what we are really asking with this “inner call” is whether or not somebody wants to do it. Do you feel compelled into this ministry? Do you desire the work of an elder? But that makes us uncomfortable so we’ve sanctified our language a bit. It’s sounds so much better to say, “God is calling me into this ministry” rather than saying, “I’d really like to preach”. But the Bible speaks the way of the latter more than the former.

Do you want to? Are you qualified? Do others recognize this?

Then do it.

Are Unhappy Christians a Poor Witness?

This is a discussion that I think needs to be had at every level within the church.

Encouragement and Compliment are Brothers not Twins

I’ve been thinking about being a better encourager lately. I’m not a natural encourager, and so I have to remind myself to daily to find ways to deliver on this. On that journey, this post speaks practically to me as I seek to get it right.

Living out of the Stories on my Calendar

I often share about the benefits that come from engagement with the church calendar, and how remembering these events shapes us in a positive way. Melinda says it better than me.

The Descent of the Dove and the Meaning of Pentecost

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday. What’s it really all about?

Practice Your Devotion

This is an area I constantly need to re-motivate in. How is my relationship with God when no one is looking? Am I constantly seeking to cultivate a deeper communion with the Triune God in my private time? I need this, and my wife and children need this. This article has much for me to take to heart.

On a Lighter Note, and because we just passed Pentecost Sunday..

The Tech-Wise Family

Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

We live in a world saturated with technology. From the moment most of us wake to the moment that we go to bed there is at least one screen calling for our time and attention. While there are many good things about technology, in The Tech-Wise Family Andy Crouch encourages his readers to consider the impact that these devices have on our lives, our families, and our children. Now before we get too far, it must be made clear that Crouch is not anti-technology. In fact, early in the book he refers to himself as “a certified geek” so this book is not about getting rid of technology from our lives but merely putting it in its proper place so that it is a benefit to our families rather than something that damages them.

“If we don’t learn to put technology, in all its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.”

The core of the book consists of “Ten Tech-Wise Commitments” that Andy and his family have made. In each chapter, he looks at one of these Commitments, outlining the issue that it aims to solve, and he provides statistics from Barna group that show the impact and extensiveness of the issue. Finally, Crouch provides a practical way of living out that Commitment. The Commitments provide a shift of focus from our devices to our families in a way that is challenging (at times) but with attractive benefits. The Commitments range from Filling the House with Things That Encourage Creativity Rather Than Consumption to Making Car Time Conversation Time to Intentionally Turning Devices Off Regularly.

The Ten Commitments are not designed as a be-all-and-end-all list that every family should adhere to. Instead, it is a starting point for us to consider how much technology is, and should be, ingrained in our lives. In fact, there is even the understanding that we aren’t going to keep the Ten Commitments perfectly. Every chapter concludes with a “Crouch Family Reality Check” where Crouch looks at how well his family has actually done in keeping them. He reports that some they have done well, but a lot of them have been kept imperfectly at best. By presenting this reality check he stands not as an Expert (with a capital E) giving direction on how we should live our lives but as a fellow parent and husband trying to do the best he can.

I haven’t come out of this book with a determination to keep every one of these Commitments but it has definitely made me think about how much I engage with devices in my day-to-day life. It has also made me consider the impact and example of that engagement for my daughter as she grows up. I’m not about to pull the plug on all of the electronic devices in my house all at once but I am going to start with walking away from my phone a bit more and just being in the moment. I think that’s the point.