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Month: November 2017

Wednesdays on the Web (29/11)

Why Seminary? Exhibit A: Joel Osteen

…formal theological training at seminary level is not a biblical prerequisite for being a preacher of God’s word. The Apostle Peter, for instance, had no MDiv degree hanging on his office wall. But I’m sure we all agree that his 24/7 intensive, three year internship with Jesus was, um …adequate preparation. But if an excellent theological education is available to you, there is wisdom in being a good steward of that opportunity.

Loving Better by Typing Less

The thing about sinful, broken people is that there is never a shortage of sin and brokenness. However, it rarely (if ever) does anyone any good to be publicly thrown under the bus for wrong thoughts, wrong actions, and wrong words. I’m an advocate for the model of church discipline that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18, and I’d be happy to see less of the former, and proportionately more of the latter.

Sometimes a Light Surprises (A Thanksgiving Poem)

If you are going through a period of spiritual darkness this Thanksgiving, let the truth of Cowper’s poem encourage you to thank God for your trial, knowing that when you least expect, God may astonish you with his truth.

Top 17 Books of 2017

Not sure where to begin with Christmas presents this year? You’re welcome.

Advent Reading Plans

We’ve been through some of these as a family (and will again). For those who need a springboard to launch family discussions around anticipating the coming of the Saviour, these are a great place to start.

28 Non-Numerical Signs of a Healthy Church

Last, do you find yourself (sorry, I meant people you know) too caught up in a church that needs to grow numerically? CT has posted a wonderful list that points us away from an interest in being “A Church Grower”, “Apostolic Multiplier”, or any other kind of numbers-centric motivator. Looking at this list, I would be so bold as to say that numbers are one of the last things from which we should measure the health of a church.

 

2017: How My Inbox Stayed Empty and Productivity Soared

An empty inbox. It sounds like a dream too good to ever be true. With the sheer volume of emails that some people receive plus meetings, social media notifications, relationships, phone calls, and other demands on our time, an empty inbox can appear as insurmountable as climbing Mt Everest. It’s been done though, so why not this? Here’s a quick summary of how I’ve consistently maintained an empty inbox throughout 2017, and seen my productivity soar.

Emails—an Overview

I run my life from the “Unread Mail” folder on my iPhone. It’s where all my email accounts converge and where the majority of new tasks, notifications, and invitations come to me. Using this folder instead of multiple inboxes means two things.  First, I’m forced to deal with every email I open, as once I close it and my mail client marks it as read, it’s gone from my field of vision. So if I haven’t dealt with it, it’s out of sight and probably already out of my mind. Second, this folder view means I’m freed to not be distracted by the emails of yesterday. The long list of days and weeks worth of already read emails in my Inbox would fill my screen and clutter my thoughts.

So how does this work? Every time I open an email from this folder I need to ask what it is. Do I have the knowledge on hand to reply to this email immediately? If yes, do it. Right now. If not, does it contain something I need to do? Then I close it, and create a task in Todoist (more on that below). Is it an invitation or an appointment that I need to remember to go to? Then I’ll create an entry in my calendar with everything I need to know (I often copy-and-paste the email into the calendar entry for reference), then it’s gone. If my response isn’t either of these, then is it a piece of information I need to keep; a file, a document, an invoice, a snippet of important information? It goes into Evernote, saved in the appropriate Notebook Stack. By categorising all my incoming emails in this manner, every piece of mail that enters my Unread Mail folder is identified, dealt with accordingly, then made to disappear.

Calendar

Anyone who knows me will attest to the reality that remembering isn’t my strongest suit. I have a job where my customer appointments are scheduled for me, and so while at work I live by my calendar. Team managers, personnel schedulers, and peers all have visibility of my day and can slot in appointments, leaving me to fill in the gaps.

My wife and I also have a shared calendar (via Google) which syncs across our iPhones. This way we always know when the other will be taking kids to the doctor or be home late, plus be ready for that wedding/baby shower/BBQ on the weekend. When an email arrives that means I/we have to be somewhere sometime, it goes straight into the calendar, and syncs everywhere it needs to, then it’s gone.

Todoist

This is where I keep my running To Do list. I’ve found the best way to keep things simple here is to keep each task to a short, single line description, beginning with the verb it requires. For example “PAY: Gas bill”, or “RETURN: Tools to Nathan”. The verb gives me a one-word overview of what kind of task it is before I see specifics.

I also love that when I add (for example) “today”, “next Wednesday”, or “Every second Thursday” to the end of a task, Todoist works its magic. When I hit save, Todoist strips off the day/date words from the end of the line, and simply causes the task to appear in my TODAY list, to be dealt with on the day(s) I specified. Does an email require me to complete a certain action? Todoist.

Evernote

Whether it’s an invoice, the next roster for the church ministry I serve in, a shopping list, or just something I want to read later, if it’s not a task and not a calendar appointment, chances are this is where it goes. Evernote holds all my files and information. It has great document capture, web and email clipping, a powerful search tool, and an intelligent photo capture tool for small things that I lose easily like receipts and invoices. The other power of Evernote is found in the use of folders. I currently have top-level folders for Work, Family, Personal, Church, and Study. Has an email come to me with a document I need to proofread? A receipt from an online purchase? Save it to Evernote, then adiós!

So there you have it. There’s a lot more to how each of these systems work, and how to get the most out of the even more intricate and powerful ecosystem they form when used together. But through the simple activity of sorting incoming emails into tasks, appointments, and information, I’ve not only gone to bed at night with zero emails in my inbox, but I’ve got more done, slept better knowing everything is accounted for and no task or appointment will be forgotten, and seen my productivity soar.

Want to know more? Get in touch with me through the email button on the website. I’ll respond the same day.

Come and Drink

If you’ve grown up in church, you’re familiar with the story in John 4 where a woman at a well encounters Jesus. It’s a wonderful story, and one that carries profound revelation as Jesus Christ evangelises this woman and shows her (and us) what is required for genuine salvation.

Refresh your memory on the story here first.

Lesson #1: Jesus was Mission-Minded

We’re told in the text that Jesus left Judea and he’s making the journey to Galilee. We also read that he ‘had to’ pass through Samaria. This is the first point of interest in John’s story. ‘Had to’. There are multiple ways that one could travel from Judea to Galilee; there was definitely no necessity for Jesus to pass through Samaria as though it was the only way to get to his destination. Although it was the most direct route, it was also the one that Jews (stricter Jews in particular) avoided at all costs. You could easily go to the East up the coastal route or to the West inland over the Jordan River in order to avoid Samaria. This is what most Jews would have done.

You see, to the Jews the Samaritans were an unclean people. John MacArthur explains that Samaritans were essentially a corrupted form of the Jewish race. When the Assyrians came and took much of the northern kingdom of Israel captive, the Jews who remained intermarried with all kinds of pagan nations and so they were a hybrid people who had forsaken their Judaism, committing the most serious of offences by marrying people who worshipped false gods and idols. Samaritans were considered the worst kind of outcasts, even to the point that their land was considered ‘cursed ground’.

Q: So why did Jesus ‘have to’ pass through this region for which the Jews held so much disdain?

A: Like always, Jesus had a divine appointment. He had to, because he was fulfilling the will of his father to seek and save the lost. There was much more than just a geographical convenience at work here.

Lesson #2: Jesus Found Common Ground

One thing you’ll notice about Jesus in the gospels is that he never responds to questions the way we expect him to. And this encounter is no different. Jesus doesn’t answer the woman’s question about why he has spoken to her, and he’s even been so bold as to ask her for a drink. Rather, ignoring all the cultural stuff, in verse 10 Jesus says to her “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”.

This is Jesus’ way of saying “I’m the one who has everything you could ever need.”

But wait. Just a moment ago, Jesus was talking about being thirsty, and the woman having the water. Now suddenly Jesus has flipped the conversation around. He is the one with the water, and she is the one who is thirsty. The woman’s reply was understandable confusion. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep”. She didn’t understand what for us is another lesson in Jesus’ evangelism strategy. Jesus found common ground with the person he was sharing with. Jesus used the need for physical water as an entry point into a conversation about greater spiritual realities.

Lesson #3: Jesus Offered Without Regard for Circumstances

Water is life! And that’s exactly what Jesus is offering; on a much grander, eternal scale. Jesus invites all people to come. Come, drink, and have life. The water that Jesus offers this woman is salvation without regard for her circumstances. It isn’t hindered by her immorality, it isn’t rendered ineffective by her religious indifference, it isn’t voided because of her ethnicity; he simply offers her this living water freely.

This is where Christianity stands in contrast against every other religion. Other religions demand “do this morally”, “do that ceremonially”, or “work hard to be a certain way”. The gospel says “It’s a free gift”. Those who miss out on heaven don’t miss out because they failed to work hard enough, or love others enough, or somehow measure up enough… they’re the ones who simply failed to ask for the water. To accept the free gift.

Jonathan Edwards famously said

“You contribute nothing to your salvation
except the sin that made it necessary”.

Jesus says to her “if you knew who it was that asked, you would have asked me”. And that’s all the sinner can do. Recognise our need, and ask.

 


This post was adapted from a sermon I delivered at North Pine Baptist Church in early 2017.

Wednesdays on the Web (22/11)

You Are Not Your Personality Profile

I see the value in understanding that I’m an ESTJ. At the time that I filled out the test, I paid extra to receive the extended personality profile results so that I could dig deeper into the quirks of why I am this way (because, for the most part, I fit the categories almost perfectly) and so I understand myself—particularly my flaws—better. However, Aaron is also dead right when he says here that we can take it too far.

2017 Winter Book List

It’s always helpful when someone else puts these lists together, particularly when broken down into categories that are helpful for parents with children of different ages and interests. Not to mention more than a few award-winning reads to add to my own list while I’m there.

Nerds! Get Your Greek On

I’ve studied only one Intro to Biblical Languages unit, and I’m super keen for more. One valuable resource to connect with some more intermediate courses are offered by Zondervan Academic. But in the mean time if you can’t spare the cash, ESV have made the Greek Bible available online for free. How about that.

7 Habits that make People seem Less Intelligent

You always want to put your best foot forward, right? Well here are some things from healthyway.com that you may have thought made you appear smarter, but actually don’t.

The Necessity of Effectively Communicating with Children

When it comes to children, I think there’s a fine line (which I often can’t see) between using the words we want our children to grow up into, and adopting the words that they use today. We have songs playing in our car (right now it’s Phil Vischer’s What’s in the Bible: the Songs) which use words like Pentateuch and Apostatize, which some adults still can’t define. This article presents some good thoughts on how to see that line.

SSM – What will change? What does it mean? How do we respond?

It’s simpler than you might think.

Jen Wilkin on Women as indispensable to the Church

 

Listening is Loving: Part 2

Listening is something of a lost art which needs to be recaptured, retaught, and reapplied in our relationships with God and with others; both because it will greatly improve our quality of life, and because it lies at the heart of what it means to be like the God who Himself listens to us.

In his book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Adam S. McHugh talks about listening as one of the best gifts we can both give and receive. At the time of writing this I’m six chapters in to his book and already I’ve been encouraged and challenged (see part one) in many ways with regard to listening to God, to Scripture, to my emotions, and to others.

Today, I want to explore what it looks like to be a bad listener, because I saw myself in many of these categories and I’ve learned that active listening is a whole lot more involved than simply paraphrasing and returning what someone has said, or asking open-ended questions (however good the intention).

Here are a few of the usual suspects in the ongoing case of bad listening:

The One-up. “You think that’s something? Let me tell you about what happened to me last week!” Here the listener sits quietly through the other person’s story only to try to trump them with a better, more interesting story. It’s a competition more than a conversation.

The Sleight-of-hand. “Uh huh, that’s great. But what I really want to talk to you about is…” Listening lulls the speaker into a false sense of security so that they don’t see the trick coming, namely, what the speaker’s agenda is for the conversation.

The Inspector. “Didn’t you say last week that…” The listener asks a series of questions, usually closed-ended questions, in a way that feels like a detective questioning a suspect, trying to lure him into a confession. Listening is the lightning before the thunder, the burning fuse before the bomb.

The Reroute. “That reminds me of…” The listener takes the topic the speaker has addressed and rolls it over, however clumsily, into the topic she wants to talk about or the story she wants to tell. Nothing will stop her from talking about what she came to talk about.

The Projector. “I’m totally dealing with the same thing!” The listener projects his problems onto the speaker, and then projects his solutions onto the speaker’s problems. The projector sees himself in every conversation.

The Interrogation. “What do you think about….? What is your favourite…? Why are you moving to…?” The listener gets wind of the idea that listening is about asking questions, which is good, but then peppers the speaker with them like a game of dodgeball, which is bad. Here we learn that questions, as helpful as they can be, can also be very controlling, and that they can be vehicles for the questioner’s agenda.

The Password. “Cheese. I had the best cheese at a dinner party with the mayor last week!” The listener sits quietly through the speaker’s conversation, but then seizes on one word that she uses, amid a sea of paragraphs, and treats it as a password that unlocks a whole new conversation. The original context has no bearing on where the password takes you. It sounds funny, but it happens more than you might think. The password sentence usually starts with “Speaking of…”

The Hijack. You have to give the listener credit with this one: at least he’s honest and doesn’t even pretend to use what the speaker said as a stepping stone. He refrains from speech while the other person talks and then just starts talking about whatever is on his mind, as though they are two deaf ships passing in the night. I’m reminded of a quote I heard once that says most people do not dialogue; they perform a monologue in the presence of another person.

The Mechanic. “Here is what you need to do.” This person listens like a mechanic listens to a sputtering engine, trying to diagnose the problem so she can fix it. Contrary to popular cultural thinking, both men and women are guilty of this one.

The Bone of Contention. “I disagree with that!” There are an unfortunate number of listeners who listen specifically for what they disagree with. Ask a pastor what people talk to him about after a sermon if you don’t believe me. Even if they agree with 99 percent of what a person says, they will pounce on the 1 percent they don’t agree with, and in doing so they ignore what is significant to the speaker.

The Deflector. “Yeah but you…” This one is a refuge for people who have a hard time receiving criticism, which, let’s be honest, is all of us. Someone offers us feedback, so we quickly return the favour without taking the time to absorb what he said.

The Boomerang Question. “Did you have a good weekend? Because I…” Here a person asks a question of another person with the true intention of answering it herself. The question goes out and then boomerangs back. If you know the answer to your own question, you probably shouldn’t ask it. Sometimes when I get a boomerang question, I’ll respond, “Why don’t you just tell me how your weekend went?” ?That usually gets my message across.

If I am “listening” in such a way that the speaker has to make an abrupt shift in focus over to me, then I’m not doing it right. I’ve learned that a good listener must be ruthless in pushing away the ever-present temptation to make the conversation about them. Good Listening always denies the natural selfishness of their own human heart and instead imitates the self-emptying attitude of Jesus who gave his life in love.

 

 


Today’s post was adapted from chapter six of Adam S. McHugh’s book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.

The Heidelberg Catechism

We’re in a series of articles exploring the councils and creeds of the Christian church. Why? Because when it comes to faithfully and diligently working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) we miss a great deal when we simply try to construct our own “real Christianity” with nothing more than a bible. To take heed from those who have gone before us is to benefit from the wealth found in the most important theological declarations of the Christian tradition.

Today we continue the series with a look at the Heidelberg Catechism.

Background

Only a few decades after Luther’s 95 theses appeared in Wittenberg, the Protestant church was already diverse in its theology. Unlike the Catholic church which had a set of central doctrines (established at the council of Trent), there was disagreement, and Protestants were only unified at the level of the five Solas, with various branches of Protestantism able to place their own interpretations over the top of that foundation. The Heidelberg Catechism served as a rallying point for the Reformed Protestant faith, unifying the doctrine while simultaneously providing a way of clearly teaching it to young and old Christians alike.

The Catechism

Aiming to be both of these things (a guide for religious instruction as well as a solid unified confession of faith), the catechism is divided up into 129 questions, which are then also formatted into 52 days to aid in teaching throughout the Sundays of the calendar year. Within these questions, there are discussions of every major area of Christian faith; including the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Supper, the Apostles’ Creed in detail, the gospel, and humanity’s response to the gospel. Question 1 of the catechism captures this summary of the whole gospel:

Question. What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Why It Matters

The Heidelberg catechism is one of the most famous documents of the Protestant Reformation, and not only did it rapidly gain popularity in its day, but 450 years later it is still the official statement of theology for many Reformed Protestant churches. It speaks clearly and without hesitation to divide heresy from sound doctrine in the fundamental issues of Christian faith, especially the content of the gospel.

Heinrich Bullinger wrote of the Heidelberg catechism:

“The order of the book is clear; the matter true, good, and beautiful; the whole is luminous, fruitful and godly; it comprehends many and great truths in a small compass. I believe that no better catechism has ever been issued.”

In short, this document deserves to be frequently read by and taught to Christians of every age.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

Wednesdays on the Web (08/11)

Looking Like Monastics

I heartily agree with the sentiment in this article. Too often Christian women are encouraged to ‘feel all the feels’ when it comes to their faith; seeking the Spirit but discouraged from engaging the intellect. I’ve been very glad to see so many excellent women bible teachers and theologians recently, and pray this continues to increase.

Hillsong Pastor Carl Lenz in the Spotlight

Pastors can’t dodge hard questions. Pastors are appointed by God to answer hard questions. They are the figures in the cosmos who must speak the truth.

How to Revive Lifeless Prayer

Of all the spiritual disciplines, surely the most essential are bible reading and prayer. But these can be difficult, and often we go through seasons of dryness. Here are 10 tips from The Master’s Seminary on how to breath life into your prayer life.

Emotional Intelligence is a Critical Trait

On this podcast episode, Thom Rainer covers the four characteristics of emotional intelligence that are essential for a pastor/church planter.

9 Ways to Protect your Children from Sexual Abuse

Justin & Lindsey Holcomb have written an excellent book (we’ve have this on our shelf for a few years now), and have distilled a summary of the main points here.

The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection

Recently I’ve been reading through Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, and I was struck by his exposition of the sixth beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. Bonhoeffer writes

A pure heart … belongs entirely to Christ; it looks only to him, who goes on ahead. Those alone will see God who in this life have looked only to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Their hearts are free of defiling images; they are not pulled back and forth by the various wishes and intentions of their own. Their hearts are fully absorbed in seeing God. They will see God whose hearts mirror the image of Jesus Christ.

A number of things struck me in reading Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this verse. The first was my complete inadequacy to ever be one who possesses a pure heart. What would it be like to never have an impulse or desire that became more important to me than Jesus—even for a second—so that my highest, uncontested desire is always for him and what he desires? I’m the first to admit that I would never have the strength to accomplish that kind of purity of desire on my own. And yet, the second thought that followed in rapid succession was that Jesus gave these commandments to help us realise exactly this. The law was given to point us to Christ, and so it is with the beatitudes. These traits that should be common to every Christian serve to put on display the God who loved us and saved us by giving his life for us.

When I consider the way that Scripture presents the one coherent narrative of God’s redemptive action towards all that he has made, I know that there are answers to be found to this initially impossible task. And I also know that God doesn’t give commands simply to get us down because we’ve realised we’ll never live up to the dizzying high standard.

The answer came to me while reading what God said to King Nebuchadnezzar through his servant Daniel. After interpreting the king’s dream (and not in the way the king was hoping for!) Daniel offers the king this sage advice:

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Daniel 4:27, emphasis mine)

How was the king to make progress towards a pure heart? He needed to break off his sins. But we all know that sin has a powerful hold, and we would almost always prefer the pleasure, fleeting though we know it is. But this is where the words of Daniel go a step further than what often occurs to us. We don’t simply stop doing something—leaving a void that only serves to remind us of the sin we’re trying to leave behind—we replace that desire with a true and better desire. We develop new habits, we form different neural pathways, we desire new delights. Jesus himself tells us that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are blessed because we shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Nothing else will ultimately satisfy these hearts that were made by God and for God, and so we recognise that what we need is the expulsive power of a greater affection. I’ve realised more that if I’m ever going to be successful in breaking off sin, I need to more actively seek after the all-satisfying Saviour.

Wednesdays on the Web (01/11)

The Proven Path to Mental Health

Christianity turns out to be the greatest, most beautiful story of redemption ever told. It addresses all our greatest and deepest needs and longings. It offers all of us the most hope, no matter who we are and how horrible we’ve been. When holistically believed and consistently lived, Christianity produces the most mentally healthy people history has ever known.

The Reformation and Doxology

A Reformed pastor from Tasmania who makes his opening argument by quoting a Christian hip-hop artist? I’m gonna read that.

Responding to CT’s Editorial Against the Nashville Statement

Denny Burk responds to the recent CT editorial in which the Nashville Statement was critiqued (which is welcome) yet Burk points out that CT utterly missed the mark when it comes to offering any kind of solid argument or scriptural basis for critique. Sorry CT, maybe next time.

The Obscenity of Indulgences

As we think about the issues surrounding the Reformation, the first one that comes to your mind if you’ve ever dipped your toe into reading about the Reformation is probably the practice of indulgences. Here’s a brief overview of the practice, why it was so wrong, and some inferred implications for the contemporary Christian.

The 95 eBooks Sale

Save up to 81% on these key eBooks on the Reformation, Reformed theology, and more.

BONUS: TGC’s Reformation 500 Statement

Wherever we find the Scriptures alone as the highest and final authority, grace alone as the only hope for sinners, faith alone as the only ground for justification, Christ alone as the only atoning sacrifice for sin, and God alone as the ultimate object of our worship—wherever we find these truths sung, savoured, and celebrated, we have reason to rejoice in the Reformation.

Prayers of the Saints Live

Launching on Nov 17, this new live album from SGM is guaranteed quality. Available for pre-order now.