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Month: December 2017

Unending Joy

Could it be that many of the pursuits that pervade our magazines, cover stories, and current affairs today are simply differently sized and shaped searches for real, lasting joy? Of all the gifts that we can receive at Christmas, perhaps the most meaningful for our world today is joy.

Few would deny that amongst shining pockets of hope that dot the landscape like lonely Christmas lights, the world is mostly getting worse. Wars, slavery, abuse at an all-time high, and many people powerless to the machinations of world leaders that no longer seem to hold to a system of ethics that aligns with traditional Christian values. So on this, the third Sunday of Advent it’s more timely than ever that we remember that Joy has come. Even as we see so many in oppression, turmoil, or depression we know that there is hope. Joy is not only a possibility; it’s a promise.

Joy Past

We look back to the stable in Bethlehem, of which the angels announced “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) and we see what John Piper has called the dawning of indestructible joy. The Creator has become the created in order to do what we could not to secure our redemption, and restore us to the relationship for which we were given life. We experience this joy firsthand when we hear the news of the birth of the saviour of the world, and bend our knee to the reality of his reign. This announcement rubs against the pursuits we see on our billboards and commercials, because we come to realise that joy is not found in something inside us, nor is it found in stuff. Oswald Chambers wrote “Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed.” Joy might be sought in many ways in many places, but the Christmas story is that Joy has come, and his name in Jesus.

Joy Present

Second, joy is possible for us today because when Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t simply leave us to our own devices, but he gave us the promised Holy Spirit, the evidence of which is our possession of joy (Galatians 5:22-23). When we look at the very words of Jesus, we see that his aim in all he taught was the joy of his people: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The story of the arrival of Jesus is a story of joy, but so much more than this: God himself is our joy!
Psalm 16:11 reads

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Joy Future

Finally, Advent is not only a time of patient anticipation as we look forward to celebrating the day of the arrival of true and lasting Joy, but we also look forward to the great Day when the baby boy of whom Isaac Watts wrote ‘Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” will return again as the reigning sovereign King, coming to bring all things to completion in himself; and fullness of joy for those who are his.

As Christians, we have a message which is joy from beginning to end, and we don’t have to wait until heaven to live a life characterised by joy, nor should we hesitate to share this good news continually. Rather, in the midst of trials, suffering, uncertainty, and a world which is increasingly hostile towards those who hold fast to Jesus, we possess an indestructible, eternal, all-conquering joy. May we rejoice today as we remember Christ and his promises, and may our hearts be filled with unending joy.

Wednesdays on the Web (13/12)

Is the Pope Right about the Lord’s Prayer?

I must admit I was fascinated to hear that the Pope has done more than simply recommend that the Lord’s prayer be amended for clarity, but that he’s actually given permission for his clergy to begin using his updated phrasing. To a certain extent, language shifts (or expands) over time, and words can take on a broader semantic range. So is the Pope on the right track here?

UPDATE: Al Mohler weighs in on the discussion.

Why Invest in the Men?

The church should never lose focus on its goal to fulfill the Commission to share the good news of the gospel with those who haven’t yet heard. But the church’s ministry is two-fold, the other side of that same coin being to make those new hearers into mature believers and disciples of Jesus Christ. Here are five excellent reasons why Pastors should proactively invest in the lives of the men under their charge.

Things Pastors Should Never Say

My favourite is number 7: “I have not had time to prepare today’s sermon as thoroughly as I should have.” But in all seriousness, there are good arguments here for why pastors need to adopt a careful vocabulary which excludes these phrases.

Sex Against God

Sex is not about securing pleasure for yourself, but about giving an incredible gift to your spouse.

Should We Capitalize Divine Pronouns?

I’ve been corrected by people on both sides of this argument, and I’ve never really had an opinion—in fact I’ve been pretty ambivalent, oscilating between the two. But I very much like the argument put forward by the highly respected Mounce, and I think it just settled the argument for me. Finally.

How to Grow Your Marriage While Having Young Kids

Jen Wilkin, Melissa Kruger, and Gavin Ortlund have some sage advice on ways to invest in your marriage during the busiest season of family (and they have more kids than me, which I found reassuring).

My Top 17 Books for 2017

As I look back over the books I read in 2017, coming up with a short list wasn’t easy. There has been so many valuable, entertaining, and formational pages published this year that it’s virtually impossible to select only one book as a category winner. So, in no particular order, here they are. All highly recommended.

The Listening Life

This could well be the greatest book of the 60+ books I’ve read this year. McHugh’s insight into how God as the Creator can potentially use any part of creation as his agent to speak to us is a wonderful way to expand our understanding of the transcended yet immanent God. With chapters on listening to creation, scripture, others, ourselves, and more, this book held so many lessons for a terrible listener like me that I’ll be re-reading this one very soon.

Keep an eye out for my review early in 2018.

God and the Transgender Debate

When someone experiences a dissonance between their biological sex and the gender they feel they identify with, this can cause deep distress and no small amount of conflict. It is a genuine experience which needs to be met with love; these are real people. In God and the Transgender Debate Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides, Walker delivers the truth in love, in a way which is helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.
Read my full review.

The Flash (New 52) Volume 1: Move Forward

Opinions are divided, but I love CW’s Flash. After reading Flash REBIRTH, this was a fantastic introduction to where the Flash is now, and where he’s going. The artwork is sublime, and the pace matches the momentum of CW’s Flash. In volume 1, Mob Rule wages a campaign of crime across Central City, plunging the city into darkness, and (in line with what we’re seeing in the current series of CW’s Flash) the only way Barry Allen can save his city is to make his brain function even faster than before — but as much as it helps him, it also comes at a steep price. My clear favourite in the Rebirthed DCU, hands down.

Meet Martin Luther: A Sketch of the Reformers Life

I’ve read a number of books on Luther in 2017 (plus attended a conference on Luther, and preached from Romans from the angle of the Reformation), and I wondered what value this one was going to add. However, in Meet Martin Luther, Selvaggio gives a brief but informative sketch that helps us to see Luther as he was, but I think it also kindles an interest in learning more about him.

None Like Him

In ten chapters Jen Wilkin looks at ten of God’s incommunicable attributes (things that are only true of God), showing that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. In a way that is accessible, but without losing any of its majesty, Wilkin talks about the importance of studying God’s attributes; getting to know this incomprehensibly glorious God who has not only made himself known to us, but wants to be known by us.

The Curious Christian

I quickly discovered that The Curious Christian describes two things simultaneously; the person I’m not and the person I should be. The Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with believing… “I believe, help my unbelief.” We should be people who are characterized by a godly curiosity, and who use that knowledge to connect people and cultures to God’s truth so they too can see God’s glory. Read my full review.

100 Cupboards

In January, February, and July I completed this delightful trilogy by N. D. Wilson. In the first book of the trilogy we meet Henry York, a boy who discovers in his bedroom portals to one hundred different worlds. The story has a wonderful The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-esque mix of the wondrous meeting the ordinary, and Wilson is a creative and talented world-builder.

Being There

Working through depression as he came to terms with needing care on a daily basis, Pastor Dave Furman writes of his journey (shared with his wife and four children) offering highly practical encouragement for how to love those who are walking through pain and suffering. Highly personal and practical, Furman offers strategy for helping those who are hurting, and also for those who are currently in the midst of suffering. Including a helpful chapter on how not to help, 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. Read my full review.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies. So isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to our own physiological signals. Learning to listen to our bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? I’ve learned that listening to my body is intrinsically connected to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.

Enjoy

Enjoy is a call to delight in the gifts that God has intended for us to enjoy, and see and know Him as the giver of these good gifts. As Newbell infuses her own story into each chapter, the richness of what it means to enjoy giving, resting, sex, food, art, and more is simultaneously encouraging and transformative. Rich with scripture, Enjoy continues to point the reader back to Christ as the ultimate gift of God that we should enjoy in and above everything else. Enjoy is relevant and readily adopted into the life of every Christian. Read my full review.

On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga (of which this is book one) takes the Most Fun Book Award for 2017. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, and their crippled sister Leeli live with their noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. Their adventures see them run from the venomous Fangs of Dang, horned hounds, and toothy cows. They seek after the lost jewels of Anniera, all the while pursued by a nameless evil named Gnag, the Nameless. On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is full of courage, discovery, and destiny. The best part is on the final pages, and I couldn’t click “Buy” on book two quickly enough.

The New City Catechism

I’m all for learning by catechism; after all, what is learning if not asking questions and getting understandable, concise yet comprehensive answers? The NCC is visually engaging, and (as I’ve said elsewhere about similar resources) packages profound theological truth in simple sentences that can be left as they are, or used as a launchpad for deeper discussion, depending on the ages of those seated at your table. Young and old in the faith will benefit from solidifying the foundational truths of Christianity with the NCC.

You Are What You Love

.When it comes to our spiritual formation, the average Western Christian has lost much of the value that comes from practices that quiet our souls and remind us of who we are. From society around us we run the risk of succumbing to bad doctrines and false narratives; carelessly adopting our secular culture’s daily liturgies. In You Are What You Love Smith argues for a return to intentional practices that immerse our souls in “liturgies indexed to the kingdom of God”. Read the full review

The Imperfect Disciple

If (like me) you’re among those who seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus, but are broken and in daily need of grace, then The Imperfect Disciple is for you too. Jared C. Wilson writes “Discipleship is for the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded” This is the best spiritual formation book I’ve read this year.
Read my Top 10 Quotes from the book.

Ordinary Saints

Returning to the biblical language, Devenish 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.” Saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel, because Ordinary Saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved—completely and unconditionally.
Read my full review.

Sing!

In Sing! Keith & Kristyn Getty masterfully communicate five goals; to discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing; to consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives; to cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life; to equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity; and to inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world. Quality reading for every Christian.
Read my full review.

I Am Spock

Currently my favourite autobiography, I Am Spock is so much more than the story of the actor who created the iconic Vulcan. Nimoy writes with the elegance of a seasoned entertainer; each sentence rich with experience and full of emotion. The ongoing dialogue with the internal and ever-present Mr. Spock sprinkles the whole journey with friendly banter as Spock and Nimoy seek to better understand each other, but also provides a fascinating insight into just how pervasive the development of this character became in Nimoy’s life. Thoroughly engaging; fun, gripping, hard to put down. Everything it should be.

So there you have it. My favourite reads for 2017. If you’d like to see the full list of what I read, you can view my 2017 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion

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 Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Background

In 1563 when the thirty-nine Articles were completed, state churches were appearing all over Europe and religion and political decisions were inseparable. While not technically a council or a creed, the Articles of Religion intended to clearly establish and articulate Anglican Theology (Church of England) over against the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists.

The Content

The Articles aimed to be catholic; that is, in agreement with the great ecumenical councils of the church about Jesus Christ and the Trinity. They also mention that the Roman Catholic church is indeed prone to error, while maintaining some of their practices (like use of the prayer book and their view of church hierarchy). However, when it comes to theology the Articles lean much more heavily towards a Protestant confession; the sufficiency of Scripture alone, the condemnation of the doctrines of Purgatory, Pardons, and Invocation of Saints. The Articles also call for reform to church structures to allow for services to be held in the common language, and allowing clergy to marry. Finally the Articles are both Protestant and evangelical in that they acknowledge the Five Solas and the number of sacraments, and are moderately Calvinistic in that they teach predestination and reject the idea of transubstantiation at the Lord’s Supper.

In the remainder of the Articles, this confession of the Church of England clarifies its stance on what it considered to be secondary issues; original sin, free will, and infant baptism. The purpose here was to clearly establish her orthodoxy within mainstream Protestantism. The document was very well written; narrow enough to clearly identify the unique expression found in the Church of England, yet  broad enough that all English Protestants could stand by it. The only real point of contention was on the presentation of the twin doctrines of predestination and election. The church warned that these matters must be handled with care, as they were likely to cause offence to the unbelieving.

Why It Matters

The thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a good example of establishing fertile soil in which healthy theological conversation can grow, while simultaneously laying down borders outside which heresy is found. Perhaps the most relevant section for the church today is actually the longest of the thirty-nine Articles; Article 17 on predestination. It reads:

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

I found this excellent article written in May of 2017 which discusses it very well. It concludes by saying “So if you are worried about your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are confident of your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then we will praise and love him in eternal security.”

 

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

Wednesdays on the Web (06/12)

What Student Ministry Really Needs? Homework

Jen Wilkin is on the money in this article where she communicates that teens should take Bible study as seriously as school and sports practice.

10 Must-Read Posts for Young Christian Wives

Full disclosure: I didn’t read all of the articles linked through here in full, but I poked around in most of them. They’re well written, and will provoke thought, and hopefully healthy discussion.

The inspiration of Wonder Woman & the Disappointment of its Postscript

Melinda Cousins (biblical studies lecturer at Tabor Adelaide) reflects on the success of Wonder Woman, and provides a critique of this portrayal as it continued in Justice League.

Diana Prince in 2017’s Wonder Woman is both empowered and empowering. She is heroic, brave and strong. She is the protagonist of her own story, but the men surrounding her do not appear threatened or emasculated by her. She is portrayed as clearly feminine and yet not overly sexualised. She is emotionally vulnerable, idealistic, perhaps even naïve, and her greatest strengths lie in her compassion, her love and her hope. She upends the assumptions that a parade of men make about her to ensure that she is fully heard and seen. She fires up our imagination of what a girl can be.

Go Set a Watchman

Carl Lentz is back being biblically wishy-washy on Christians ethics. Again.

The 2018 Reading Challenge is Here

I first picked up Tim Challies’ reading challenge a few years ago, and greatly appreciated the way that it forced me to read outside of my normal interests, genres, and worldview. Whether you have a kindle, a library card, your local church, or that friend with too many books at home, there’s a way to enjoy a balanced diet of books that will entertain, challenge, and motivate you to be a better person. The benefits are as plentiful as the books.

Waiting in the Dark

Advent creates space to acknowledge that God’s work of redemption is not yet finished.

God’s Will in Seven Words

The next time you or someone you care about is wrestling with the will of God, try helping them out with these seven words.

One Important Gnome

What I Read in November

November was a month that felt like it flew past at the speed of light.  In the rare moments I was able to steal this month, I started another book on Luther, my kindle has the first book in the Five Solas series, I purchased a couple of Batman/Flash trade paperbacks, and I’ve continued my read through Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship. Most of my time was dedicated to the two titles below however, and I can tell you that they both made me feel like I was back at Bible College. Both are so weighty; every paragraph bursting with content that felt like a five course meal. As a result, I read slowly, read carefully, took notes, and often felt like having a nap after I finished a chapter. That said, I recommend both these titles as they’re both goldmines that deserve to be plundered for the vast wealth they contain.

This Listening Life

As we’re now in December and there isn’t much of 2017 left, I can say with some confidence that this could well be the greatest book of the 60 books I’ve read this year. I had to read so many chapters more than once, stopped to write 3 blog posts and many more notes, and plan on re-reading the whole thing again early next year. Take it from a guy who is a terrible listener all-round, I am immensely grateful to Adam S. McHugh for teaching me so many things that I need to constantly learn and re-learn on my journey to becoming a better listener.
Keep any eye out for my review of this one early next year. With chapters covering listening to creation, scripture, others, and ourselves, this really is a book for every Christian.

Spiritual And Religious

“I’m spiritual, just not religious.” It’s a phrase that is often heard among churchgoers as a way to downplay their lukewarm Christianity, and sometimes by those who don’t go to church, but still wish to be validated as Christian. But what does this “spirituality” consist of? In Spiritual and Religious Tom Wright argues that, whether people realize it or not, they are often simply reverting to forms of ancient paganism that are very similar to those that confronted the earliest Christians.
This book was another heavy read, and not recommended for the lighthearted—but it puts forward a compelling argument to a very important and prolific problem.

Now What?

December’s reading list has now been compiled, and I can tell you, I’ll be taking it easier over the holiday season. Look out for a longer, lighter list of literary leisure in the coming weeks.

 


See what else I read in 2017:

I’m Glad Today is about Hope

If there is one thing that the world needs more of, certainly it would be hope. We live in a world which continues to suffer as a result of moral decline. Drawn-out periods of war, political ignorance of the plight of the poor, and widespread support for issues which contravene the created order. On one hand, its easy to see that the world is increasingly a place without hope. However, as I sat with our two youngest boys this morning, we talked about the significance of today in the calendar of the church. Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the season of anticipation in which we look forward to the coming of the saviour of the world; both the arrival of the Saviour at Christmas, and his immanent return. It’s a season filled with hope; but what exactly does that mean?

What I Love about Hope

Scripture speaks of hope as an expectation of the unseen and of the future (Rom 8:24-25), the ground upon which our hope is based (i.e. “Christ in you the hope of glory”, Col 1:27), the confidence of the coming resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6), and objectively about God himself as the author of hope—not merely the subject—the “God of hope” (Rom 15:13). Unlike the poor parody of hope that the world offers, hope for the Christian has its foundation in a God who has already come and fulfilled his promises to us, giving us every reason to trust that what he says, he does. Hope came to the world that night in a stable in Bethlehem; and with his life, death, and resurrection hundreds of God’s promises made known to humanity over hundreds of years through a dozen different authors all came to be fulfilled. So when I talk about hope with my boys, I talk about the joyful anticipation of seeing all of history continue to unfold in the exact way that Jesus promised. For our family, this includes the confident assurance of being reunited with deceased loved ones in the presence of Jesus. It means new, perfect bodies suited for life in heaven. It means no more tears, or pain, or mourning, or depression, or unforgiveness, or hate.

Today is the Sunday of Hope. And this Advent season as we fix our gaze toward the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas morning and the wonder and magnitude of the invitation that accompanies the news of that event, our hearts are filled with joy knowing that the one who came to save the world will soon come again to claim what he has redeemed. Jesus Christ has proven himself to be utterly trustworthy, infinitely powerful, totally sovereign, and unquestionably supreme. Our hope is built on nothing less.

Come, Lord Jesus. Soon.

Getting (More) Excited about Christmas

Total honesty—I’m not the biggest house-decorating, Santa hat-wearing, festive Christmas person ever. Lest you think I’m the Grinch though, know that every December I anticipate the coming of the Saviour of the world by singing carols with gusto; celebrating family, friends, and food with the same gusto; and participate in the giving and receiving of gifts to remind myself that God gave the ultimate gift to us that night in a stable in Bethlehem. I just don’t tend to get too excited about, well, all the other stuff. All that said, this year I find myself feeling much more enthusiastic about getting into all things Yuletide. So in that spirit, here is a short list of things that I’ve started enjoying (yes, even before the 1st of December):

Music

I’m enjoying two Christmas albums; Lauren Daigle’s Behold, and Christmas Collection Vol. 1 by Sleeping At Last (both released in 2017). I first encountered Lauren Daigle when she sang Noel on Chris Tomlin’s Adore album (see the clip). With New Orleans-style horns and Lauren’s enchanting vocals, Behold is the album that got me listening to Christmas music before December 1 for the first time ever.
My praise for Sleeping At Last’s latest release is similar; I love the fresh, laid-back take on many Christmas favourites (there’s plenty of original tracks too). I enjoyed being surprised by the easy listening, and the lack of literally everything that I dislike about most Christmas music. I have a feeling that both of these albums will enter regular rotation on my Christmas playlist for years to come.

Advent

Beginning on Sunday the 3rd of December, and lasting until Christmas Eve, Advent 2017 is another opportunity for us as individuals, families, and churches to rejoice and contemplate together the two advents of Christ—one already, and the other not yet.

Last year, our family prepared for Christmas with Advent daily readings from The Expected One. They’re short—and like any good book designed for family devotion—package profound theological truth in simple sentences that can be left as they are, or used as a launchpad for deeper discussion, depending on the ages of those seated at your table. In addition to this again, I’ve also just ordered a copy of The Littlest Watchman to read with our two youngest. Although, from what I’ve heard (and what I can see from the artwork) I think we’re all going to enjoy reading this one too.
Personally, I also read through John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, because few people remind me like Piper that Christmas is about adoring Jesus.

Lights

In addition to this, Christmas enthusiasts will give assent upon hearing that we’ve also begun wrapping our house in lights. Unlike some others in our street, we’re not trying to compete with the Eiffel Tower or be seen from space, but our kids are old enough now to enjoy the activity, and the nightly anticipation of waiting for the sun to go down (Christmas runs on solar power at our house) brings a lesson and also a reward.

Last, As I’ve given in to essentially every other Christmassy thing by late November this year, the one thing I’m sticking to my guns on is the tree. For those who ask the question every year, allow me to put the matter to rest for you: as today is the 1st of December, you may now put up your tree. You’re welcome.