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Month: May 2018

You and I Are Barabbas

When it comes to reading ourselves into the great stories of Scripture, many of us would like to think that we’re David—the unlikely underdog who was victorious at conquering the giant in his life—or perhaps Job who went through immense trials but due to his continual clinging to God came out with great blessing and restoration. We often read Scripture in this way as a means of encouragement that although the Christian life is hard, the Bible has good news for us ‘weary Christian soldiers’ that the blessing is worth the battle and God is indeed for us. In his 2018 book Kiss the Wave Dave Furman points out that you and I are in fact a character in the central story of Jesus Christ himself. But we’re not the glamorous, conquering Bible character that we often think we’d like to be.

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus was arrested and taken for trial, where he was sentenced to death. Matthew 27:22-24 reveals that Pilate didn’t truly want to send Jesus to death, but he bowed to the overwhelming pressure of the crowd. At this time on the Jewish calendar, it was Passover. Tradition held that the Roman Empire would allow one prisoner to go free, the Jews being the ones who had the power of choice. Seeing an opportunity to avoid condemning an innocent man Pilate offered the crowd their choice: take Jesus (who had done no wrong) or Barabbas; his worst prisoner, a murderer, and essentially a terrorist.

But the crowd chose Barabbas. Pilate asked the crowd three times to be sure. When he asked the crowd what should be done with Jesus, this man who had done no wrong, they replied together “Let him be crucified!” The crowd chose a murderer over the one who brought the dead back to life. They chose evil over the one who taught love of neighbour and who himself loved others perfectly.

Often when this story is read we think about Pilate, the cruel crowds, and Jesus. But recently it’s been Barabbas that I’ve seen in a more profound light. Barabbas was under the sentence of death for his crimes, and he knew he deserved it. Under the Roman Empire there was no hope for him; no appeals, no parole, no rights. All he can do is wait. Then the day comes when the guards open the door and take him from his cell, bringing him out into the light and the view of the crowd—except they’re not here to see his execution but are instead celebrating his release! The murderer goes free. Barabbas hears the shouting: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” but it’s for a different man. The guards are now dragging Jesus of Nazareth to his death. They place a cross on his back; the cross meant for Barabbas. And Barabbas realises that’s my death he’s dying. Barabbas is the one person in history who can literally say that Jesus died in his place. Barabbas was given the freedom that Jesus deserved. Jesus bore the guilt and shame and disgrace and death that Barabbas deserved.

This is the gospel; the Jews chose the wrong man, but God put forward the right one. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Friend, you and I are Barabbas. We are all living under the sentence of death, powerless to save ourselves. We need someone to take our place, and thankfully as we read the stories of Scripture we not only see who we truly are, but we see Jesus Christ who—in the greatest exchange in all of human history—loved us and freed us by giving his life for us.

I wonder if Barabbas eventually heard the news.

Just Open the Door

When it comes to hospitality, the first image that pops into our minds might be the Instagram-worthy dinner table, with perfectly aligned silverware and meticulously arranged centrepieces. Our kids’ birthday parties have become not-so-subtle competitions to see which über-creative mother can lay out the most ornate table of tasty treats, under brightly coloured bunting (homemade, of course) and vintage lights. For many of us (perhaps women in particular) inviting people into our homes and our lives might feel like inviting judgment of our entertaining skills, and so hospitality can feel like a drain on already limited resources or already maxed-out schedules. This is exactly why Jen Schmidt’s new book Just Open the Door (released on 10th April 2018) is such a calming, liberating breath of fresh air as she writes to reframe our whole picture of what Christian hospitality actually looks like.

She writes

Somehow we’ve dressed up this simple desire to gather, and we’ve laced it with imposing expectations and the pressure of performance. We’ve packed the calendar so full of busyness that it’s created unnecessary bondage, making the concept of margin merely a myth. Why have we made community so difficult? And how do we—how do I—help bring back what’s been lost?

As Schmidt searched Scripture for the varying roles that hospitality played, she repeatedly points out three main purposes: encouragement to other believers, discipleship, and evangelism. Loving our neighbour and investing in the lives of those around us doesn’t require an agenda, a clean home, or a picture-perfect high tea. In fact, Schmidt points to the fact that her image of a cozy, home-based hospitality was “drop-kicked into the end zone” when she first realized that Jesus, the One we model hospitality after, never owned a home. Yep, ponder that for a minute. Jesus, who embodied the ultimate lifestyle of hospitality—the living portrait of all things welcoming—did not own a home. And yet Jesus knew how to take seemingly insignificant moments where all we’re doing is putting others at the top of our priority list for a time, and become fully present in those moments to cultivate authentic relationship with people that we are commanded to love, then watching as God does whatever he desires to do with it from there.

When it comes to extending invitations Schmidt points out that long before Facebook or the Internet, the table was the first and most important social platform ever built.  She writes:

We need to get up from our safe, anonymous distance behind our heated Facebook debates and our opinionated rants and actually live like Jesus lived. Get messy. Be real. Stir up your guest lists, instead of stirring the pot. Our table, like Jesus’ table, should be one that offers radical, even scandalous grace. To all. To anyone.

Schmidt’s writing is beautiful and from the heart. For years she has been encouraging women to drop the idea of entertaining, and instead just open the door—just as we are—so that our guests may encounter the gospel of grace in the everyday. We invite and gather because God did it first. As I read Just Open the Door I felt lovingly encouraged to widen my understanding of what Christian hospitality looks like, and to see that loving others well doesn’t happen by chance. Plus, when we extend the boundaries to deliberately welcome more variety and diversity into our homes we begin to unearth the uniqueness others bring to the conversation. By widening the table to a wealth of new discoveries and shared perspectives, that’s how we most vividly reflect the true kingdom of God.

Just open the door.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Make Much of Him

I was listening to Jackie Hill Perry’s new album recently and was struck by some lines from Shai Linne in the song “Hymn” in which he says “Why we gotta talk about him? Hmm, wrong question. We ain’t gotta talk about him.  We get to talk about him. We were made to make much of him”. It’s a thought that has stayed with me and has been swirling around in my head. I’ve found that so often these days we don’t really talk about God so much. Instead, we focus on living a holy life and God pops up as a side character in our pursuit of a better life. We say that Jesus is the centre of what we do but we never actually focus on him.

Before people start getting the wrong idea let me be clear. I’m certainly not opposed to sanctification or teaching on living a holy life. What I think we get wrong is the starting point. So often we start with looking at wrong behaviours and actions when I think we should start by looking at who God is and what He is like. There are passages in scripture that I think we can use to support this. One that comes to mind is Isaiah 6.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah 6:1-5

The passage puts the full focus on God and his holiness. There’s no practical application in this text, there’s no Five-Step Plan, no handy tips on how we should live. God doesn’t tell Isaiah to live in a particular way. Instead, God brings Isaiah into his presence and lets him see God’s holiness and glory. Isaiah sees this and responds appropriately, namely in grief and repentance. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that this vision and his subsequent cleansing by God then affected how he lived his life. We see a similar thing happening at the end of the book of Job. God speaks and spends the better part of four chapters highlighting his greatness. How does Job respond to this? With grief and repentance.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Job 42:5-6

So, what do we do with this? Let us look full at the Glory of God. Let us see His holiness and greatness through his revelation in the Old Testament and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Let us stand in comparison to the almighty God, despite our sinful selves and fall at the foot of the cross in grief and repentance. If we come to truly see who God is, we will see ourselves and through our repentance will be sanctified.

 

Jackie Hill Perry’s Crescendo can be purchased on iTunes or is freely given at Humble Beast.

 


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.

EVENT: God and the Transgender Debate

Can a boy be “trapped” in a girl’s body? Can modern medicine actually “reassign” sex? And what is the most loving response towards a person who is experiencing conflict between the gender they appear to be, and the gender they feel that they are?

The phenomenon of transgenderism raises many important questions and is full to overflowing with ontological assertions; the big idea being that people are who they claim to be, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. But is this conviction—that we are the sum total of what our feelings say we are—supported by biology, psychology or philosophy?

This Monday (21st May 2018) I will be examining the transgender movement in light of current scientific and psychiatric research, and showing how the gospel of Jesus Christ calls the church to respond to the transgender community in several unique ways, ultimately pointing them to the redemption and healing found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Questions? This 45 minute presentation will be followed by a time of open Q&A.

Monday 21st May, 7:30pm
North Pine Baptist Church
44-46 Ogg Rd, Murrumba Downs, Queensland

 

For the event, directions, and details see the Facebook event page.

Supernatural Power for Everyday People

Hot on the heels of Jared C. Wilson’s brilliant May 2017 release The Imperfect Disciple (which I said a few words about), there are so many things that I recommend about his latest release Supernatural Power for Everyday People. At first glance, you might expect that a book with a title like this has come from a charismatic preacher or slightly off-target Pentecostal—but Wilson has worked hard to produce not only a solid introduction to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, but to develop a practical theology for the way in which ordinary saints can walk in step with the supernatural Spirit every day. His book is an enjoyable read and easy to understand. Because I just couldn’t narrow it down, here are 10 of my favourite quotes from the book.

The first mistake we make is looking inside ourselves for the help we need. We won’t find the solution in the place where the problem is.

Too many of us spend our Christian lives waiting on something big to happen, completely oblivious to the fact that the biggest thing that could ever happen to us already did, and it’s more than enough. In fact, to be greedy for something more is to suggest that what’s been given is somehow deficient.

Our souls are dry from sin and striving, and we’re in the oasis of the world drinking up more sand. Then God comes down with living water. And so we have divine power for life. But also divine power for godliness! The same gospel power that justifies us also sanctifies us (1 Cor. 6:11). The same power that regenerates us now counsels and convicts us and leads us into all truth. The same glory that demands we be holy begins to make us holy!

This is why many churches conclude public Scripture readings with the declaration, “This is the Word of the Lord.” It may seem to some like merely a liturgical flourish, some kind of rote religious formality. But for many of us, it is a way to remind our hearers and ourselves that these words are different, that these words are special, supernatural. These words come from God himself, and when they are read, whether silently or aloud, God is speaking.

Your time in the Bible is the primary means by which the Holy Spirit empowers you to live your life. If you don’t want this power, by all means, don’t go to your Bible. Go to Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. Go to cable news or satellite sports. Go to the movies or a self-help seminar. Go anywhere else if it’s not power you’re interested in. But if you want to dwell daily in the supernatural realm of God’s kingdom and hear the very words of God, your Bible is where it’s at.

Is prayer powerful? Yes, definitely, but specifically because the one being prayed to is powerful. The one doing the praying is, by her praying, demonstrating that she has no power in and of herself. That is functionally what prayer is—an expression of helplessness. If we were powerful, we wouldn’t need to pray.

So how do we reach contentment? We start where we are, not looking ahead to what is next. We begin with a hope for deliverance, provided we are really in need of it, but also with a trust that God is refining us through the circumstances in which he has presently placed us. It is just that—being present. Show up, in this moment, for submission to God. Wave the white flag. Trust that the cross you are bearing is not the end of his story, but accept that cross as necessary and get everything out of it that is there to get.

The Holy Spirit is not creating supernatural lone rangers. He is doing something through our redeemed relationships that in our narrow individualistic vision we would never have conceived of ourselves. The Holy Spirit is making a church.

When you choose to sin with the world, you go the way the world is going. But when you choose to join the sinner-saints in the body of Christ, the same people you sin with are the people you’ll reign with. If you are going to spend eternity with these people, you should probably start figuring out how to live with them now. This is the whole point of human relationships, really—to glorify God by living graciously with others as Christ has lived graciously with us. When you think about it that way, taking the risk of engaging relationships in the church is no risk at all. And yet it’s startling how many people try to do Christian life apart from church.

In Paul’s way of thinking here, it is not that we aren’t doing something. We are. We’re walking (5:16), we’re following a lead (5:18), and we’re keeping in step with the Spirit (5:25). We’re not passive. But the real work of transformation is coming by the Spirit through the gospel. And just as that gospel is like a mustard seed that becomes a tree big enough for all the birds of the air to come make their nests, the gospel is like a seed in our hearts that, cultivated by the Spirit, grows into an amazing harvest of precious fruit.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

What I Read in April

Ready Player One

This is another one of those “they’re making a movie, so I should probably read the book” decisions. Due to a heavy reading load this month in other areas, I grabbed this one from Audible to give my eyes a break. Narrated by Wil Wheaton (who was brilliant), Ready Player One turned out to be a highly entertaining story, filled with more 80s pop references than I ever thought possible. It was a fun, emotive, creative world with the right amount of unyielding, unbeatable villain and highly satisfying for a child of the 1980s. I enjoyed the (audio)book so much that I probably won’t see the movie for fear of disappointment.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

How could you possibly add to The Princess Bride? You can’t of course unless you’re Cary Elwes and you write a book of memories about the whole journey from film creation, shooting, and reunions while participating in the 25th anniversary reunion with the cast. Then, make it an audiobook narrated by Cary, and mix in interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner. This book was an absolute blast. With story after story from multiple members of the cast (read by them), this audiobook is a must-have for fans.

Christianity and the Transgender Phenomenon

I’m in the process of preparing to teach a short lesson at my local church about transgender. I’ve been researching heavily in preparation for this highly sensitive topic. While I feel the weight of the issue, it’s actually about people. And so this presentation is aimed at growing an awareness of the main arguments, but equally about developing a good biblical ethic and a gospel-centered framework for communicating the truth in love. If you’re local and would like to attend, you can see the details of the talk here.
     
See what else I read in 2018:

4 Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

There are many things I’m enjoying in life right now. These things include quality coffee with my Aeropress; Avengers: Infinity War; being a dad and watching my younger kids (age 2 and 3) discover new things; my own (hopefully) journey of growth in understanding my wife more; learning new things about Jesus; Jesus himself (roughly in that order, ascending). But, here are four more things I’m specifically enjoying this week.

1. Writing

Lately I’ve found myself spending more time with pen and paper. I’m not a neat writer or a fast writer either, but I’m still particular about the tools I use. Being left-handed I can’t tolerate pens that pool ink or take too long to dry, and I don’t like cheap notebooks with paper that bleeds through or binding that can’t handle a little bending. So when I pull out my moleskine notebook and Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen (which is the greatest affordable pen in the world) I have confidence in the tools, which means I can write with less distraction and put more focus into carefully crafting sentences. I’ve been writing more lately (even if no one else will ever read most of it) and reading more about becoming a better writer too. Finally, paper and pen bring the added benefits of being Internet-free (no pop-up notifications), and they don’t require a power supply.

2. Night Walks with my Dog

What began as an obligation to the new four-footed member of our family has fast become a routine that I’ve not only tried hard to maintain, but have come to take full advantage of. After our 2 young ones are in bed, I head out with our puppy (who is almost 12 months old) because he is frustratingly nocturnal and gets his biggest energy boost after the sun has gone to bed. But these walks under star-filled skies with only my thoughts and my dog have come to be a time to debrief the day, think and pray through lessons learned, and re-center myself. Mornings are for to-do lists and making appointments; night walks have become a chance to theologically reflect on the day, and listen for ways I can become better for tomorrow.

3. Productivity Apps

I have a terrible memory. Thanks to apps such as Todoist (which I talk about here and here) I’ve managed to build scaffolding around this weakness and make my way through life without disappointing everyone who I’ve made a commitment to in one way or another. Unfortunately, my iPhone was broken recently and my employer issued me a Samsung phone to replace it—which incidentally you’ll find at number 1 on my ‘5 Things I’m Decidedly Not Enjoying Right Now’. Despite this setback, Todoist still plays an integral part in nudging me to run those errands, pay that bill, and pray for that person. I’m grateful because it gives me freedom to fix my active attention on the things that matter most, while not forgetting the things that still need to be done.

4. Bandcamp

Lately I’ve been living in Bandcamp’s Jazz>Big Band section. I love the trumpets, the fast-moving keys, and the women whose smoky, full-bodied voices take you back to the swing and jazz of the 1920s with all the quality and clarity of an album produced in 2018. I’m also enjoying discovering bands I’ve never heard of like Moonshine Rhythm Club (Nashville, Tennessee), Hot Sugar Band (Paris, France), and Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles (Denver, Colorado). There’s no ads, I don’t have to tolerate ‘suggestions’ of other artists mixed in with my songs of choice, and yet I can still try whole albums before I buy, and buy cheaply to boot.

What have you been enjoying lately?