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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

How to Ruin Your Life

More often than I care to admit I come across a book that seems like it was written just for me. I say that I don’t care to admit that because these aren’t books about winning at parenting, nailing a solid devotional life, or cracking the secret to my Best Life Now. No, I’m talking about the books that light up the biggest areas of sin in my life like a glowing neon sign. Eric Geiger’s How to Ruin Your Life: And Starting Over When You Do illustrates from the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) the ease with which I can bring ruin to my own life.

David was called a man after God’s own heart. He gave us wonderful, timeless Psalms like Psalm 23 and we hold him up as one who in many ways was a prefiguring of Jesus. But David wasn’t perfect and sometimes the lessons we learn from his life are those of what not to do. When it comes to his tragic downfall through the taking of Bathsheba, Geiger points to three lessons; three traits that David failed to handle correctly that led to his ruin, and could just as easily lead to mine too.

Isolation

First, David’s downfall was caused by isolation. David remained in his palace while his servants and all Israel went out to battle (2 Samuel 11:1). This left David more vulnerable to making foolish decisions—enter Bathsheba—because those who normally acted as his checks and balances were nowhere to be seen. In choosing to withdraw from those people who would say something when he needed it, David succumbed to sin.

Scripture connects walking in the light with having fellowship with other believers; walking in holiness with living in community. A drift from Christian community is an inevitable drift into darkness. A step away from community is a step towards implosion. Geiger writes

The Christian faith is not an independent faith but an interdependent one, a faith that relies on other believers for encouragement, care, prayer, forgiveness, and support…
…To set yourself up for an implosion, simply fail to surround yourself with people who will say something to you when they see your life unattended. To implode, choose isolation over community.

The story of David’s implosion reminds me that anyone can fall. My sin needs to be kept in check, and the body of Christ is the place God has designed for these checks and balances to be. I’m reminded that it’s when I am alone that I’m most tempted to ignore my responsibilities, let my guard down, and give in to my sinful nature.

Boredom

Second, David’s downfall was caused by boredom. Geiger points out that boredom isn’t simply ‘having nothing to do’ as though David the king had some lack in his life for things to occupy his time. Rather, boredom is more fully understood as ‘the unfulfilled desire for satisfaction’. David’s ruin came because when he was bored, he forgot the joy of his salvation and took his eyes off God.

Like David, my problem isn’t a lack of things to take up my time. And (unlike David) while my boredom will likely never lead to adultery, I’m confronted with the question that asks “how often am I unfaithful to God in my sin because in moments of boredom I failed to avert my eyes from temptation and instead fix them on the one who saved my soul?” The nineteenth-century theologian Thomas Chalmers writes of our desire for Jesus overshadowing all other needs, calling it “the expulsive power of a greater affection”. To avoid ruin in the face of temptation, I must see Christ as my all-satisfying Saviour.

Pride

Finally, David’s downfall was caused by pride. Upon realising the seriousness of his sin, David could have owned his failure and approached Bathsheba’s husband in humility and repentance. Instead, he plotted to cover his sin with yet more sin; arranging to have Uriah killed and taking Bathsheba for himself. Only when finally confronted by Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 did David write Psalm 51 out of desperate repentance.

Geiger writes of the lesson for me

Continuing in our pride is what will lead to our ruin. The way to avoid self-destruction is to recongise our pride and quickly repent, to own it and fall fast.

My pride is possibly my biggest sin. I struggle with correction and find it even harder to own my failures to my wife and children. And just like David, too often I try to cover the sin with more sin, which only makes the inevitable failure more tragic and costly. But I’m grateful that the story of David doesn’t end there, rather it points me to the truth that no matter how I ruin my life God’s grace continues to be greater than my sin.

What now?

Geiger tells us that when David rejected community, he fell short of God’s design for relationships. When David lusted after Bathsheba, he missed the mark of God’s holy love. When David was bored, he missed the mark by failing to reflect on God’s beauty. When he plotted Uriah’s murder, he missed the mark of trusting God as the giver and taker of life. When he attempted the elaborate cover-up, he fell short of God’s truthfulness. Through every stage in his fall, David missed the mark.

If you’re reading this and—like me—feel confronted by the sting of your own failures, Geiger reminds you and me that from the union of David and Bathsheba came Solomon, and the sacred lineage continued all the way to Jesus. God fashioned a beautiful story from the mess David made of his life, and God can fashion a beautiful story from our ruin too.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Christian Classics: Round 5

The Christian life is meant to be lived out in community. Rather than doing our best to “work out our salvation” in isolation from other believers, intentionally spending time with and learning from our brothers and sisters in Christ is richly rewarding… actually, I’d say it’s required. On this shared journey towards Christlikeness, we work together to deepen our understanding of God through the means of grace (scripture and prayer) and the church community is the crucible in which we learn how to better apply the teachings of Jesus to the way we live our lives.

In addition to regular church attendance (also required for Christians), I’m part of a group that meets together regularly to read, discuss, and learn from the writings of great men and women of faith throughout history. These spiritual forebears of ours have much to speak into our lives today from the timeless words of scripture, and we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t take time to listen to what they have to say. Most recently, the group has spent time studying the works of Christians such as Karl Barth, J. I. Packer, and Martin Luther. We’ve loved learning more about spiritual disciplines, evangelism, personal piety, loving one another, understanding the person and work of Jesus, and living the Christian life.

Who is the next author, and what does he have to say?

The next round of Christian Classics is about to begin, and members of the group will soon be placing orders for the next book with anticipation. We’re taking a look at G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. It’s been said of this work that

Men and women have become Christians solely from reading this one book. If you are not a Christian, beware this book. It will possibly convert you. If it does not, then it will probably irreparably harden your heart. A book to save you eternally or to damn you to hell forever. Amazing.

Considered to be Chesteron’s finest work, this book is still remarkably relevant. He addresses evolution, feminism, and cultural relativism within the context of religion. The book also examines religious skepticism by exploring questions such as “How does one sustain belief in Jesus Christ—and the Church—when, throughout history, the key to religious truth has been constantly reshaped?” According to Chesterton, what matters is an emphatic affirmation of Christian faith, and the book seeks to equip Christians with the tools, while being written with Chesterton’s characteristic wit and wisdom. Perhaps most importantly, it appeals to the mind as well as the heart.

We truly stand on the shoulders of giants. We have so much to learn from the great men and women of the Christian faith who have forged a path for us; why don’t you join us as we read through some of their most classic works and discover more of the glory of Christ together.

Contact me via social media (buttons can be found here on the site) if you’d like to be involved, either in person or online.

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What I Read in May

Just Open the Door

Jen Schmidt calls hospitality a cornerstone of the Christian faith. It isn’t the responsibility of those specific few who possess the ‘gift’ of hospitality, nor is it all about having the perfectly set table and immaculate house. Schmidt seeks to reframe our understanding of Christian hospitality through taking a look at Jesus (who, as our model of hospitality didn’t even own a home). Her book is full of wonderful, heartfelt stories and practical suggestions, but most of all she shows that demonstrating Christ’s love in our everyday is no more complicated than simply opening our door.

Kiss The Wave

Dave Furman knows a thing or two about disability, depression, and dark nights of the soul. His latest work is a real, raw look at what those times look like, what developing a solid theology of suffering can do for you in those times, and the immeasurable joy that is available to the Christian when they see their circumstances as being from God, with God, and ultimately for God. Kiss the Wave is loaded with gospel and insight into the life of the suffering Christian. This book pulls no punches, and I loved it.

How to be a Writer

With 20 years experience teaching Writing at Harvard Divinity School, Barbara Baig believes that you don’t have to be born a writer; you can become one. Her book has so much to offer those who would seek to develop better writing craft, and the book is full of methods, tools, and practices for writing suited to any genre. From high-level collection of content and the practice of freewriting, through to the development of a Zero Draft and recognising how to engage with different categories of readers, I’ve already built her practices into my current writing. I’m looking forward to her second book: Spellbinding Sentences.

Crazy Busy

DeYoung wrote this book for me. As someone who has a hard time saying no to ‘the good’ when I should only be saying yes to ‘the best’, Crazy Busy helped remind me of the need for vision and focus in choosing how to divide my time. I also need to be told continually that rest isn’t simply something good for our mental, spiritual, and emotional health, however, it’s actually an act of faith and dependence on the God who works when we don’t. A timely reminder for today.

See what else I read in 2018:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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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?

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Reflections on a Mental Health Forum

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a live panel discussion between a number of people whose lives have been marked by anxiety, depression, or related mental health issues. I say privilege because for a person to be vulnerable enough to share their story with another (let alone a room full of people) shows remarkable courage, and the first words that come to my mind are thank you. We have all contended, are contending, or likely will contend at some point in our lives with issues that affect our mind, our psychology, or our understanding of who we are as human beings. To sit and listen to these shared experiences was a wonderful, astounding experience for which I am humbled and profoundly grateful.

As a Christian (which includes being both a member of society, and an active member of a local church) I was both impressed by and drawn to this event; that a church would create a safe forum for people to raise real issues in real lives is something there should be much more of. As the Church, we could do worse than forego the odd Sunday sermon or two in place of taking the time to expand the average Christian’s (often underdeveloped) theology of suffering. As I listened to each of the speakers, I knew immediately that I sat among those who still know nothing about the depth, darkness, and damage that can come without invitation, and sometimes seem to stay without end.

What struck me the most while listening to these four people share their stories was the incredible self-awareness that each of them had during their hardest times. As I have not yet experienced any significant struggle with anxiety, depression, or other ‘dark night of the soul’, I have no point of personal reference as to what it’s like when all the emotion, logic, and social parts of your brain simply shut down. While it isn’t everyone’s experience, one person reflected that when they’re in that place, they’ve learned to simply ‘ride the wave’ and wait for the worst to be over. I couldn’t possibly know what this is like, so I listened with my whole being to learn ways in which I can be a better help for those who are hurting. Weaved too into every story were powerful moments of victory. Celebrations of progress, of milestones, and of tangible benefits resulting from an increased dependence on Christ and his unwavering faithfulness towards them. Hearing acknowledgments like “I’m not where I want to be, but I’ve come a long way from where I was” showed me another way in which the gospel of Jesus Christ declares the most powerful message for us broken and frustrated creatures: there is hope.

The forum’s host church had many commendable things to say when it came to their position on mental health. Speaking from personal experience, the lead pastor shared about his gratitude for God’s common grace to us all: the benefits of helpful medical supplements, the practice of grounding techniques to help prevent oncoming anxiety attacks, as well as encouraging people towards compassionate Christian counselors and medical practitioners. As the forum drew to a close, it was in the stories of each individual that I heard clearly how Jesus is the steady anchor that holds them fast as the wind and the waves rock them. A strongly shared sentiment from the panel was “I don’t know how people get through this without Jesus”. And for far too many people, the reality is that they don’t. Taking Jesus’ words from Matthew 6, the lead pastor encouraged the room that God is our ever-present, unchanging Father, whose love for us is as unwavering as his very existence is sure. Jesus is the only light that can truly, lastingly penetrate this darkness, and the light of his love is brighter than any despair, depression, or even death. The hope that the depressed Christian can carry with them at every moment is the gospel that our world so desperately needs to hear. The gospel begins with the life-saving words of Psalm 56:9

This I know, that God is for me.

What a glorious truth that even when we don’t feel, don’t comprehend, don’t understand. Even then, we can know.

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What I Read in March

The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down

R. Albert Mohler’s latest work (Feb 2018) is a spectacular journey through the most important prayer for Christians ever prayed. He skillfully responds to the lament that many Christians today read the Lord’s Prayer too automatically—without thought to its meaning—by closely examining the power and significance of each and every line of the prayer. As the framework that Jesus provided for how we are to think about prayer, Mohler takes the time to unpack what it reveals to us about the God to whom we pray, ourselves as those praying, and how we should live in light of our relationship with him.

Supernatural Power for Everyday People

Far from focusing on the miraculous, supernatural displays of God’s presence and power that might have popped into your mind when you first saw the title, Wilson’s latest work looks at how God the Holy Spirit is building his Church. It provides a spectacularly practical, down-to-earth perspective on the real work of transformation in the life of the ordinary Christian by the Spirit through the gospel. Full review coming soon.

Transgender

This small book about one of today’s biggest issues gave some excellent advice on how Christians should respond (and not respond) as the culture around us attempts to change the design of their creator, preaching a gospel that says truth is subjective and the individual has the highest value and final say. A helpful, insightful, and loaded resource packed into less than 100 pages.

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders Book 1)

It’s been a few months since I finished the Farseer Trilogy, and that’s been an advantage, because the second trilogy by Robin Hobb introduces a whole new cast, delivered in a whole different writing style, in a whole different part of the same world. Because of this—and having grown accustomed to the style and pace of Farseer—the first few chapters felt a bit like trudging slowly through deep mud. But one thing wasn’t a surprise; the effort is well worth it, and Hobb rewards your persistence with an exhilarating read that begs you to immediately pick up book 2.

This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel

I’m so glad I grabbed this as an audiobook (read by Trevin). This is Our Time is a book for any Christian who wants to understand western culture more in light of the gospel. It could be one of the most eye-opening books you will read this year. Not only does Wax address the common narratives that we live our lives by, but goes larger to society, asking the question “How can we be true to the gospel in a world where myths and false visions of the world so often prevail?”

See what else I read in 2018:

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On Tragedy, Loss, and Learning

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog lately. It’s been an emotionally turbulent time for my family over the last six months; hard news and unexpected changes seem to continually be cropping up despite our efforts to keep life uneventful. The most recent blow came when our baby of 13 weeks went to see his Saviour before his eyes even saw this world. I’ve never experienced the loss of a child before, and I’ve found myself without the right categories to think about all the ways in which this has affected me, my wife, and the life we never expected. These are a few thoughts that I’m working through as we grieve the loss of our precious baby boy.

I was driving back from a work trip, desperately trying to make it back in time for our scheduled scan. I missed the appointment and so agreed with Karyn over text that I should carry on towards home where Grandma was taking care of our younger children. I stepped inside the front door, and my phone rang with the news no one wants to hear. I was numb. I knew what I’d just heard but my mind was blank; I had no words and it seemed that I was suddenly enveloped into a bubble in which time stood still. In the hour that followed, I cried as my mind swirled with confusion, disbelief, devastation, and uncertainty. As thoughts of the family who needed me gradually crept back into my mind, the emotions seemed to dull a little and a kind of autopilot seemed to kick in as I began going through the motions of a regular weekday afternoon with 3 kids.

Is this what grief looks like for me?

Everyone Grieves Differently

I’m not naturally a very compassionate person. For me, coming up with the right words to love someone who is hurting (especially when you are sharing that hurt yourself) can be like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet while blindfolded, riding a horse. In the midst of processing my own grief, the mental work required to also say the right thing—and not say the wrong thing—to another who is grieving takes everything I have, and I still only get it right part of the time. Here’s the lesson: everyone grieves differently. Men and women grieve differently, but more specifically—and most importantly—my wife and I grieve differently. Love requires that I take time to listen to, learn from, and care for my wife in ways that are meaningful to her, not necessarily to me.

I’ve been greatly honoured by conversations with couples who have walked this road before. They’ve shared their journey of becoming more self-aware as they come to understand how they cope with tragedy, but also of how tragedy increased their understanding of their spouse. Many husbands have shared with me how their experience was markedly different from their wives; often not showing a great deal of emotion until they were alone in the car, or after their households had gone to bed and they could fall apart on their own. Wives have shared with me how they didn’t feel that their husband fully understood the breadth and depth of the devastation this event had wrought, and only after the storm had passed had they realised that he had grieved too, just differently. By far the most encouraging thing said to me by these couples has been that it’s OK for me to feel the way I feel. The last thing you need while working through grief is the added weight of guilt that thinks perhaps the way you’re feeling isn’t enough, shows that you don’t understand, or reveals that you’re simply insensitive. I was so grateful to be reassured that my feelings are valid, my uncertainty about how to act and what to say is normal, and that many other husbands have felt this same inadequacy and simply tried their best to love their wives anyway.

We All Need Grace

There are two more things that I’m learning about dealing with tragedy and loss. There’s an extra large measure of patience, love, and grace required of a grieving person (which seems like an impossible ask) in order to not be offended by supportive words or actions which are well-intentioned but poorly delivered. In offering support for Karyn and I, not everyone got it right. As someone offering support, how do I best reach out? What words do I use? What are the unhelpful things that should be left unsaid? I’ve needed to remind myself that if a person has never had this (or a similar) experience, they can’t possibly know what poorly chosen word will trigger offense or hurt in the one grieving, and so their words should not be held against them. This is by no means an excuse for thoughtlessness from the person offering support though; because the same patience, love, and grace is also needed on their part to discern how grief is different for each individual, and to choose their words in a way which is sensitive to the one grieving.

At the time of writing this, it’s only been a few weeks. We’re still sad, and thoughts of our little boy still fill our minds; questions of who he would have grown up to be and how he would have affected the world around him. And yet our tears are undergirded by joy, because even though Remi was only with us for a short time, he’ll be part of our family forever. And we look forward to seeing him again; but on that day it will be with tears of joy.

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That’s a Wrap! (24/02)

Digital Tech is Killing our Relationships

It’s not just “The Internet”, it’s our own sinful nature manifesting itself through insecurity, desire for attention or affirmation, and lack of love for our neighbour. This post contains links to many resources making the point that we’re all aware of to some degree, but highlighting this “third person” of our smart phone or other Internet-capable presence in our relationships needs to be done. David Murray writes:

Successful relationships cannot happen unless the people involved have a clear sense of personal identity. But we cultivate and project so many social media personas that we’ve forgotten who we really are.

When Bible Study Goes Wrong

There is Bible study, and there is Bible study. The Bible is not primarily about the Bible. It is not primarily about morality. And the Bible is not merely an encyclopedia of religious knowledge. Scripture’s goal is faith in the life-giving Messiah.

Three Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Billy Graham

Here are three things we should carry with us all the time.

Mass Shootings, Mental Illness, and Local Church Ministry

I appreciate these words from Brad Hambrick.

Our initial ministry goal is less teaching people how to think theologically, which is vitally important, but can only be achieved after helping people realize church is a safe place to talk about their experience. Anxiety about whether a conversation is safe interferes with people’s ability to assimilate, much less apply, information.

On /Colourblindness, Race, and Imagining a Reconciling Church in Australia

On Saturday, a friend of mine spoke at an event “Gracious Conversations”; it was designed to be an event where Christians could get together to particularly talk about how we love our indigenous neighbours and support indigenous Christian leaders. This post is long, but with good reason. It’s worth making time to read.

Jesus was Not a Feminist (and maybe you shouldn’t be either)

She said it.

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What I Read in February

The Emotionally Healthy Leader

Scazzero continues to tell the story of who I am, where I’m at, where I want to go, and who I want to be. He doesn’t simply write intellectually, but his insights forged in the crucible of experience offer so much value with regard to what it means to be emotionally mature; self-aware, others-focused, and to holistically lead by listening to emotions and perceiving needs within your team. These are all things I needed to understand, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Green Lantern: New Guardians, Vol 1: The Ring Bearer

When Kyle Rayner becomes a Green Lantern, the last thing he expected was that he would also be chosen by the red, indigo, yellow, blue, pink, and orange rings of power too. Featuring Sinestro, Archangel Invictus, and a supermassive white hole that has formed a space/time tear to another universe, this issue sees Rayner make a journey from the safety of earth to the citadel of the Guardians of the Universe, and beyond. This is one heck of a story.

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture

This book was written with a pastoral heart that has seen first-hand the agony of failure in ministry and the burnout that comes at the end of not knowing when to say “no” and rest. But it also speaks as one who possesses the peace found through re-evaluating and re-calibrating life’s rhythms around regular days, weeks, and seasons of humbly accepting our own God-given limitations. Murray writes so clearly and with such compassion that every chapter is like he has his hand on my shoulder, lovingly encouraging me to embrace the gospel and develop strategies so that I can finish the race with my faith intact. Read regularly.

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

This punchy little book captures in just a few chapters exactly what you’d hope for from a book in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. I didn’t feel like its aim was to contribute anything new to the current position on the Biblical view of marriage, but if you’re looking for something that covers all the important bases in one accessible and quick read, then look no further.

Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death

The way in which Russ Ramsey reflects on encountering his mortality and the limitations of his own brokenness is the story of us all. His immense pain and confusion intersected with his faith in a healing and all-knowing God, and the lessons were long and hard for him, his family, and his congregation. Loving God, loving others, and loving yourself during these trials like these gets as broken and remade as Ramsey’s body. But this story has something to offer all of us, because it’s about all of us.

See what else I read in 2018:

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Fillers & Drainers

Humans are finite creatures. We have limits placed in our design to help us recognise our dependency on our creator, and we flourish when we reorient our lives towards this truth. Each morning we wake up with a limited energy reserve, and we must use our God-given wisdom to determine which activities will fill those reserves and which will drain them. In Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, David Murray encourages us to maintain a healthy balance of these fillers and drainers through regularly evaluating our fuel consumption. We all have lives that require a mix of things we love and things we don’t, but Murray’s words are aimed at preventing us from puttering out, or doing permanent damage to our engines.

As I consider my own lists of fillers and drainers, they look something like this:

Fillers

Quality time with my wife; reading in a quiet place; singing at church with my family; good coffee and conversation with like-minded people; preaching a sermon that goes well; the beach.

Drainers

Conflict; not getting enough sleep; administration (paying bills, filling out time sheets); difficult relationships at work; over-committing; times when all my children are cranky, all at the same time; being late.

When you stop to consider what these lists might look like for you, you may find that mine look totally foreign. That’s because none of us are the same; just look at how many personality types can be identified from only the top 3 profiling tools currently available. Self-awareness plays a vital role here—it is in our best interest to know what fills us and drains us, then (as much as possible) keep ourselves in mind when we choose how much of ourselves we’re able to give to something. Paradoxically, there are also things that appear on both lists, with results to match. Murray writes:

Another example of this double listing is physical exercise—it obviously drains me at the time and for an hour or so afterward, but the net affect of if in my life is a huge boost of physical and mental well-being.

Drainers are unavoidable. We all have to pay bills, return phone calls and emails, and endure difficulties in relationships. The key is to ensure that we remember to counteract the drainers with regular replenishment. We must never feel guilty about taking time to refill our tanks. Whatever stage of life we’re at it’s important (read vital) that we find ways in our weeks to engage in leisure, rest, and refueling, whatever that looks like for us. We’re no good to anyone (including ourselves) if we go through the week running on empty; so let’s take time to evaluate what impact every activity has on us, work hard to balance the scales, and be good stewards of the gifts God has given us for our good, and his glory.

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That’s a Wrap! (17/02)

Six Reasons Reformed Christians Should Embrace Six-Day Creation

Although this is a rapid-fire response containing many ideas that are worth unpacking in greater detail, if you’ve ever wondered which side of the argument you fall on when it comes to the creation narrative, this One Stop Shop should get you thinking in the right direction.

29 and Single: When Life doesn’t go as Planned

If marriage is your primary goal, then you are limiting God. You are limiting Him from pouring out blessings you will never know because your heart is set on something that the world is telling you should be a top priority.

BONUS POST: From the ERLC, 3 reasons why God may be extending your singleness.

When You Lose Your Temper with your Children

It’s humbling to accept that this is your fault. Your kids push your buttons, but ultimately you are the one who chooses how to respond. Excuses abound: “but I’m frustrated”, “I’m allowed to feel this way”, “they need to know they’ve crossed a line”, but none of these change the fact that we won’t grow children with Godly character through anger, harsh words, and flying off the handle. Kids are one of God’s greatest gifts for sanctifying your self-control.

History’s Biggest Food Fight: Catholics and the Eucharist

I attended a Catholic Mass for Ash Wednesday (see Reflections from Ash Wednesday), and one of the things that fascinated me was the way they take the Eucharist. This article sheds some light on why I was fascinated, and why it matters.

He Reads Truth: Lent 2018

He Reads Truth exists to help men become who we were made to be, by doing what we were made to do, by the power and provision that God has given us to do it, for the glory of Jesus Christ. If you’re looking for a Scripture reading plan that will take you through Lent, the team at HRT have a great resource.

Need a new Podcast?

One of my favourite podcasts has just returned for season 2, and now with a co-host to make things even more interesting. It’s a fun ride with authors about what they’re writing, what the’re reading, and where to go to find joy in reading widely. Find it in iTunes; you’ll be glad you did.

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Reflections from Ash Wednesday

Yesterday I attended my first Ash Wednesday service at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, a few blocks from my office in Brisbane city. It was a remarkable, foreign, fascinating experience with which I found a number of resonances (not just off the Cathedral walls) and a few reservations (because hey, they’re Roman Catholic). Before I begin, you might want to read Four Thoughts on Lent 2018 to get a picture of where I’m coming from, before you decide to come for me. A few thoughts:

A Time to Focus on Sin

The opening words were a solemn call for repentance. The speaker highlighted that the world knows nothing of sin proper; they understand making mistakes, errors of judgement, and bad decisions (consciously, or in hindsight) but not sin—because sin requires thinking in terms of God as the one whom we sin against. Therefore as believers in Christ, we have a foreign category to the world when it comes to considering our wrongdoing, not only because of God’s law to which we are held accountable, but also because we know God himself and his righteousness requirements. Further, we know of Christ’s finished work on the cross of Calvary on our behalf, we acknowledge that we are sinful creatures who are unable to pay the penalty due us apart from the saving work of Christ, and so we come to God without anything in our hands except the sin that made our salvation necessary, and plead Christ’s atoning sacrifice. On this point, I say a hearty “amen”, and am struck by a profound sense of my own poverty before a holy God—something that lies at the heart of Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the Lenten journey.

Oh The Irony

The liturgy of the service was almost completely made up of responses from the congregation; for which there was no paper or guide, and it was at this point where I’m certain those around me noticed that ‘one of these things is not like the other’ as I remained still, not knowing what to do or say for the bulk of the responses (I did try hard to look appropriately contemplative). Apart from the Lord’s Prayer, I had no clue what to say, and no way to participate. Lastly, it wouldn’t have been a Roman Catholic Mass if not for a ceremony replete with the respectful bow or bending of the knee to the crucifix before entering or leaving the stage or the pews (respectively), the Bishop frequently kissing the altar, or signs of the cross being made over various things throughout the service. For me, the contradiction of being saved by grace alone yet frequently performing all of these works was hard to miss.

Repent and Believe the Gospel

When it came time for the imposition of ashes (the tradition that paints an ashen cross on your forehead as the outward sign of beginning this season of repentance), the words “repent, and believe the gospel” are spoken over you. Here—all the Roman Catholic pomp and ceremony aside—I found myself recognising these words straight from the lips of Jesus at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and found it to be possibly the best exhortation one person could give to another. I returned to my seat with eyes that were pointed to Jesus, considering the words of John Newton that I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Saviour.

Overall, I was grateful for this experience as one that helped to put me into the right frame of mind entering the season of Lent, contemplating Jesus’ journey towards the cross and our great reward because of his great sacrifice. While there is a time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord over the entire created order, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that to be raised to life again, there must first have been death. Surely the reward tastes so much sweeter once we first take time to remember the cost.

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Write!

Arguably the thing that writers wish for more than any other (except perhaps a good publishing deal) is a distraction-free environment. It takes time and focus to get ideas out on the table, push them around, change their order or size, and arrange them into a carefully crafted piece of prose that somebody, somewhere might enjoy reading. Thankfully, there are ways to help us get closer to this Ideal Writing Zone; audible distractions can be reduced with noise-cancelling headphones, and visual distractions can be cut out by finding a quiet cubicle at a local college campus or library. But when it comes to technology, we live in a world of push notifications, constant connectivity, and the incessant demands of email, text messages, and social media. Being writers at heart, the creative team behind Write! are perfectly placed to develop a writing app which is clean and encourages focus, while capturing all the features I need in an uncluttered interface.

All the Mod Cons, and a Kitchen Sink

Write! has all the modern conveniences that we’ve come to expect from an app of this kind: full cross-platform, multi-device support; frequent auto-saves to cloud storage, so everything you write is safe and sound; multiple workspaces for different areas of your life, each containing as many tabs as your writing requires; and not only is there a multitude of font and text-formatting options, but everything is tucked away so that literally all you see is your next masterpiece (or the next blog post, if you’re less ambitious, like me) in a borderless user interface.

How I Use Write!

By far my favourite feature is Focus Mode. Activating this feature gives you the option to fade out all surrounding paragraphs except for the one you’re currently working on. I also appreciate the custom right-click drop-down menu containing the font, style, and colour options at a click, and without having to search through toolbars. The other neat thing I’ve come to love is the productivity boost provided by the plethora of shortcuts for text and paragraph formatting which (once you commit a bunch to memory) help to make better use of whatever writing time you have, especially when coupled with autocomplete and the spellchecker for those long or often misspelled words.

Publish to WordPress

As a regular blogger, this feature (added in Jan 2018) was the icing on top of an already impressive-looking cake. For all the features that I’ve come to love; the quick keys, the shortcuts, the unlimited Ctrl+Z (even after I close and reopen the app), the seamless, pain-free integration with my WordPress site is a thing of beauty. Just enter the specifics, and hit publish. There are so many reasons why Write! is the best app I’ve come across for writing of all kinds.

 

 

This post has been sponsored by the creators of Write! via a free license for review. I was not required to write a positive recommendation.
Check out Write! Here

 

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For Whom is God “Father”?

God is the Creator of everything. So, logically this makes him the father of all people, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. Recently in my Christian Classics reading group, we’ve been taking a look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, found inside his book Discipleship (Fortress Press, 2015). In Matthew 6, Jesus gives his companions a great gift in the form of a prayer; a prayer which contains many great and wonderful lessons that earnest disciples can find regarding how they are to pray, to whom they pray, and what this prayer reveals about who they truly are.

Jesus begins his prayer in Matthew 6:9 with the words “Our Father”. Bonhoeffer observes that by the Holy Spirit, the disciples have been called out of the world and brought into the family of God—the family of which Jesus is a part—and, as brothers and sisters in Christ they can now share with him in calling God their father.

But it has not always been this way, and it is not automatically this way for everyone simply by virtue of being created by the same God. In his 2018 book, The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution Al Mohler writes

…the term “fatherhood of God” has often been used to imply that God is a father to all people, without distinction and without regard for a person’s faith in Christ. Of course, there is a sense in which God is fatherly toward all his creation. But Scripture affirms that we only come to know God as our Father personally when through faith in Christ we are adopted into God’s family.

God is indeed fatherly towards all his creation. However passages in Scripture such as Ephesians 1:4–5, Galatians 4:4–5,  Romans 8:14–15, and others attest to the reality that sonship (and thus our ability to call God Father) is only attained through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, and the acknowledgement of Jesus as Saviour and Lord by those who would come. Scripture is quite clear with the answer to this question, and we would be wise to take heed, lest we make the mistake of the Jews in John 8, who thought they were safely part of the family of God by virtue of their natural heritage. To them Jesus says

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. …Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:44, 47)

Those who can call God “Father” are not the ones who are his children by virtue of being his creation only, but rather those who entered his family by virtue of adoption through Christ. This wonderful truth of the gospel should give us cause (as Jesus did) to comfort the frightened, but also frighten the comfortable. Once we were his enemies, but for those who have come to acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, through Christ we can call God our Father, and he loves us no less than he loves his own Son.

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That’s a Wrap! (10/02)

Jen Hatmaker and the Power of De-Conversion Stories

De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their crusty, backward, outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. A person simply shares his testimony of how he once thought like you did but have now seen the light.

Eschatological Discipleship by Trevin Wax

I’m an advocate for making disciples in a way that helps followers of Christ navigate the darkness of our contemporary age. As people who recognise they are living in the kingdom of God, our focus should be on bringing the values of the kingdom that is soon to be established in all its fullness to our world and issues today. Trevin’s new book looks like a valuable contribution to this important discussion.

Counseling and the “Inconsonable Things”

At the close of 2017 and into the new year, I’ve been making more intentional efforts to establish some key relationships with trusted mentors and a spiritual director. There’s only so much growth that I can undergo on my own, and we were made for community. None of us will be perfect until Jesus comes again, but the great gift of his Holy Spirit gives us faith and strength to go into the ring; so we keep fighting the good fight.

Pursue God, Not Pornography

There are some great resources linked here, in what is still one of the most prevalent areas of ongoing sin—for Christian men as much as any other. This quote in particular demonstrates its destructiveness:

I am not being hyperbolic when I call porn use a civilizational calamity. The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood.

Countermoves: A New Podcast from ERLC

I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts that will stimulate, entertain, or grow me in my awareness of the world around me. This new monthly podcast from Andrew Walker (author of God and the Transgender Debate) seeks to provide a Christian review of ideas shaping church and culture, and I’m keen for the first episode any day now. Maybe it’s your thing too.

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The Soul-Soothing Rhythm of Sabbath

Biblical Sabbath is a 24 hour period where we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God. As my life gets busier I’ve come to realise that while the day of the week doesn’t matter, protecting the rhythm of regular routine does. The benefits are many, and there really aren’t any drawbacks to dedicating time to pause from hurry, unplug from time-consuming technology, and breathe knowing that the world continues to turn without you. But with deadlines to meet, plans to make, small children to care for, limited time for house and yard work, and the effort of preparing for another week, my plans to practice a regular biblical Sabbath can easily be thwarted. Strange as it sounds, I almost found myself needing to be convinced that Sabbath was a good idea. In his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero discusses his weekly Sabbath (he’s chosen 6pm Friday to 6pm Saturday) in terms of these four things:

Stop Work

Step back from answering emails, hold off returning phone calls, avoid social media (especially if it is tied to your work). Don’t give in to the demands of an untidy house that could be cleaned, and resolve not to catch up on unpaid work like paying bills or organising the family budget.

Enjoy Rest

God rested after his 6 day creation work, and we are to adopt the same rhythm. Again, the key is to rest from what you consider paid or unpaid work. There’s intent at play here though, because resting from unpaid work requires careful planning; in order to enjoy a guilt-free Sabbath where you can truly come to a place of peace and rest, there might be some rearranging of the other 6 days in order to get things done in advance. Discipline takes determination, but the rest is its own reward. Free yourself to play sports, have a date night, go to bed early, read something, watch a movie, or enjoy the good company of friends.

Practice Delight

What brings you joy? As Christians, we most of all should know how to enjoy and delight in creation and in God’s good gifts. Perhaps it’s nature. Maybe it’s enjoying good food. Libraries and book stores spark my curiosity and inspire creativity. Think about what you love and work within your means to find ways of doing that which is good for your soul.

Contemplate God

What sets a Biblical Sabbath apart from just taking a day off is that we are not taking time off from God. This is an invitation to let go of lesser things and remember the goodness of God in the midst of our rest. We recognise that these good gifts come from his hand. It doesn’t mean that you spend the entire day in prayer, but it does mean acknowledging God’s goodness as you practice that which is soul-soothing for you; thank him as you enjoy a good meal, or wake from a nap, or survey the view from a mountaintop. God is good, and he is pleased when we acknowledge him as God and give him thanks for every good gift.

Where to from here?

The danger of Sabbath is to get bogged down in the details. Scazzero encourages us to take a step back, remember the purpose of the gift, and re-frame our thinking into one that has the sovereign God at the centre and me as a dependent, loved child. Some wrongly associate Sabbath with legalism. Constantine actually legally mandated a Sabbath. The Talmud (Orthodox Jewish writing) stipulates 39 prohibited activities (considered ‘work’) that must not be performed during this time. But Jesus says something different. We are reminded by him that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around; we are not slaves to a religious system but rather this 24 hour period was given as a gift to us by a God that knows we require rest. Mental, physical, and emotional peace is found in remembering who God is, and resting in that knowledge.

This practice isn’t essential to your salvation. But neither is reading the bible or prayer—and yet no one would argue the point that you cannot possibly grow as a Christian without these two things. I’m coming to realise that keeping a regular Sabbath is a key spiritual discipline that has much benefit for the believer, and Sabbath is a wonderful vehicle to carry grace from God to us via an intentional time of slowing down and trusting in his sovereignty while the world spins on without us. It takes creativity and commitment to make the leap from simply having a day off to actually having a Biblical Sabbath, and anyone who has tried to do this seriously will tell you that there is planning and the establishment of boundaries needed in order to truly stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God as the loving father who knows exactly what we need.

Sabbath is a good gift, and one that I’ve left unopened for far too long.

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Four Thoughts on Lent 2018

Every year as Lent approaches, I encounter mixed opinions in the Christian world regarding this season on the church calendar. Here are a few simple thoughts on why I embrace Lent as a season of anticipating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and honour him by making space to examine myself as the one in whose place he died.

Lent Reminds Me of Who I Am

John Calvin wrote that true wisdom consists in two things: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. For Calvin, there could be no knowledge of self without first knowing God. Like the rhythm of a regular Sabbath, or unplugging from technology once or twice a year, Lent is an invaluable period in my calendar where time is deliberately carved out to consider that the same God who made me is also the God who came and saved me. My identity is found in Christ, without whom I am a wretched, evil sinner condemned to a just and eternal punishment for my offences to this holy God. During Lent, I drop something of lesser importance, in order to dwell on truths that are of the greatest importance.

Lent isn’t Purely a Catholic (read Not-For-Christians) Practice

For many, Lent is so identified with Roman Catholicism that it’s difficult to imagine an evangelical observance of it. I often hear the question “what did you give up for Lent” met with the quip “Roman Catholicism”. But Lent (like Advent leading up to Christmas) is what we make it, and it is no more exclusively Roman Catholic than Easter itself. Personally, I’ve found great benefit in intentionally practicing something for the days leading up to Easter; and far from wearing the symbol of the ashen cross on my forehead all day on Ash Wednesday, there are many ways in which I can intentionally be reminded of why Christ came to die. After all, he didn’t die purely for the Roman Catholics.

Lent Gives my Family a Framework to Consider the Cross

Also like Advent, Lent allows for Easter to be more than Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. By pausing on the journey towards Easter through reading a Lenten devotional that walks the Passion road towards Calvary, my family and I are reminded of the journey that Jesus walked; the determination that he had, the love that he displayed towards humanity in his every word and deed. It reminds us that before the creation of the world, our loving Father had a plan to rescue us and restore us to relationship with himself. Devotions for Lent are easy to come by, and these brief daily glimpses of gospel celebrate how God’s love and wrath came together for our good and his glory.

Finally, Remember that Lent isn’t a Show

As with everything in the Christian life, the purpose of Lent is to grow into a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ, becoming like him in mind and action. So, when it comes to taking up the practice of sacrificing something (whether it be a particular meal each day, social media, or something else of value that takes much of your time), any practice than creates more space than usual for personal reflection is a good thing. However, the popular counter-argument is this: many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. But the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Also, Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18).

So, when it comes to giving up something, there’s no need to announce it. “Hey everyone, I’m giving up Facebook for Lent”—do that, and you’ve already received your reward in the recognition of man.

Where to from here?

My hope for Lent 2018 is that it would be a time of prayerful introspection; examining the heart, revealing and uprooting sin, and soberly remembering that the only thing that I contributed to my salvation was the sin that made it necessary. Lent is a time of contemplating what it means to be human, who we are in light of God’s saving grace, and how those things lead us inevitably to consider the cross. I pray it would be a gospel-soaked stock take of my life, to help me see what things can be set aside in order to make more room for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.

Finally, the attitude behind Lent should in no way be reserved for this short season leading up to Easter; the Christian life is characterised by thinking and acting upon this process continually. But I (and I suspect I’m not alone) appreciate the discipline of a season for focused prayer and penitence, and so I’ll be practicing Lent, and I know I’ll be better for it.

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That’s a Wrap (03/02)

Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth

Rosaria Butterfield knows exactly what she’s talking about. Having been converted out of a life of disbelief and lesbianism to a life found in Christ, she writes from a place of deep empathy and experience when she rebuts Jen Hatmaker’s position that you can have your LGBT relationship and Christ too. I agree that the church has a long way to go in order to love the LGBT community well, but what Butterfield says is also true:

The cross symbolizes what it means to die to self. We die so that we can be born again in and through Jesus, by repenting of our sin (even the unchosen ones) and putting our faith in Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. …And this war doesn’t end until Glory.

10 Things You Should Know about Suffering

Dave Furman has written another book (released 31st Jan, 2018) to help us better see the way God designs and uses trials for our good, encouraging us to embrace the God who is always near, even in our suffering. While you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, here’s 10 things to be informed and encouraged by.

Two Strategies to Win the War on Lust

Many Christians try to solve temptation only by resistance, but that just won’t work in the long run.

 The Dangers of Echo Chamber Leadership

Perhaps like me, you’ve been in rooms where opposing the leadership’s decision isn’t wise if you like your job. In this short post Thom Rainer defines echo chamber leadership, and identifies six key issues that will help avoid going too far down that dangerous road.

Depressed and Thankful: 6 Ways to Find Joy

A melancholy side to my personality makes me prone to see the glass as half empty. I realize that for many individuals, medication is truly necessary. But the weapon that has made the most difference in my life in fighting depression…

Don’t “Share Your Faith”

I’ve always loved John MacArthur’s scalpel-like precision when it comes to penetrating our subjective, post-whatever use of language. MacArthur’s clarification here is more than just an important shift in perspective, but also remarkably liberating for the believer.

It’s Own Proof

I think I would have preferred someone read this to me, so that my eyes could have been spared. But it’s excellent Calvin, nevertheless.

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What I Read in January

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

It became clear to me very quickly why this book made so many Best of 2017 lists. Chapters 1 & 2 were so convicting, but simultaneously so eye-opening that I felt like I should stop and go over them again. Doing an excellent job of evaluating these 12 Ways, Reinke does an outstanding job of remaining impartial; not ever being pro-phone or anti-phone, simply laying down the facts and observing the ways culture has changed for good or ill. Read my full review here.

Batman/The Flash: The Button

Batman finds on his cave wall the bloody smiley-face button of the Comedian, the iconic symbol of Alan Moore’s Watchmen series from the 1980s. The story-behind-the-story is set for the upcoming Doomsday Clock twelve-issue series, which has just begun. The Button sets the stage for Doomsday Clock with a story of Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen investigating the source behind the appearance of this button. It’s very hard to talk about anything without giving spoilers, but it can be said that this was the most popular DC release in a long time, with multiple reprints needed as copies flew off the shelves.

The Monster in the Hollows

Finally I’ve got around to this, the final book in the trilogy of The Wingfeather Saga. These books go on my All Time Best list, and I look forward to reading them with my kids as soon as they’re old enough. As with the previous two books, Peterson is a skilled world-builder; drawing the reader in to every sight, sound, and smell. The book moves quickly, but with so much detail that every experience is shared and felt. The new places are wonderful, the creatures terrible, and the journey of self-discovery for the High King of Anniera is gritty and glorious.

Making All Things New

When it comes to the pain brought about by sexual sin, Jesus has come to renew both the wayward and the wounded, the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that his grace extends healing to those suffering in sin, and to those who have suffered because of sin. In order to rightly renew sexuality, David Powlison writes that first “we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what’s gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation.” In Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken, Powlison presents that better way—a way where victims of betrayal or assault can live a better life than just “Survivor”, and those currently trapped in dark and hidden sins can walk towards the Light and be free from shame.
Read my full review here.

 

What have you been reading?

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