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Author: Chris MacLeavy

34. ESTJ. Theology. Family. Marvel.

Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Wednesdays on the Web (21/06)

Stop Telling Me God is My Father

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

The Problem with Pet Sins

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

Sin is Cosmic Treason

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

Re-calibrating Life

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

10 Things You Should Know about God’s Attributes

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

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

When Authenticity & Holiness Collide

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

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

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

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

 


This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.

Wednesdays on the Web (14/06)

The Gospel Domino Effect

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

Proceed at Once to the Text

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

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

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

Life lessons around the Dinner Table: Guarding Family Time

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

Understanding Your Emotions

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

Councils & Creeds

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

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

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

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

Only The Good Stuff

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

1. The Note Sleeve by Bellroy

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

2. Todoist

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

3. De-cluttering

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

4. The Kindle Voyage

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

Wednesdays on the Web (07/06)

The Danger of “Has God Called You?”

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

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

Then do it.

Are Unhappy Christians a Poor Witness?

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

Encouragement and Compliment are Brothers not Twins

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

Living out of the Stories on my Calendar

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

The Descent of the Dove and the Meaning of Pentecost

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

Practice Your Devotion

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

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

Wednesdays on the Web (31/05)

Don’t Pursue Feelings. Pursue Christ.

I am far from emotionally intelligent. I have a long way to go before I can perceive all the nuances of emotion and develop a greater awareness of emotional well being in myself as well as in others. When it comes to considering feelings with regard to our Christian faith, emotion has an important part to play here too; just make sure it isn’t the lead role.

Know Your Doctrine

“Doctine Divides.” “I find doctrine boring.” This article doesn’t speak to a single crowd, denomination, or ‘tribe’ of Christianity; all of us have a responsibility to pursue the God that we love by learning his ways, and doctrine does not merely inform our minds, but also warms our hearts and reforms our behaviour. There are so many things in this article that are close to my heart when it comes to not simply seeing people come to know Christ, but to grow into mature disciples who are well equipped to take this gospel to others.

The Only Spiritual Gifts Test You’ll Ever Need

Stephen Altrogge pushes back on plans and programs designed to help you work out (in 200 questions over 10 weeks) what your spiritual gifts are. His approach isn’t just straightforward, it shatters complacency and procrastination. Go use your gifts right now!

6 Ways Men can support Women’s Discipleship

Having read Trillia Newbell’s book Enjoy last month (my review here), the by-line on this article caught my eye. As expected, Trillia writes with clarity and conviction. Even if you just skim the titles of the 6 points, you’ll come away encouraged and inspired to see these highly practical points gain traction in your local church, and be reminded of the value and responsibility we all have to ensure that women are never sidelined when it comes to theological education and discipleship.

Someone is Offended on the Internet

“I know a lot about feeling offended. It is a struggle I have had all of my life. As a Christian, I know this is a path to sin, and I understand that I must be willing to be offended. Ultimately feeling offended all of the time is a sign of pride, of self-focus. Self-focus can lead to negativity, and that is a destructive force.

…I want to be so conformed to Christ that I lose the taste for negativity.”

What I Read in May

The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

This month I’ve continued my reading on the Trinity, this time with B. B. Warfield. I thoroughly enjoyed this short walk through every passage of Scripture where the Trinity is present. You often hear people talk about the fact that the Trinity isn’t explicitly revealed in the bible, but Warfield demonstrates how the three persons of the Trinity (and the orthodox position on the Triune God) permeates all of Scripture, from the Old Testament all the way through to the words of Jesus, Paul, and others.

Enjoy

Another book added to my shelf by an fantastic woman author engaged in solid thinking. For everyone. Read my full review here.

The Flash Volume 2: Speed of Darkness

I’ve come to love so much about the Flash. There’s little doubt that Batman rules the DCU, but the way Barry Allen continues to display that his goodness is his greatest strength appeals to me. Although it works with a different plot line to where the current The Flash TV series – which just hit the end of season 3 – is headed, neither is second to the other. Both great writing, both true to the world I know and love.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

Joshua Hammer’s true story of his time documenting the life of Abdel Kader Haidara, who smuggled tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts during the height of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups enforcing Sharia Law, banning and burning everything that opposed them. Exciting, terrifying, real. Much respect for both the author, and the men who risked their lives to preserve their culture.

The Passionate Preaching of Martin Lloyd-Jones

There’s a sense in which Steven Lawson had an easy task in writing about this man. Lloyd-Jones has been widely recognised as the man who resurrected expository preaching, passionately advocating for the systematic journey through all of Scripture. He never forced a topic upon the text, but lived and studied to bring the message of God to the people from the natural flow of God’s word. I particularly loved this sentiment from Lloyd-Jones:

“I never allow the pew to influence the pulpit;
when I was a physician I never let the patient write his own prescription”

I’ll be seeking out some more of Lloyd-Jones work now, most likely his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Hobbit

While I’m fairly certain I’m not the last person on earth to read these works by J.R.R. Tolkien, I think I must be close. I’ve never read any of Tolkien’s works, so I’m starting here. I’ll move into the LOTR trilogy in the coming months, then on to Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion.

 

Here’s what I read in

Wednesdays on the Web (24/05)

Keep Your Phone in your Pocket

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a  restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the ‘mental wrecks’ in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”

Where Are the Women who will Write like Him?

I’ve seen this call somewhere else recently. Too often Christian women authors seem to be relegated to the “feeling” books rather than the “thinking” books. While there is valid acknowledgement that women are often better at self-awareness and emotional sensitivity, I know a great many women who are better theologians than me, and I’ve read some amazing tranformative books this year by authors such as Jen Wilkin, Gloria Furman, and Hannah Anderson. I’m glad that these women are reading, thinking, and engaging with me through the written word. Gender should never be an obstacle to writing good books of all kinds.

Marriage Wounds

“Having a spouse is like living with a mirror that constantly shows you where you are weak, where you are prideful, and how in desperate need of a Savior you really are.”

Small Wonder

We glorify God when we pause, rest, and wonder.

How to Become a Tech-Wise Family

If you’re a parent, this podcast is worth your time.

The home, he says, must limit technology in order to delight in God, neighbor, family, and nature. The church, he says, will not enjoy authentic community unless it disciples Christians in countercultural living when it comes to our TVs, video games, and smartphones.

At $6 on Kindle and $9 in paperback, this book has been added to my wishlist.

Come and Drink

Last Sunday I preached this message from John 4. This story as much to teach us as we strive to be people who are more mission-minded.

What We’re For, Not What We’re Against

Over the last few weeks I’ve observed (or participated in) a number of discussions on hot topics. In almost every conversation, there comes a point at which the art of effective argument disappears and comments become personal attacks instead of rationale and fact. It’s a sad thing to see that often opportunities for mutually beneficial discourse give off more heat than light.

All too often, the sad state of affairs is that Christians (not exclusively, but frequently) tend to define themselves by what we’re against. Killing unborn babies. Homosexual relationships. The refugee crisis. We sure can be vocal when it comes to that which we find immoral, unjust, or otherwise against our ideologies. But where’s the good in being known by what we oppose? How does that display the love of Jesus to a world that so desperately needs him?

In The Curious Christian, Barnabas Piper writes

Christians are to live lives marked by love – to as 1 Corinthians 13 puts it believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. This means we are to be defined by characteristics of grace. We are to assume the best of people and offer them the same hope and patience and mercy we know we so desperately need. We are to offer them second and third and fifty-fourth chances. In short, we are to exude the love Jesus poured out on us.

However, assuming the best of people doesn’t mean that we pull the wool over our own eyes. We have been given God’s clear, inerrant Word as our moral guidepost; the lens through which we see the world, the means by which we are saved, and the exact how by which we are called to live as members of the family of God on earth. We can be sure that in its pages we find everything we should be; simultaneously we also find a lot of things that we shouldn’t be.

As a student attending a seminary made up of students and lecturers of differing persuasions on what would be classed as “secondary issues”, that journey included much more than beginning to grasp the content of the bible and learning about the tools we use to rightly read and apply its demands. (side note: my learning is far from over) I witnessed the art of conversation and the importance of approaching the beliefs of another with humility and respect. For another person to share their opinion is a privilege, and learning to listen well is the least I can do. Not listening in order to respond, but listening in order to learn. I’ve graduated now, but every day I’m reminded of how little I really know and that my convictions – no matter how strong – have zero influence on the posture I should take towards another person opening up to me.

The gospel promises to change lives. As followers of Christ and lovers of this gospel, we should be people who are mission-minded; our posture being one that desires to display the same humility that Christ modeled in his incarnation. If our attitude indicates that Christ makes no difference to how we live or how we treat others, we immediately undermine its credibility. Ultimately, our goal is not to win arguments, but to see people come to know Christ.

On My Table:
Life & Books with Nathan Campbell

This month’s On My Table comes from Nathan Campbell. Nathan is a husband to Robyn, a father to Soph (5), Xavi (almost 4) and Ellie (almost 2); he’s also a pastor of Creek Road Presbyterian Church’s South Bank campus (but the names and ages for all those people would take too long to write down), and a blogger at st-eutychus.com. Because he’s a total Christian ministry cliché he also likes coffee, but he tries not to just paint by numbers when it comes to coffee so he helped start a social enterprise cafe in West End and he has a stupidly big commercial machine plumbed in at home, so that’s not totally boring.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

I have about 5o unfinished books on my kindle that I work through simultaneously, to keep me on my toes a bit and help me think about how things integrate. I’m currently reading lots of books about public Christianity and culture (I’m always reading lots of books about public Christianity) including Confident Pluralism by John Inazu, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, and Culture Makers by Andy Crouch, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, Becoming the Gospel by Michael Gorman. I’m also reading bits of Subversive Christianity by Brian Walsh, which was written in the 90s and feels really prophetic and amazing, in hindsight.

Oh, and a bunch of fiction, at the moment the one I’m into most is Fool Moon, the second Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher. I’m perpetually slogging my way through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest as well.

What was the last book you left unfinished?

I don’t finish lots of books; the last one I deliberately abandoned because I didn’t want to finish it/life is too short was the second book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Stephen Erickson, somebody had told me that he was a fantastic ‘world builder’ (I’d been reading lots about ‘mythopoeia’ (fantasy world building) after really loving Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories which basically argues that world-building (and exploring new worlds) is a thing we do because we’re made in the image of the world building God.

Is there a book you feel guilty for not reading?

No. Life’s too short, and there are too many books to feel guilty about not reading them all. There are plenty of books I just go ‘nah, I don’t want to read that’… I don’t read much John Piper (for varying reasons) and sometimes I feel bad.

Is there a book you wish you’d written?

I recently listened to Mike Cosper’s Stories We Tell, as an audiobook, which was the latest in a long line of books I wish I’d written that I’d like to give to lots of people. James K. A. Smith writes lots of books where for the first half, as he does cultural analysis and anthropology, I’m like ‘man, this is how I see the world’ but then I find his application a little bit constricting, You Are What You Love is pretty brilliant. I also love Stanley Hauerwas’s Resident Aliens, and Michael Gorman’s Cruciformity, those are two of the more important books I’ve read in shaping how I think about church and the Christian life. I wrote my thesis at college on the image of God, and what that is, and I reckon Hannah Anderson’s Made For More and Brian Walsh’s Subversive Christianity are something like the books I’d write on that, if I was going to write one.  Most of the time when I read anything by David Foster Wallace I wish I had his brain and his ability to breathe life into sentences so they feel like they’re spoken by some crazy, energetic adult with the ability to pay attention to lots of things at once and weave them all together. I’ve got a few novel ideas in my head and would love to write something one day, I read a novel recently, The Book Of Strange New Things, which, though the protagonist grapples with his Christian faith, shows how faith and life can intersect in meaningful and interesting ways.

What was the last book you gave as a present?

C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity; I bought it for a lady who has just started coming to church. I bought a Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy parody called Zombie McCrombie From An Overturned Kombi for someone, but haven’t given it to them yet.

Best biography you’ve ever read?

I don’t read lots of biographies. But Matthew’s Gospel is right up there… I did enjoy Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson. I did not enjoy Alex Ferguson’s autobiography.

What 5 books would you take to a desert island?

I’m guessing the Bible is a given…

Augustine, City of God
I love Augustine, I’d love to finish reading this from cover to cover rather than dipping in and out for study. A desert island seems like as good a place as any… and it’s big enough to keep me going for quite a while. It does seem a little pointless to have a book about how civilisation should be ordered if there’s no civilisation though…

Bear Gryll’s Survival Camp
I’m pretty terrible at the sort of skills you might need to survive on a desert island. I’d want something like this. I’ve never read it, but just googled Bear Gryll’s survival book; cause he’s the kind of person I’d want leading the way.

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
I’ve been doing lots of reading/thinking around the idea that we’re liturgical animals and that we are shaped by our love/worship (see Jamie Smith’s cultural liturgies series) and that we shape our loves by our habits in connection with the ‘story’ we live in (where we get our picture of what a good/flourishing life looks like). I’d have to rethink what that looks like in the isolation of a desert island setting, and what practices would help me continue to cultivate a love for God and a participation in the Gospel apart from people (and that’s hard, because I think to participate in the Gospel is to share it, maybe I’d write books and hope someone discovers them one day when they come to settle on this island). Anyway; Liturgy of the Ordinary is a fantastic picture of how one woman, Tish Harrison Wells, consciously shapes her life and habits liturgically around the Gospel.

J.R.R Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
I love fiction, especially high fantasy. I haven’t read Lord of the Rings for a few years, but I love the reminder that Tolkien gives us that there’s more to life than just the material world.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
In terms of sprawling dystopian ‘world building’ this is a masterpiece that is, I think, on par with Lord Of The Rings. The reason I haven’t finished it is every three pages I have to stop and think about how I see the world, or I get caught up in some small observation about a seemingly trivial thing. DFW is like the agnostic (or searching) Tolkien or C.S Lewis, he writes in a world that is haunted by the loss of something transcendent, and I think the bleakness of this world, in a deserted; island context, would be a good reminder that belief in something more isn’t just preferable but true.

What book has most frustrated you?

Born This Way, a book on how Christians should approach sexuality published by Matthias Media. I thought it was pastorally damaging and it made me realise that there’s a massive division between the way people from my Christian tradition (reformed evangelical) think and speak as modernists, to the way the people we live next to think and speak as post-modernists (we need stories and experience to make sense of our world, not just the facts).

What is one book (apart from the bible) you’d encourage every Christian to read?

The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw, a perfect counter-example to Born This Way, that, while it’s about how to make the gospel plausible for same sex attracted brothers and sisters, has such a rich picture of what life following Jesus could (and should) look like that it should shape not just the way we speak, but the way we live together; and Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah which shows something of the richness at the heart of Christian belief in quite an approachable way while staring down some pretty big questions.

How does reading fit into your life?
And what does your routine look like?

I read voraciously I guess; I’m almost never not reading in my spare time, but not just books, I read lots of online stuff from journal articles, to blogs, to tweets. I think what I try to do though is never to be bogged down in finishing one book, or exclusively reading one author (except in fiction, where I like to wait until an author has finished their ‘world building’/story-telling rather than having to wait years and years for the next installment — I’m looking at you George Martin, and you Patrick Rothfuss). So I have lots of unread books going at the same time, usually around a theme (though sometimes not, and that can be fun too), and I think knowledge is more ‘iterative’ than revolutionary, so I try to have these books as conversation partners with each other, and with what I already think, and then I’ll often try to write epic, sprawling, blog series that bring these ideas together, or they’ll get turned into a teaching series at church. But it also means my kindle is full of books that are about 50% read, and I keep adding books faster than I can read them.

I’m looking forward to that desert island… can I take my kindle instead of just five paper books?

Wednesdays on the Web (17/05)

Fast From Food, Not Facebook

I cannot fully convey how much I agree with this article. For years I’ve pushed back against the idea that fasting from social media is a valid engagement with this valuable spiritual discipline. It’s not. While I can appreciate those who have specific medical conditions that prevent them from biblical fasting (food), I completely agree with Tim on this one. And while we’re here quit calling the Daniel Fast biblical too. It’s a health gimmick thinly veiled. The End.

Learning a “Different World”: Loving Families with Special Needs

I have yet to meet a parent of a child with special needs who brags about methods, achievements, plans or systems. Parents of children with special needs, specifically those in the church, are some of the most humble people I know. They’re not quick to give advice or dispense wisdom, yet I learn much from their lives and how they patiently care for their children. We learn humility best by watching it at work in others. Many of these parents are beautiful examples for us to follow.

Ten Things To Do While You’re Waiting

Before you ask, no this post isn’t talking about alternatives to the fidget spinner.

The Mission of the Church is Eternal

This week I’m preparing a sermon on mission from John 4, and this popped up. Let’s be people who live as part of the church, and not just attend.

Carl Trueman – Reformation 500 Event

Registration closes Wednesday 19 July 2017 @ 5:00pm.

Get there.

Wednesdays on the Web (10/05)

Your Kids Aren’t the Priority

Many married couples would have come across (or had thrust upon them) the advice that you must put your relationship with your husband or wife as the primary one.  Here, Ann Swindell adds value to this discussion on how to be purposeful about growing as spouses “even as we parent those small humans who are making lots of noise in the house”.

Make Room for Different Kinds of Discipleship

Notwithstanding the need for Christians to always be active members of a local gathering of believers, there are many other secondary ways in which Christians can engage in discipleship, mentoring, and be spiritually nourished. It’s good to be creative and reflect on how we can sharpen each other in our many and varied circumstances.

7 Things to Know About Conversational Prayer

This list contains several gems that explain or enhance the richness of prayer as a vital part of Christian Spirituality. Plus I appreciate the way Nick has bounded the conversation on all sides by a good theology that doesn’t allow for straying off the straight-and-narrow. Read this one slowly, twice.

You Don’t Even Have A bucket, Jesus

We can’t blame the woman for not understanding Jesus. In fact, how often do we make the same accusations of Jesus when he’s claiming to have everything for our circumstance?

The New City Catechism

Our family’s copy arrived yesterday, and a quick flick open told us that this could very well be the book that is going to see our family worship take off (finally). Because of the brief question and answer style, each one could be read in under 5 minutes, or used as a launch pad to open discussion for as long as your little learner’s attention will hold. Plus, even though The New City Catechism is available free as an app I’ve opted for the paperback; firstly because our kids get enough screen time already, but secondly because I’ve always found that my retention success is better from paper than from screen. But that’s just me, so I guess we’ll see. From the inside cover:

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have used catechisms – collections of questions and answers designed for memorization and recitation – to teach others the core doctrines of the faith.

Enjoy: Trillia Newbell

I‘m one of those people who always tries to make the most of every opportunity. Need to get in the car? I’d better listen to a Christian podcast and learn something on the drive. I can sometimes find myself in low-level guilt if I simply play or relax without infusing it with more purpose. But can we honour God by doing things for no other reason than that they bring us pleasure? In her new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, Trillia Newbell asks the question “why did I wrestle with guilt over time spent riding my bike, feeling as if it were a waste of time unless I turned it into something greater?” By exploring the twin realities that God is the giver of good gifts and that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, Newbell invites us to consider what it looks like to enjoy a simple, leisurely activity for our good and God’s glory.

In eleven chapters, Newbell looks at how despite living in a fallen world, the Christian should never feel guilty about unwrapping and delighting in the many and varied gifts that God has intended for us to enjoy. This exploration includes our God-ordained enjoyment of (and with) other people, work, possessions, sex (in marriage), food, and more. One key area that I’m slow to get the message on is beautifully framed by Newbell in her chapter on rest called The Freedom to Press Pause. When we rest – and enjoy doing it – we’re actually fulfilling part of our design as creatures made in God’s image. Newbell is quick to remind us that taking a Sabbath is not a legalistic duty, but rather as we hit pause for a time (especially when work and deadlines are vying for our attention from every angle) we are accepting a wonderful gift of grace in which we demonstrate our trust and reliance on God.

When it comes to money and material possessions Newbell exhorts us to hold them lightly knowing that they are perishable things. By all means, remember that money and possessions are gifts from God and to be enjoyed in the knowledge that he has given them for his glory as we exercise wisdom in the distribution of our wealth among our work, rest, and play. But at the same time, Newbell encourages us to expand the categories in which we think of enjoyment, in that wealth also empowers greater generosity and here too “we give because of the joy of emulating our saviour.”

When we pause and learn to delight in these things, we also learn to delight in God and give proper thanks and admiration… We delight and give thanks not solely because he gives good gifts but also because he is God.

Most importantly, not all God’s gifts can be seen. God has also given us glorious promises, and faith through which we can lay hold of those promises in – and despite of – our varied circumstances. Most of all it is Newbell’s heart for glorifying God through the enjoyment of his good gifts that shines through on every page. As she infuses her own story into each chapter, the richness of what it means to enjoy giving, resting, sex, food, art, and more is simultaneously encouraging and transformative. Enjoy is a call to see and know God as the giver of these good gifts, and how those gifts (and the enjoyment of them) reveal something about him. Rich with scripture, Enjoy continues to point the reader back to Christ as the ultimate gift of God that we should enjoy in and above everything else. Through the pages of The Enjoy Project (practical application found at the end of each chapter), Enjoy is relevant and readily adopted into the life of every Christian for their good, and God’s glory. This is a great read for individuals or small groups.

 

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I received this book free from Blogging for Books for review.