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Author: Chris MacLeavy

34. ESTJ. Theology. Family. Marvel.

It’s Easier to Catch a Baseball than a Handful of Sand

Gary Millar and Phil Campbell have a passion for teaching the Bible book by book in a way that is scripturally faithful and also engaging. The challenge for any preacher lies in working hard to exegete the biblical text in order to preach it in a way that fits your own personality and delivery style, while enabling those listening to think more clearly and deeply about its contemporary relevance in their lives.

Review: Counter Culture

I think it would be impossible to read David Platt’s latest book without taking on something of the weight of burden his heart feels for the issues in its pages. He begins “imagine standing at the height of all the earth and seeing the depth of human poverty” and Platt is no stranger to spending extended periods in some of the world’s most impoverished places. As the former Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills and now as President of the International Mission Board, Platt has travelled extensively around the world witnessing the life-changing (and often life-threatening) implications of countering economic, spiritual, and moral poverty with the gospel in a world where racism, sex slavery, pornography and persecution are worse than any other time in human history. It is from this position that Platt makes a compassionate call to stand for justice and mercy in the world, while proclaiming without reservation that Jesus Christ is the Judge and Saviour of the world.

The Beginning of Wisdom

I was in a church recently and everybody was talking about the love of God. It struck me that while we are more than happy to wax eloquent about the love of God, we never talk about the fear of God. Now don’t misunderstand me; by no means do I want to diminish the amazing love of God – far from it – but I think that if that is all that we talk about then we are left with an incomplete and inadequate view of God. It can very easily lead to the image of God being a kindly old man who winks at sin because he loves us and even if he didn’t like it then he probably couldn’t do a whole lot about it anyway.

The Man behind the Miracle

Our church is currently walking through the Gospel of Mark, and I had the privilege of sharing from Mark 6:30-44. What follows is a slightly edited manuscript of my sermon on that day. (listen online here)

There are many miracles recorded in all four gospel accounts but only two miracles (the resurrection and this), that are recorded in all four Gospel accounts. We see it in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6. And it’s little wonder that that’s the case; it’s certainly the grandest-scale miracle that Jesus ever performed. I know a lot of people might be tempted to say “yes, we know. Jesus feeds the 5,000 right? He heals a few sick, teaches them a little, then provides fish and bread for everyone. It’s an amazing miracle, yes, but we already know the story”. But Mark’s motivation behind writing his gospel account wasn’t to point to the miracles, but to answer the question “WHO IS THIS MAN?”. So in these few minutes we’re going to seek to answer that question. We’re going to look at three ways in this passage in which Jesus revealed his divine identity, and how every story Mark told was to dramatically direct people’s focus to Jesus.

Review: Intentional Parenting

When it comes to the goal of raising children who treasure Jesus above all things, Tad Thompson’s book Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design provides relevant, uncomplicated, practical theology in a punchy no-nonsense 100 pages. Short accessible chapters mean you get straight to the crux of each matter Tad addresses, and the “Now Make It Stick” section at the end of every chapter brings the point right into your home by asking questions and issuing challenges that help you know right where you’re at, and where you need to grow.

To Judge or Not to Judge

Scripture is filled with tensions; seemingly irreconcilable truths that taken at face value can’t seem to coexist while still holding that the Bible is entirely consistent, and totally infallible in its wholeness. One such example of this is the question of judging others. How do we reconcile Jesus’ oft-quoted words in Matthew 7 (“Don’t judge others, and you won’t be judged yourself”) with instructions from, say, Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5 (“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear”)? There is a mystery here that deserves exploration.

C. S. Lewis on the Church

When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; . . . I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized

A Biblical Foundation for Ethics

[when considering ethics, it is worth highlighting] the covenantal context of the commandments in the OT and the eschatological context of the Sermon on the Mount in the NT. It is misguided to abstract the Ten Commandments from God’s gracious and powerful act of redemption for Israel and his covenant commitment to them to be their God. They are not universal ethical rules. They are directions on how Israel is to live the free life as God’s people in grateful response to all that he has done and is for them. It is also a mistake to talk of the beatitudes in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount as virtues to be cultivated and rewarded, and of the sermon in general as the epitome of Jesus’ ethic, usually held to be an impossible ideal which we should strive to live up to nonetheless. The ethic of Jesus is not an impossible ideal. Its context is the eschatological event of the coming of the kingdom of God. With the coming of Jesus God’s gracious rule arrived.This event is announced with the beatitudes – which, take note, do not have the form of imperatives but are a series of strong indicatives – they are announcements or pronouncements of blessing to the desperate and needy (the arrival of the ‘Year of the Lord’s Favour’ – the true ‘Year of Jubliee’ – with Jesus himself)- they are not rewards for the virtuous. The teaching that follows is both descriptive of the freedom that Jesus himself brings, and prescriptive for those who are set free by him. It is because the Kingdom of God (the liberating reign of God) has now come in Jesus that the way of life described in the sermon is possible. We are called by Jesus to follow him. There can be no following without his call and no call without the expectation to follow. The gracious presence of Jesus himself frees us for a new and exciting way of living with him as the sermon both describes and prescribes.

– David McGregor

Celebrating the Seeking Saviour

The word advent means “coming”. Christmas is a time when we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world, and the reason for his coming – to seek and save the lost. Similarly, Advent is a season for remembering that God is on a mission. He is sending, pursuing, searching, and saving. Two times in 1 John 3:1-10 we are told why Christmas happened – Christ came into the world to take away sin. The greatest glory that the world would ever see is when the Son of Man (Jesus’ favourite designation for himself) was lifted up on a cross to die for sinners, destroying sin.

The story of the Son of God coming into the world is so much more than historical fact. It is a message of hope sent by God to single parents, anxious teenagers, struggling preachers, depressed husbands, disabled neighbours, us. God’s message of hope this Advent is that since the Son of God lived, died, rose victorious, and is coming again, that what is bad can be changed and what is good need not be lost.

Our Great Inheritance

Preached at my church on 21st September 2014, this message encourages those who know Jesus Christ to enter into the fullness of what it means to have their identity found in Christ, as adopted children in the family of God.

What is Ministry, Anyway? (Part 2)

God is the Creator. Therefore, in order to be faithful we must inquire concerning God’s purpose in and for his creation. The world exists as the product of the outflow of divine love; the eternal relationship between Father, Spirit and Son, and his invitation for us to participate in the life of the Trinity[1]. God is not simply saving individuals and preparing them for heaven, but rather he’s setting apart a people among whom he can dwell, and who by their unity and diversity can represent his life and love to all nations[2]. Everyone gets community, but recently this took on new meaning for me when I became the step-father to a 10 year old with Cerebral Palsy, a hearing impairment and an intellectual impairment. The Apostle Paul talks about God’s sovereign and loving arrangement of His people in 1 Corinthians 12:18. So, with the knowledge that God has intentionally ordained some to be weaker, by Paul’s definition our churches are not complete without the presence of people living with some form of “disability”. But if that’s the case, why is it that we don’t see more people who are in some way disabled in our churches?

What is Ministry, Anyway? (Part 1)

So what is ministry, anyway? I want to offer four ideas. Four keys that have unlocked for me what ministry is. Not that I’ve “discovered”ministry; but that as I reflect on my life, I see the gradual revealing of my participation in God’s story and how it has shaped me – but more specifically for today – how it has moulded the way that I approach this “ministry thing”. My prayer today is that God would use my story (not that you’d see me though) to give us some tangible ways in which our theology of ministry can be practically applied to our daily lives, that God might get the glory both inside and outside the church.

Justification is Not ‘Just-as-if-I’d Never Sinned’

Lately I’ve been hearing preachers declare the good news of justification – a word central to the Christian Gospel. They frequently use the catchy word-play that justified means “just-as-if-I’d never sinned”. It seems like a clever phrase, and something that we as Christians can celebrate. But it’s not really that clever, because justification is so much more than this.

The main flaw with this definition is that it’s incomplete. Justification should never be reduced to merely the removal of sin. It’s not a negative – sin being dealt with – it’s a positive: I have moved into a right relationship with God. Let’s explore a legal metaphor first. Recently there has been a court battle going on where a person was accused of a significant crime. Despite evidence being brought, the accused protested their innocence. However, the court passed sentence – a guilty verdict – and jail time began. Some time later, another hearing was arranged and a pardon was granted, the jail time ceased. Although the accused was convicted of the crime, they were released from having to serve the penalty or punishment for that crime. But that wasn’t good enough. What did the person say? “I want to be vindicated. I want to be declared righteous – not just pardoned, but my name cleared”. And it happened. The whole sentence was revoked and the person compensated. The miracle of justification is that we’re taken from the position of being a sinner to not simply being free, but declared righteous! We share in the status and relationship of Jesus Christ himself. So, justification is not merely “just as if I’d never sinned” but it’s much, much more. I don’t just get to not go to Hell… but I actually get admitted into Heaven!

Try an economic metaphor. As sinners, we are bankrupt. Jesus comes along and pays the debt we could never, ever pay. When someone does that economically, what happens to your finances? You go from being in the red, to being back on zero. That would be our “just as if I’d never sinned” scenario. But, Jesus doesn’t end there. He doesn’t rescue us from sin and leave us in a neutral position; Jesus brings us from a negative relationship with God all the way into a positive one by giving his righteousness to us. In economic terms, he gives us his credit; we go from being in debt to being billionaires!

The problem with the definition “just as if I’d never sinned” is that “as if” seems to imply some sort of a legal fiction. But this isn’t the case. The fact is that through Christ I am right with God… not “just as if”; it really is the case. I am right with God because Christ is right with God. To be justified is to be declared righteous before God and the word “righteous” means “in right relationship” with God. This is a very positive thing. It’s not “just as if I’d never sinned” – it’s a declaration of positive righteousness. I am right with God. Justification is the Christian teaching that God gives His gift of approval to us.

We Shared the Gospel with You, and our Lives as well

Yesterday our church family said goodbye to some dear friends. It was a bittersweet moment as the congregation joined in prayer to bless this couple prior to their departure back to the USA in a few days time. It would not be an exaggeration to say that during their time serving the church in Australia, they had touched every life with the love and grace that Jesus Christ exemplified, and every heart was heavy to see them go. At the same time, they (and we) know that their journey back to the US is in God’s timing, and so they were released with the most love-filled blessing a congregation could express.

When Greg and Linda were invited to say a few departing words, Greg captured beautifully their heart for life and ministry with the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in 1 Thessalonians 28. Greg paraphrased Paul’s words like this
blockquote“…because we love you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of Jesus Christ, but our lives as well.”blockquote
As I listened to the words and pondered the depth of their meaning, I was struck by just how much Greg and Linda were truly the tangible representation of everything Paul meant when he penned them. Paul wrote of ihomeiromai; ithe earnest love that (like the love of a parent) is affection so deep as to be unsurpassed. Such personal affection was never out of obligation; yes, Greg and Linda served as Pastoral Care Pastors but it is clear that it was (and remains) the highest joy of their hearts to so love. They came first of all to impart the gospel of Jesus Christ; in all their living they encouraged, strengthened and comforted with the transforming truths of the surpassing greatness of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. But besides imparting the gospel, they shared their lives. There was nothing superficial or partial about their love; indeed everyone with whom they came into contact felt immediately the authentic, generous, self-sacrificing love which shone through Greg and Linda’s every word and deed.

It is true that the church in Australia has suffered loss through their departure, but the rich heritage of love that Greg and Linda have left behind is almost immeasurable. I have personally learned so much from both of them with regard to what it means to love God and love others. I thank God whenever I pray for them that I was one of the privileged ones that this beautiful couple shared their lives with. My life is all the richer for it.

Lent: Less is More

This March, I made the decision to participate in Lent. Now I’m not a Catholic, and so I didn’t worry about only eating fish for dinner on Fridays, but in this crazy-busy world it isn’t hard to see the value in abstaining from something in order to make room for more important things. So what’s it all about? Packaged simply, Lent is a 40 day period of reflection, repentance and preparation which begins on Ash Wednesday, and ends with the celebration of the triumph of Easter Sunday. This post is the summary of my first experience of Lent.

Compassion, the Gospel, and Us

An amazing thing about compassion is that because of God, it’s indestructible.

This Sunday we continued our series on the character of Christ. Taking examples from remarkable people like Mother Teresa, we saw what true Christ-empowered compassion really looks like. And along with forgiveness, humility and love, as Christians we are called to clothe ourselves (Colossians 3:12) with compassion as we represent Christ to the world. Mother Teresa’s life undeniably embodies compassion both in her everyday and through specific events; like when she convinced the committee that awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize to use the finances for her awards dinner to feed 400 starving children…for a year.

But the message of compassion is never complete if it doesn’t begin where this post started.

Pray for your Wife

I’m now fast approaching seven weeks until I get married. As I reflect upon the way that my life will change (and is already changing), I’m reminded of the way in which Scripture calls me to love my wife, and how Jesus demonstrated that love and relationship in community with the Father and the Spirit through prayer. It’s so important that I pray for my wife. And I don’t just mean a quick little prayer for her in the morning or at night; I mean intentional and devoted praying for her.

As I’ve been thinking about reasons I need to pray for my wife, here are a few:

Prayer causes me to consider her.

I have a busy life, and I can easily be distracted away from her needs; becoming deaf to her concerns and insensitive to how she is feeling. Prayer causes me to dedicate time to consider how she might be feeling about all aspects of our lives (even the things that I happen to think are going fine), and be more sensitive to her struggles and needs.

Prayer is how I fight for her.

It’s my role to seek protection for her, and prayer is the way through which I ask the Holy Spirit to cover her emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This comes in addition to our reading of Scripture and praying together; I seek Christ’s protection for my wife from my knees.

Prayer helps maintain our three-strand-cord marriage.

Praying for my wife correctly orients my heart towards seeking God and his will for us as a family. Prayer continually reminds me that not only am I seeking to live in the will of Christ, but I’m actually seeking to become Christ, so in praying for her my heart is softened, helping me to love her more like Christ does.

Prayer helps me to treasure her.

I should take delight in my wife; she should know every day that she has captured my heart. Just as God in Christ demonstrated the supreme treasuring of his bride through the cross, so (beginning with prayer) I should continually stir deep, lasting affection for my wife every day, and this affection should naturally be part of her every day life.

She needs it.

My wife isn’t perfect. She’s a sinner saved by grace, just like me. And just like me, she needs the saving and sustaining power of the gospel every second of every day. On top of this, she makes my life look like a summer cruise on an ocean liner. She needs prayer.

Husband, pray for your wife.