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Category: Christian Living

The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection

All of us who have committed our lives to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ know that we are called to be distinct from the world. Maybe we looked the same as the world when we first encountered the saving love of God, but God doesn’t love us ‘just the way we are’ without also loving who he sees us becoming through Christ. Think about the Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes; our calling to be salt and light; increased prohibitions against things like anger and lust; and the call to love our enemies, and give to those in need. Every New Testament author writes of how inward transformation leads to outward transformation, and that the world will always find this peculiar. Perhaps the most well-known text is Romans 12:2 where Paul writes by the mercies of God, please do not any longer be conformed to the world, but be transformed. Do not be guided by the world: its principles, its entertainment, its values. You can almost hear him pleading with the church: be different.

Scripture makes clear that the Christian life is one of growing in grace towards Christlikeness, while simultaneously putting to death the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. In short there is both sanctification and mortification in the Discipled Life. But, do we even realise that we’re also being discipled by the world around us? Don’t we feel some degree of need to be on top of what the world is watching, reading, and talking about? We fill our minds with the latest Netflix series, the latest celebrity scandal, or perhaps we’re the ones ‘confiding’ with our friends over the latest character flaw our spouse, boss, or family member demonstrated rather than building them up and spurring one another on in love (Hebrews 10:24).

In Philippians 4:8, Paul exhorts Christians that whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy, these are the things we should be watching, reading, and talking about. Think about these things. Hang out with these things. Watch these things. Discuss these things. We must be set apart from the world; but conquering our desires for these impure, untrue, or un-praiseworthy things can only be driven out by what Thomas Chalmers (b.1780) called “The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection.” Matt Chandler said recently, “it’s the holiness of heaven that drives out the filthiness of the world.” It is the beauty of Christ that compels us to say “no” to what is broken and sinful in the world. Paul says “if it’s pure, dwell there”. I want to fill my life with joy-bringing, Jesus-exalting beauty.

Please don’t hear me wrong. I have a TV. I have a Netflix account. They’re not the devil. And yet, I am deeply concerned with how many Christians feel the need to be equipped to engage in conversation about whatever the world is currently being entertained by. I’m not trying to place myself above anyone else; Scripture seems clear that being entertained by what God finds deplorable is probably not the best use of your—or my—time. If I find myself entertained by horrific violence, sexual perversion, or evil spirituality, what does that say about the direction in which I’m being transformed? And I have yet to see anyone come to faith in Christ because the preacher was able to put a Game of Thrones reference into his sermon.

What’s the answer? I love the one-two move that Paul provides in the small verse of Romans 13:14 that you could easily skim past:

1. Put on Christ, and
2. make no provision for the flesh.

There it is. Make Christ the grid through which you run every decision, and as for the desires of the flesh? No opportunity. No chances. No provision. Don’t play with sin. Daniel shares this with King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:27 where he instructs, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practising righteousness”. Daniel knew the expulsive power of a greater affection—that only by being immersed in the all-satisfying person and life of the Triune God would the attraction to the things of the world grow dim.

There’s something broken in our minds because we seem to think that somehow we’re in control of sin. We’ve got it, and we’ll only allow it to roam so far before we rein it back in. So we’re fine. Jen Wilkin tells a story about a man in New York City who kept a lion in his apartment. He raised it from a cub—so everything will be fine, right?—and one day it turned on him, tore up his arm, and he showed up at the ER desperately trying to come up with a convincing alibi. You might think that you can keep sin at home; take it for walks, keep it on a leash, feed it just enough to keep it compliant. But one day, it’s going to turn on you and kill you. Don’t play with sin. Make no provision for the flesh.

I’m so grateful for what Jesus prays in John 17, and also for what he doesn’t pray. In verses 15 and 16 Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Do you see what he’s asking? We’re not to be removed, neither are we to be immersed. We’re meant to be in but not of. We are citizens of heaven; living as an imperfect foretaste of the perfect purity and total joy that is the life to come.

The point is not that Christians are a people of prohibitions. Rather, we recognise that God came near to us out of pure grace and having saved us has now outlined how we are to live as his peculiar people. When Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is describing the natural inclination of a heart that comprehends the fullness of its salvation. Out of this love, let’s live as those who know that God will one day judge our every action according to his standard of what is true, honourable, just, and pure. Rather than continue to commit treason against the God who loved us and saved us by shedding his blood for us, let’s be people who are peculiar. Peculiar in what we watch, peculiar in what we read, peculiar in what we say.

How My Bible Reading Changed
(and why that’s a good thing)

Off the back of finishing John Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally (a book which was so helpful that I listened to the audiobook and also read the Kindle edition) I have been challenged to thoroughly re-evaluate the way that I approach not only my reading of Scripture but to overhaul the way in which I structure my devotional times. Typically, we are taught to read the bible and pray. Read the bible, then pray. This has been my practice for a long time, only changed in recent years to praying both before and after reading. But Piper’s book has turned that upside down and inside out in a remarkably helpful way; it’s one of those experiences where you can’t possibly understand how you were doing things the old way now that you’ve been shown a better way. For a full treatment of this radical overhaul, you’ll need to grab the book (because chapters are dedicated to each of these things, and much more) but to summarise, I want to share the main thing I’ve learned from Piper, and mention the first amazing thing that came out of this shift in my life.

APTAT

This method of prayer and bible reading—while not as catchy or roll-off-the-tongue-ish as something like ACTS—has been nothing short of transformational for me. Here it is in brief, taking place before, during, and after reading:

Admit that without Christ I can do nothing, least of all rightly understand scripture and apply it. Reading begins with the renunciation of pride. We must be humble and realise how depraved our minds are, and how our hearts desire other things more than God. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

Pray for God’s help, whatever form of help I need. Piper says “how much light have we forfeited by failure to pray over the word we are reading!” Pray before. Don’t simply invite the Holy Spirit to join you as you read, cast your full dependence on him as the one without whom you can achieve nothing lasting. What is the help I need? To see the supreme desirability of all that God is for me in Christ, in all my circumstances.

Trust a specific promise of God that is tailor-made for my situation or a general promise that applies. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Act in obedience to God’s word, expecting God to act under and in and through my acting, so that the fruit is decisively from his acting. I act the miracle, but God is the decisive cause. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7)

Thank God for whatever good comes. I give him the glory. “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)

Remember that each of these points was an entire chapter in the book (with surrounding chapters that provided additional thoughts, tools, and practical instruction. It’s well worth grabbing the book in order to dive deep into the waters of what each step holds.

Let’s Get Started

So on a quiet Saturday afternoon, while my children slept or played quietly and chores were under control, I picked up my bible to meet with the Lord in this new way. I had recently been listening to Jen Wilkin’s In His Image and was remembering the reference she’d made to a passage in the book of Nahum to support her (very good) point. I haven’t read Nahum since it rolled around in 2017’s bible reading plan, and my fingers aren’t as fast to find it as Romans or Psalms, so I thought I would break from the plan for this moment. But before I pick up my Bible, I pray. I plead with God to encounter me through the word; to reveal, to edify, to transform. Not a long prayer, but one that covered as many things from Piper’s example as came to my mind. Then I take up and read. Nahum chapter 1.

1An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. 2The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;

And that’s it, I’m done. Undone might be more apt. Immediately I’m floored by all of the things that I give more time to than God. I’m flooded with thoughts of things that are looking dangerously close to being idols, considering the anticipation I have when I look forward to them, and the withdrawal I feel when it’s been too long. When I read this, I remember that God isn’t jealous the way people are jealous. We should never ascribe to God the definition of a word in the same way we ascribe it to human beings; for God is the only one for whom jealousy is perfect, true, and the complete opposite of sinful—because that’s exactly what he is. So my bible reading reaches an abrupt halt and in repentance, I pray that God would continue to remind me of his ultimate worth. That when I consider how to spend my time and where to invest my resources, that he would be my supreme treasure, and that I am never wholly satisfied until I am satisfied in him.

I didn’t read much that day, and my reading wasn’t the same.
And I know that’s a good thing.

Knowing Love from Love

If you’ve ever read The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (or, more recently, Jen Wilkin’s excellent 2018 book In His Image) then you’ll be aware that in spite of popular opinion love isn’t love. Lewis (who wasn’t the first to clarify this distinction, but popularised it) wrote of the four Greek words for love, providing helpful categories in which we can place the ambiguous, indiscriminate, and unhelpful ways that we use ‘love’ today. I love my wife. I also love pie. Having one word in English to capture such a broad linguistic use is surely problematic, and perhaps especially so for the Christian life. Arguably, we could use more words to better define what we’re talking about, and lately I’ve been reading Scripture with a desire to understand the difference between love and love; especially when it comes to the call of Christ to love my children, my wife, my church, my community, and those who don’t love me in return.

Love in Four Words

When we look to the Bible, the first two words, storgē (family affection, like the parental love for a child) and erōs (romantic love) don’t appear in the New Testament at all. Philía (brother/sisterly love) appears 54 times in the New Testament. More on these in another post. Most important for the Christian life is the fourth word: agápē. The greatest of the four loves, this word captures the love of God and appears 259 times. So with this clear emphasis, it’s worth exploring and defining what agápē seeks to communicate.

Beginning with God, we quickly see that the love which God has bestowed on us should never be thought of as merely an emotion. Rather, in God, we see that agápē is an act of will. Before creation, God chose to be for us. Paul writes

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In agápē he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
(Ephesians 1:4–6, emphasis mine)

He chose to create us, to love us, to give himself to us and for us, and to ultimately bring us into his loving self-existence. God hasn’t loved us because he felt good feelings towards us, because we were attractive or somehow inherently deserving, but because in his graciousness, he chose to. Further, once we truly recognise our own depravity and the sinful state we are in apart from the saving love of God, we are forced to re-evaluate not only why we love God, but also how we choose to love others. Jesus sums up the entire meaning and thrust of the Old Testament—all of God-breathed Scripture up until his arrival—in two overarching commands:

And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall agápē the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall agápē your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37–40, emphasis mine)

So we’re looking at a specific form of love. Not the inadequate English word that we use to describe affection for our spouse and appreciation for sport within a breath of each other, but the selfless, patient, kind, forgiving agápē of God. Knowing this, we can no longer subconsciously categorise people as ‘lovable’ and ‘unlovable’. And this parsing of persons doesn’t simply apply to our neighbour (which Jesus defines as everyone in his parable of the Good Samaritan, by the way) but it must extend as far as God’s love extended toward us; to our enemies. Hear Jesus command in the gospel of Luke:

But agápē your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
(Luke 6:35, emphasis mine)

So what exactly is this love we’re called to live out? What practically defines it over-against storgēerōs or even philía in our daily lives? The most help comes from Paul’s treatment of this word 1 Corinthians 13:

Agápē is patient and kind;
agápē does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Agápē bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Agápē never ends.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8, emphasis mine)

Having delivered much teaching on living the Christian life, Jesus adds weight to his words by driving home the point that loving all people in this way—before, and even without, the requirement of reciprocation—is not simply how we love others, but also how we demonstrate our love for God. He says “If you agápē me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:21, emphasis mine) When I respond with a frustrated tone to my wife because she’s doing something I would do differently, I reveal that I believe agápē is earned. I see a pattern of behaviour inconsistent with my expectations, and I withhold patience and kindness, instead offering irritability or resentment. But when I remind myself of God’s unconditional love for me, I should be stirred to love my wife—to agápē her according to 1 Corinthians 13—in my tone as well as my words, because how many times she’s done that thing is irrelevant to Jesus’ command and example. Put simply, in light of my being unconditionally forgiven and loved, I now unconditionally forgive and love.

What is love? Love is obeying the commandments of Christ, because of the love we have received from Christ, resulting in our conforming to the image of Christ. This necessarily precludes much of what the world would seek to store in the container of ‘love’. It goes against our nature, flies in the face of society’s attempt to expand love to broader definitions, and it costs us in time, resources, preferences, comforts, and expectations. At the same time, when we begin to follow Christ through laying these things aside we are rewarded with increasing joy perfected in real love because our ultimate delight and satisfaction can only be found in him who loved us and freed us by giving his life to save us.

6 Things to Look for in a Church

One Sunday. It’s not like I was gone for weeks, and yet I sorely missed not being able to join my family as they left me at home sick that Sunday morning. Perhaps that’s strange to you, or maybe it seems a bit extreme to experience sadness from missing church just one time. The body of Christ isn’t an added extra for me though; it’s not another club I’m part of that gives me something to do or keeps me entertained for a few hours on Sunday. I need to go to church. I have an ache inside for the presence of God, the radiance of the saints, the authority of the gospel. I don’t go to church out of inertia or custom. I go because I need God, you, song, prayer, gospel, freedom from self, and more. As I think about the beauty of the body of Christ and what she means to me, here are six things I want to encourage you to look for in a church.

1. Gospel-soaked Prayer

When Karyn and I first took our family to check out our current church, something that captured me immediately was the congregational prayer. I don’t remember who spoke the words, but I remember feeling my mind called to attention and my heart filled with thanks as I was reminded of the gracious God and all that he has done. The theological depth of this carefully crafted prayer reflected the heart of the church to lovingly, deliberately invest good doctrine into those who listened. The prayer included a clear articulation of sin and our need to repent, Jesus as our only hope and redeemer, the obedience of faith as our response, and our mutual commitment to the pursuit of holiness as the body of Christ. Prayers like this consistently came from every person who shared a role in the liturgy; the gospel-soaked vocabulary of prayers rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ. Notably absent from these prayers were me-focused subjective declarations; these prayers pointed people with precision to the beauty of God in the gospel.

2. Christ-exalting Worship

We all know that music can stay with us long after the words of the sermon are over. Songs have a habit of popping into your head whenever they please, and we are influenced by what we sing. As a parent with kids in the service, I feel an extra responsibility to pay close attention to what is sung as well as what is said. This is a service to my own spiritual well-being as well because we are all called to worship God with our minds. With my ears up during worship, listening to what we are learning through song, I find with delight that every song minimised human-centric language making much of Christ and his infinite worth. I still remember songs I sung in church growing up, and I’m grateful for the good theology instilled in me from a young age. Rather than “we have overcome”, make sure your church is singing “Who is like the Lord our God?” because when we sing songs that are deeply rooted in Scripture, we sing to exalt Christ—an act in which the Holy Spirit is eager to join with us.

3. Scripture-driven Sermons

No one would disagree that a lead Pastor’s main role is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God to the people under his care. Further, part of this responsibility is discerning the needs of his congregation, by answering the questions that are burning in their hearts. For this reason, I don’t assert that topical sermons are wrong-headed, but perhaps (like me) you’ve sat under topical sermons that are helpful in doing life better, but you realise you’re at the end of the sermon and your Bible is still sitting closed on your lap. I would simply seek to encourage those who adopt this style (when they feel the need arise) to work equally hard on these sermons as their regular exegetical walk through books of the Bible. The danger lies in approaching the Biblical text with an idea or a theme and reading that topic into the text before plucking that verse out of its context and attempting to extract three points of application for the hearers. It’s too common for pastors to either (a) serve their congregation pre-packaged content prepared by someone else or (b) sever parts of Scripture from their Biblical-historical context for a need that it was never intended to address. The former can be the theological equivalent of serving your children take-away food five nights in a row, the latter short-changes people in their growth and simply won’t develop mature disciples.

4. Family-minded Community

The church is called, gathered, and held together in fellowship by the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit. For this reason we should place a high value on church membership because we know that it is primarily for the benefit of other church members that we have been given various gifts. It’s the people in the church community with whom we have been adopted and made into one loving family. John writes

Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us,
that we would be called children of God (1 John 3:1)

The church should never be thought of as purely a gathering of like-minded people who then disperse back to their lives without much outside contact with those they warmly shook hands with on Sunday. Be part of a church that embraces the messy, noisy mix of chaos and love that family is, and that in every way communicates the importance of commitment to a local body of believers as a vital step of obedience in the Christian life.

5. God-pursuing Leadership

When it comes to making decisions, there are churches that adhere to wise business principles, and then there are those who adhere to a faithful application of the principles of Scripture. These two sets of values are not always at odds with each other (in fact, quite often they can align) but the primacy and ultimate authority of Scripture alone must prevail when tough decisions need to be made. Too often damage has been done to whole groups of people when church boards make “the better business decision” in the face of clear (counter-cultural) gospel imperatives. The qualities of God-pursuing leadership are outlined for us in two places in the New Testament (in addition to qualities that mark Christians in general), and as such no church member should ever feel uncomfortable about approaching leaders—Bible in hand—about decisions that have been tabled for comment, and leaders should always be able to provide answers consistent with the gospel for decisions, and not simply a good business case.

6. Intentional Discipleship

It’s one thing to take time before, during, and after the Sunday service to chat about our week and the weather. But no one has ever become a more mature disciple of Christ without intentionally coming together with other believers and carving out time to work out our salvation. We need each other; we see in our very design as image-bearers of God that we are deeply designed for community. When we join with other believers to search Scripture for answers to our circumstances, confess and root out sin, and in prayer seek the ongoing help of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, we truly grow in grace and bring glory to God as those who better reflect him on earth. A church that promotes deep, personal relationships as well as offers classes and groups for the deeper exploration in and application of God’s living Word in our lives is a church that is fulfilling the Great Commission to

19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
(Matthew 28:19–20a, ESV)

This is why I love the church.

Recent years continue to see Christians abandon the institutional church in favor of expressions of the faith that are supposedly more ‘pure’. Christians meeting together at McDonald’s in twos or threes, Christians meeting together in homes or in local parks. This, say some, is a true, pure, biblical expression of Christian community. But I love the historical, institutional church, and believe that she is central to all that God is doing in the world. My prayer is that every Christian would find for themselves a place in which each of these Six Things (and more) is preached, practiced, and promoted for their good and God’s glory.

Parenting: an Example of Grace

If there’s one surefire way to bring sin to the surface and show me who I really am, it’s being a parent. Nothing shines a huge spotlight on my selfishness like a kid crying in the night. I always thought I was a fairly patient person—up until the time when none of my kids are doing the right thing, and all of my kids are refusing to listen. It’s been said that kids are like mirrors: they show you who you truly are by reflecting your less desirable mannerisms back at you, but also by revealing what’s being drawn out of your heart in your reactions. My behaviour in those moments is also an indictment of just how nonchalant I can be towards sin because every instance of being sent to time-out is a chance to share the gospel—to discuss how we all do things that don’t please God and how we all need repentance and grace—and too often tiredness or forgetfulness just maks sure they say a quick apology to their hurt sibling before we all move on. Discipleship opportunity, gone.

We often pray (or, we should) for God to forgive us our sins, keep us from sin, and even to reveal our sins so that we can repent of them and be made clean. The truth is that that last one is a killer, and we all wish God would find a kinder, gentler way to bring our sin to the surface. Why? Because sanctification is H-A-R-D, sin is ugly, and dealing with it is painful. At the same time, we know that if we don’t kill it, then it will kill us. It sounds hopeless, if not for the gracious work of God on our behalf. At the end of the book of Romans, Paul concludes his letter about overcoming sin and walking in ‘the obedience of faith’ by reminding the church in Rome that while sin is a great enemy, God has secured the final victory for us through the death and resurrection of Christ. We know that it is through the power of Christ’s victory that we can resist temptation, put sin to death, and be steadily changed away from sin’s corruption and into Christ’s sanctification.

So, how do I respond to that news today?

First, it drives me to worship

When I spend any time at all thinking on everything that Christ has done in order to save a broken, corrupted person like me my heart overflows with thanks and worship. But as necessary as worship is in our response—and as worthy as Christ is of every millisecond of it—Paul tells me that there’s more to worship than singing or whispering prayers of gratitude. Romans 12 exhorts me to offer my entire life as an act of worship; every thought, word, and deed. So when I find a thought, word, or deed that doesn’t worship him, I need to kill it first and ask questions later. Worship includes working out my salvation—Paul’s ‘obedience of faith’—by actively removing those attitudes and behaviours that don’t demonstrate Christlikeness. Worship isn’t passive, it includes work too.

Second, it calls me to community

John contrasts God and sin by using the imagery of light and darkness. God is light, and sin hates the light. Here’s how John puts it:

5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1:5-10, ESV)

God isn’t simply saving individuals, then in isolation preparing them for heaven. Rather the natural result of being brought ‘into the light’ is that we now live in the community of the body of Christ. The New Testament has at least 40 passages that contain the words “one another” like this one in James 5:16 “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed”. A big part of sin keeping us in darkness is the lie that tells us we can deal with sin on our own. But the Bible teaches us that having fellowship (read mutual accountability against sin) with one another is a critical means of killing sin. There is a deeper love to be found in the Christian community.

Third, it demands genuine example

If there is one thing we all know about kids, it’s that they are quick to call us out when our walk doesn’t match our talk. In those moments when daddy loses his cool and responds in a way which is disproportionately harsh; or he lets things slide for too long before stepping in with discipline, these are the times to better model everything we’ve just mentioned. Dealing with sin begins with me, and if I’ve got anything to improve it’s being quicker to admit sin, ask forgiveness, and celebrate grace. These are the opportunities for deliberate discipleship where I not only have the responsibility to share with my kids the gospel of grace, but I have the equally great responsibility to model for them the gracious God.

 

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.

You and I Are Barabbas

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder if Barabbas eventually heard the news.

Just Open the Door

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

She writes

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

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

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

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

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

Just open the door.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Make Much of Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Contend for the Gospel

Recently I noticed a church saying “let’s be known for what we’re for, not what we’re against”. While this is a nice idea and appeals to a generation desperately clinging to positivity and acceptance, it’s unrealistic—and frankly negligent—of a church to not be willing to say what they’re against. This pervasive theme of compromising biblical truths, sometimes masked in ‘ecumenicism’, is resulting in a church unwilling to stand for biblical truths if it means being labelled ‘divisive’ or the ever-increasing ‘bigot’.

Would the early church have been as effective in their faithful ministry had they not out-rightly denied early heresies like Arianism or Gnosticism? There is a responsibility upon 21st century Christians to stand for the gospel, and stand against that which seeks to attack the gospel.

Look at Jude’s epistle. Jude uses the entirety of his epistle to warn about ungodly people and call the church to persevere and contend for the faith. Instead of his initial desire to write about their common salvation, the need to appeal to the church to fight for the gospel takes precedence. He writes

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
(Jude 3–4, ESV)

Jude is appealing with great urgency for the church to contend earnestly for the faith that at this point, had been established and fixed by the apostolic teaching. If Jude, inspired by the Holy Spirit, believed there wasn’t much point contending over biblical truths because it can be divisive, or if he thought it best not to ruffle any feathers, he likely wouldn’t have used this strong exhortation to call the church to fight for the gospel. Verse 3 also draws attention to something of great significance. We contend earnestly for the faith because it has been “entrusted to God’s holy people”. The Greek word for ‘entrusted’ here is paradídōmi which means to give over into power or use, or to give into the hands of another. It’s emphasis is on stewardship. It is used in Matthew 25:14 in the Parable of the Bags of Gold – “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them” (emphasis added). Our faith has been given and entrusted to us by God and it is our responsibility to steward this in a way that brings honour to Christ. This stewardship requires a willingness to fight for the faith once for all delivered to God’s holy people by affirming things consistent with Scripture, and denying that which is against Scripture.

At this point, fundamentalists and hot-heads can begin to cry “amen!” while holding their bible more like a weapon. Contending earnestly for the gospel entrusted to us is not done with a sledgehammer. We must always be prepared to give a defence for the gospel, and do so with gentleness and meekness. This doesn’t mean accepting every view as true and valid. It means disagreeing and rejecting anything against God and his word in a respectful and loving manner. This brings honour to Christ. Agreeing or even inadvertently affirming that which is against Christ does not honour him.

So as Jude used his only epistle in the canon to urge those in Christ to contend earnestly for the faith entrusted to God’s holy people, this is an exhortation to Christ’s church to fight for the gospel in the midst of a world where many are losing the willingness to stand for truth. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19), but let us not neglect that which has been entrusted to us and be diligent in our fight for the truth of the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ.

 


This post was written by Tom Edwards. Tom is husband to a beautiful woman named Jasmine and carer of a cheeky and chubby pug named Spencer. He loves Christ, theology, and seeing God save souls and build His church.

Why it’s Better to Dive than Water Ski

work hard to be picky about what books get to sit on my nightstand. I follow bloggers and publishers whose opinions, works, and theological viewpoints I’ve come to trust over the years. This means that in general, even though I’m reading a high volume of books, I can also look back and say that I’m reading a high quality of books too (because honestly, life is too short for poor prose and dodgy doctrine). 2017 was a great year for books. The ways in which my life has been enriched through the theologians, biographers, story-tellers, artists, and authors of all kinds in 2017 are many. Although I still have a long way to go, my eyes have been opened and my worldview expanded, and the point of convergence for this newly acquired knowledge is an increased self-awareness and me developing strategies to change myself for the better.

Dive, Don’t Ski

As I sat in the first week of the new year and considered all that I wanted to achieve, I recalled an analogy used by Tony Reinke in his 2017 book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. Reinke talks about how we live in a world of tweets and short, rapid content; he likens our reading styles today to water skiing over the surface of the ocean without ever taking the time to simply stay in one place and dive deep. The wonders that reside sometimes only a few feet beneath the waves are so often passed over in the temporary exhilaration of breadth, distance, and speed.

So, how has this changed my approach to reading in 2018?

As much as I loved the overwhelming majority of the books I read in 2017, it’s easy to read simply for breadth, amusement, and information. If we make the Bible the ocean in Reinke’s analogy, it is not a book that should be read cover to cover and added to the “completed” shelf. Nor is it a book to recreationally ski across the surface of by quickly reading a page here or there. Rather God’s word requires more lingering, exploratory reading; reading that intentionally dives down deep with the desire to encounter, and discover, and know. That’s what I need to do more in 2018.

Reading More by Reading Less

This year I might not read the same number of books I read in 2017. But I’m making the decision to protect and prioritise my reading of scripture over and above other books, and to choose a reading plan that doesn’t only let me tick the “completed’ checkbox, but takes me further into this book in which I encounter the living God, and am forever changed. And when my church starts a 2 month series on Colossians (Or 1 John, or Psalms) maybe I’ll swim to that same spot. Although it might be hard to resist the temptation to move on at first, I’ll have my oxygen tank and underwater camera at the ready, and I’m going to learn to dive deep.

Going Analog

I am unashamedly a child of the Internet age. I am the IT expert in my family and I work in IT. I always have my phone within 10 metres of me and I read about half of my books on an electronic device. As an extension of that I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I haven’t used a physical Bible in any significant way for almost a decade. Instead I have the YouVersion app on my phone which gives me access to every conceivable Bible translation in a few seconds. So why is it that I’ve just ordered a physical Bible?

Firstly, I’m changing how I’m reading the Bible this year. In past years I’ve followed plans that will take me through the entire Bible in a year. While I have found this beneficial I’m looking to read more deeply this year. One of the many podcasts I listen to on a weekly basis (I did say I was a child of the Internet) is John Macarthur’s Grace to You. A couple of months ago he had a series on Bible memorisation which really challenged me; so this year I’m going to put more focus on doing that, and a physical Bible will be my tool of choice. The location of words on a page are an aid in memorisation, and you lose that on a phone. Also, reading on a phone lends itself to rapid skimming so I’m hoping that having the physical book in my hand will cause me to focus more.

Secondly—and following on from the goal of focusing—my phone contains a large number of distractions. From my phone I could access Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, the Internet, my Kindle App, or Email. These are all available at my fingertips when I’m sitting in church with my Bible app open. I’d like to say that I never check any of these things out when I’m in church but that would be a lie. It doesn’t even take much conscious thought for that to happen, my fingers just do it when I’m holding my phone. So, what is the solution? A physical Bible. I can have the Bible open and the various apps on my phone can sit in my pocket out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, I have a two year old daughter and I’ve been thinking about how to raise her in the faith. While there are a lot of factors to this I firmly believe that one of those factors is to live out my own faith in full view of her. This is also a multi-faceted thing; one of those facets is demonstrating a clear habit of Bible reading. Given that there are so many things that I could be doing if I spend an extended period of time looking at my phone, it seems that a physical Bible is the only way to make this obvious without explicitly saying it.

So, am I saying goodbye to the digital Bible? No. I still see great value in it; if I need to find a particular verse and I don’t know where it is or if I want to compare a verse in various versions, I’m still going to pull out my phone. There’s also going to be plenty of times where I won’t have the physical Bible with me, but my phone simply won’t be my primary Bible anymore. So this year, in this regard, I’m going analog—and I think it’s going to be incredibly beneficial.
 


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.

Getting (More) Excited about Christmas

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

Music

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

Advent

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

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

Lights

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

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

Come and Drink

If you’ve grown up in church, you’re familiar with the story in John 4 where a woman at a well encounters Jesus. It’s a wonderful story, and one that carries profound revelation as Jesus Christ evangelises this woman and shows her (and us) what is required for genuine salvation.

Refresh your memory on the story here first.

Lesson #1: Jesus was Mission-Minded

We’re told in the text that Jesus left Judea and he’s making the journey to Galilee. We also read that he ‘had to’ pass through Samaria. This is the first point of interest in John’s story. ‘Had to’. There are multiple ways that one could travel from Judea to Galilee; there was definitely no necessity for Jesus to pass through Samaria as though it was the only way to get to his destination. Although it was the most direct route, it was also the one that Jews (stricter Jews in particular) avoided at all costs. You could easily go to the East up the coastal route or to the West inland over the Jordan River in order to avoid Samaria. This is what most Jews would have done.

You see, to the Jews the Samaritans were an unclean people. John MacArthur explains that Samaritans were essentially a corrupted form of the Jewish race. When the Assyrians came and took much of the northern kingdom of Israel captive, the Jews who remained intermarried with all kinds of pagan nations and so they were a hybrid people who had forsaken their Judaism, committing the most serious of offences by marrying people who worshipped false gods and idols. Samaritans were considered the worst kind of outcasts, even to the point that their land was considered ‘cursed ground’.

Q: So why did Jesus ‘have to’ pass through this region for which the Jews held so much disdain?

A: Like always, Jesus had a divine appointment. He had to, because he was fulfilling the will of his father to seek and save the lost. There was much more than just a geographical convenience at work here.

Lesson #2: Jesus Found Common Ground

One thing you’ll notice about Jesus in the gospels is that he never responds to questions the way we expect him to. And this encounter is no different. Jesus doesn’t answer the woman’s question about why he has spoken to her, and he’s even been so bold as to ask her for a drink. Rather, ignoring all the cultural stuff, in verse 10 Jesus says to her “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”.

This is Jesus’ way of saying “I’m the one who has everything you could ever need.”

But wait. Just a moment ago, Jesus was talking about being thirsty, and the woman having the water. Now suddenly Jesus has flipped the conversation around. He is the one with the water, and she is the one who is thirsty. The woman’s reply was understandable confusion. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep”. She didn’t understand what for us is another lesson in Jesus’ evangelism strategy. Jesus found common ground with the person he was sharing with. Jesus used the need for physical water as an entry point into a conversation about greater spiritual realities.

Lesson #3: Jesus Offered Without Regard for Circumstances

Water is life! And that’s exactly what Jesus is offering; on a much grander, eternal scale. Jesus invites all people to come. Come, drink, and have life. The water that Jesus offers this woman is salvation without regard for her circumstances. It isn’t hindered by her immorality, it isn’t rendered ineffective by her religious indifference, it isn’t voided because of her ethnicity; he simply offers her this living water freely.

This is where Christianity stands in contrast against every other religion. Other religions demand “do this morally”, “do that ceremonially”, or “work hard to be a certain way”. The gospel says “It’s a free gift”. Those who miss out on heaven don’t miss out because they failed to work hard enough, or love others enough, or somehow measure up enough… they’re the ones who simply failed to ask for the water. To accept the free gift.

Jonathan Edwards famously said

“You contribute nothing to your salvation
except the sin that made it necessary”.

Jesus says to her “if you knew who it was that asked, you would have asked me”. And that’s all the sinner can do. Recognise our need, and ask.

 


This post was adapted from a sermon I delivered at North Pine Baptist Church in early 2017.

Listening is Loving: Part 2

Listening is something of a lost art which needs to be recaptured, retaught, and reapplied in our relationships with God and with others; both because it will greatly improve our quality of life, and because it lies at the heart of what it means to be like the God who Himself listens to us.

In his book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Adam S. McHugh talks about listening as one of the best gifts we can both give and receive. At the time of writing this I’m six chapters in to his book and already I’ve been encouraged and challenged (see part one) in many ways with regard to listening to God, to Scripture, to my emotions, and to others.

Today, I want to explore what it looks like to be a bad listener, because I saw myself in many of these categories and I’ve learned that active listening is a whole lot more involved than simply paraphrasing and returning what someone has said, or asking open-ended questions (however good the intention).

Here are a few of the usual suspects in the ongoing case of bad listening:

The One-up. “You think that’s something? Let me tell you about what happened to me last week!” Here the listener sits quietly through the other person’s story only to try to trump them with a better, more interesting story. It’s a competition more than a conversation.

The Sleight-of-hand. “Uh huh, that’s great. But what I really want to talk to you about is…” Listening lulls the speaker into a false sense of security so that they don’t see the trick coming, namely, what the speaker’s agenda is for the conversation.

The Inspector. “Didn’t you say last week that…” The listener asks a series of questions, usually closed-ended questions, in a way that feels like a detective questioning a suspect, trying to lure him into a confession. Listening is the lightning before the thunder, the burning fuse before the bomb.

The Reroute. “That reminds me of…” The listener takes the topic the speaker has addressed and rolls it over, however clumsily, into the topic she wants to talk about or the story she wants to tell. Nothing will stop her from talking about what she came to talk about.

The Projector. “I’m totally dealing with the same thing!” The listener projects his problems onto the speaker, and then projects his solutions onto the speaker’s problems. The projector sees himself in every conversation.

The Interrogation. “What do you think about….? What is your favourite…? Why are you moving to…?” The listener gets wind of the idea that listening is about asking questions, which is good, but then peppers the speaker with them like a game of dodgeball, which is bad. Here we learn that questions, as helpful as they can be, can also be very controlling, and that they can be vehicles for the questioner’s agenda.

The Password. “Cheese. I had the best cheese at a dinner party with the mayor last week!” The listener sits quietly through the speaker’s conversation, but then seizes on one word that she uses, amid a sea of paragraphs, and treats it as a password that unlocks a whole new conversation. The original context has no bearing on where the password takes you. It sounds funny, but it happens more than you might think. The password sentence usually starts with “Speaking of…”

The Hijack. You have to give the listener credit with this one: at least he’s honest and doesn’t even pretend to use what the speaker said as a stepping stone. He refrains from speech while the other person talks and then just starts talking about whatever is on his mind, as though they are two deaf ships passing in the night. I’m reminded of a quote I heard once that says most people do not dialogue; they perform a monologue in the presence of another person.

The Mechanic. “Here is what you need to do.” This person listens like a mechanic listens to a sputtering engine, trying to diagnose the problem so she can fix it. Contrary to popular cultural thinking, both men and women are guilty of this one.

The Bone of Contention. “I disagree with that!” There are an unfortunate number of listeners who listen specifically for what they disagree with. Ask a pastor what people talk to him about after a sermon if you don’t believe me. Even if they agree with 99 percent of what a person says, they will pounce on the 1 percent they don’t agree with, and in doing so they ignore what is significant to the speaker.

The Deflector. “Yeah but you…” This one is a refuge for people who have a hard time receiving criticism, which, let’s be honest, is all of us. Someone offers us feedback, so we quickly return the favour without taking the time to absorb what he said.

The Boomerang Question. “Did you have a good weekend? Because I…” Here a person asks a question of another person with the true intention of answering it herself. The question goes out and then boomerangs back. If you know the answer to your own question, you probably shouldn’t ask it. Sometimes when I get a boomerang question, I’ll respond, “Why don’t you just tell me how your weekend went?” ?That usually gets my message across.

If I am “listening” in such a way that the speaker has to make an abrupt shift in focus over to me, then I’m not doing it right. I’ve learned that a good listener must be ruthless in pushing away the ever-present temptation to make the conversation about them. Good Listening always denies the natural selfishness of their own human heart and instead imitates the self-emptying attitude of Jesus who gave his life in love.

 

 


Today’s post was adapted from chapter six of Adam S. McHugh’s book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.

The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection

Recently I’ve been reading through Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, and I was struck by his exposition of the sixth beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. Bonhoeffer writes

A pure heart … belongs entirely to Christ; it looks only to him, who goes on ahead. Those alone will see God who in this life have looked only to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Their hearts are free of defiling images; they are not pulled back and forth by the various wishes and intentions of their own. Their hearts are fully absorbed in seeing God. They will see God whose hearts mirror the image of Jesus Christ.

A number of things struck me in reading Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this verse. The first was my complete inadequacy to ever be one who possesses a pure heart. What would it be like to never have an impulse or desire that became more important to me than Jesus—even for a second—so that my highest, uncontested desire is always for him and what he desires? I’m the first to admit that I would never have the strength to accomplish that kind of purity of desire on my own. And yet, the second thought that followed in rapid succession was that Jesus gave these commandments to help us realise exactly this. The law was given to point us to Christ, and so it is with the beatitudes. These traits that should be common to every Christian serve to put on display the God who loved us and saved us by giving his life for us.

When I consider the way that Scripture presents the one coherent narrative of God’s redemptive action towards all that he has made, I know that there are answers to be found to this initially impossible task. And I also know that God doesn’t give commands simply to get us down because we’ve realised we’ll never live up to the dizzying high standard.

The answer came to me while reading what God said to King Nebuchadnezzar through his servant Daniel. After interpreting the king’s dream (and not in the way the king was hoping for!) Daniel offers the king this sage advice:

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Daniel 4:27, emphasis mine)

How was the king to make progress towards a pure heart? He needed to break off his sins. But we all know that sin has a powerful hold, and we would almost always prefer the pleasure, fleeting though we know it is. But this is where the words of Daniel go a step further than what often occurs to us. We don’t simply stop doing something—leaving a void that only serves to remind us of the sin we’re trying to leave behind—we replace that desire with a true and better desire. We develop new habits, we form different neural pathways, we desire new delights. Jesus himself tells us that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are blessed because we shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Nothing else will ultimately satisfy these hearts that were made by God and for God, and so we recognise that what we need is the expulsive power of a greater affection. I’ve realised more that if I’m ever going to be successful in breaking off sin, I need to more actively seek after the all-satisfying Saviour.

Listening is Loving: Part 1

Listening is something of a lost art which needs to be recaptured, retaught, and reapplied in our relationships with God and with others; both because it will greatly improve our quality of life, and because it lies at the heart of what it means to be like the God who Himself listens to us.

In his book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Adam S. McHugh talks about listening as one of the best gifts we can both give and receive. At the time of writing this I’m four chapters in to his book and already I’ve been encouraged and challenged about the importance of listening with all my senses—not simply listening with one ear while my fingers text and my head writes a shopping list. (more on this in part 2)

When it comes to listening to—and hearing from—God, McHugh argues that although Scripture is the primary means through which God speaks with his children today we would be doing God (and ourselves) a disservice if we were to consider it to be the only means. He writes:

I am prepared to take a liberal position on God’s voice and his communications to his creation. God wants to be known and speaks freely, in a multitude of different ways. I believe all these means of hearing God’s voice are fair game. This entire book is about listening to God because God’s voice fills the universe, and when we listen to any agent we are potentially listening to God. Such a position may make me the most raging charismatic the Presbyterian Church has ever known. But if we want to confess God as truly sovereign, then his means of communication must be unrestricted, and they certainly cannot be less than what the Bible testifies to.

Rather, McHugh believes that the answer is to have safeguards for hearing (what we think is) God speaking to us. In this way we flip the restrictions from how we ‘allow’ God to speak over so the restriction is now on us, our interpretations, and what we do with them. I find this approach excellent, and well aligned with the church throughout history. McHugh suggests three ways that we can rightly filter what we’ve heard in order to use our God-given wisdom to better respond.

The Bible

First, what we hear has to sound like the God of the Bible. If it is inconsistent with what we read about God’s character and ways in Scripture, it must be rejected. Any voice that calls for personal gain at the cost of others, self-aggrandizement, any voice that goes against the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) is inauthentic. Straight up.

The Community

Second, we have been saved into a community of saints with whom we seek to better listen, and with whom we filter our interpretations. Listening is a communal exercise, and God rarely (if ever) gives direction to people in a way that has no benefit for His people—at the very least for the purpose of building each other up in the faith through a shared testimony of His goodness. McHugh writes: “People that hear from God on an island have nowhere to go but into their own egos.” We need the wisdom, experience, and maturity of fellow believers in order to best confirm the words we believe we have been given.

Reflection

Last, we should be people of reflection. It is not simply enough to immediately act, as though we are mindless robots whose only requirement in relationship is to obey. Each Christian has been given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and with His presence comes wisdom to consider the impact of these decisions and we would be wise to take time to reflect. The Holy Spirit is never confused; so if we feel there is a lack of clarity, the best thing we can do is wait.

Recently I was with a group of people who shared their experiences of acting upon (what they felt was) God speaking to them. In my case, hindsight can clearly see that this voice was in fact my own desire colouring the lens through which I saw the right decision. Would I have interpreted the words I heard differently if I’d spent more time with the Bible, the community, and reflection with the Holy Spirit? It’s impossible to say. What I do know is that Jesus tells us that his sheep know his voice, and that should be equally true in the silence as it is in the midst of this turbulent, noise-filled world. To know his voice, I first need to learn how to listen.

You Are Not Enough

There’s a dangerous rhetoric that has invaded the Christian vernacular, and the three small words of this subtle message have had a massive, subversive influence on many young Christians’ understanding of themselves, and by extension a cheapened view of the cross and ultimately of God. What are these words, and how could they be so damaging? It’s the notion memorably set to music in Christina Aguilera’s 2002 hit “beautiful”, captured now in inspirational Instagram quotes superimposed over strong mountains or tall trees.

You Are Enough.

The only problem is, it’s a lie. So the next time a preacher, pastor, public speaker, self-help guru, or friend tells you that “you are enough”, don’t believe them. Don’t buy into the lie that says you should trust in yourself or have confidence in yourself or look for answers within yourself because it simply isn’t true. The reality is that you are human. You are descended from Adam, of the same genetic stuff that caused God to flood the world to rid it of people whose hearts and deeds were only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). That’s the stock you and I come from.

Why It’s Dangerous

Humankind has always sought to be master of our own destiny. From Adam & Eve disobeying God’s good design, to God’s people Israel continually thinking they knew better, to modern Christian self-help books designed to bolster our self-worth thinly veiled in Christianese. But Scripture tells us a different story, and one that we would be wise to pay attention to. Proverbs 3:5 begins “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” If I was to draw a circle that contained all knowledge about everything there is, and ask you to draw a circle inside it to represent your knowledge, you’d probably place a single, barely-visible dot. And yet when we’re facing trials, temptations, trouble that would overwhelm and leave us decimated, we lean on comfortable clichés like “chin up. You are enough” rather than placing our trust in the LORD, whose knowledge fills the entire circle to its perimeter. A biblical perspective on humanity reveals that if you’re going to take your eyes off God and attempt to trust in your own broken, sinful heart—what theologians throughout history have referred to as pulling yourself up by your own boostraps—you’re going to have a bad time.

But There’s Hope

In the middle of the Bible there’s a book called Psalms. In this book, we find authors like David who time after time cry out to God to rescue them from their current circumstances. In these pages we are clearly shown that God is infinitely more capable, more knowing, and more powerful to not only take care of our circumstances, but us as well. The Psalms help to re-orient our hearts away from ourselves and fix our eyes on the One who is enough. About this God David writes in Psalm 103:14-19:

14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

God is totally sovereign. He is perfectly just. He speaks and where there was nothing, now there is something. God sees everything visible by the strongest Hubble telescope, and he sees everything that it can’t see, out to the very edge of what exists. He sees everything visible by the strongest electron microscope, and he sees everything it can’t see, down to the most minute level of what is. And he knows it all perfectly, effortlessly, and he learned none of it because he made it. That sounds like the One who is enough.

Listen to A. W. Tozer:

“God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.”

Infinitely Enough

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’ve gone through a crisis? A job loss. A heart-crushing breakup. An injustice where you feel like you’ll never be heard? God sees your circumstances, and not only is he able to oversee the outcome of those circumstances for your good and his glory, he is also infinitely, lovingly, perfectly enough to care for your every need. So the next time trouble hits, remember David’s words from Psalm 121:

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying that a right understanding of ourselves begins with a right understanding of God. When we know who God is we can properly know who we are, and joyfully depend on Him in every circumstance for our good and his glory. He is powerfully, lovingly, perfectly for us. We are not enough. And that’s actually good news.

A Prayer for the Church

Heavenly Father, we pray for the Christian church worldwide, which You have called into existence for a witness and testimony of Your grace, mercy, love, and truth. We ask Your forgiveness for ‘peddling the gospel’, for making your sacred truth and benevolent grace a profane product to be advertised, marketed, and merchandised. Lord forgive us for pursuing material gain, worldly success, and personal happpiness as the highest priority in our lives. Cause us to seek first, and above all else, to love You with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength—to seek first Your Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and Your righteousness and true holiness.

Make us to realise that You are building Your church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Likewise, humble us to acknowledge Your supreme wisdom, knowledge, and power. Lord, you don’t need us or our feeble, misguided plans and methods; for Thou, O Lord, art able to raise up from the very stones of the ground faithful children unto Abraham. We thank You for the opportunity You have given us to partner with You in the expansion of Your Kingdom here on earth. Help us to remember that our role and responsibility in God’s Great Commission is to sow, and not to grow. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”

And so, O God, we are confronted with our own poverty and impotence, trusting in You to govern, guide, lead, train, and equip us to disciple all nations in the way of Christ. Anoint us with Your Holy Spirit and empower us to transform our world for Jesus. Raise up labourers for the harvest. Bring into the sheepfold of God those who through repentance and faith have submitted themselves to the rule of Christ their Messianic King. And Lord, we will be sure to give You all the glory, honour, and power, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


This prayer was taken from Lord, Teach us to Pray by Manfred Wagstaff, 2017.

You Don’t Even Have a Bucket, Jesus

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with,
and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
– John 4:11, ESV

If you’ve grown up in church, you’ll be familiar with the story of the woman of Samaria who encounters Jesus at a well, and the way that she reacts to Jesus bizarre, puzzling, not to mention culturally taboo question. If you’re not, pause and re-read John 4:1-45 here. Now perhaps if it were you or I standing there with Jesus, we’d react the same way that this woman did. She looks at Jesus, considering the act of drawing water, and reminds him “but you don’t even have a bucket, Jesus”. It’s not so strange that we can’t imagine the same thought occurring to us. In this woman’s mind, Jesus is failing to meet the basic requirements of water-giving.

How often in our own lives do we find that Jesus is right there, saying to us “I have everything you could ever need” and in our pain, in our uncertainty, in our own perceptions of the exact thing that we need in order to fix our situation we respond “but you don’t even have a bucket, Jesus.”

The gospel tells me “I can heal you of that bitter unforgiveness, Chris.”

“But you don’t even have a bucket, Jesus. Now maybe if you come back with a psychology degree, or brought a ten part DVD series, or at least come with something that makes you look like you understand my situation…. Maybe you should just stick to telling stories and dying for people. Stick to what you know, Jesus.”

But maybe that “bucket” isn’t what I need. And I’m standing at that well so focused on Jesus’ lack of a bucket that my eyes are blind to what he’s actually offering to do for me. Just maybe he knows something that I don’t.

You see, this woman’s issue wasn’t that she didn’t know she was sinful. Believe me, she was painfully aware every day of her immoral lifestyle; having had five husbands and currently living unmarried with her boyfriend. We can say with some confidence that it’s the whole reason why she’s made her way to the well in the hottest part of the day when no one else would venture out—precisely for that reason because she doesn’t want to have to deal with the judgmental glances, the hidden whispers as she approaches, the comments behind her back as she leaves. She knows all about her sin. But there’s a sense in which her sin isn’t actually her biggest problem. I’m more inclined to think that her biggest problem—the one that so many of our friends and family share with her today—is that she doesn’t know Jesus. She doesn’t know the one who has come to die for her sins. The one who freely offers her water, living water….LIFE.

Jesus offers this living water without reserve, without condemnation, and without regard for circumstance. Will you come and drink?

A Prayer for the Church

O God, help us to view the Christian Church from a kingdom perspective. May we see the church as You see the church from your heavenly throne; a church without walls, a church without man-made denominational labels and organisational divisions, a church made up only of true believers who are spiritually connected to Christ and to each other through faith and obedience to Him who loved us and gave His life to save us.

Help us to see the big picture; that we belong to a people group who span the corridors to time from Adam to Christ’s Second Coming, a people of faith, a universal church of saints triumphant who have faithfully finished their course in this life and have gone to be with You; and the church militant who continue in this life to fight the good fight and defend the faith once delivered to the saints of the early church.

O God, keep us from becoming institutionalised in dead religion. Reform your church as you did in the Protestant Reformation. Raise up men and women of God who will blow the trumpet in Zion to awaken a sleeping, lukewarm, apostate church; a church given over to worldly business principles and marketing strategies, who peddle the gospel like a profane commodity instead of preaching it as a sacred trust.

Lord God, raise up leaders, shepherds of Israel, to lead Your church in the ways of righteousness and true holiness. Purge the Christian church worldwide from carnal motivations of success and the sins of pride, envy, and a competitive spirit. Rebuke and admonish those who have placed their trust and confidence in the arm of the flesh, (which is to say) their own abilities and human wisdom. Cause them to repent of their wicked ways and to seek first Your Kingdom and Your Righteousness. May the scales of deception and delusion fall from their eyes by the enlightening grace of Your Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, You said that You would build Your church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it; and yet the institutional church, heavily influenced by the Church Growth Movement, has usurped your role, your authority, and have taken custody and ownership of the church and of church growth. O God, convict and convince Your people in every land and in every place, both clergy and laity, that we are not called or commissioned to grow the church; we are called and commissioned to disciple new believers and to spread the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom throughout the world.

Help us to remember always – that one may plant, one may water, but it is You and only You that give the increase. You, O God, are the only one who can cause genuine church growth and the extension of your kingdom here upon the earth. For “Unless the Lord builds the House, they labour in vain who build it”.

Be pleased O God, to therefore forgive us our sins of selfishness, self-sufficiency, self-determination, and self-promotion. Cause us to humble ourselves under Your mighty hand, and to wait upon Your Spirit for all manner of divine enablement and blessing. We pray these things in the name of Your beloved Son; our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


This prayer was taken from Lord, Teach us to Pray by Manfred Wagstaff, 2017.