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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

Enjoy: Trillia Newbell

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesdays on the Web (03/05)

Lord, Search my Heart

The glorious gospel miracle is that what God requires of us in Micah 6:8, he purchases for us and accomplishes in us.

A Marriage Checklist

So here’s a book that’s been on my shelf untouched for too long. At a guess, I’d say I’ve read 5-7 books on marriage since purchasing Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, while it sits with a bookmark at page 1. Expanding on the old idea of Love Languages, Keller discusses love “currency” and here David Murray shares a practical list which is well worth frequenting. Simple, practical, über beneficial (if you get it right!).

Grace and The Non-Instagrammable Church

The real church is just that. It’s real. It hasn’t been photoshopped. There’s no filter or adjustable settings to clean up the mess, tone down the noise, or disguise the sin. And this is exactly how God designed it, and its the perfect place for grace to flourish. This culture of grace, this community of differents (to borrow from Scot McKnight) is where we see the message of the gospel most clearly displayed. Jared C. Wilson writes

You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time.

God uses our brokenness to display his grace; so we give thanks.

4 Methods to Organise Your Prayer Life

Whether you’re a paper person, an app person, a person who needs to find more time, or a person who has trouble remembering who or what you were planning on praying for, there’s something in this article that will help you get the most out of whatever time you set aside for in prayer.

Love the Lord with your Mind

Thanks to Jen Wilkin for the important reminder of intentionally cultivating our relationship with God through study.

Christless Christianity

Early on in Michael Horton’s 2008 look at the state of Evangelical Christianity in America he states his case clearly by saying “My argument in this book is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous.” From this beginning he takes the reader on a journey through mainstream evangelicalism and shows where Christ has not been explicitly denied but simply ignored.

The first stop is to look at what has replaced Christ-centred Christianity, namely Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. This is essentially the belief that there is a god who wants us to be good people and wants for us to be happy. While this is an attractive belief system – after all who doesn’t want a god who just wants us to be happy – Horton shows that it is a belief system that doesn’t have Jesus as its focal point. Instead the focus is the consumer.

So instead of introducing people to a majestic God who nevertheless condescended in mercy to save those who cannot save themselves, these sermons— even with the parable of the prodigal son as their text— proclaim a message that can be summarized as moralistic, therapeutic deism. As a product, the God experience can be sold and purchased with confidence that the customer is still king. Therefore, statements that would have appalled previous generations of mainline Protestants are assumed as a matter of course even among evangelicals today, such as George Barna’s defence of “a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message is sovereign.”

Having identified the problem we are now led through an in-depth look at a few specific examples. We see the gospel of Joel Osteen where we are essentially good people who just need to do the best we can, but “Who needs Christ if this is the gospel: ‘You’re not perfect, but you are trying to live better, and God looks at your heart. He sees the inside, and He is changing you little by little’?” We see the message of Joyce Meyer where we “live the gospel” by loving people but “love is actually the summary of the law. God’s commands stipulate what love of God and neighbour means. In the Bible, the law simply nails down what it means to love God and our neighbour.” Finally we look at the message that Willow Creek sent by their response to a survey on the health of the church which found that a large number of members described themselves as stalled spiritually. As Horton says “What I find remarkable is that those who identified themselves as “stalled” said, “I believe in Christ, but I haven’t grown much lately,” and the dissatisfied said, “My faith is central to my life and I’m trying to grow, but my church is letting me down.” These highly committed respondents even said they “desire much more challenge and depth from the services” and “60 percent would like to see ‘more in- depth Bible teaching.’” The take- away for the authors, however, was not that Willow Creek should provide a richer ministry but that the sheep must learn to fend for themselves— to become “self- feeders” who need to be more engaged in private spiritual practices.

Fortunately we are not shown the problem without an answer being provided. The answer is simple: we can never outgrow the gospel. We should never assume that everybody knows it and we can move beyond it.

When our churches assume the gospel, reduce it to slogans, or confuse it with moralism and hype, it is not surprising that the type of spirituality we fall back on is moralistic, therapeutic deism. In a therapeutic worldview, the self is always sovereign. Accommodating this false religion is not love— either of God or neighbour— but sloth, depriving human beings of genuine liberation and depriving God of the glory that is his due. The self must be dethroned. That’s the only way out.

This isn’t a book that all church-goers are going to enjoy. The people that it looks at are admired by many but unfortunately that is the point. It has been nearly a decade since the book was published and if anything the problem is now worse. I’m convinced that this should be required reading for anyone in the western church. “As heretical as it sounds today, it is probably worth telling Americans [and Australians] that you don’t need Jesus to have better families, finances, health, or even morality.” If that is true then we need to understand why we need Jesus and that’s not something that’s talked about enough these days.
 
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What I Read in April

I didn’t read as much as I normally would this April, but what I did read was fresh and nourishing. This month also saw me graduate with my M.Div, so I’m looking forward to being a little freer now to read more widely. Other books I read this month (not listed below) include Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism and Helmet Thieke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.

Humble Roots

This month turned out holding a selection of books from thoroughly enjoyable women-theologians. The first off the bench was Hannah Anderson, whose book is tenaciously biblical while exploring humility through our physical bodies, emotions, and the natural world. Anderson reminded me afresh how pride is conquered through the recognition of our dependence on God, our need for a Saviour, and the sustaining power of the Spirit without any of whom we would be dust. These ‘roots’ were complimented with frequent practical examples of what humility looks like in real life. Highly recommended.

None Like Him

In ten chapters Jen Wilkin looks at ten of God’s incommunicable attributes (things that are only true of God), showing that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. In a similar theme to another book I read this month, Wilkin talks about the importance of of studying God’s attributes; getting to know this incomprehensibly glorious God who has not only made himself known to us, but wants to be known by us.

The Deep Things of God: How The Trinity Changes Everything

Many people can go through the Christian life simply praying to god-in-general, never cultivating a relationship with any of the three persons of the Trinity. I loved being able to read about the beauty and wonder of the different functions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and how encountering each one has increased tenfold my Christian life (not only my prayer life). Seeing the acts of God as acts in which the whole Trinity participates (The Father sends, the Son secures, and the Holy Spirit seals), as well as remembering that the Son taught us to pray “Our Father” through the Spirit is enriching and results in a deeper love and relationship with the God who is three-in-one.

Missional Motherhood

I read Dave Furman’s book a while back (read my review) and really enjoyed his honest appraisal and compassionate advice. Gloria Furman also writes with clarity, imparting the kind of wisdom that only comes from lived experience. With eyes fixed on seeing how God’s plan for motherhood is a high calling encapsulated within God’s grand redemptive plan, Gloria takes a sweeping look at the Old Testament before traveling forward to Jesus, showing how he is every mother’s Prophet, Priest, and King. The call to live out the gospel in our homes as places of Christ-exalting hospitality is a wonderful, life-giving message that will impart courage for every mother.

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

Among the most important questions in Christianity are around how we practically ‘work out our salvation’. Far from easy-believism or cheap grace, I found this to be a super-helpful systematic look at the common questions around the call of Christ, the response of humanity, what genuine conversion looks like (in light of getting the previous two right) and the demonstration of saving faith ongoing in the life of the Christian. I listened to the audio book for this one, and found myself wishing I could take out a highlighter and mark plenty of paragraphs on the way through.

Here’s what I read in

Wednesdays on the Web (26/04)

This week’s edition is smaller than normal; but only in numbers, not in content. The reason it has fewer items is because each of these issues is producing so much heat and light on the Internet at the moment that whatever else has been said has been left standing just outside the limelight.

Jesus is Greater than your Depression

Here’s a wonderful story of hope on the blog of my friend Kyllum Lewis. I’ve never met Bethany, but her story is all too familiar for many. Her resilience in the face of depression is compassionately informative for those on the outside providing support, and comforting for those in the storm.

Depression tells me that there is no hope. Jesus tells me that I am safe in Him. God may choose to heal me completely, or He may not. His timing is always perfect and His ways are good.

The #BenOp Discussion Continues

Still being dubbed “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade”, My news feed continues to be full of people polarised over Rod Dreher’s book. Every week there are another half dozen bloggers whose copy of the book has arrived, and some are even live-blogging as they read, or producing multi-part responses over several articles. #BenOp is still a big discussion point, and something to be considered by every Christian. My copy is yet to arrive, but when it does I’ll contribute my 2 cents. In the mean time, Goodreads provides a number of quotes from the book, Scot McKnight provides links to a few thought-provoking responses (as well as providing his own), and D. A. Carson weighs in as well.

Hermeneutics or Sexism?

Taking Second Place is the storm that is the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. Again, there’s no need to list the plentiful supply of articles and opinions on this one. While I feel this is painting with a very broad brush (I certainly don’t see this attitude or behaviour in my local Baptist, complementarian church),  I also recognise that this experience is very real; and I try hard to feel the real pain these women feel, praying that people would continue to be committed to equipping themselves to formal study of scripture in order to bring about biblically better conduct and stop the oppression wherever it is found.

 

On My Table:
Life & Books with Geoff Bloor

This month’s On My Table comes from Geoff Bloor. Dr Geoff Bloor retired as Director, Social Work and Welfare at the Repatriation General Hospital in Adelaide about 5-6 years ago and now does a very small amount of teaching/consulting each year. He attends the St Morris church of Grace Anglican Network in Adelaide where he is a member of the joint Parish Council, a synod representative, a leader of 2 home groups and a leader in outreach to local migrants. He has always had an interest in theological study and made three previous attempts (several years apart) completing one subject each towards different qualifications, but then had to give up due to other commitments and the need to study towards other work related qualifications.

Now retired, Geoff has returned part-time to theological study and is enjoying sharing this journey with the academic staff and fellow students at Tabor College.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began is an examination of the Gospels and of Paul’s writings about what happened at Easter and its implications.

John Swinton’s Living in the Memories of God. Swinton says that there are many ways to talk about dementia. The dominant narrative about dementia in Western societies is the medical one. This is a narrative of neuropsychiatric deficits and continuous decline, couched in terms of what the person can no longer do. Swinton points out that this narrative, whilst accurate, is limited. It is appropriate for medical care, but it is not an appropriate starting point for a theological consideration of dementia.

What was the last book you left unfinished?

I can’t remember a book that I didn’t eventually finish. Some books get put aside for a while but I then return to them.

Is there a book you feel guilty for not reading?

Not really. I read for mainly for pleasure.

Is there a book you wish you’d written?

I wish I could write a novel. They say everyone has a novel inside them. I don’t think I do.

What was the last book you gave as a present?

Steve Smith with Ying Kai, T4t: A Discipleship Re-RevolutionThis is the story behind a Church Planting Movement that began in China and resulted in about 2 million baptisms in a ten-year period beginning in 2001. It has now spread to several other countries. Although I do not usually like “how-to” books, this one has some good principles and ideas.

Best biography you’ve ever read?

I’m not sure that it was the best, but A Man called Peter by Catherine Marshall was very influential in my formative Christian years.

What 5 books would you take to a desert island?

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
Although written long ago, it is a simple and practical approach to being aware of God and to prayer.

Melody Green and David Hazarr, No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green
I love the music of this man, and his attempt to live a Christian life without compromise.

William Gurnell, The Christian in Complete Armour.
This is a modernised 3 volume set by the Banner of Truth Trust. It is a very practical set of writings on standing firm in Christ. Of all the puritan writers, I believe Gurnell speaks most directly to this age.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.
Bonhoeffer has some very wise words about living in Christian Community.

Anything by Ernest Hemmingway. He has such an easy-to-read writing style.

What book has most frustrated you?

Anything by Richard Dawkins.

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

The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert Short, or any of the Peanuts, Charlie Brown or Snoopy comic books.

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

I usually have several books on the go at once. These can range from books on management, theology, biology, social work, politics, to novels (especially crime thrillers), newspapers and comic strips. Now I am semi-retired I make much more time for reading. I usually pore over the paper in the morning and try to reflect on what is happening in the world from a Christian perspective. I follow this up with Bible reading later in the day. I usually read a novel or something lighter for a half hour or so before bed. I find that helps me to become calmer and ready for sleep after what is still quite a busy day.

Wednesdays on the Web (19/04)

How Can a Busy Mom Become a Better theologian?

I’m currently reading Gloria Furman’s book Missional Motherhood, and I can tell you that she has a remarkable insight into the highs and lows of family life, and looking to the gospel of Jesus Christ for her strength, guidance, and joy in all things.

No Muse, No Music

Great art and music are inspired. In order to capture the world’s attention, they must have a muse, a muse that touches the soul.

I’m a Master of Divinity and I don’t know my Bible

While I don’t resonate with everything in this article, there is enough here that everyone could take away something of value.

The Mission Field Under My Roof

I wrote about this a little last week. Sometimes we (Western Christians) tend to be too inclined towards destinationism; the mental disposition that says we need a limelight to be of influence or purpose. But our first calling is always to our local congregation, our family (if you’re a parent).

Wherever we are, we want our children to know we cannot move forward in hope apart from Christ.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

The Heart of Holy Saturday

Yesterday we paused to remember that God the Son was crucified – for blasphemy, of all things. In churches around the world the death of the one and only saviour of humanity was proclaimed on Good Friday morning. We came together to worship God by giving him thanks; acknowledging that the death of the saviour Jesus Christ was an act of pure grace extended towards us, and that without God’s grace-filled intervention on our behalf, we would all be lost.

I also observe every year that for some pastors there remains a strong temptation to make sure that their service doesn’t end on a sombre note; after all, we need to remember Jesus’ death… but we don’t want to risk sending people away sad, so we remind them that “Sunday’s a-coming”. We’ll preach his death, but close the service with a happy song about resurrection victory.

But the paradox of Good Friday is that it does convey a deep seriousness and sadness, and it’s good for us to allow that seriousness to linger longer. Firstly because at the very lowest level of understanding, the fact that the saviour had to die such a scandalous (on many levels) death on our behalf demonstrates to us the seriousness of our sin, and communicates to us in clarion call that we should own the weight of that sin this Holy Saturday. Secondly on this day, Jesus is in the grave. His disciples aren’t reassuring each other that he’s currently securing for himself the very keys to Death and Hades before he emerges from the grave, resurrected in glorious splendor. No, they’re in confused, disoriented grief. What hope do we have now?

This Holy Saturday, let’s not miss the profoundness of this day by being too quick to move from the death of the saviour of the world directly to celebrating the resurrection. Rather (in the words of Jonathan Edwards) let’s remember that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that made it necessary. Let’s take a moment to think hard upon our sin, remember the infinitely costly price that we could never have paid, and live in thankfulness of the one who gave his life for us.

Wednesdays on the Web (12/04)

Deeper Magic

In light of Easter – but not specific to it – I’ve had conversations around the resurrection of Jesus Christ more and more as the single point on which the validity of Christianity stands or falls. I’ve been collecting a number of apologetic works on this one, but as always, the authors at Wondering Fair bring something new in a way that I never could.

The Curious Christian

I read and reviewed Barnabas Piper’s latest book a short while back. Aaron Armstrong’s take on this helpful book is motivating and reminds me that curiosity is a healthy habit every Christian should practice and improve.

Helping Women Engage Culture

So much about this article is important for every Christian – not only women. However, there’s something uniquely beautiful about the way this article shines light on the weight of responsibility for the Christian woman.

Women, often called gatekeepers who monitor what comes in and goes out of the home, need to be theologically informed and culturally aware in order to fill the void of the uniquely female, Christian voices in society. This doesn’t require a commitment to a class or a formal program. It requires time in the word, a love for wisdom and insight, regular fellowship with other believers and intentional accountability for one’s thoughts and actions when wading through these murky cultural waters.

From Can’t Read to Don’t Read

Yes, exactly.

Speaking Hospitably

I’ve had this same argument many times. Actually, I’ve been on both sides of this argument many times. I’ve never thought of considering how I craft my sentences as a form of hospitality before.

Need a New Podcast?

If you don’t listen to The Happy Rant, you should definitely check it out.

Not Just Thinkers

This weekend, I finally graduated from Bible College. Being a distance student, I boarded a plane and flew to the campus early so I could have a face-to-face meeting with each lecturer who had taught me for at least one class during the last 4-5 years. It was a rich, busy time of joyful introductions and nourishing conversation, mixed in with the anticipation of celebrating this hard-earned achievement. During the days I was on campus, I was met with The Dreaded Question (the one students hate answering, but can’t avoid) over and over, and I find myself still thinking about the answers that I gave.

What’s the question? The old “So, what are you going to do now?”

In his book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Helmut Thielicke discusses a number of enemies that face theologians today; one of these is the idolisation of the “doer” as opposed to the “thinker”. Sadly I’ve come across this anti-intellectual attitude in more than one place during my studies, even to the point that people have declared theology to be a tool of the enemy; set up purely to cause arguments and divide the Christian Church. In his congratulatory address at the start of the graduation ceremony, our Bible College President encouraged these fresh scholars to be “not only thinkers, but informed doers”. I spent a long time thinking about his choice of phrase.

Informed doers.

The words stirred thanks in me; thanks for the skills and tools that I’ve been equipped with in order to not simply keep the fire of my engine burning, but also to keep my wheels rolling. I’m grateful that the time of (formal) study is done, so that I can dedicate more of my resources to invest what I’ve learned in the classroom into my local congregation.

[As a small aside, please don’t think that I’m saying God needed me to have a Bible College degree before he could use me; I believe in the old adage “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called”. In my case, I felt very clearly called to formal study. In order to teach the bible, I felt a weight of responsibility to get trained on how to rightly handle scripture, so a degree was my way of following God’s call for me. Also, the formal study is over, but the learning process should always continue. I’ll never stop being a learner; every time I sit in a room with my peers I realise that I really don’t know anything!]

So what’s the answer to The Dreaded Question? I think the answer is multifaceted and wonderful. I’m called to be a loving father, a faithful husband, a committed and active member of a local church, and while there may be other positions or destinations that God has in store for me and my family, I believe that God has called me to faithfully teach his Word; whether I’m preaching to hundreds, lecturing to fifties, discipling one person, or leading my family. All these are glorious privileges, and I’m grateful to God for the way in which a theological degree positions me to invest in every person in every place he puts me.

So I strive to be both a thinker, and an informed doer.

Wednesdays on the Web (05/04)

Folding Singles into Family in the Life of the Church

I’ve just finished reading John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage, and I found the words that he wrote in this language of ‘folding’ others into your life (particularly folding singles into family) profound and wonderful. This article by Sean DeMars expands Piper’s thought and provides some practical strategy.

The New City Catechism

More than once I’ve tried a different approach to the way we do family devotions. More than once I’ve bought a different book with content appropriate for different children’s ages. More often that not, it’s fallen flat and I’ve been discouraged. I didn’t grow up with catechisms, but I’ve become increasingly convinced of their importance. The New City Catechism is 52 questions and answers developed and adapted from the Reformation catechisms, and it’s now available in print or an app.

Theological Primer: Divine Infinity

I’m currently reading Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him, and I’m loving the way that she is taking me on a journey through just 10 attributes that are true only of God. Here Kevin DeYoung discusses the attribute of God’s infinity. It’s a fantastic short summary that leads us to worship.

8 Things The Happiest Couples Do Every Morning

I’m not saying that I agree in the realistic application of all 8 of these things to every marriage situation, but I love the concept and I’d love to do as many of them as I can.

Why Artists Need Theology

While this has long been a tenant to which I hold with much conviction, after the recent bruhaha around Michael Gungor’s frightening comments (you can catch up on it for yourself in the article) this post reiterates the importance of theology and why artists are not exempt from needing a good one.

What I Read in March (03/2017)

I read a bunch of great stuff in March. I haven’t included everything, as there will be some reviews being posted over the next few weeks, but overall March was a great month with marriage, means of grace, history, intelligent design, and some good old (new) superhero adventures.

Know the Creeds and Councils

Having sat in more than one class on church history, I’ve seen plenty of material covering heroes and heretics, councils, creeds, and controversies of the early years. This little book by Justin Holcomb was such a great springboard; every chapter short and punchy, and closed with a “so what?” for Christians today. While you’ll move through this book easily, if you’re like me it will act like a living map where the more you look at it the more you’ll see new places pop up, waiting to be found and explored.

Batman Vol 1: I am Gotham

The DC Universe rebirth has been underway for a while now, and while my budget doesn’t allow me to keep track of all the characters, there’s always room for Batman. First, I really enjoyed this. I like the point at Bruce Wayne’s life where this story arc has picked up, and while I think Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns will always be my favourite Batman, despite what could be perceived as a slow start, I think this Batman is going to shape up to be among the best to date.

This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence

Piper spends the first 5 chapters laying a biblical foundation for what it means to be humans, together in a marriage relationship, and what that God-designed relationship ought to look like, and why. Having established first things first (love, unwavering commitment to covenant, forgiveness and forebearance, parallels to Christ and the church), Piper moves to two chapters on a biblical foundation and application of a husband’s headship in his family, and a chapter on the beauty of Christlike submission in light of the gospel. The book closes with chapters on having children and making (them) disciples. With wisdom and encouragement for singles as well as married, this is worth a read.

God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway?

The way in which Lennox unravels Stephen Hawking’s arguments is impressive, somewhat amusing, educational, and convincing. His conversational style (given the high-brow nature of the arguments) makes for a book that simple guys like me can follow, nodding in assent as pure logic (Lennox is a mathematician) is employed to dismantle seemingly intimidating and complex structures of thought. Accessible, helpful, and compelling, this book is also designed to encourage you to explore the arguments – and counter-arguments – in more detail in Lennox’s other works. I’ll get to those in the months to come.

Praying the Bible

Do you find yourself falling into the same routine when you pray? Are your prayers repetitious, or predictable to the point that your kids could pray them with you (not after you, but at the same time because they never change)? Don Whitney has a simple time-tested solution that will not only revolutionize the way that you pray, but will grow your prayer life and propel you forward in your knowledge and application of scripture at the same time. Praying the Bible is small, but packs plenty of punches.

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

Among the most important questions in Christianity are around how we practically ‘work out our salvation’. Far from easy-believism or cheap grace, I found this to be a super-helpful systematic look at the common questions around the call of Christ, the response of humanity, what genuine conversion looks like (in light of getting the previous two right) and the demonstration of saving faith ongoing in the life of the Christian. I listened to the audio book for this one, and found myself wishing I could take out a highlighter and mark plenty of paragraphs on the way through.

Here’s what I read in

Wednesdays on the Web (29/03)

Productivity or Virtue?

It’s uncanny (and simultaneously encouraging) how much this author is like me, both then and now. The ability to be self-aware of how I’m prioritising goals, relationships, and unexpected demands for my time is vital if I’m to be the kind of person I think I should be.

Preaching and Personality

I’ve mentioned this article more than a few times in the last week, and I continue to think about it in light of my preaching this week. Gary Millar is as qualified as anyone to discuss the tension between being faithful to the text, but also recognising that God is interested in letting your personality tell the story, as long as Christ remains the only focus.

10 Fun Things to do with your Teens

Lately I’ve been searching (desperately, at times) for things to do with our almost 14 year old. It’s funny how some of the things on this list appear as though they’d never fly; but I’ve found that when I suggest them and they’re rejected the first time, more often that not the idea sticks, and I’ve been asked to do that very same activity the next time boredom strikes.

Bearing Grief through Truth and Worship

My grieving friends are going to be ok, even though they can’t see how just yet. So until they can, we’ll all grieve, remember the truth, and worship God together. Someday their hope will be renewed and our bond of love in Christ will have grown stronger from sharing this dark path. Grief will not win, because death has already lost. Thank you, Jesus.

What The Benedict Option Is and Isn’t

My corner of the Internet continues to be abuzz with discussion and dissension around this new book. Some find it too extreme, some feel it neglects The Great Commission entirely, some see merit, but would approach it differently. Some have found it a healthy, thought-provoking prod for the average Christian to consider how they live as light in the world, and how the call to live as community while simultaneously on mission holds true for them. I found this article from Karen Swallow Prior (English Professor at Liberty University, and research fellow at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) very helpful.

“The Benedict Option’s” vision is not to make nuns and monks of modern Christians. Nor does it propose a bunker (whether literal or figurative) from which to establish merely an updated version of the fundamentalist separatism of yore. Nor is the turn to Benedict a quixotic attempt to recapture a romanticized past.
To the contrary, “The Benedict Option” calls Christians wherever they live and work to “form a vibrant counterculture” by cultivating practices and communities that reflect the understanding that Christians, who are not citizens of this world, need not “prop up the current order.” While the monastery that birthed the Benedict Rule was literal, the monastery invoked in “The Benedict Option” is metaphorical. It is not a place, but a way.

This

Someone has seamlessly integrated Rogue One into A New Hope. It’s glorious.

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is not the Enemy of Faith

For many Christians, the very idea of having doubt is unthinkable, even sinful. Solid Christians are those who not only know what they believe, but are ready with an answer to tell you why it is the way it is, and why – if those around them would simply read scripture as it should be read – they would come to the same rock solid, unshakable conclusions. Enter Barnabas Piper, who is bold enough to ask the question “what is belief?” and explore the critical difference between doubt based in belief and doubt that undermines belief.

Through personal and often painful story, Piper recounts his journey from being a born-and-raised Christian who went on to graduate from seminary, always having the right answers, to one who learned the stark contrast between knowing God in relationship and simply knowing a lot about him. Many of us (myself included) will find resonance with Piper’s discussion of mental assent; knowing the facts, defending the arguments, even brushing aside wise counsel designed to penetrate and change us with the terse “I know”. Christians need to move beyond mere mental assent – Piper urges –  to allowing what we know to transform us. That kind of belief is what the Bible calls faith. Faith is belief that transforms into action. When we only have the mental assent part, we base our actions on something other than God, namely our own emotions or reasoning. Piper writes:

“When people say they believe in God, what does that mean? It may mean they believe God exists in some form. It may mean they acknowledge God’s moral standard as a genuine guideline. Or it may mean they believe fully in God’s word and God’s way and look to him as the object of their faith. While each of these is an accurate statement and a proper use of the term belief, only one of them is real belief. That is the third use.”

As risky or uncomfortable as we feel doubts and questions can be, Piper argues that it is much more dangerous to live in a safe Christian world refusing to exchange curiosity for comfort over the long haul. The only way to disarm the danger posed to faith by things like divorce, destitution, and disease is to engage the questions (especially with our kids) before they wreak havoc.

Through the prayer of a desperate man in Mark chapter nine (“I believe; help my unbelief”), Piper unpacks the struggle of every Christian; that we will always hold tension between believing and not believing, but we take comfort from the fact that even this prayer takes a shred of faith to pray in the first place, so all is not lost. He discusses evidence of true belief like repentance, prayer, and humility and he effectively shows how doubt is not the opposite of faith, but is in fact a healthy part of it.

As beings created by God, our finitude simply cannot grasp his infinity aside from what he chooses to reveal to us. Scripture doesn’t offer every answer. But it reveals exactly and completely everything God wanted revealed – no more, no less. This is where our belief takes comfort. When we question and wonder in ways that are firmly planted in relationship with God, then it will serve to strengthen our belief. And so our faith seeks understanding and we pray “I believe; help my unbelief”.

 

 

Wednesdays on the Web (15/03)

When Suffering is the Megaphone and God is the Whisper

A helpful reminder from Mike Leake that God is faithful to his promises, even when in the midst of our great pain we can’t hear his voice, let alone respond believingly to his promises.

Complaining Never Wins the Culture

In light of recent events – from Trump winning the election to that gay moment in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie – I’ve come to see more clearly that Christians tend to be defined more for what they complain about. I’ve read Trevin Wax’s blog for years, and he’s certainly come (for me) to be a trusted cultural interpreter.
BONUS: J.D. Greear weights in along similar lines, and Nathan Campbell also adds value for the church.

The Kerfuffle around ‘The Benedict Option’

A thoughtful review of Rod Dreher’s much-discussed ‘The Benedict Option.’ I’ve seen this pop up and read the flurry of discussions around it (mostly) from people who haven’t read it and want to tell you why it should be avoided. After reading Don Carson’s comments I’ll be grabbing a copy (plus I’ve already had a few requests for review). Watch this space, but I’d encourage checking it out.

Reclaiming Your Eyes from Pornography

Far from this being a post addressed to men, this is a temptation that has affected everyone at one point or another. Most people realise that this is the kind of sin that can’t be overcome simply by the power of will. Only in replacing a lesser desire with a greater desire will lasting victory come.

Suffering is a Doorway, Not a Dead End

This last week I’ve seen some horrendous suffering. Loved ones dying. People receiving news of terminal cancer. We live in a broken world and suffering is only a question of when. But in the midst of pain and loss, we know that God has designed the church to be a people who are not only marked by suffering but who demonstrate true community; that’s one of the reasons we have all those ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament. I’ve been acutely reminded this week of the importance of having a solid theology around suffering and the sovereignty of God. Walking with God through the deepest possible pain isn’t something that just happens, and we need to know how.

 

“The true gospel message ransacks the soul and carries off every spoil. It leaves the heart with nothing so that Christ might enter in as everything. It is not wrong to preach a gospel that takes everything away from a person yet leaves them with Christ alone.”
– Paul Washer, The Gospel Call & True Conversion.