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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

That’s a Wrap! (05/01)

Must I Join a Church to Be a Christian?

This old chestnut pops up every year (or more). Jeff Robinson says it better than me.

On the evidence of Scripture, to claim to be a devoted Christian and yet disclaim Christ’s church seems a little like saying, “I want to drive a nice car, but I’d rather not have an engine.” Or “I love to eat, but I despise food.”

Meeting God in Depression

In this episode of the Hills Church podcast my friend Matthew Bell shares the reality of the Dark Night of the Soul, provides some practical suggestions on regaining hope and restoring joy, and reminds us of the encouragement we find in knowing that God walked in our shoes in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Beauty of Sleep

In line with what I’ve read in more than one place last year (not the least of which is Trillia Newbell’s Enjoy) this post reminds us of the importance that rest is not unproductive, nor is it something we should feel low-level guilt over. When we rest we’re being like God, and it’s probably exactly what we need.

Welcoming God into the Worship Gathering

If that notion seems a little strange to you, that’s because it is.

Bible Reading Plans for 2018

In case you haven’t got one yet, you’re bound to find a few here that suit every reading level.
The bottom line? Just take up and read!

A Prayer for the First Sunday after Christmas Day

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

4 Ways to Make 2018 Great

I love the way my friend Pastor Kyllum Lewis cuts through the pie-in-the-sky New Years Resolution notions to bring this insightful, practical, and—most of all, achievable—list of ways to go into 2018. I personally think that this list is a great foundation for loving God and loving others (without neglecting yourself) better, and they can be tailored to fit anyone! Well worth reading and applying.

The Wingfeather Saga—now a short film

A contender for best fiction I read in 2017, it’s now available as this visual treat. If you need it, perhaps this will motivate you to buy the books. They’re amazing.

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What I Read in December

Norse Mythology

This was a birthday gift, which just happen to be the day before Thor: Ragnarok came out in cinemas (and we had tickets for opening weekend). An excellent book full of fascinating stories told masterfully, and I found myself wishing the book was longer. Original stories of the beginnings of Oden, Loki, Thor, Sif, Surtur, and of course the end of Asgard: Ragnarok. Thoroughly enjoyable tales of myth and legend, and a welcome change of pace.

A Wrinkle in Time

This is one of the classic books that’s always been on my “I really should read that one day” list. The additional nudge that I needed was Disney’s promised 2018 movie adaptation. The short version? It is clear why this story is still being released 50 years later; the characters are vibrant and fantastical, the places both exciting yet not without danger, and with the pictures it painted across my imagination I’d say that the filmmakers have their work cut out for them.

The Littlest Watchman

There’s a sense in which I almost love Advent more than Christmas. Last year, we read Scott James’ other Advent book The Expected One and will continue to read it in years to come. This new, beautifully illustrated story about a boy called Benjamin is full of wonder and expectation. And while our kids are still too young to grasp the full implication of waiting for Jesus’ return, it’s still a delightful story for adults as much as kids.

Why The Reformation Still Matters

This is a highly valuable book with a lot of rich content regarding all that the Reformation has to offer Christianity today. I chose to grab this as audiobook, and wish I hadn’t. The poor choice of audiobook reader mispronounced many names, titles, places (he either isn’t a Christian, or didn’t do his homework before reading). It would have had a much greater impact on me if read by an original author. Still, the book highlights a number of things we have inherited from the Reformation, and should continue to hold on to.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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The Most Read Articles of 2017

Writing blog posts isn’t a walk in the park, and without anyone to regularly fact-check, quality-control, or contribute content it can be hard to produce regular material that will invest value in your readership. There’s no magic formula, and (just like preaching) sometimes the posts you put the most work into fall flat, and the ones you weren’t so sure about publishing get more hits than you ever expected. I’ve tossed and turned over whether to keep an eye on the statistics of the blog (because it could easily become an idol), but I enjoy seeing what actually gets clicks, and that helps me craft my content. Here are the top 10 articles of 2017.

1. God and the Transgender Debate (September 2017). I loved reviewing this book. It has been instrumental in shaping—and expanding—my worldview with regard to sex, identity, homosexuality, and the psychology of conditions like gender dysphoria.

2. Christless Christianity (May 2017). Horton’s book continues to be relevant in his critique of a Christianity which displaces pursuit of Christ for a more palatable set of beliefs. Ben Smith provided this pointed summary.

3. Know Christ’s Love (July 2017). A good reminder that God isn’t interested merely in intellectual assent, but an all-in love expressed in and through community.

4. How to Love Those Who are Hurting (January 2017). Furman taught me a great deal about how to love people walking through pain and suffering; including what not to do or say.

5. Sing! (October 2017). Singing with the gathered body of believers is one of my favourite ways to worship. The Getty’s biblically rich exhortation to think deeply on this expression is wonderful and relevant to every Christian.

6. Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life (June 2017). Ever wanted a clear picture of what someone living as part of God’s kingdom looks like? Look no further.

7. Give Up Lent for Lent? (March 2017). Part of me enjoys writing posts like this to poke fun at Christians who think it abhorrent to adopt practices that aren’t specifically mentioned in the bible. But I deeply appreciate and look forward to the opportunity for refocus that Lent provides each year.

8. Betrayed by my Own Body (February 2017). Still a terrible runner. Still running.

9. What Makes a Missionary? (March 2017). Plenty of folks have adopted the title “Missionary” over the years. These are my thoughts on whether you may (and should) lay claim to the title, or not.

10. Justification is Not ‘Just-as-if-I’d Never Sinned’ (July 2017). This year I’ve come across so many Christians leaning precariously on comfortable clichés that I’d like to see dropped from our vocab. Oh, here’s one now.

There are some big things on the horizon for 2018 (and some that may still fall to the cutting room floor, depending on other commitments) but from me to you, thanks for reading!

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Wednesdays on the Web (20/12)

5 Tips for Establishing a Devotional Routine with Your Toddler

Just like the time and the content, so the strategy is actually best when kept short and simple. Even if you just read these 5 headings by Jared Kennedy, you’ll be on the right track. And if (like me) you’ve struggled more than once to find something that your kids can really get in to, perhaps the key is here.

40 Most Spiritually Charged Songs of 2017

I haven’t finished working my way through this list yet, but I’ve got to say how much I appreciate artists who carefully weave good theology into their craft. My favourite mention goes to Worthy by Beautiful Eulogy; I’ve listened to this album since it came out, and still have it on regular rotation.

BONUS: Listen UP! Songs from the Parables of Jesus has just been released by Sovereign Grace Music. This one goes straight to the car as possibly their best kids albums to date.

A Letter from Ligonier

W. Robert Godfrey, on behalf of Ligonier’s board of directors has written this open letter capturing R.C. Sproul’s life, legacy, and the future of Ligonier.

Doing Church away from Church isn’t Church

This article could be (and likely is) a PhD topic for a keen seminary student passionate about preserving the traditional gathering of the saints. I resonate with a great deal contained here, and am grateful for Eric Davis’ candid assessment of contemporary church parodies.

My family hunkered down at home is not the local, representative body of Christ. Hiking with a few friends is not the body of Christ. Going out skiing with unbelieving friends is not the body of Christ. Doing church away from church isn’t church because doing church without the church isn’t church.

What Suffering People Wish You Would Do at Christmas

Socially, emotionally, even practically. Here’s an article to help you not be the awkward person who stumbles through silence, not knowing how to support someone suffering this season.

People Are Going to Hell. Do I Really Need Seminary Training?

M. David Sills (DMiss, PhD) is A. P. and Faye Stone professor of Christian missions and cultural anthropology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and here he offers his thoughts on the importance of being as prepared as you can be to not only correctly contextualise and communicate the gospel to another culture, but to go beyond that to actually fulfilling the entire great commission.

The great tragedy of the world is not that it is unreached; it is that it is undiscipled. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just to get decisions.

My 2017 Word Cloud

I still love word clouds, and find them interesting, encouraging, and motivating. Here’s my word cloud created from Facebook posts in 2017.

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Unending Joy

Could it be that many of the pursuits that pervade our magazines, cover stories, and current affairs today are simply differently sized and shaped searches for real, lasting joy? Of all the gifts that we can receive at Christmas, perhaps the most meaningful for our world today is joy.

Few would deny that amongst shining pockets of hope that dot the landscape like lonely Christmas lights, the world is mostly getting worse. Wars, slavery, abuse at an all-time high, and many people powerless to the machinations of world leaders that no longer seem to hold to a system of ethics that aligns with traditional Christian values. So on this, the third Sunday of Advent it’s more timely than ever that we remember that Joy has come. Even as we see so many in oppression, turmoil, or depression we know that there is hope. Joy is not only a possibility; it’s a promise.

Joy Past

We look back to the stable in Bethlehem, of which the angels announced “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) and we see what John Piper has called the dawning of indestructible joy. The Creator has become the created in order to do what we could not to secure our redemption, and restore us to the relationship for which we were given life. We experience this joy firsthand when we hear the news of the birth of the saviour of the world, and bend our knee to the reality of his reign. This announcement rubs against the pursuits we see on our billboards and commercials, because we come to realise that joy is not found in something inside us, nor is it found in stuff. Oswald Chambers wrote “Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed.” Joy might be sought in many ways in many places, but the Christmas story is that Joy has come, and his name in Jesus.

Joy Present

Second, joy is possible for us today because when Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t simply leave us to our own devices, but he gave us the promised Holy Spirit, the evidence of which is our possession of joy (Galatians 5:22-23). When we look at the very words of Jesus, we see that his aim in all he taught was the joy of his people: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The story of the arrival of Jesus is a story of joy, but so much more than this: God himself is our joy!
Psalm 16:11 reads

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Joy Future

Finally, Advent is not only a time of patient anticipation as we look forward to celebrating the day of the arrival of true and lasting Joy, but we also look forward to the great Day when the baby boy of whom Isaac Watts wrote ‘Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” will return again as the reigning sovereign King, coming to bring all things to completion in himself; and fullness of joy for those who are his.

As Christians, we have a message which is joy from beginning to end, and we don’t have to wait until heaven to live a life characterised by joy, nor should we hesitate to share this good news continually. Rather, in the midst of trials, suffering, uncertainty, and a world which is increasingly hostile towards those who hold fast to Jesus, we possess an indestructible, eternal, all-conquering joy. May we rejoice today as we remember Christ and his promises, and may our hearts be filled with unending joy.

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Wednesdays on the Web (13/12)

Is the Pope Right about the Lord’s Prayer?

I must admit I was fascinated to hear that the Pope has done more than simply recommend that the Lord’s prayer be amended for clarity, but that he’s actually given permission for his clergy to begin using his updated phrasing. To a certain extent, language shifts (or expands) over time, and words can take on a broader semantic range. So is the Pope on the right track here?

UPDATE: Al Mohler weighs in on the discussion.

Why Invest in the Men?

The church should never lose focus on its goal to fulfill the Commission to share the good news of the gospel with those who haven’t yet heard. But the church’s ministry is two-fold, the other side of that same coin being to make those new hearers into mature believers and disciples of Jesus Christ. Here are five excellent reasons why Pastors should proactively invest in the lives of the men under their charge.

Things Pastors Should Never Say

My favourite is number 7: “I have not had time to prepare today’s sermon as thoroughly as I should have.” But in all seriousness, there are good arguments here for why pastors need to adopt a careful vocabulary which excludes these phrases.

Sex Against God

Sex is not about securing pleasure for yourself, but about giving an incredible gift to your spouse.

Should We Capitalize Divine Pronouns?

I’ve been corrected by people on both sides of this argument, and I’ve never really had an opinion—in fact I’ve been pretty ambivalent, oscilating between the two. But I very much like the argument put forward by the highly respected Mounce, and I think it just settled the argument for me. Finally.

How to Grow Your Marriage While Having Young Kids

Jen Wilkin, Melissa Kruger, and Gavin Ortlund have some sage advice on ways to invest in your marriage during the busiest season of family (and they have more kids than me, which I found reassuring).

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My Top 17 Books for 2017

As I look back over the books I read in 2017, coming up with a short list wasn’t easy. There has been so many valuable, entertaining, and formational pages published this year that it’s virtually impossible to select only one book as a category winner. So, in no particular order, here they are. All highly recommended.

The Listening Life

This could well be the greatest book of the 60+ books I’ve read this year. McHugh’s insight into how God as the Creator can potentially use any part of creation as his agent to speak to us is a wonderful way to expand our understanding of the transcended yet immanent God. With chapters on listening to creation, scripture, others, ourselves, and more, this book held so many lessons for a terrible listener like me that I’ll be re-reading this one very soon.

Keep an eye out for my review early in 2018.

God and the Transgender Debate

When someone experiences a dissonance between their biological sex and the gender they feel they identify with, this can cause deep distress and no small amount of conflict. It is a genuine experience which needs to be met with love; these are real people. In God and the Transgender Debate Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides, Walker delivers the truth in love, in a way which is helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.
Read my full review.

The Flash (New 52) Volume 1: Move Forward

Opinions are divided, but I love CW’s Flash. After reading Flash REBIRTH, this was a fantastic introduction to where the Flash is now, and where he’s going. The artwork is sublime, and the pace matches the momentum of CW’s Flash. In volume 1, Mob Rule wages a campaign of crime across Central City, plunging the city into darkness, and (in line with what we’re seeing in the current series of CW’s Flash) the only way Barry Allen can save his city is to make his brain function even faster than before — but as much as it helps him, it also comes at a steep price. My clear favourite in the Rebirthed DCU, hands down.

Meet Martin Luther: A Sketch of the Reformers Life

I’ve read a number of books on Luther in 2017 (plus attended a conference on Luther, and preached from Romans from the angle of the Reformation), and I wondered what value this one was going to add. However, in Meet Martin Luther, Selvaggio gives a brief but informative sketch that helps us to see Luther as he was, but I think it also kindles an interest in learning more about him.

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 way that is accessible, but without losing any of its majesty, Wilkin talks about the importance 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 Curious Christian

I quickly discovered that The Curious Christian describes two things simultaneously; the person I’m not and the person I should be. The Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with believing… “I believe, help my unbelief.” We should be people who are characterized by a godly curiosity, and who use that knowledge to connect people and cultures to God’s truth so they too can see God’s glory. Read my full review.

100 Cupboards

In January, February, and July I completed this delightful trilogy by N. D. Wilson. In the first book of the trilogy we meet Henry York, a boy who discovers in his bedroom portals to one hundred different worlds. The story has a wonderful The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-esque mix of the wondrous meeting the ordinary, and Wilson is a creative and talented world-builder.

Being There

Working through depression as he came to terms with needing care on a daily basis, Pastor Dave Furman writes of his journey (shared with his wife and four children) offering highly practical encouragement for how to love those who are walking through pain and suffering. Highly personal and practical, Furman offers strategy for helping those who are hurting, and also for those who are currently in the midst of suffering. Including a helpful chapter on how not to help, books like Being There can help every one of us in the local church to pursue the broken with the healing, restoring news of the gospel. Read my full review.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies. So isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to our own physiological signals. Learning to listen to our bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? I’ve learned that listening to my body is intrinsically connected to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.

Enjoy

Enjoy is a call to delight in the gifts that God has intended for us to enjoy, and see and know Him as the giver of these good gifts. As Newbell 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. 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. Enjoy is relevant and readily adopted into the life of every Christian. Read my full review.

On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga (of which this is book one) takes the Most Fun Book Award for 2017. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, and their crippled sister Leeli live with their noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. Their adventures see them run from the venomous Fangs of Dang, horned hounds, and toothy cows. They seek after the lost jewels of Anniera, all the while pursued by a nameless evil named Gnag, the Nameless. On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is full of courage, discovery, and destiny. The best part is on the final pages, and I couldn’t click “Buy” on book two quickly enough.

The New City Catechism

I’m all for learning by catechism; after all, what is learning if not asking questions and getting understandable, concise yet comprehensive answers? The NCC is visually engaging, and (as I’ve said elsewhere about similar resources) packages 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. Young and old in the faith will benefit from solidifying the foundational truths of Christianity with the NCC.

You Are What You Love

.When it comes to our spiritual formation, the average Western Christian has lost much of the value that comes from practices that quiet our souls and remind us of who we are. From society around us we run the risk of succumbing to bad doctrines and false narratives; carelessly adopting our secular culture’s daily liturgies. In You Are What You Love Smith argues for a return to intentional practices that immerse our souls in “liturgies indexed to the kingdom of God”. Read the full review

The Imperfect Disciple

If (like me) you’re among those who seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus, but are broken and in daily need of grace, then The Imperfect Disciple is for you too. Jared C. Wilson writes “Discipleship is for the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded” This is the best spiritual formation book I’ve read this year.
Read my Top 10 Quotes from the book.

Ordinary Saints

Returning to the biblical language, Devenish defines saints as “all people who have been made righteous through their faith in Christ and who subsequently adjust their mode of living to reflect Christ’s life in the world.” Saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel, because Ordinary Saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved—completely and unconditionally.
Read my full review.

Sing!

In Sing! Keith & Kristyn Getty masterfully communicate five goals; to discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing; to consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives; to cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life; to equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity; and to inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world. Quality reading for every Christian.
Read my full review.

I Am Spock

Currently my favourite autobiography, I Am Spock is so much more than the story of the actor who created the iconic Vulcan. Nimoy writes with the elegance of a seasoned entertainer; each sentence rich with experience and full of emotion. The ongoing dialogue with the internal and ever-present Mr. Spock sprinkles the whole journey with friendly banter as Spock and Nimoy seek to better understand each other, but also provides a fascinating insight into just how pervasive the development of this character became in Nimoy’s life. Thoroughly engaging; fun, gripping, hard to put down. Everything it should be.

So there you have it. My favourite reads for 2017. If you’d like to see the full list of what I read, you can view my 2017 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.

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The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion

We’re in a series of articles exploring the councils and creeds of the Christian church. Why? Because when it comes to faithfully and diligently working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) we miss a great deal when we simply try to construct our own “real Christianity” with nothing more than a bible. To take heed from those who have gone before us is to benefit from the wealth found in the most important theological declarations of the Christian tradition.

Today we continue the series with a look at the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Background

In 1563 when the thirty-nine Articles were completed, state churches were appearing all over Europe and religion and political decisions were inseparable. While not technically a council or a creed, the Articles of Religion intended to clearly establish and articulate Anglican Theology (Church of England) over against the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists.

The Content

The Articles aimed to be catholic; that is, in agreement with the great ecumenical councils of the church about Jesus Christ and the Trinity. They also mention that the Roman Catholic church is indeed prone to error, while maintaining some of their practices (like use of the prayer book and their view of church hierarchy). However, when it comes to theology the Articles lean much more heavily towards a Protestant confession; the sufficiency of Scripture alone, the condemnation of the doctrines of Purgatory, Pardons, and Invocation of Saints. The Articles also call for reform to church structures to allow for services to be held in the common language, and allowing clergy to marry. Finally the Articles are both Protestant and evangelical in that they acknowledge the Five Solas and the number of sacraments, and are moderately Calvinistic in that they teach predestination and reject the idea of transubstantiation at the Lord’s Supper.

In the remainder of the Articles, this confession of the Church of England clarifies its stance on what it considered to be secondary issues; original sin, free will, and infant baptism. The purpose here was to clearly establish her orthodoxy within mainstream Protestantism. The document was very well written; narrow enough to clearly identify the unique expression found in the Church of England, yet  broad enough that all English Protestants could stand by it. The only real point of contention was on the presentation of the twin doctrines of predestination and election. The church warned that these matters must be handled with care, as they were likely to cause offence to the unbelieving.

Why It Matters

The thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a good example of establishing fertile soil in which healthy theological conversation can grow, while simultaneously laying down borders outside which heresy is found. Perhaps the most relevant section for the church today is actually the longest of the thirty-nine Articles; Article 17 on predestination. It reads:

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

I found this excellent article written in May of 2017 which discusses it very well. It concludes by saying “So if you are worried about your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are confident of your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then we will praise and love him in eternal security.”

 

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (06/12)

What Student Ministry Really Needs? Homework

Jen Wilkin is on the money in this article where she communicates that teens should take Bible study as seriously as school and sports practice.

10 Must-Read Posts for Young Christian Wives

Full disclosure: I didn’t read all of the articles linked through here in full, but I poked around in most of them. They’re well written, and will provoke thought, and hopefully healthy discussion.

The inspiration of Wonder Woman & the Disappointment of its Postscript

Melinda Cousins (biblical studies lecturer at Tabor Adelaide) reflects on the success of Wonder Woman, and provides a critique of this portrayal as it continued in Justice League.

Diana Prince in 2017’s Wonder Woman is both empowered and empowering. She is heroic, brave and strong. She is the protagonist of her own story, but the men surrounding her do not appear threatened or emasculated by her. She is portrayed as clearly feminine and yet not overly sexualised. She is emotionally vulnerable, idealistic, perhaps even naïve, and her greatest strengths lie in her compassion, her love and her hope. She upends the assumptions that a parade of men make about her to ensure that she is fully heard and seen. She fires up our imagination of what a girl can be.

Go Set a Watchman

Carl Lentz is back being biblically wishy-washy on Christians ethics. Again.

The 2018 Reading Challenge is Here

I first picked up Tim Challies’ reading challenge a few years ago, and greatly appreciated the way that it forced me to read outside of my normal interests, genres, and worldview. Whether you have a kindle, a library card, your local church, or that friend with too many books at home, there’s a way to enjoy a balanced diet of books that will entertain, challenge, and motivate you to be a better person. The benefits are as plentiful as the books.

Waiting in the Dark

Advent creates space to acknowledge that God’s work of redemption is not yet finished.

God’s Will in Seven Words

The next time you or someone you care about is wrestling with the will of God, try helping them out with these seven words.

One Important Gnome

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What I Read in November

November was a month that felt like it flew past at the speed of light.  In the rare moments I was able to steal this month, I started another book on Luther, my kindle has the first book in the Five Solas series, I purchased a couple of Batman/Flash trade paperbacks, and I’ve continued my read through Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship. Most of my time was dedicated to the two titles below however, and I can tell you that they both made me feel like I was back at Bible College. Both are so weighty; every paragraph bursting with content that felt like a five course meal. As a result, I read slowly, read carefully, took notes, and often felt like having a nap after I finished a chapter. That said, I recommend both these titles as they’re both goldmines that deserve to be plundered for the vast wealth they contain.

This Listening Life

As we’re now in December and there isn’t much of 2017 left, I can say with some confidence that this could well be the greatest book of the 60 books I’ve read this year. I had to read so many chapters more than once, stopped to write 3 blog posts and many more notes, and plan on re-reading the whole thing again early next year. Take it from a guy who is a terrible listener all-round, I am immensely grateful to Adam S. McHugh for teaching me so many things that I need to constantly learn and re-learn on my journey to becoming a better listener.
Keep any eye out for my review of this one early next year. With chapters covering listening to creation, scripture, others, and ourselves, this really is a book for every Christian.

Spiritual And Religious

“I’m spiritual, just not religious.” It’s a phrase that is often heard among churchgoers as a way to downplay their lukewarm Christianity, and sometimes by those who don’t go to church, but still wish to be validated as Christian. But what does this “spirituality” consist of? In Spiritual and Religious Tom Wright argues that, whether people realize it or not, they are often simply reverting to forms of ancient paganism that are very similar to those that confronted the earliest Christians.
This book was another heavy read, and not recommended for the lighthearted—but it puts forward a compelling argument to a very important and prolific problem.

Now What?

December’s reading list has now been compiled, and I can tell you, I’ll be taking it easier over the holiday season. Look out for a longer, lighter list of literary leisure in the coming weeks.

 


See what else I read in 2017:

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I’m Glad Today is about Hope

If there is one thing that the world needs more of, certainly it would be hope. We live in a world which continues to suffer as a result of moral decline. Drawn-out periods of war, political ignorance of the plight of the poor, and widespread support for issues which contravene the created order. On one hand, its easy to see that the world is increasingly a place without hope. However, as I sat with our two youngest boys this morning, we talked about the significance of today in the calendar of the church. Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the season of anticipation in which we look forward to the coming of the saviour of the world; both the arrival of the Saviour at Christmas, and his immanent return. It’s a season filled with hope; but what exactly does that mean?

What I Love about Hope

Scripture speaks of hope as an expectation of the unseen and of the future (Rom 8:24-25), the ground upon which our hope is based (i.e. “Christ in you the hope of glory”, Col 1:27), the confidence of the coming resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6), and objectively about God himself as the author of hope—not merely the subject—the “God of hope” (Rom 15:13). Unlike the poor parody of hope that the world offers, hope for the Christian has its foundation in a God who has already come and fulfilled his promises to us, giving us every reason to trust that what he says, he does. Hope came to the world that night in a stable in Bethlehem; and with his life, death, and resurrection hundreds of God’s promises made known to humanity over hundreds of years through a dozen different authors all came to be fulfilled. So when I talk about hope with my boys, I talk about the joyful anticipation of seeing all of history continue to unfold in the exact way that Jesus promised. For our family, this includes the confident assurance of being reunited with deceased loved ones in the presence of Jesus. It means new, perfect bodies suited for life in heaven. It means no more tears, or pain, or mourning, or depression, or unforgiveness, or hate.

Today is the Sunday of Hope. And this Advent season as we fix our gaze toward the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas morning and the wonder and magnitude of the invitation that accompanies the news of that event, our hearts are filled with joy knowing that the one who came to save the world will soon come again to claim what he has redeemed. Jesus Christ has proven himself to be utterly trustworthy, infinitely powerful, totally sovereign, and unquestionably supreme. Our hope is built on nothing less.

Come, Lord Jesus. Soon.

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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.

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Wednesdays on the Web (29/11)

Why Seminary? Exhibit A: Joel Osteen

…formal theological training at seminary level is not a biblical prerequisite for being a preacher of God’s word. The Apostle Peter, for instance, had no MDiv degree hanging on his office wall. But I’m sure we all agree that his 24/7 intensive, three year internship with Jesus was, um …adequate preparation. But if an excellent theological education is available to you, there is wisdom in being a good steward of that opportunity.

Loving Better by Typing Less

The thing about sinful, broken people is that there is never a shortage of sin and brokenness. However, it rarely (if ever) does anyone any good to be publicly thrown under the bus for wrong thoughts, wrong actions, and wrong words. I’m an advocate for the model of church discipline that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18, and I’d be happy to see less of the former, and proportionately more of the latter.

Sometimes a Light Surprises (A Thanksgiving Poem)

If you are going through a period of spiritual darkness this Thanksgiving, let the truth of Cowper’s poem encourage you to thank God for your trial, knowing that when you least expect, God may astonish you with his truth.

Top 17 Books of 2017

Not sure where to begin with Christmas presents this year? You’re welcome.

Advent Reading Plans

We’ve been through some of these as a family (and will again). For those who need a springboard to launch family discussions around anticipating the coming of the Saviour, these are a great place to start.

28 Non-Numerical Signs of a Healthy Church

Last, do you find yourself (sorry, I meant people you know) too caught up in a church that needs to grow numerically? CT has posted a wonderful list that points us away from an interest in being “A Church Grower”, “Apostolic Multiplier”, or any other kind of numbers-centric motivator. Looking at this list, I would be so bold as to say that numbers are one of the last things from which we should measure the health of a church.

 

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2017: How My Inbox Stayed Empty and Productivity Soared

An empty inbox. It sounds like a dream too good to ever be true. With the sheer volume of emails that some people receive plus meetings, social media notifications, relationships, phone calls, and other demands on our time, an empty inbox can appear as insurmountable as climbing Mt Everest. It’s been done though, so why not this? Here’s a quick summary of how I’ve consistently maintained an empty inbox throughout 2017, and seen my productivity soar.

Emails—an Overview

I run my life from the “Unread Mail” folder on my iPhone. It’s where all my email accounts converge and where the majority of new tasks, notifications, and invitations come to me. Using this folder instead of multiple inboxes means two things.  First, I’m forced to deal with every email I open, as once I close it and my mail client marks it as read, it’s gone from my field of vision. So if I haven’t dealt with it, it’s out of sight and probably already out of my mind. Second, this folder view means I’m freed to not be distracted by the emails of yesterday. The long list of days and weeks worth of already read emails in my Inbox would fill my screen and clutter my thoughts.

So how does this work? Every time I open an email from this folder I need to ask what it is. Do I have the knowledge on hand to reply to this email immediately? If yes, do it. Right now. If not, does it contain something I need to do? Then I close it, and create a task in Todoist (more on that below). Is it an invitation or an appointment that I need to remember to go to? Then I’ll create an entry in my calendar with everything I need to know (I often copy-and-paste the email into the calendar entry for reference), then it’s gone. If my response isn’t either of these, then is it a piece of information I need to keep; a file, a document, an invoice, a snippet of important information? It goes into Evernote, saved in the appropriate Notebook Stack. By categorising all my incoming emails in this manner, every piece of mail that enters my Unread Mail folder is identified, dealt with accordingly, then made to disappear.

Calendar

Anyone who knows me will attest to the reality that remembering isn’t my strongest suit. I have a job where my customer appointments are scheduled for me, and so while at work I live by my calendar. Team managers, personnel schedulers, and peers all have visibility of my day and can slot in appointments, leaving me to fill in the gaps.

My wife and I also have a shared calendar (via Google) which syncs across our iPhones. This way we always know when the other will be taking kids to the doctor or be home late, plus be ready for that wedding/baby shower/BBQ on the weekend. When an email arrives that means I/we have to be somewhere sometime, it goes straight into the calendar, and syncs everywhere it needs to, then it’s gone.

Todoist

This is where I keep my running To Do list. I’ve found the best way to keep things simple here is to keep each task to a short, single line description, beginning with the verb it requires. For example “PAY: Gas bill”, or “RETURN: Tools to Nathan”. The verb gives me a one-word overview of what kind of task it is before I see specifics.

I also love that when I add (for example) “today”, “next Wednesday”, or “Every second Thursday” to the end of a task, Todoist works its magic. When I hit save, Todoist strips off the day/date words from the end of the line, and simply causes the task to appear in my TODAY list, to be dealt with on the day(s) I specified. Does an email require me to complete a certain action? Todoist.

Evernote

Whether it’s an invoice, the next roster for the church ministry I serve in, a shopping list, or just something I want to read later, if it’s not a task and not a calendar appointment, chances are this is where it goes. Evernote holds all my files and information. It has great document capture, web and email clipping, a powerful search tool, and an intelligent photo capture tool for small things that I lose easily like receipts and invoices. The other power of Evernote is found in the use of folders. I currently have top-level folders for Work, Family, Personal, Church, and Study. Has an email come to me with a document I need to proofread? A receipt from an online purchase? Save it to Evernote, then adiós!

So there you have it. There’s a lot more to how each of these systems work, and how to get the most out of the even more intricate and powerful ecosystem they form when used together. But through the simple activity of sorting incoming emails into tasks, appointments, and information, I’ve not only gone to bed at night with zero emails in my inbox, but I’ve got more done, slept better knowing everything is accounted for and no task or appointment will be forgotten, and seen my productivity soar.

Want to know more? Get in touch with me through the email button on the website. I’ll respond the same day.

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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.
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Wednesdays on the Web (22/11)

You Are Not Your Personality Profile

I see the value in understanding that I’m an ESTJ. At the time that I filled out the test, I paid extra to receive the extended personality profile results so that I could dig deeper into the quirks of why I am this way (because, for the most part, I fit the categories almost perfectly) and so I understand myself—particularly my flaws—better. However, Aaron is also dead right when he says here that we can take it too far.

2017 Winter Book List

It’s always helpful when someone else puts these lists together, particularly when broken down into categories that are helpful for parents with children of different ages and interests. Not to mention more than a few award-winning reads to add to my own list while I’m there.

Nerds! Get Your Greek On

I’ve studied only one Intro to Biblical Languages unit, and I’m super keen for more. One valuable resource to connect with some more intermediate courses are offered by Zondervan Academic. But in the mean time if you can’t spare the cash, ESV have made the Greek Bible available online for free. How about that.

7 Habits that make People seem Less Intelligent

You always want to put your best foot forward, right? Well here are some things from healthyway.com that you may have thought made you appear smarter, but actually don’t.

The Necessity of Effectively Communicating with Children

When it comes to children, I think there’s a fine line (which I often can’t see) between using the words we want our children to grow up into, and adopting the words that they use today. We have songs playing in our car (right now it’s Phil Vischer’s What’s in the Bible: the Songs) which use words like Pentateuch and Apostatize, which some adults still can’t define. This article presents some good thoughts on how to see that line.

SSM – What will change? What does it mean? How do we respond?

It’s simpler than you might think.

Jen Wilkin on Women as indispensable to the Church

 

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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.

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The Heidelberg Catechism

We’re in a series of articles exploring the councils and creeds of the Christian church. Why? Because when it comes to faithfully and diligently working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) we miss a great deal when we simply try to construct our own “real Christianity” with nothing more than a bible. To take heed from those who have gone before us is to benefit from the wealth found in the most important theological declarations of the Christian tradition.

Today we continue the series with a look at the Heidelberg Catechism.

Background

Only a few decades after Luther’s 95 theses appeared in Wittenberg, the Protestant church was already diverse in its theology. Unlike the Catholic church which had a set of central doctrines (established at the council of Trent), there was disagreement, and Protestants were only unified at the level of the five Solas, with various branches of Protestantism able to place their own interpretations over the top of that foundation. The Heidelberg Catechism served as a rallying point for the Reformed Protestant faith, unifying the doctrine while simultaneously providing a way of clearly teaching it to young and old Christians alike.

The Catechism

Aiming to be both of these things (a guide for religious instruction as well as a solid unified confession of faith), the catechism is divided up into 129 questions, which are then also formatted into 52 days to aid in teaching throughout the Sundays of the calendar year. Within these questions, there are discussions of every major area of Christian faith; including the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Supper, the Apostles’ Creed in detail, the gospel, and humanity’s response to the gospel. Question 1 of the catechism captures this summary of the whole gospel:

Question. What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Why It Matters

The Heidelberg catechism is one of the most famous documents of the Protestant Reformation, and not only did it rapidly gain popularity in its day, but 450 years later it is still the official statement of theology for many Reformed Protestant churches. It speaks clearly and without hesitation to divide heresy from sound doctrine in the fundamental issues of Christian faith, especially the content of the gospel.

Heinrich Bullinger wrote of the Heidelberg catechism:

“The order of the book is clear; the matter true, good, and beautiful; the whole is luminous, fruitful and godly; it comprehends many and great truths in a small compass. I believe that no better catechism has ever been issued.”

In short, this document deserves to be frequently read by and taught to Christians of every age.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (08/11)

Looking Like Monastics

I heartily agree with the sentiment in this article. Too often Christian women are encouraged to ‘feel all the feels’ when it comes to their faith; seeking the Spirit but discouraged from engaging the intellect. I’ve been very glad to see so many excellent women bible teachers and theologians recently, and pray this continues to increase.

Hillsong Pastor Carl Lenz in the Spotlight

Pastors can’t dodge hard questions. Pastors are appointed by God to answer hard questions. They are the figures in the cosmos who must speak the truth.

How to Revive Lifeless Prayer

Of all the spiritual disciplines, surely the most essential are bible reading and prayer. But these can be difficult, and often we go through seasons of dryness. Here are 10 tips from The Master’s Seminary on how to breath life into your prayer life.

Emotional Intelligence is a Critical Trait

On this podcast episode, Thom Rainer covers the four characteristics of emotional intelligence that are essential for a pastor/church planter.

9 Ways to Protect your Children from Sexual Abuse

Justin & Lindsey Holcomb have written an excellent book (we’ve have this on our shelf for a few years now), and have distilled a summary of the main points here.

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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.

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Wednesdays on the Web (01/11)

The Proven Path to Mental Health

Christianity turns out to be the greatest, most beautiful story of redemption ever told. It addresses all our greatest and deepest needs and longings. It offers all of us the most hope, no matter who we are and how horrible we’ve been. When holistically believed and consistently lived, Christianity produces the most mentally healthy people history has ever known.

The Reformation and Doxology

A Reformed pastor from Tasmania who makes his opening argument by quoting a Christian hip-hop artist? I’m gonna read that.

Responding to CT’s Editorial Against the Nashville Statement

Denny Burk responds to the recent CT editorial in which the Nashville Statement was critiqued (which is welcome) yet Burk points out that CT utterly missed the mark when it comes to offering any kind of solid argument or scriptural basis for critique. Sorry CT, maybe next time.

The Obscenity of Indulgences

As we think about the issues surrounding the Reformation, the first one that comes to your mind if you’ve ever dipped your toe into reading about the Reformation is probably the practice of indulgences. Here’s a brief overview of the practice, why it was so wrong, and some inferred implications for the contemporary Christian.

The 95 eBooks Sale

Save up to 81% on these key eBooks on the Reformation, Reformed theology, and more.

BONUS: TGC’s Reformation 500 Statement

Wherever we find the Scriptures alone as the highest and final authority, grace alone as the only hope for sinners, faith alone as the only ground for justification, Christ alone as the only atoning sacrifice for sin, and God alone as the ultimate object of our worship—wherever we find these truths sung, savoured, and celebrated, we have reason to rejoice in the Reformation.

Prayers of the Saints Live

Launching on Nov 17, this new live album from SGM is guaranteed quality. Available for pre-order now.

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Not Halloween, Reformation Day!

The fact is, there are plenty of Christians—not to mention everyone else—who struggle to see the relevance of Reformation Day on October 31, and fewer again who could give a comprehensive reason as to why it’s so important. Who was Martin Luther? Isn’t October 31 actually Halloween? And why is he trying to hijack this popular day?

Reformation Day is the symbolic day on which the Protestant Church celebrates Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to the castle door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. These theses were largely a protest against the current practice of indulgences, but included other calls for Christians to return to a more gospel-centric life. While Luther had no intention of sparking a revolution, his actions started a wildfire which spread all across Europe.

The truth is, I don’t know as much about Luther or the Reformation as I would like, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m thankful that I don’t have to pay indulgences. In a nutshell, indulgences were the practice that for a price, sins (either yours or your deceased family members’) could be forgiven for a sum of money, thus reducing or preventing time spent in purgatory (a place the Catholic church invented) before entering heaven. This money then went to help complete construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Seems like a good deal, right? Well, Luther was adamant that it was nothing short of blasphemy, and he said as much in his passionate denials throughout the 95 theses.

The Reformation also gave to the Christian church what have come to be known as The 5 Solas (they weren’t officially called that until the 20th century):

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)—The bible alone is our highest authority
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)—we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)—that salvation comes as a gift of pure grace
Solus Cristus (Christ Alone)—Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and Lord
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)—Glory belongs to God alone.

These 5 Solas sum up everything about the Christian faith and serve as the foundational pillars for the Protestant Church.

Salvation is by God’s grace alone,
on the basis of Christ alone,
received through faith alone,
to the glory of God alone,
made known to us through the authority of Scripture alone.

In addition to the Solas, I’m also grateful for Luther because on this side of the Reformation, we have the bible in our own language; we don’t have to pay financially to lift the guilt-trip (because money never saves); and we don’t have to go through a pastor, priest, or any other mediator to have access to our loving God. So this October 31st , as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation arrives; I’ll be celebrating Reformation Day. And there is much to celebrate.

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What I Read in October

The God-Shaped Heart

I abandoned this book after 6 chapters. It had a promising, even fascinating start but took a turn into dangerous waters when it downplayed God’s justice, denied the significance of Christ’s penal substitution, and flirted with Universalism.

I’d recommend skipping this one.

 

North! Or Be Eaten

Andrew Peterson is a skilled world-builder, has an encyclopedia of fantastic creatures to thrill the imaginations, and writes to engage with an audience of both kids and their parents. I gave high praise to book one of the Wingfeather Saga, and I love when a sequel is better than the original. North! continues the adventure at rapid pace with new places, new foes, and an ending that makes me glad I’ve already got book three in the mail.

Sing!

Singing is one of the most commanded acts in Scripture, and Sing! is one of the best books on congregational singing I’ve ever read. It is immensely readable; while also being convicting, informative, encouraging, and deep. Every pastor, worship leader, and serious Christian should read it.
Read my full review
.

 

The Whole Christ

This month’s free audiobook from Christianaudio.com, it’s an instant classic. Although it’s a bit dense (at least, it was for me) it is also full of glorious truths about the assurance of our faith, and full of great statements like “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are”. I know I’ll have to read it again to fully appreciate all its contents, but that just adds to my recommendation.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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Wednesdays on the Web (25/10)

4 Reasons to Make Your Kids Go to Church

Want a hot-button issue to divide Christian parents? Mike Kelly believes we should undoubtedly force our children to go to church, even when they don’t want to. Before you pick up stones, read his post.

The Solas of the Reformation: A 5-Day Reading Plan

At the time of its release, we are 7 days away from the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing the theses. Even putting that aside for the moment, the 5 Solas hold the key tenets of the Christian faith, and we would do well to spend time reading scripture with them in mind. This is guaranteed to be a few minutes of your next 5 days well spent.

Simple Prayers for Your Grieving Heart

The shock of loss seems to steal our breath and with it our ability to think clearly. It can be extremely difficult to think of how to pray for ourselves and the people we love so dearly. Thankfully, our faith in God and reliance on Him has greater power and yields greater results than our grief.

11 Resources about the Reformation

I’ve read (or have on my nightstand) 4 of these, and can say with confidence that Christians today have so much more to learn from the Reformation than we first realise. Keep an eye on these titles, buy them, borrow them—just don’t ignore them. Your life will absolutely be richer for it.

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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.

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