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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

The Council of Trent

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 council of Trent.

Background

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg in 1517. By the 1540s all attempts on the part of the Holy Roman Empire to bring peace between the protestants and the Catholic church have failed. The challenges held by the Reformers still required a response however, and so the Catholic church convened the council of Trent—held in three stages beginning in December 13, 1545 and ending in 1563 with a 235-to-1 vote in favour of the canons established there.

The Council

Put simply, the council’s purpose was to remedy the problems within the Catholic church that had caused the Reformers’ cries of protest. The reforms included correcting abuses of power by the clergy, clarifying the balance of power between the authority of Scripture and church tradition, and issuing official statements on the topics of justification, the sacraments, and purgatory.

Clergy/Institutional Reform

Even today, we can see the abuses of power when a person in leadership holds authority at more than one level in a government or institution. Trent attempted to straighten out the potential for corruption through ruling that Bishops must be resident and serve only where they are placed, and not in more than one location. The most important institutional reform was the decision that (without admitting Luther was right) the selling of indulgences needed to be reigned in and come under tighter scrutiny.

Scripture, Tradition, and Revelation

The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) as the ultimate authority for life, with all other sources of guidance still highly regarded, but subordinate. Trent ruled differently however, determining that Scripture and the traditions of the church (passed down through Apostolic succession) held equal weight. Trent also recognised the Apocrypha as part of the Bible, contrasting the Reformers who held that the Hebrew Bible is the only legitimate Old Testament.

Justification

The most significant doctrinal issue discussed at Trent was how a sinful person comes to be justified before a holy God. Luther argued that all humans are sinful and condemned from birth, and we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, on the merits of Christ alone. The Catholic position however holds that humans work towards a state of being justified through God giving them opportunities to further develop and strengthen themselves into a person that is more acceptable to God. As we respond to God in the right way, our right decision shapes us further into the person He wants us to be, and in this way we prepare ourselves for justification.

Why it Matters

As Trent was a Catholic council, should we immediately assume that contemporary Christians have nothing to learn? The Reformers wanted to see Christians living without fear that the church had power or influence over salvation, or that God requires good works and merit in order to justify us. They wanted Scripture to be available to all believers (not just those who could read Latin), and they sought a hierarchy which cared for all people with fairness and transparency. Even today we see instances where people in church leadership hold more than one office in a denomination (this should not be so), or where people are taught that a man can be justified by his works (this comes in different shapes and packages). We can agree with Trent that the history and tradition of the church (those great men and women of faith on whose shoulders we stand) has much to offer us in living a fuller Christian life. We can further agree that man is not justified by his own works apart from divine grace through Jesus Christ, but that works are evidence of our salvation, not a requirement of it. Lastly, Trent helps us to think with more clarity about our Protestant beliefs by contrasting those things that Trent stands by that differ from our own—in this way we ask questions that seek with humility to take seriously our own faith and the richness of our shared heritage.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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You Don’t Even Have a Bucket, Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesdays on the Web (04/10)

Pastor, What’s Your Point?

David Murray: Just because a sermon has points, doesn’t mean it’s got a point.

Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

Our hearts break with the families who are still experiencing the affects of the worst mass shooting in US History. Here’s a round up of encouraging, formative, or reorienting words from Al Mohler, the ERLCGentleReformation, and Russell Moore.

Only the Christian worldview, based in the Bible, can explain why moral facts exist, and how we can know them. Only the biblical worldview explains why sinful humanity commits such horrible moral wrongs. The Christian worldview also promises that God will bring about a final act of moral judgment that will be the final word on right and wrong — as facts, not merely speculation. The Gospel of Christ points us to the only way of rescue from the fact of our own evil and guilt. -Al Mohler

Think Fake News is Scary? Try False Teaching

From Jen Wilkin (via Christianity Today):

We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth. Both fake news and false teaching bow to this principle. To help children sift the digital messages that bombard them, educators now teach media literacy in the classroom to aid critical thinking. The church must act similarly.

Let’s Get Real about Women’s Discipleship

I’ve seen some wonderful women’s resources (and women teachers) become better known in 2017. The 3 points in this post are simple yet transformative, like the gospel it encourages women everywhere to look deeper into.

A Reformation Song

This magnificent song from Bob Kauflin and Tim Chester is an example of the perfect congregational song. Engaging the intellect and declaring wonderful truths (each verse or chorus begins and focuses on one of the Five Solas) while simultaneously making the heart soar. For me, it is exactly what joining together in song is all about.

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What I Read in September

September seemed to be a hot-button issue month. There was less quantity, but significantly more quality with my reading prompting discussions and exploration of people, their stories, and how they relate to what these authors had to say. Everywhere I went these books provoked thought, and I learned a lot. Here’s a brief overview of what sat on my nightstand this month.

God and the Transgender Debate

In this 2017 book Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.  Read my full review.

 

Between the World and Me

Every page I turned in Coates’ book served to profoundly widen the gap between his world (as a black male in America) and mine. The story of race in America is one written on flesh, and this book is laid out as a letter of warning and pedagogy to his teenage son. He writes:

I have seen [The American Dream] all my life. And for so long I have wanted to escape into that Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

Amazing, emotional, and beautifully written.

Enjoying God

R. C. Sproul’s latest work is a soaring, worship-inspiring piece that encourages the heart while engaging the intellect. His exploration of the attributes that are unique to God puts into proper perspective how majestic and mighty the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly are—all the while remaining practical and pertinent to the every day life. I thoroughly appreciate Sproul’s ability to cause my heart to sing while satisfy the “so what?” question asked by my own curiosity. Read my full review.

The Flash Volume 3: Rogues Reloaded

If you’re enjoying watching The Flash from CW (season 3 begins early Oct 2017) then you’ll love this comic book counterpart. I’ve loved the extra character development (particularly of villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and even Suicide Squad member Captain Boomerang) and a slightly different story arc with the same tensions between Barry’s relationships and those of his super identity. The DC Universe Rebirth hasn’t been wholly stellar, but The Flash continues to be my favourite.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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Enjoying God:
Finding Hope in the Attributes of God

R. C. Sproul’s latest work is a soaring, worship-inspiring piece that encourages the heart while engaging the intellect. His exploration of the attributes that are unique to God puts into proper perspective how majestic and mighty the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly are—all the while remaining practical and pertinent to the every day life. I thoroughly appreciate Sproul’s ability to cause my heart to sing while satisfying the “so what?” question asked by my own curiosity.

Along similar lines to the wonderful None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, Enjoying God dedicates a chapter to each of God’s incommunicable attributes (those that can be attributed to God alone), exploring the implications of how the Christian life should be lived in light of it. Chapters include God’s omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, truth, immutability, justice, and love to name a few. My favourite chapter is Sproul’s unpacking of omniscience. I found it both comforting and challenging to consider that God knows everything about everything, and he learned none of it because it was all made by him. Of course, the extension of this notion is that none of us should forget that God also knows every thought and deed, and nothing is hidden from the Judge of all the earth.

While written with the layman in mind, Sproul tends to climb quite high in order to get a view of the whole landscape, occasionally creeping into more philosophical or scientific discussions, and so this book won’t be for everyone. At the same time, Enjoying God is a wonderful resource that encourages every Christian to plumb the deep waters of the beauty of our great God who knows us and has made himself known. Enjoying God will cause you to see that the more we know God, the more we understand how worthy he is of our worship, and our lives as well.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Books Bloggers for review.
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Wednesdays on the Web (27/09)

Christians, Horror, and IT

I’m not persuaded that you can be a Christian, and still find entertainment in work that is designed to glorify evil or lead people astray. Work like this is never good, no matter the craftsmanship. Tony Reinke writes

And I see this conviction as part of the answer to the most beautiful question in the Bible: “Who has eyes that will behold the king in his beauty?” (Isaiah 33:17). Answer: He “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil” (Isaiah 33:15). The beauty of God is for those who do not feed their sensory curiosities with violence and wickedness. On this basis I believe entertainment-by-gore is forbidden in Scripture, even at the level of what gets communicated to my senses as entirely fictional media.

Not all Christians hold to this position, and this article poses some interesting points about how God might use this darker genre.

Correct Ways to Correct

Addressing sin in the church is part of the function of the body of Christ we’re saved into and called to actively submit to and participate in. Christians should be characterised by their desire to become more like Christ, and a big part of this is the humility that is our necessary response to loving correction. Here’s a punchy little post about the need for correction, the goal of correction, and the (right) method for correction in the church.

5 Ways to Murder Your Marriage

This article uses irony in order to demonstrate ways that a person can destroy their marriage. These examples aren’t as rare or nuanced as you might hope.

Worship Is My Life, Not My Role

Bob Kauflin continues to encourage, convict, and spur me on to worship as a “living sacrifice”, not simply the 20-30 minutes I give God in song on a Sunday morning. He writes

Leading worship starts and ends with the way I live my life, not what I do on a public platform.

What does that look like?

Loving God More by Taking Better Care of Your Body

There’s always the risk of discussions like these being taken to far, but the benefits outlined here are obvious, and most of us recognise that we take better care of others when we also take time to care for ourselves.

 

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The Councils of Carthage & Orange

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 council of Carthage and the council of Orange.

Background

Having now firmly established a solid theology on the Trinity, the person and nature of Christ, and the Person of the Holy Spirit, the church now turns to develop a ‘theological anthropology’ a clear articulation of the nature and sinful state of humankind, and their relationship to God. It was during this time that questions arose around the degree of human responsibility and the extent of God’s sovereignty, especially in light of Adam’s fall, and God’s gracious act through Christ. In the debates at Carthage and Orange, theologians debated human responsibility for sin, and the implications drawn vis-à-vis that responsibility from the reality that we live in a fallen world.

Pelagius & Augustine

Pelagius was a British monk who was deeply devoted to living a moral life. He developed a doctrine of sin and salvation that hinged on good works and good morals. According to Pelagius, sin wasn’t inherently part of human nature but rather comes from bad decisions and habits willingly formed. He was concerned that if Christians held to the doctrine of original sin it would give them an excuse to be defeatist or apathetic towards their own sins. Augustine (a North African Bishop) firmly believed in original sin. Further, he believed that it was by grace alone that a person was freed from the grip of sin, bestowing the ability to resist sin and love God.

The Councils

The eight canons that were passed at Carthage (418 A.D.) expressed significant support for Augustine. They recognised that a sinless life was impossible and that God’s grace – freely given and not earned – was the means by which a person was changed from the inside in order to “know what to seek, what we ought to avoid, and also that we should love to do so.” However, as council was not ecumenical it wasn’t universally accepted, and so a second council was convened at Orange a century later (529 A.D.) to revisit what was passed. After much debate, this council decided once more in support of Augustine; with 25 canons passed, many of which used Augustine’s language word for word.

Why it Matters

Even today Pelagianism (and semi-Pelagian) teachings creep into churches, leading young believers astray. We would like to believe that we have the power to choose good for ourselves, but the rulings of the council (and the words of Augustine) remind us that even if we were empowered with the free will to choose God on our own, due to our sinful nature we never would. The wonder of salvation for Augustine was that God loved him when he was deep (and inescapably) in sin. Rather than waiting for Augustine to exercise his own free will and choose to clean up his moral act, God broke in with scandalous disregard for what kind of person he was. Today we love and serve a God who loved us and saved us by giving his son for us, apart from anything we could or would have done.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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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, inner anguish, and no small amount of conflict from without and within. It is a genuine – often unchosen – experience which needs to be met with love and unwavering support; these are real people. In his 2017 book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.

Beginning with a quick history of how we got where we find ourselves today (thanks to events like the Sexual Revolution, and relativism), Walker moves quickly to lay out a helpful definition of terms (sex, gender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgender) highlighting that they’re not the same thing, and that someone struggling with one of these things is not necessarily struggling with one or more of the others. Chapter 5 provides the foundation for any discussion around these terms; it’s God’s sovereignty, his design for humankind as their Creator, and therefore his right to speak (and the words of Jesus) that are the ultimate issue behind the issue. Regarding the fact that gender dysphoria is not sinful, he writes:

It is vital to pause here to make a very clear distinction between experiencing a feeling and acting on a feeling. Come back to Eve in Eden at the start of Genesis 3. Eve was not sinning when Satan spoke to her to tempt her, when she saw the fruit’s beauty, or when she felt it was to be desired. She sinned when she went beyond observing the fruit’s beauty, followed her reason and feelings in opposition to God’s word, and took and ate it.

Walker also unravels the “I was born this way” argument through highlighting that we are all born with broken bodies affected by the fall, with all sorts of tendencies that do not lead to our ultimate joy and wholeness. The way I was born needs constant evaluation against scripture to determine if this propensity or that should be pursued or rejected, for my good. When it comes to modern medicine  – hormone replacement therapy and body-modifying surgeries – the reality is that we can grasp at being men instead of women, but God does not allow it. We are unable to do it and though we can try to change our form, we cannot change our genetic formatting. In truth, Walker says, there is no such thing as transgender. But support for this position is by no means limited to the Christian-worldview. Paul McHugh is one of the most esteemed psychiatrists alive today. He serves as the University Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and is the former Psychiatrist-in-chief at their Hospital. He states:

In fact, gender dysphoria – the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex – belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychological conflicts provoking it.

God and the Transgender Debate would not be complete if it merely defined the terms, stated the issues, and didn’t provide the answers. And so, in the back 7 chapters of his book Walker tackles the tough questions, provides pages of real-world examples of conversations he (as a parent) would have with children of different ages, and discusses at length how the church should best seek to equip itself to compassionately engage with sons, daughters, and friends who experience various sexuality-related struggles in loving community. I’m glad he highlights the blacks and the whites, but I’m more grateful that he explores the grays; every person is different, and there are no easy paths. Love requires listening, and transformation requires truth. While Walker’s words are not intended to be the final word on any of the many critical questions he seeks to provide answers to, they are profoundly helpful, practical, and offer invaluable insight into this complex and challenging debate.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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Wednesdays on the Web (20/09)

Please Read Me Your Email

This is a terrific strategy when it comes to electronic communication, and not just when you’re a Pastor or in a position of leadership. I can see key situations being handled much better (by either the sender, or the receiver, or both) if a system like this was put in place.

Artists’ Spiritual Insights

I think that every bible college lecturer I learned from saw the value that artists throughout history have contributed through their craft to helping convey the beauty and significance of biblical truth. Take the time to pause in front of these examples and see for yourself.

Setting the Tone in Your Home

I will never forget the day that little five year old Sawyer looked up at me and said, “Mama, you’re always mad.” It was a wake up call like no other. The truth is that I hadn’t realized how irritable I had become in that phase of life. But, when he said it, scenes flashed through my mind, revealing the hard truth that I had become increasingly unreasonable in my interactions with my family. I was turning every small inconvenience into a huge show of annoyance, and even though I didn’t necessarily feel angry and upset all the time, as far as my family was concerned, I was behaving like I was.

5 Christian Comedians Who Are Crushing It

These clips will brighten your day.

What Is Biblical Meditation?

It’s funny how this conversation comes up at least once a year for me. Christianity has such a rich heritage of spiritual practices, and yet we still tend to muddy the waters which leads to well-meaning Christians seeking answers in the wrong places. This article helps by discussing what Christian meditation is, and what it is not.

So Many Different Bible Translations

Bill Mounce offers this helpful introduction to why there are different Bible translations, and why they can be trusted.

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Engaging Diversity for God’s Purposes

Australia faces many challenges at present. Economic. Political. Spiritual. Integrity. Globalization. Morality. Others? Which challenge concerns you the most?

One of the significant issues occupying my mind constantly concerns diversity engagement. I know this choice is different to the standard or common selections from the options above. However, diversity is a feature of Australian life, creating potential threats to social cohesion and unity. Numerous headline stories in recent weeks highlight the tensions present currently in society and the struggles to respectfully dialogue with opposing views. The Same Sex Marriage postal vote is causing animosity and igniting extreme acts to shut down the opposing side. The statues in Sydney vandalized over the debate concerning Australia Day have polarized the population. The constant reminder of the fear associated with terrorism threatens to paralyze. Use of the name of Jesus in playgrounds could be banned. The debate over the wearing the burqa is set to continue. As well as the call to abandon Father’s Day and replace with Special Person’s Day. These are just to name a few.

My concern is the potential damage and impact inflicted on social cohesion from such confrontations, and the lasting legacy. Numerous consequences arise. Bullying results in profound hurt, broken relationships, hatred and fear. Respect for the other suffers. The world of blame, rejection, confrontation and insult intensifies. Overzealous minority voices impact freedom of speech as they attempt to seek conformity for their perspective and silence the majority. Enclaves form.

The current Australian context should ignite Christ’s followers to theologically reflect and evaluate the nature of a godly response to handling all forms of diversity. Following Christ brings with it expectations, beliefs and values concerning the response. Paul’s reminder to not conform to the patterns of the world (Rom 12:1-2) comes to mind here. The response contributes to the discussion and communicates non-verbally to the world an alternative pathway for engaging diversity.

My own life journey with diversity commenced when born into an international marriage over 50 years ago. Ever since then I have lived and worked in at least 4 countries, travelled to over 20, parented a son with disability issues with my British born wife and struggled with ongoing generational issues within Christian organizations.

Therefore, I bring some encouragement from my own response to diversity and the intrinsic sources for motivation to manage the threats, fear and relationship challenges. Diversity becomes opportunities for me to learn, grow and deepen my walk with God. Three theologically grounded concepts guide my response for culturally appropriate relationships and cross-cultural servanthood.

Firstly, attitudes to diversity set the tone for behavior. Romans 15:7 where Paul encourages the Roman Christians to accept one another as Christ accepted them is crucial for me. Acceptance builds off an openness to difference and communicates esteem even when differences exist. The combative, selfish-driven and confrontational spirit subsides. The value is seen in Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritan woman (John 4). Elmer in his book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood (IVP, 2006) explores this further.

Secondly, culturally appropriate knowledge and skills deepen the message of acceptance in contexts of diversity. God crossed borders to engage humanity through the incarnation of Christ. Jesus’ example provides clues for intercultural engagement. David Livermore’s book, Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Multicultural World (Baker Books, 2009) proposes a model/tool to approach caring for the other and building bridges across cultural chasms. Cultural intelligence is the capacity to function effectively cross-culturally through 4 capabilities around motivation and perseverance (CQ Drive), knowledge (CQ Knowledge), strategic planning for intercultural encounters (CQ Strategy), and participation in speech and non-verbal acts (CQ Action). Having the skills and knowledge to respond assists the capacity to address diversity and understand the other.

Thirdly, God’s control of all things and activity in the world means functioning in the community and the margins without fear, even of difference. God empowers believers to cope and engage. Frost and Rice’s recent book, To Alter the World (IVP, 2017) encourages believers to consider embracing the role of midwives for God in place-crafting and dialogue.

May the manner in which we engage diversity reflect God’s heart and expectations, and implement the knowledge and skills available to us, especially when empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 


This post was contributed by David Turnbull. David is Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies at Tabor College of Higher Education and has a passion to see God’s people engage the nations with the good news of Christ in a just and culturally intelligent manner. His cross-cultural involvement has spanned over five decades and four continents (primarily Africa) in the areas of training, equipping and facilitating through local churches, mission agencies, Missions Interlink locally and nationally and the Lausanne Movement. He is currently working on his PhD in the area of cultural intelligence.

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A Prayer for the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Wednesdays on the Web (13/09)

7 Standards for Good Writing

I blog because I enjoy the act of writing; the craft of forming something with words and phrases that is clear, compelling, and convicting (when the piece calls for that). As an author himself, Barnabas Piper always seeks to be a better writer, and offers these global standards to consider.

How to Journal through the Psalms

The Psalms are so important for the Christian life; in them we encounter what it really means to have a God who is big enough to relate to the full range of human emotions and we rejoice. I know a few people who have made the Psalms part of their daily bible intake, and the benefits to journaling are many. Why not put these two great things together?

Beyond Veggie Tales: Forming the Moral Imagination of Your Kids

At a recent parenting conference, Phil Vischer shares how storytelling can be an effective tool for creating a Biblical framework for imagination and creativity. Watch the (16 minutes) video here.

Churchgoing is Beautiful

If you’re a Christian, church attendance is not optional. Pause in this article and see again the beauty of attending the Sunday morning service, called and gathered by the Holy Spirit. We are called to love, and be part of, the church.

Having Mental Health Issues doesn’t make you a Bad Christian

It is tough enough combatting the stigma of mental health in a culture that prides itself on entrepreneurship, self-reliance and curating Instagram-perfect lifestyles. But as a Christian, it was even worse. Speaking up about the emotional pain I once survived or was enduring, I ran into a lie often perpetuated in our church culture about mental health and spiritual fitness: If you’re feeling emotionally broken, your faith is weak or broken.

The Christian and Tithing

 

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Yelling in an Echo Chamber:
Thoughts on the Plebiscite

If you’re in Australia at the moment it’s hard to miss the fact that we’re in the midst of cultural conflict. I am, of course, referring to the upcoming vote on whether Australia should legalize what is being referred to as Same Sex Marriage (SSM). It’s easy to tell because on one hand the editorial columns are filled with statements on why this is a thing that we must do, while my Facebook feed is being filled with people sharing articles on why this would be the worst thing in the world. Both sides have (what they believe to be) a compelling case, but there seems to be a lack of serious, mutually respectful debate and I think we need to take a step back and consider how we’re approaching the whole issue.

Prevalent on social media today are people who share every article they can find about how legalizing SSM will destroy the very fabric of society, stripping religious freedoms, and doing away with logic altogether. The problem is not necessarily the claims themselves, although I cringe when people share the ‘No’ ad (with the claim that a boy was encouraged to wear a dress when the claim has been refuted by the school involved). Indeed from looking at what has happened in other countries following this legislation passing, it is clear that there are some very credible objections that those outside the church could reasonably affirm. (I would argue that all of these are secondary issues for Christians but that is another story) When we consider our own approach to this very public issue, we would do well to carefully consider our audience, and appropriately adjust our tone.

First (before we get to sharing) we should always seek to fully comprehend the context we find ourselves in. Increasingly social media allows us to live and engage in an echo chamber, populated by people who agree with everything that we say and think. We share articles and videos to make our case but the only people who are seeing them are people who are already on the same page as us. On the other side of the equation, our viewpoint is only being reinforced because our friends are sharing the same things, thus we’re not forced to think about the other side of the argument.

Secondly, we are responsible for considering what would happen if (when) we had someone viewing our feed who was on the other side of the argument. Are they going to be persuaded by the dozens of items that we share daily about how society is imperiled by the advancement of the LGBT agenda? More pointedly, are they even going to bother looking at them and engage or are they going to just scroll right past because they don’t agree with the headlines? And what if – God forbid – we actually had a Facebook friend who identified as LGBT? Will their life change (not lifestyle but life) because we shared a video about somebody who didn’t like that they had two mums? I highly doubt it. Given these issues, we need to seriously think about how we engage this issue and ask what would be worse: SSM being legalized or people being so repulsed by our unflinching resolve that they are driven away from Christ?

Where to from Here?

The most important thing that we need to remember is that we’re not just dealing with An Issue, but behind the issue are real, flesh-and-blood people. These people have hopes, dreams, and feelings just like the rest of us and deserve to be treated with the same respect that we expect to receive. Does this mean that we abandon our convictions? Of course not, but it does mean that if we have an opportunity to actually engage with somebody with a different opinion then we should discuss it with grace and love. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

[Author’s Note: I highly encourage reading The Nashville Statement from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for a biblical foundation of this issue and Rosaria Butterfield’s autobiography Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert for further thoughts on how we engage the people on the other side of this issue.]

 


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

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Wednesdays on the Web (06/09)

Jesus Isn’t Calling, God Has Already Spoken

I was already on board before listening to this ep from Sheologians; having my own reservations about the popularity of Sarah Young’s book and devotional sequel, even in my own congregation.

One More Time on Game of Thrones

It amazes me that Christians are actually even posing this question, but I’ve seen it a lot. Kevin DeYoung writes with conviction and clarity, and I have yet to see an argument that could oppose his points.

MacArthur and a Response to Racism

While Australia hasn’t had an event like Charlottesville, we’re not immune to racial issues. In this interview MacArthur frames a high-level response through a Christian worldview. Honestly, this would make our world a better place.

Why I Signed the Nashville Statement

Rosaria Butterfield has an amazing story, and is a wonderfully eloquent, highly intelligent, thoroughly engaging communicator. Her book (Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert) opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about. In this piece, she writes

The issue is not whether people are good-intentioned and sincere in desiring things that God forbids.

The issue is whether we all bear the sin of Adam, inheriting an unchosen moral deformity, an energy of opposition to God, a rebellion that bequeaths to us a sin nature that we cannot erase on our own terms and by our own hands.

The issue is whether Jesus rose from the grave, is alive today, and whether His blood and love and resurrection makes any wit of difference in how you fight the original sin that distorts you, the actual sin that distracts you, and the indwelling sin that manipulates you.

The issue is whether you can trust the Bible to tell you who you are, who God is, and which way is up.

Hermeneutics for Parenting: Obey the Word

This helpful blog reveals some common errors to avoid, and a few helpful tips for making solid, biblical applications when it comes to teaching our children the truth of scripture; and it begins with living it out in our own lives.

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A Sea Worth Sailing

I am undoubtedly being taken on a journey. It’s uncharted water, and in some part I feel like a passenger. The journey is about me though, and so I can’t be passive, nor can I come out the other side unchanged. In fact I’m convinced that I won’t even see the shore until I change. To extend the metaphor, this journey has seen wind and waves from many sides, but somehow they’re all pushing me to stay the course until it’s done. So, where have I sailed so far?

Learning to Listen

In the book named for him, James the brother of Jesus writes

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19, CSB)

Over the last few months I’ve repeatedly encountered the importance of listening. Not just hearing, but active and present engagement with the object of my attention. At times, this is another person. Other times (hopefully often) it’s being alone with God. As I’ve come to learn lately, it’s also important to listen to my own emotions and physiological responses in this body God has given me. What follows is a high-level view of what I’m learning about better loving through listening.

Listening to Others

Jesus said that everything the bible teaches regarding Christian living can be summed up like this: love God, and love others (Luke 10:27). As those who are fellow image-bearers of the God we love and serve, the least I can do is give people my full attention. As much as possible, I shouldn’t be distracted by my surroundings. Never interrupt a face-to-face conversation to answer a text unless it is a family emergency, a previously scheduled appointment, or you are in the seventh grade. I know that I often hear – rather mishear – things, so I’m also practicing the habit of repeating things back to people in the form of “so what you’re saying is…” This has been infinitely helpful not only in the passing on of instruction, but also general care, counselling, and conflict resolution. Asking intelligent questions further demonstrates that love is present in my listening, because I’m listening to learn, and not to lecture.

Listening to Myself

God made us with bodies as well as spirits. Jesus came and indwelt human flesh, thus articulating that our bodies are important to him. The New Testament authors speak of the fact that God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies being transformed on that last Day. With this in mind, isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to a sudden rush of adrenaline, muscle tension, that knot in your stomach, or other physiological signals as our bodies know how we’re feeling before we do. Learning to listen to our own bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? Perhaps there’s some underlying anger or unforgiveness that needs to be dealt with? I’m slowly finding the value in learning how listening to my body is intrinsically connected (by many ties) to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.

Listening to God

Finally, how often do I try to squeeze my time with God in amongst the other things on my schedule? We live in a world of distraction; a world of noise and tasks and things simultaneously vying for our attention. This is so true for most of us (read=me) that being fully present in the moment is something of a lost art. Do you read your bible on the same phone that is flooded with notifications from dozens of apps? Have you ever stopped praying to answer the front door or a summons from down the hall, then completely forgotten you were praying? At best, things like this carry a high-probability of distraction, at worst they’re just plain unproductive, and disrespectful to the God of the universe. So lately, I’ve been disciplining myself to kill the biggest hindrance to active listening: multitasking. In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared C. Wilson writes

So if Jesus’s intentional prayer involved withdrawal to deserted places, and he did so often, how awesome do we think we are that we don’t have to follow suit?

When it comes to listening, I want to be the kind of person who treats listening as an act of love. And while I can’t yet see the shore, it’s certainly a sea worth sailing.

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What I Read in August

The Imperfect Disciple

I’m grateful for Jared C. Wilson’s honest, down-to-earth look at what it means to be a disciple who is also human. We all stumble and fall; even Paul knew what it means to “do what I don’t want to do”. Wilson’s writing is easy to relate to, doesn’t come off as holier-than-thou, but rather seeks to walk side by side with us; offering encouragement for the average, broken-yet-striving Christian. One of my favourite sections was his wonderful walk through understanding and applying the beatitudes. For a sneak peak (and plenty to get the grey-matter thinking about), take a look at my top ten favourite quotes from the book.

Batman: I Am Suicide (DC Universe Rebirth Vol 2)

Tom King (and friends) did such a great job with Volume 1; despite the fact that I wasn’t too thrilled that the Justice League had to show up to ‘save’ Batman, like he ever needs that. The artwork is gritty and stunning, the story is compelling, and (without spoilers) introduces Nightwing, Batwoman, and … that’s all I’ll say. Tom King as a former CIA analyst turned writer, knows how to get inside great criminal minds, and doesn’t disappoint.

I am Spock

Leonard Nimoy’s second book is simply delightful. His fascinating (I couldn’t resist using Spock vernacular) story is full of joys and frustrations, and his frequent internal dialog with the ever-present Mr. Spock infuses drama, comedy, and irresistible Vulcan logic to each decision, action, and reaction along his turbulent, successful career. Nimoy writes with the delivery of a master storyteller, and has undoubtedly renewed my love for biography.

The God-Shaped Heart

One of the joys of being a blogger/book reviewer is the opportunity to read and review books before they’re published. Scheduled to hit the shelves on September 5, Christian psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Jennings delivers what he believes to be the keys to spiritual and emotional health in looking to God and his love for us. This book adds another layer to my journey towards better understanding Emotional Intelligence from a Christian worldview. Look out for my review of this one in the near future. Spoiler: I think you’ll love it.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Don Whitney speaks to an area of Christian spirituality that I truly love, in a way that I truly love to hear it. His rich heritage with men like Richard Foster has given him wonderful insight into components of the Christian’s journey that sadly the Church (at least in the West) has lost. Moving beyond the Word and prayer to look at silence and solitude, worship, serving, evangelism, fasting, journalling, and others, Don writes with the knowledge of a scholar and the experience of a seasoned pastor. His practical suggestions for how to cultivate these disciplines in your life have been valuable to me, and my hope is they could help you too.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

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Wednesdays on the Web (30/08)

God Loves U-Turns

We live in a world where U-Turns are difficult at the times we need them the most, reserving them only for unusual circumstances (for safety reasons, of course). But living our spiritual lives before God is different. Living authentically with God, and for God, in this world requires innumerable U-Turns.

When I Survey – Voting for Jesus

This is a fascinating statement from Creek Rd Presbyterian regarding the upcoming postal plebiscite on Same Sex Marriage, and why Christians may vote no, yes, or abstain.

Kindness Begins at Home

The fact is nowhere am I more tempted to be selfish and lazy than in my home and my closest relationships. Here Nancy provides a poignant, personal reminder that kindness – while it might look different at home – is so important for me to be actively working on as part of my personal ongoing sanctification, but also in modelling Jesus to my family.

My 7 Least Productive Habits

Not often discussed from the negative angle, here’s a super-helpful and revealing list of activities that drain more than just productivity. I need to keep more than one of these in check.

Theologicon: Australia’s First Pop-Culture Conference

Take your favourite comic book characters, pop-culture icons, and silver screen superheroes, mix in theology… and you’ve got Theologicon: a conference to explore how Christians can engage with the enduring themes and questions posed within pop-culture. This looks like the most fun I could have on a weekend. I’ll be keeping an eye on the event page.

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Top 10 Quotes from The Imperfect Disciple

I‘m grateful that Jared C. Wilson has written a book for disciples like me. The ones who try, and fail, and strive their hardest to walk ‘in step with the Spirit’, but who are broken, messy, and not there yet. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace For People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together is full of real, relatable wisdom and needs to be read highligher-in-hand. Below are (in no particular order) my favourite quotes from this spiritually formative but earthly little book.

What is discipleship, then…

…but following Jesus not on some religious quest to become bigger, better, or faster but to become more trusting of his mercy toward our total inability to become those things?

It all boils down to this:

we have, fundamentally, a worship problem, and so long as we are occupying our minds with little, worldly things and puny, worldly messages, we will shrink our capacity to behold the eternal glory of Jesus Christ, which is the antidote to all that ails us.

Nailing it:

The point of the Christian life is not self-improvement or more Bible knowledge but Christlikeness.

None of us is better than Jesus.

So if Jesus’s intentional prayer involved withdrawal to deserted places, and he did so often, how awesome do we think we are that we don’t have to follow suit?

Oh, and by the way

None of us is ever in danger of praying too much.

To be a Christian is to be a churchman or churchwoman

As I’ve said, the New Testament knows of no vibrant discipleship apart from life in the local church and no authentic Christianity divorced from the covenant of life together according to the biblical structure of the local church.

I just really liked this. Let the reader understand.

I think of the typical Christian Living section in the mainstream bookstore down at the suburban shopping center. Row after row of pseudo-religious gobbledygook promising breakthroughs and victories and super-colossal personal affirmations for abundant living. Jesus is quoted and appropriated in these shiny tomes, their glossy covers invariably featuring successful religious spokespersons grinning big-toothed grins under waves of well-coiffed hair.
“Buy my millstone,” their smiles say. “It’s good for you.”

Be Patient

At its root, impatience is confusion about control. Impatience is the rotten fruit of self-sovereignty. We are impatient because people and circumstances do not tend to operate as if we are the center of the universe.

This is why the good news is so good!

The essential message of Christianity isn’t “do” but “done.” The good news is news, not instruction, and it announces to us not “get to work” but “it is finished.” And so it turns out that the direct route to God-honoring behavior is born not of good behavior but of good beholding.

The church is for people like me

The church has got to be a place where it’s okay to not be okay….
A message of grace will attract people but a culture of grace will keep them.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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The First Council of Constantinople

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 first council of Constantinople.

Background

The city of Constantinople (named by the ever-so-humble emperor Constantine) played host to three councils, and quickly became synonymous with Christianity. There were a wide variety of issues addressed by these councils; Constantinople I established the full deity of the Holy Spirit, Constantinople II & III elaborated and established the nature and divine will of Christ. As always, these councils were considered ecumenical, as they built on the work of the Christian church previously laid down by former councils. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first of these three gatherings.

Constantinople I

At the council of Nicaea, the church had condemned Arianism and declared Christ “very God of very God”. However, a form of Semi-Arianism survived, whereby people could affirm the words of the Nicene Creed (such as we “believe in the Holy Ghost”), but because the creed said nothing else about it, they could hold that the Holy Spirit was not in fact a person – but more of a power or force – without contradicting orthodox Christian belief. Both sides held a persuasive view of their position, argued from Scripture. On one side, the Semi-Arians could lay hold of verses like Joel 2:28, where the Holy Spirit is a thing ‘poured out’ rather than a person, or Psalm 51 where David asks God not to take the Holy Spirit from him, as though the Holy Spirit is simply a possession to be given. On the other side, the orthodox position argued that the majority of the Bible presented the Holy Spirit as a person; that he possessed personal capabilities like being able to be grieved (Isaiah 53:10) or lied to (Acts 5:3). Also on the side of the orthodox position, historically it had long been customary to baptise new believers into the three names of the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To remove this ambiguity, the Nicene Creed was consequently expanded to read

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father [later ‘and the Son’ was added], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

The Holy Spirit was now identified as a person, co-equal and co-eternal with God, and the final heresy of Arianism was put to rest.

Why it Matters

The invitation to Christian faith is the invitation to participate in the Trinitarian life. The deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit is therefore critical not only for a right understanding of who God is, but for salvation, and the continuing Christian life – the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-26). For modern Christians it is no different; the Holy Spirit is the least talked about and understood of the Trinity, and we would do well to get to know all we can of Him as we seek to obey Scripture by walking “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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Wednesdays on the Web (23/08)

10 Common but Illegitimate Reasons to Divorce

This article needs no introduction, except to say that I appreciate the clarity, and all Christians would do well to be equipped with a good theology of marriage/divorce/remarriage.

Getting Bored with the Right Things

Jared C. Wilson sagely observes how Christians are all too often prone to outspoken activity (whether it be social, political, or ethical) over that which is temporary, but when it comes to the things of the gospel, we can barely keep ourselves awake.

Anxiety Resources

David Murray provides a number of helpful new books and articles. In particular, I found Before You Advise Something with Anxiety… very insightful.

God and the Transgender Debate

Christians seem to be playing catch-up o the transgender debate. Often the issue is oversimplified, and from a place of ignorance. I’ve just bought this new book from Andrew Walker, because I run the risk of being that Christian too.

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The Technology Trap

Electronic devices are discipling our children – sometimes for hours a day. They are telling them what to think and feel; how to act and react; and are shaping them socially and spiritually. In a world where technology is ubiquitous and our children can no longer live without it (laptops and/or iPads are increasingly compulsory in schools, sports teams communicate via text, etc), parents have a responsibility to teach their children how to sail the technology storm so that these means don’t surreptitiously become their masters.

But what does that look like? There’s no doubt it looks a little different in each household, and (as with everything) discipleship in this area falls under two categories:

(1) activities or behaviours that the bible clearly speaks against, or
(2) activities or behaviours that the bible doesn’t clearly speak against,
but God-given wisdom would have us make a judgement call on
whether it is good for us, and glorifying of Christ.

Here’s 10 things to consider while teaching our children to approach technology as they grow.

1. Model How to Master Media Yourself.
What example do you set with your own technology use?

2. Treat Media as a Privilege, Not a Right.
Remind your children that this privilege brings temptation for misuse, and it can be taken away.

3. Thoughtfully Introduce Media Privileges at Appropriate Times.
You determine when your child is ready for things like a smartphone (rather than one that simply texts and calls, which is enough), and social media accounts.

4. Guard the Gate for Content.
Accountability software, protective measures like content restrictions, and a PIN on Netflix.

5. Guard the Gate for Time.
Self-control includes placing time limits on screens to prevent fostering addiction. You may also like the idea of a technology Sabbath each week.

6. Make Family Relationships a Priority.
Perhaps this might mean no electronics during dinner and driving.

7. Use Electronics and Media to Build Family Unity.
Take an interest in sharing media. Connect with your child through the sports, movies, and music they enjoy.

8. Find Like-Minded Families.
Children love to compare what their friends’ parents allow. Join arms with parents who feel the same way about holding back the tsunami of electronics that looms on the horizon.

9. Talk about Internet Temptations.
The Internet is full of unnecessary bragging, hypocrisy, and bullying. While these provide important lessons in character and The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), they also serve as a reminder that once something appears on the Internet, it never goes away.

10. Have the Courage to Pull the Plug.
If your children behave inappropriately, they may need a reminder of some of the above. They won’t die if technology is removed for a time of correction, and the withdrawal they feel will help bring the message home. Suffering has a way of bringing our heart issues to the surface, which provides additional (often multiple) opportunities for discipleship in love.

Disciple-making parents will equip their children (and model how) to rule over the technologies and temptations of this age.

This post was based on chapter 25 of Chap Bettis’ book The Disciple-Making Parent.

 

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The Great Book Giveaway

Our home library is a carefully tended collection of kids books, fiction, biographies, history, and Christian books of all kinds that I’ve accumulated over my years at Bible College. I love that our kids love to read, and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with them as they read through our library in the coming years. Personally, I know that my relationship with God is richer thanks to many authors who have teased out how to practically apply the teaching of the Bible for myself and my family. I’m grateful for the resources that help me understand hard doctrines or difficult parts of scripture. Recently however, I’ve come to realise that there’s also a hidden risk of pride, greed, or worse that could take root as a result of our ever-growing library, and there’s a number of reasons why I’ve decided that there’s value in taking steps to ensure books remain the slave and not the master.

We Have Limited Space

I love books. Books that have to be posted, arrive in the mail, and be held, smelled, and flipped through… books that take up space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m increasingly investing in e-books these days; but my love for the physical remains undiminished. Although, having purchased yet another bookshelf for our home recently (and with the threat of moving house looming on the horizon) I’m becoming more reticent when it comes to choosing print over pixels. The truth is I really don’t need hundreds of books, and quantity doesn’t always equal quality.

Books are Made to be Read

A book that sits on my shelf after being read once or twice isn’t doing anyone any good. Sure there are reference books that hold ongoing value for research, sermon prep, that kind of thing. But on the whole, I tend to read a book once (I’m a big fan of reading highlighter-in-hand, I read every footnote and appendix, and sometimes I write a review), then I shelve it. I’m not precious about my library though; I love being able to loan books to people when I know it would speak into their situation with more eloquence than I could (which is always). For the most part however, my books are enjoyed once or twice by me, then sit on the shelf.

My Library Changes with Me

Just like I no longer read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (at least, not by myself), there are plenty of books on my shelf that I read five years ago that I simply wouldn’t pick up again. That’s not to say they’re not great, but there are numerous reasons why I won’t return to them; I was interested in a particular subject that has now been replaced by a new interest, changes to lifestyle (i.e. becoming a parent) has shifted my focus, or as I’ve (hopefully) grown spiritually I’m simply seeking books that are addressing things from a different perspective. But even though I may have changed, somewhere there is a person for whom these books will be the perfect fit.

The Risk of Idolatry

What I’ve come to realise lately is that there’s a degree of selfishness – even greed – in holding on to these books that could be detrimental if left unchecked. It’s not sinful to give away books, but it may be sinful to hold on to them. Along similar lines, if I’m sharing with people what this or that author says on a certain topic rather than drawing on what the Bible has to say then I’m at risk of giving books too much worth. The reality is that these bits of paper can’t come with me to heaven, and when I’m more interested in having an impressive stack of bedside reading than I am in picking up my Bible, that’s idolatry. And that’s a problem.

Where to From Here?

So how do I keep my love of books in check? I’ve decided to adopt an ‘Add-a-Book, Remove-a-Book’ policy. My library is now at the point where everything I have is high-quality, so I can confidently give away a book that I know will benefit someone else every time a new book is added to my shelf.

How Do You Get Involved?

If you’d like to participate in this ongoing promotion, all you need to do is hit the button below and subscribe to the blog; then each time I purchase a new book, I’ll choose a name from the list of subscribers, and get in touch with you via email to let you know what titles are up for grabs.

Just subscribe to chrismacleavy.com below and be eligible for free books!

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Wednesdays on the Web (16/08)

A Christian Response to Charlottseville

This week, I realised that as a white Australian, I don’t have all the categories in which to process the events that took place in Charlottesville recently. My mind boggles and my emotions reel at the horrific scene and the disturbing attitudes that are still very much alive in parts of American culture. There have been any number of responses to this painful experience, including Righteously Angry, Graciously Hopeful by J. D. Greear; The Five Crowds of Charlottesville by The Cripplegate; A Time for Moral Clarity by Denny Burk; and The Gospel Coalition’s What Now in Charlottesville?

The Meaning of Marriage

David McGregor, Senior Lecturer in Theology at Tabor Adelaide offers his thoughts on Tim & Kathy Keller’s book. I love the way McGregor writes, and if you’re unsure whether you should read the Keller’s book, McGregor can show you why.

Both single and married people need to realize that, as wonderful as marriage is, it only works best if it is not held up as the ultimate in and of itself – the “Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family that our hearts were made for” can only be found in the love that God has for us, and our true brothers and sisters in the Christian community who share our ultimate hopes.

Be Who You Are: Teaching Kids about Gender

The second biggest topic to break my newsfeed this week was a tie between SSM and gender dysphoria. Here are some thoughtful insights about the latter.

Why We Struggle to Pray in the Digital Age

None of these are ground-breaking discoveries or insights into our technology-addicted no-attention-span society. But Scott Slayton also offers some challenging remedies which are sure to shake things up in your schedule.

Like I said, the fact that Christians do trust God in the midst of their suffering should be intriguing to atheists. What do Christians see in God that makes knowing Him worth any amount of suffering they experience? Christian, every time you trust God in your suffering, you’re making an argument for the value of God, and everyone can see it.

 

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Love, Enjoy, Resist the World

When it comes to Scripture’s use of world, it’s easy to misinterpret the term in one verse or another. The Christian who doesn’t carefully consider context can find themselves living with too much legalism or too much liberty. In his book The Disciple-Making Parent, Chap Bettis reminds us that God loves every person in the world, and as followers of Jesus He calls us to do likewise. Further, God made the world that we live in and He declared it good. He made the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon, and he gifted us with every good thing the world contains for our enjoyment. But at the same time, Christians are clearly called to leave the world behind and wholeheartedly follow Jesus.

Love, Enjoy, Resist

The disciple-making parent teaches their children to love the world and enjoy the world, while simultaneously resisting the world. But what does that look like?

Love the World

When it comes to the New Testament authors’ positive use of world as the object of our loving, it should be clear that these passages aren’t referring to the broken, sinful, spiritually corrupted system that is opposed to God. Rather, this should bring to our minds those people for whom Jesus died. The New Testament presents a coherent message that as Christians we are to love our neighbour (read: everyone) and Jesus told his followers that second only to loving God, we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

Enjoy the World

Because God made all things good, a Christian can – and should – find pleasure in music, books, sports, movies, and food to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Jesus’ call to discipleship doesn’t mean we have to leave behind us the enjoyment of a sport or the exhilaration of a symphony; as disciple-making parents, we should point our children to the Creator through the enjoyment of his good gifts.

Resist the World

At the same time, Scripture teaches us that as Christians, we are not to be conformed to the pattern of the world (Romans 12) and John tells us “do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer writes:

A whole new generation of Christians has come up believing it is possible to accept Christ without forsaking the world.

This is the negative use of world that refers to those things which would seek to overthrow God as the primary object of our affections. Again, this doesn’t mean that being a Christian means we’re anti-fun or anti-possessions. My household loves all things Marvel; our bookshelves contain the latest comics, our kids wear Avengers pyjamas or sleep under Iron-Man sheets, and we never leave the cinema before watching the very last post-credit scene. However, if we’re talking about Marvel more than we’re talking about Jesus then we’ve got an idol, and we have a problem. Disciple-making parents need to talk about Jesus and his kingdom more than we talk about bands, movies, clothes, food, or things.

Why It Matters

When our children are young, they are forming their values, beliefs, and the way they look at the world. Christians parents are charged with helping these young disciples to navigate the waters of loving the world and enjoying the world, while resisting the world all at the same time. God wants us to enjoy his good gifts while remembering that our greatest pleasure is found in God Himself. One way to achieve this is by allowing Christ’s kingdom to graciously invade our conversations; that in our joys, encouragements, corrections, and conversations our children would see Christ as our treasure and goal. As disciple-making parents, we want to instill in our children an ability to delight in knowing Jesus Christ in, through, and before all other things.

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The Athanasian Creed

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 Athanasian Creed.

Background

The Athanasian Creed is refreshingly straightforward in its presentation of the Trinity, in particular. By 1090 AD the great theologian Anselm held the Athanasian Creed as part of the Tria Symbola; the three great Creeds of the Christian Faith (The Apostles’, The Nicene, and The Athanasian Creeds). According to Martin Luther, the Athanasian Creed was “the most important and glorious composition since the days of the apostles.” John Calvin also counted it among the three great creeds.

The Creed

The Creed consists of 42 articles (I’ve removed the numbers to aid in reading) and can be divided into three sections: [1] the Trinity, [2] the Two Natures of Christ (as defined and defended at Chalcedon), and [3] the condemnations or “anathemas” defining the boundaries outside which is no longer orthodox faith.

It reads:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; there are three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.

Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

Why it Matters

Christian faith is not merely a matter of the heart. As thinking creatures, we will be held accountable for giving intellectual expression to our belief. Creeds like this serve as a healthy check that we’re believing what Christians have always believed about God, Christ, The Trinity, eternal life, and other fundamentals of the faith. But for all of the theological statements, there is a wonderful richness and joy found in right-thinking about the God we love and serve. As revealed in Scripture (and articulated by the Creeds), the Father sends the Son; the Son reveals the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son to comfort, teach, and guide in the truth. How much richer is our Christianity, our prayer life, our love for God, ourselves, and for our neighbour when we seek to better know and understand each member of the Trinity rather than merely “love God”. The Athanasian Creed helps us see each Person of the Godhead, gives us insight into their mutual loving relationship, and helps us to realise that salvation is actually an invitation by this God for us to enter into the eternal joy that is the Trinitarian life.

More articles in Councils & Creeds:

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