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CHRIS MACLEAVY Posts

Contend for the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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That’s a Wrap! (27/01)

Seven Reasons Why Church is Difficult for those Touched by Mental Illness

As a parent—but also as a person—I understand some of the challenges addressed here. Stephen Grcevich, MD (child and adolescent psychiatrist) writes:

Evangelically-minded churches have made great strides in recognizing the struggles common among persons in the church with mental illness. Where we have much work yet to do is in connecting with individuals and families outside the church and formulating strategies for welcoming them into our worship services and including them in activities most critical for making disciples.

Something Better than the Gospel

Fred Sanders. He said it.

An Open Letter to Christians who are Using Porn

The biggest thing about secret sin is that it’s secret. Tim Thornborough succinctly writes that the first step to exterminate it is to expose it.
BONUS: Tim Challies’ review of Vaughn Roberts new book The Porn Problem (currently AU$6.41 on Book Depository) is well worth reading.

A Guided Tour to 2017’s Bestselling Christian Books

Oh man, this post is not what you think it is. What is happening in the world?

How Curiosity Feeds Creativity

Barnabas Piper wrote the book on curiousity (no really, you can read my review here). He writes:

People are created to be image bearers of God. One of the primary, unique ways we do this is through creativity, and the only way to be truly creative is by being intentionally curious.

Disguised Destruction

Wise words from Katelyn Milligan. Do you often find yourself saying “The words I said were fine. And I’m allowed to say them that way, because I’m frustrated.” How we say things is equally-if-not-more important than what we’re saying. Milligan writes:

When one speaks without considering how it might affect others, not only is it selfish, but it’s reckless, and recklessness is destructive—destructive to oneself and to relationships.

Dads, Spend Time with your Kids One-on-One

Maybe it’s obvious (and if it isn’t, it should be) but there is a special demonstration of love and grace that takes place when a parent sets aside time to get inside a child’s world as an individual. This doesn’t disregard or discount important family times, devotions, discipleship opportunities in the car or at the dinner table, but there’s opportunity for eternal investment here that should not be missed.

My Favourite Tweet this Week:

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Three Personal and Professional Updates

The beginning of 2018 has not been uneventful for the MacLeavy family. It seems that life is always full, and often when it rains it pours. But we know that there are people out there who love to both pray, and offer practical support in many other ways. So I thought it was time we shared a few of our happenings (both personally and professionally). We’re thankful to God for placing us in a community of loving, praying, supportive people and so here are three quick updates we’d like to share with you.

House & Family: Well, it seems the house we’re currently renting was sold on the weekend. While we’re yet to find out any of the details, if you’re in our area you can probably expect a call from us in the near future requesting moving boxes. Our lease doesn’t run out for several months, so finding out whether the house has been sold to investors or owner/occupiers in the first step. Also, if you’re local, you may have noticed that we bought a new car recently. While it makes sense to upgrade from our 2004 model to a shinier 2011 model, the main reason is actually much more exciting. We’re expecting another baby in August, and we’re going to need more room. Buying a third baby seat for the car was a little bit daunting, and we’ve also decided not to find out the baby’s gender. So over the next few months, we’ll be working towards a new place with extra space!

A New Theology Project: Recently I was invited to be part of a new initiative that will be launching soon in 2018 at North Pine Baptist Church. Running a couple of times each term, we’ll be holding some adult theology classes. With the aim of discussing topics that are more easily addressed in a class-style environment, these talks aim to be much less formal than a Sunday sermon, and include a generous time for Q&A at the end. I’ll be teaching a few of these classes, addressing a range of contemporary topics from a Christian worldview. It’s going to be exciting!

Career Questions: There have been a number of internal restructures within the company I work for recently, and this continues to cause a low-level anxiety in most of the staff who remain. While I’m fairly confident that my position is secure, as the sole income earner for our family of five I’d prefer to know for sure. With another restructure looming on the horizon, please pray with me that I would have wisdom to manage what God gives our family, and have trust in his sovereignty to not only meet our every need but orchestrate every circumstance for our good and his glory.

 

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Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken

When it comes to the pain brought about by sexual sin, Jesus has come to renew both the wayward and the wounded, the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that his grace extends healing to those suffering in sin, and to those who have suffered because of sin. In order to rightly renew sexuality, David Powlison writes that first “we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what’s gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation.” In Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken, Powlison presents that better way—a way where victims of betrayal or assault can live a better life than just “Survivor”, and those currently trapped in dark and hidden sins can walk towards the Light and be free from shame.

To get an understanding of just how multifaceted this issue is, in chapter three Powlison introduces five knots we must distentangle as we work towards the holistic renewal of sexuality. In summary, these are Unholy Desires (sins of overt immorality—in person or in your imagination—with the wrong object of desire), Unholy Pain (when you’ve been treated like an object, the very thought of sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hand of others), An Unredeemed Sense of Guilt (for those trapped in sin, guilt turns them inward. Grace reminds us just how vast forgiveness is), Not Just a Male Problem (sexual immorality is no respecter of gender. Thankfully, Jesus’ mercy extends to all sinners with the same gender-blindness), and Sexual Struggles within Marriage (marriage is not a garden of uncomplicated sexual delight. Your sexuality will be remade in part by dealing with every other sin, as husband and wife walk with Christ).

A Christ-redefined life offers no quick fixes or instant removal of all the pain and baggage brought about by sexual sin. In chapters 4 – 9 Powlison shows how repentance of sin commences a sexual repatterning in us1.

Renewal is an ongoing journey, and Powlison encourages us to “have a vision for a long process (lifelong), with a glorious end (the last day), that is actually going somewhere (today).” Getting uncomfortably practical, Making All Things New unpacks the reality that while an immoral act or fantasy is a sin in itself, such behaviour always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God; loving something more than him. Whether it’s pornography or promiscuity, adultery or abuse, the battle for renewal is wider and deeper than simply struggling with the behaviour. Sexual sin is symptomatic, and is merely the manifestation of the deeper war for the heart’s loyalty.

We are people in process. Having discussed the direction we’re headed, the hard road to restoration, and the destination of rightly-oriented loving relationships, Making All Things New concludes with the greatest encouragement for the sin-sufferer and the suffering sinner. It is God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3); it is God who works in us (Jude 24), God who strengthens us (Galatians 5:16), and God who has promised to never leave us (Psalm 23:4, Hebrews 13:5). At every decision point, before every fork in the road, we recall that the living God walks the road beside us. While we are not yet what we shall be, we are growing towards it with the one who truly forgives, and truly renews.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

 

1. I loved the idea of repentance commencing a holy, Christ-oriented ‘sexual repatterning’ in us, from the book endorsement written by Rosaria Butterfield (former professor of English at Syracuse University).

 

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That’s a Wrap! (21/01)

Engaging with the Bible Beyond Merely Reading

Melinda Cousins (Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Tabor) writes of the wonderful, less practiced ways in which we can—and should—engage with the Biblical text.

As someone who became a Christian as a teenager in the 1990s, I was taught to read the Bible in my daily “quiet time” as a private, silent, individual, and visual exercise. (And to feel quite guilty when I found this difficult or unexciting). Studying and teaching the Bible in more recent years, I have been challenged by the idea that this is not the only way to engage with God’s Word, and perhaps not even the ‘best’ way. It is certainly not the way most members of the community of faith throughout history have engaged with this text.

Lord, Help My Stupidity

There’s not much to say about this post. I get this. I am this. Lord, help my stupidity.

Gender Equality and Gender War

I’m in the middle of taking an in-depth look at sex, gender, identity, and the Christian worldview. This post (and the linked articles) share some interesting—and not always obvious—implications and connections.

5 Myths About Marriage

As always, Paul David Tripp might appear to be stating the obvious, however it’s often the simple truths that we need to be reminded of. In an age where many views have downgraded marriage to the changing belief that marriage is no longer about God’s original intent but rather a social/sexual arrangement between two people (no matter their gender), these thoughts offer a valuable reminder.

What Did Early Christians Believe about Hell?

With the existence of heresies about the afterlife (such as Universalism, in all its variant forms) still prevalent today, I appreciate Cold Case Christianity compiling this post of statements from early church fathers and writings. Notwithstanding the Bible as the final authority, there is much weight to be added to the discussion from these great early believers.

Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency’

Tim Keller nails it.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

Why We Desperately Need C.S. Lewis’ “Newspaper Rule”

This was not about Lewis seeing all reporters and papers as “fake news.” It was about recognizing their (and his) limits and understanding our temptation to judge others. When you read or see a negative story about someone, how quickly do you jump from “That was bad” to “They are bad”?

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Why it’s Better to Dive than Water Ski

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

Dive, Don’t Ski

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

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

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

Reading More by Reading Less

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

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The Listening Life

Possibly the most transformative book I read in 2017 is Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life. Every page was like looking in a mirror; the sentences revealing how little I knew about true listening. McHugh writes

I got serious about listening when I realised I was missing things. Layers of meaning and opportunities for connection lurking near the surface of my relationships, but I wasn’t hearing them, even with those people I loved most. I was skilled at saying wise and empathetic sounding things; I was more skilled at holding people at arm’s-length. Whenever a conversation turned towards emotions, I started looking for an exit.

One of the characteristics of a genuinely good book of this genre is the ability of the author to speak personally in a way that makes us wonder how he was able to write directly to our thoughts and behaviours, while simultaneously speaking from a position of having seen things get better, and sharing a practical path forward to those goals. This is one of those books.

A Brief Review

The question that drives The Listening Life is “how would our relationships change if we approached every situation with the intention of listening first?” McHugh laments how much we have lost the art of listening in our technology-centric, modern convenience, noisy and distracting world. And so the book begins as it should, by laying a foundation for what listening truly looks like: a practice of focused attention. In order to understand ourselves and how we are truly meant to be, chapter two points us directly to our example, Jesus Christ The King Who Listens. Then the book opens up, and McHugh takes an in-depth look at how we approach, listen, and seek to better understand God (chapter 3), Scripture (chapter 4), creation (chapter 5), our neighbours (chapter 6), and our own bodies and emotions (chapter 8) through the discipline of listening. Cultivating this posture of listening not only lies at the heart of a true and mature spirituality, but greatly equips us to better participate in God’s saving mission in the world.

One Profound Takeaway

When it comes to listening to God, Scripture, or creation, I can (usually) find a quiet place and focus. Leaving my phone out of sight and keeping a notepad and pen within arms reach for those nagging thoughts pretty much does the trick. But when it comes to conversations with others, McHugh has shown me just how lazy and unloving I was being without even realising it, and how a little discipline would go such a long way in better emulating the listening Saviour who draws close and listens to me. In his chapter on loving others, he writes about Pushing The Arrow:

Imagine that there is a big arrow hovering over the space between two people engaged in a conversation. It is a very smart, mind-reading arrow, and it swivels to point at whomever the attention in the conversation is focused on. To listen, we remind ourselves, is to pay focused and loving attention on another. So, as the listener in this conversation, your goal is to keep the arrow pointing at the other person for as long as possible. That’s it. Push the arrow toward the interests, needs, and heart of the other person. Encourage the other person to keep talking, to take an idea further, to go deeper into a story, memory, or emotion. Then you are listening. If you remember nothing else from this chapter, remember this.

I was inescapably struck so many times in this chapter by how much I listen in order to respond, to offer advice, to one-up a story, or simply hearing out of obligation (all the while thinking about other things). In the last few weeks, I’ve intentionally entered every conversation with the aim of ‘pushing the arrow’; but not purely for the exercise or social experiment, but because I want to be a person who loves through listening, and you can only reliably listen in the moment if you have become a listening sort of person—someone who has developed a listening heart. When it comes to better loving God and loving others, Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life has been the most helpful, most revealing, most profound and practical advice I’ve ever read on how to be a listener, not just someone who occasionally listens.

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That’s a Wrap! (13/01)

Don’t be Content with Sloppy Christianity

Josh Buice writes

If we’re not satisfied with sloppy football, sloppy airplane pilots or flight attendants, sloppy lawyers, or even sloppy waste management services—we should not be content with sloppy Christianity within our local church.

Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings

New York Times opinion writer and feminist Daphne Merkin shines a side light on the current hot topic of #MeToo. I appreciate her call for a broader, earlier prevention strategy which includes ownership by individuals, parents, and society-at-large.

Evaluating your Life for Fillers and Drainers

I thoroughly appreciate the depth to which David Murray has taken his exploration of a life which is balanced, healthy, and has room to rest. I’ve purchased his recent best seller Reset, and will be getting to it in Feb (hopefully). In this article, he writes

At first it’s difficult to figure out, but eventually we notice that some activities fill our tanks while others drain us. Then, we figure out that we have to balance fillers and drainers so that when we engage in a draining activity, we follow it with something that fills us; otherwise we’ll be running on fumes, which won’t last long. Managing our energy consumption is as important as managing our money and our time.

In 2018, Don’t Forget Humility

This article struck me in many ways, particularly point 4 “Welcome some correction into your life”. This year, for the first time I took my wife out one evening and asked her to help me write a list of all the ways she would like to see me improve in 2018. I should have taken a bigger notebook and a second pen; and the list wasn’t an easy one to hear. It’s true that few practices further humility like this one.

Raising Sons in a “Boys will be Boys” World”

This is the word.

How manhood plays out in the various personalities, interests, gifts, and cultures is wide and diverse. But what it means to be a man is unchanging. I’m less concerned about whether they play sports, and more concerned about if they stand up for the kid getting picked on. I’m less concerned if they choose cooking over a drill, and more concerned that they honor women as co-image bearers. You see where I’m going with this? I don’t want to make the mistake that the culture makes, and make manhood about one thing (in the culture it’s about sex and in some church contexts it’s about hyper-masculinity). The stereotypes don’t help anyone—man or woman.

Theology Matters?

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12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

Self-criticism in the digital age is a necessary discipline. The way we live, the way we interact, our personal habits, and our desire for distraction have all experienced a radical shift since the emergence of mobile Internet, the smart phone, and the built-in camera. The results are that often the smart phone has become our instantly accessible non-pharmaceutical antidepressant; providing instant gratification, escape, or the temporary high of acceptance that briefly lifts us out of our mundane. While our smart phones can be a God-send, in many ways pulling the lever on the slot machine of random distractions is the devil. In his 2017 book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke reveals how smart phones have created a new set of struggles, and why it’s so important for us to not simply identify the changes in our behaviour, but actually respond with wisdom, setting boundaries for ourselves and our families, for their good and for ours.

Have our phones really re-wired our brains? Have we been reprogrammed by these same devices that boost our productivity, increase our ministry reach, and connect us to treasured loved ones in a way that (if left unchecked) can cause significant damage to our relationship with God and with others? Reinke poignantly observes

Whether it’s a “breaking-news” alert, a direct-message prompt, a text message, or a news app, our phones make our lives vulnerable to the immediacy of the moment in a way unknown to every earlier generation and culture. Social media and mobile web access on our phones all drive the immediacy of events around the world into our lives. As a result, we suffer from neomania, an addiction to anything new within the last five minutes.

Reinke also points to the way our lives have now been totally transformed, often lived with the aim of being “Instagram-able”. Through social media our lives have become moments of shareable stageplays—he pleads with us to consider the motives behind our constant self-promotion (either as a parent sharing every moment of their child’s growth: a behaviour he called “sharenting”, or that person who can’t possibly go on a ‘missions trip’ without stopping to take that selfie with all the kids outside the orphanage) in light of the gospel of the humble and self-sacrificing Saviour.

A neat feature of the way Reinke seeks to address these issues is that the book is organized into a chiasm. So, while each chapter contributes something valuable to the overall discussion, the chiasm means that chapter one is thematically paired to chapter twelve, chapter two is paired with chapter eleven, and so on. As an example, our phones feed our craving for immediate approval (chapter three) which promises to hedge against our fear of missing out (chapter ten). Here’s the full twelve chapters so you can see for yourself where he’s going:

1. We Are Addicted to Distraction
2. We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood
3. We Crave Immediate Approval
4. We Lose Our Literacy
5. We Feed on the Produced
6. We Become Like What We “Like”
7. We Get Lonely
8. We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
9. We Lose Meaning
10. We Fear Missing Out
11. We Become Harsh to One Another
12. We Lose Our Place in Time

The central chapters are six and seven, where Reinke explains how “our phones overtake and distort our identity (6) and tempt us toward unhealthy isolation and loneliness (7)”. But it isn’t just about warnings, for within each of the chapters are life-giving disciplines to flip the chapter title into something aimed at helping us protect and preserve our spiritual health in the digital age. These include minimizing unnecessary distractions in order to hear from God (chapter one) by embracing our place in God’s unfolding history (chapter twelve), and seeking God’s ultimate approval (chapter three) to find that in Christ we have no ultimate regrets to fear (chapter ten).

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is a book that all of us need, and some of us need desperately. Reinke writes with great humility, including himself in the narrative to help us see him not only as a teacher but also as a fellow struggler. I completely relate to (and am very guilty of) Reinke’s lament that some days he feels like his phone is a digital vampire, sucking away his life and time; while other days he feels like a cybernetic centaur as body and phone blend seamlessly into something more powerful and productive than either could be on their own. Reinke’s observations are simultaneously sage and stinging; and I can’t avoid walking away with new awareness of just how reliant I am on this small rounded rectangle. I’m challenged to enter a new era of engagement with my phone; recognising that often the dings and rings can wait, that I need not be so concerned about the scrubbed-up version of my digital self, and that in my relationships my phone habits will help or hinder me in pointing people to the all-satisfying Saviour.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Going Analog

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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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