I’ve been writing for over a decade here on this blog. It’s taken different looks and different styles through this time but for the last 6-7 years there’s been a constant stream of posts coming out. The readership has increased, the writing in other places has been linked to, and the inspiration and effort has waned and increased as life progressed.
For a while I haven’t been writing what I believe is quality or regularly enough. The way to get better as a writer is by actually writing and having constancy around that. But because I haven’t been meeting my own standards in this regard I’ve been thinking about trying different things with this blog. And so after some brief contemplation I’ve decided to move the majority of my writing to Substack.
Substack is a newsletter that goes straight to your inbox when you sign up via email. It’s subscriber-based with premium supporter options too. At the moment I’m not thinking about premium subscribers yet but that may be something that progresses in the future.
But this means I’ve launching a newsletter, which you can subscribe to, and I’d encourage you to do that.
I’ve been playing AFL SuperCoach for around 12-13 years now. It’s a fun little hobby of mine that happens during the AFL season. I take it more seriously that I probably should, but in the process have made some good connections and had some traditional rivalries with mates. And let’s be honest, it’s a good bit of wholesome fun.
For a long time I’ve been a keen listener of the Coaches Panel podcast, and a reader of their regular posts. I’m also a patreon member for the Coaches Panel too, which just shows I take it all too seriously. For the uninitiated, this means I pay them money to support them, they give me patreon-only access to their content.
But…the big news this week is that I’ve started writing for them. I’ve begun a series that will come out on a Monday (or when the round finished) giving a SuperCoach wrap-up from the weekend just gone. It’s a bit of fun and a new writing avenue, and I’m looking forward to having a good play around with the content I provide through it. If you’re a SuperCoach player, come on over and have a read. The weekend wrap-up for round one was published a few days ago.
It is certainly difficult to go through this Psalm without recognising the call to praise. The beginning and the ending couch this Psalm in words to encourage praise.
Note how personal the writer King David is as he expresses himself.
“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” in v1-2.
And in v20-22,
“Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.”
This is something deeply personal, something coming deep from within here. It is like David is willing himself to praise.
There are times, aren’t there, when we have to will ourselves to do something. Whether it is chores around the house to trying to work through our emotions in a lockdown due to a global pandemic. Here David sounds like he is willing himself to praise. Like the marathon runner willing herself to get to the finish line so too David is willing himself to praise.
Often praise, encouragement and thanks don’t come easy. Often we can be so consumed with our own self and all the problems we have to deal with that we soon forget or fall out of habit of praise, of thankfulness, of gratitude. Here we get the sense of David, writing in reflection from years of experience, willing himself to praise God for who he is and what he has done.
For David realises all of what God has done. Not only for him personally, but also for the whole of humanity. He remembers God and all his deeds and dwells on the action of his compassionate God, which in turn draws him to praise.
As we close this three-part series on Psalm 103 I encourage you to remember, dwell, and praise God this week.
It has been a tough 12 months.
You may have taken the opportunity to sit with God and spend more time with him this year. But, in the conversations I’m having with people I suspect the majority have not. And so I wonder whether this might be a good time to spend some time with the Lord.
If you’re one who is in a habit of doing so, I encourage you to keep going.
But, if you’re one who hasn’t sat with God, opened his scriptures, read and thought of the things of God in a while then I encourage you to do so this week.
Take 30-60 minutes. Open a Psalm, maybe even this one. Write down a few things that strike you as you read it. Pray about what is on your heart. Express those fears and worries and anxieties to God. And dwell for a period of time, something we’re not used to, on your compassionate God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.
Because when you do, experience tells me that the Lord will meet you where you are at and will draw you toward praise just as David is here.
It will do your soul and your life much benefit.
This is the third of a three-part series on Psalm 103. The first post, ‘Remember The Lord’, can be found here. And the second, ‘Dwell on The Lord’, is here.
In recent months there have been numerousarticles suggesting more Australians have been thinking about aspects of faith and spirituality. COVID seems to have had an impact, not only in the way we think about health and operate as such, but also in matters of faith, priorities in life, and the dwelling on eternity. Something about this past year has driven people to think about these things!
On one hand this is great. This should be the case due to what the world has experienced this year–coming to terms with our lack of control, the limits on our own capacity, and the realities of living in a broken world. Further, the personal reactions we’ve had due to the circumstances we’ve been through have led many to question and reflect on life. This year has been a reminder that there are greater things going on in the world than you or me.
But on the other hand this has been such an exhausting year for many that the capacity to contemplate and dwell on aspects of faith, and dwell on the Lord and his goodness specifically, has diminished. The impetus, the motivation, the inclination to sit with God is hard at the best of times, but add in the fear, stress, worry of 2020 and we find ourselves hindered in doing so.
Here in Psalm 103 we find, I believe, a passage of scripture to dwell on as we enter somewhat of a new year. In the earlier verses of this psalm we are encouraged to remember the Lord, and we are given plenty of examples. But to take it a step further, we are also given scriptures here to dwell on.
You see, the writer David continues in v5-12 by dwelling on who God is and what he has done. In turn he helps us to dwell upon God, naming the character of God alongside the benefits of God.
There is the reminder of God’s work in bringing his people out of Egypt through Moses, which leads to statements of truth about God’s character. David speaks of God’s compassion and grace, his slowness in becoming angry, and his abounding love in v8. This verse, v8, is such a significant refrain in the whole of the OT.
It is referred to in Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:13; and Jonah 4:2. If you ever want or need a short and succinct answer to the question of who God is, this is the answer, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
This is God’s covenantal love; his marriage promise to his people encapsulated in one verse.
God’s commitment to his people of the Old Testament and his continued commitment to his people in the New Testament through Christ.
We are reminded here of the incarnation, God coming in the form of a man for the rescue of the world. God has such compassionate love for humanity that he came to be part of our lives. In physical terms this occurred through Jesus of the first century, in spiritual terms this comes to us today through his Spirit. And so when we place our faith in him, recognising our need for God and having that need met through faith in Christ, then we are receiving his compassionate love, his covenantal love, his promised love.
As we walk through 2021 may we dwell on this compassionate love of God knowing the truth of v9-12. Knowing he does not accuse us, he does not hold his anger toward us, he does not treat us as we deserve, he does not repay us for the sins we commit, and nor is he vengeful toward us.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Instead, the Lord’s love is as far as the east is from the west, displayed through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the second of a three part series on Psalm 103. The first post, ‘Remember The Lord’, can be found here.
In Psalm 103 we come to a psalm of thanksgiving, perhaps better described as a hymn of gratitude, as the writer, King David, moves from heartfelt personal praise to inviting all of Israel and all of God’s people to remember the Lord, dwell on what he has done, and give him praise.
In v2 we read, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”
I’m not sure about you but it’s very easy to forget things. I would’ve forgotten more of my life than remembered it. I’m sure you are the same.
I mean, we all like to think we’ve got good memories and can remember a lot, which of course our amazing brains can. But we’re also not all blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a photographic memory. And so we remember many things we’ve done, sights we’ve seen, and words we’ve listened to. But the reality is that we forget more than we remember. Which to me seems like one of the Lord’s graces toward us.
Who wants to remember those really embarrassing comments we’ve made to colleagues or others we don’t know so well? Who wants to remember that embarrassing experience we had in high school or going through those years of puberty? Who wants to remember the acute grief we experience when a loved one passes away? There is actually plenty in life that we don’t want to remember.
But, there is also the negative side to forgetting things. We find ourselves forgetting names, numbers, faces, people, dates and times. And as we get older this can have repercussions on our quality of life.
But David’s point in this Psalm is not a negative one, it’s a positive one. It’s the encouragement to remember what the Lord has done, to remember the benefits that come with knowing God. For there are plenty of benefits that the Lord has given us and when we remember these things we are led to praise and gratitude for them and for him.
This whole Psalm seems to list the benefits available to us, but in v1-6 we read specific benefits of:
The forgiveness of sin
The healing of disease
The redemption of life from pit
The crowning of love and compassion upon us
The satisfaction of our desires
The righteousness and justice of God
In the busyness of life it is easy to forget the benefits that come with being crowned a child of God. And these are incredible benefits! Even David, considered to be a ‘man after God’s own heart’(Acts 13:22) evidently needs to be reminded of these things.
And all these benefits we see fulfilled through our Lord Jesus. This baby Jesus we remember at Christmas, this God-child we read of through the Prophets and writings of scripture, this Son of God born to a teenager in a derelict town, is the one who fulfils all these benefits and provides us with all these benefits through his life and death on a cross.
And so who would want to forget these things?
We take photos to remember the experiences we’ve had and the places we’ve been to. When we look back on photos we’ve taken, our memories take us back to what we’ve done and experienced. We don’t want to forget that sunrise, or that waterfall, or that animal we got up close to. We don’t want to forget that party with friends, or that dinner with family, or that person we met. And so we take a photo as a keepsake, to help us remember.
This list here is a reminder for us, a keepsake, as is all of scripture, which helps us remember God for who he is and what he has done.
What comes to mind most often when I think of deliverance are horror movies that depict the spiritual exorcism of a child or young person. For some reason the narrative always includes a wayward young person who requires a priest to come and exorcise their perceived demons, mostly at the instigation of their parents! The priest comes along with their wooden cross, their garlic, and their special oil seeking to deliver this young person from their wrongful behaviour. And while it might be a good movie, and sadly a reflection on what happens in real life in some places, the truth is this isn’t what Jesus is teaching his disciples in the final line of the Lord’s Prayer.
However, there is something apt in concluding this prayer by asking God for deliverance, for deliverance from the evil one is something we all need. The only way we are delivered from evil is through the Lord. For he has not only provided a way out of the clutches of the evil one, but a person who has compassion and cares deeply for us. Through the power of his Son Jesus the Lord shows his heart for his people. Like a father toward his children he seeks their good. And one aspect of this good is deliverance from the evil one.
As mentioned in my previous post this phrase ‘Deliver us from the evil one’ is strongly linked with the prayer of help in temptation. Temptation and the evil one go hand in hand and we are in need of God’s help for us to remain apart from both.
Deliverance is often associated with something ultra-spiritual or cult like. The movie example is one aspect to that. But the reality is there is a spiritual battle going on that we are often quite unaware of. In our comfortable Western cities and societies we choose to ignore anything that isn’t tangible, that isn’t something we can smell, taste, touch, or feel; physically or emotionally. Even though it isn’t something we think about This, however, doesn’t excuse the reality of the spiritual battle taking place.
Paul the Apostle wrote about this reality in Ephesians 6:12. He writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And so the reality we live in involves the reality of the spiritual realm, a world unseen to our human eyes and only known through the reality of our soul. It is a reality that requires deliverance from the evil one.
When Jesus encourages us to pray this prayer, and remember he is the one who is teaching us to pray here, he highlights the need for us to pray for deliverance. When we are tempted, when we are fearful, when we are in need of comfort, when we sin, then we are able to pray for deliverance. In regard to temptation, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness in Matthew 4 by the evil one he relied on the Word of God to rebuff such approaches. So too, when we are tempted one helpful way for us to find deliverance from such temptation is to remember and rely on the Word of God. This is also the case when we are fearful, need comfort, or require the reminder of Jesus as our great Saviour from sin. While we may follow the evils of the world this prayer shows our need for God is great, and especially in the battle against the spiritual forces of the evil one.
In his commentary on this particular verse (Matthew 6:13), D.A. Carson writes,
“This petition is a hefty reminder that, just as we ought consciously to depend on God for physical sustenance, so also ought we to sense our dependence on him for moral triumph and spiritual victory. Indeed, to fail in this regard is already to have fallen, for it is part of that ugly effort at independence which refuses to recognise our position as creatures before God. As Christians grow in holy living, they sense their own inherent moral weakness and rejoice that whatever virtue they possess flourishes as the fruit of the Spirit. More and more they recognise the deceptive subtleties of their own hearts, and the malicious cunning of the evil one, and fervently request of the heavenly Father, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
And perhaps that is an apt ending to not only this clause within this verse, but of the whole prayer itself.
This concludes our series in the Lord’s Prayer. All the posts in this series can be found at the following:
After three years of significant growth the last 12 months has seen a little dip on my blog. I’ve certainly had less capacity for writing, and have slowed down my posting and focus. This has had an impact. But then, hasn’t everyone slowed down and felt unfocussed in some form or another at times this year?
I have certainly written less in the past 12 months, less that I have in the last five years. Both my public and private writing has suffered, and as a result I feel like I’ve suffered because of it too. This is not to be dramatic, but it is a result of decreasing in a habit that I find great joy and satisfaction in. Since writing less I have found myself to be less reflective, and in turn less reflective on my heart and soul. You see, there is something about writing that causes us to slow down, to reflect, to take stock, to gather thoughts, and to be precise about what we think and say. Writing enables better thought-processes–all things I have had little capacity for these past 12 months and wish to get into once again.
Having said this, while posting less may have meant less people have wandered over to my part of the internet I am still very thankful that people do read what I’ve written. It surprises me how many people wish to read something I’ve written, and who may even post a comment about it on my social channels. And so I’m very grateful that I get to share something of my life and faith through this site.
Aside from the statistics there is a particular satisfaction I have in writing and publishing posts. Reading posts I wrote a number of years ago is like going back and looking at sermons you’ve written, a harrowing and embarrassing experience. To see the quality of my writing increase in these last few years has been pleasing. And this is reflected in the top posts for the year 2020, which you can read below.
Like any pursuit, creative or otherwise, there is a certain satisfaction in finishing a post and seeing it ‘out there’ on the inter-webs. It is an accomplishment and and encouragement at the same time. As with life and faith, which this blog is all about, writing and blogging require me to plod along. The quality of these things are built on small steps and increases in habits each day, week, month, and year.
So, here’s to another year of writing, hopefully a bit more consistently, and with something that might be of value to you!
I am often tempted to eat more than I should. I like food, and it is a temptation for me. I have been around far too many special church morning teas where there are so many good things on offer that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. The same occurs when there are big family gatherings, or Christmas celebrations. And there’s always the story of over-indulging in dumplings from a few years ago. But there are consequences when I over indulge, either in weight increases or general after-effects on the body. It is a delight to my eyes, to my tastebuds, and to my stomach, but I need to watch myself.
Temptations arise within us and surround us all the time. Whether it is the use of our time, the things we have, the purchases we make, or the people we spend time with. We are tempted by the expert marketers who sell us products and services we apparently need. We are tempted by the lusts of our age. And I think it is fair to say that the greatest temptation for men and women today is pornography. The search for gratification through sex and sexuality is highly publicised, talked about freely, and openly available to anyone who wishes to pursue this. There are real temptations which lead to real issues in our lives, which affect our relationships with others and our own wellbeing.
In v13 of the Lord’s Prayer, which we have been exploring for a number of weeks now (see below for a list of posts), Jesus guides us to pray against being led into temptation.
It is important to realise this is the first half of a sentence which ends, ‘but deliver us from the evil one’. The entire idea in this verse is that we need God’s help in overcoming our own sinfulness and fallenness, we need his help in staying righteous and on the path of godliness. The evil one is seeking to lead us down the wrong path, a path of destruction and temptation. Therefore, to pray that we may not be led into temptation is highlighting how we need help in order to avoid falling into the evil one’s snares.
To avoid temptation is an act of wisdom and godliness. To place boundaries or rails in our life to make sure we are adhering to the ways of God is something that falls under the category of wisdom. Sure, there are plenty of situations that will be different for different people, and there are plenty of temptations that are different for different people. And many a time this has been used to a negative or legalistic effect (one can think of the so-called ‘Billy Graham Rule’ here). But recognising and being self-aware enough of these things in our lives is helpful for us. With this in mind, here are three ways we might go about helping ourselves with respect to temptation.
1. Understand what you are tempted by and when. Take time to reflect on what temptations to sin you are more prone to fall to. I believe all of us have different propensities for this. If we know that when we’re tired and up late with no one around that we’ll end up being tempted to flick onto porn then that’s a start. If we know that after a couple of drinks we will be more flirtatious with others then that’s good to know. If we know that when we’re bored we just pick up the phone and are tempted to start secretly putting money on the horses then recognise it. If we are going to a big party and know we might over-indulge in the food then recognise that. If we’re with certain people and we know we’re going to end up gossiping, then remember this when entering conversations with them.
Be reflective, be self-aware, and then be intentional.
2. Formulate a strategy on what you will do when temptation hits. To be plan-less against temptation will more than likely lead to you falling into temptation. It’s been my experience, I’m sure it’s yours too. It is frequently recommended that having a close friend you can talk with, call, or text about your temptation/s will help. They can pray for you not only in the moment, but also on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, they can be someone who asks you some hard questions about your lifestyle, decisions, and general discipleship. And that speaks to the larger issue, it’s an issue of discipleship.
A difficulty here is often the call or text to a friend to pray is often left too late or not at all. There does need to be a commitment to this. But by telling someone about our temptation, and what we’re walking into in the coming days or weeks, we can lessen the power of the temptation. Of course, pray about the situation you face. Avoid the situation if it is possible. Staying up late, tired, and bored never really leaves one in a good frame of mind. Even the excuse, ‘I need to wind down a bit’, is helpful only if the actions are helpful. Sometimes just going to bed is the best thing, even if our mind is racing.
The point is, what strategy are you putting into place? What actions are you committing yourself to? What habits are you trying to build?
3. Remember that it is what you do in the lead up to situations that will form the way you operate when temptation hits. You can’t rely on your own self-will when temptation hits. Saying, “She’ll be right mate” may be very Aussie of you but it’s a terrible plan for when temptation presents itself. However, in the days and weeks and months prior we are building up our own godliness, self-control, and patience by the actions we put in place.
Proverbs 7 warns against falling into temptations. In this case the point is centred on lust and sexual desire. In v25 the writer of Proverbs says, ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.’ And this is the case with temptation, we are not to let our hearts turn toward whatever the temptations are. Instead, we build up our capacity in being able to deal with this, not simply by putting in wise and understanding strategies and habits, but ultimately recognising that we need God’s help in doing so.
I’m currently reading through Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, and chapter 4 talks about Christ’s ability to sympathise with us in our temptation. When we do fall into temptation we have a Saviour who knows what it is like to be tempted and who is still accessible even when we feel the shame of wrongdoing. Ortlund writes:
“The real scandal of Hebrews 4:15, though, is what we are told about why Jesus is so close and with his people in their pain. He has been “tempted” (or “tested,” as the word can also denote) “as we are”—not only that, but “in every respect” as we are. The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.”
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts in this series can be found at the following:
I’m getting in early this year by releasing my list of top reads a few weeks before we see the back of 2020. For the last six years I’ve posted about what I’ve read each year and I might as well continue the tradition into a seventh.
I’m not sure whether it was because of what 2020 became but I have smashed any reading goals I had this year. Each year I aim to read, on average, one book per fortnight, that’s 26 books per year. By the end of May I had reached that goal. What this meant was that I had plenty of time to read more over the coming months, and as it stands today I’ve read 53 books for the year. This is really pleasing and definitely my best reading year ever.
Throughout I’ve read a range of genres – sport biography, missions history, theology, politics, church leadership, fiction, biblical theology and commentaries, a couple of books my daughter is into, and more. There is a sense my reading this year was a bit more balanced than other years, which was also pleasing.
So, without any further ado, I present below a list of books I thought were 5 out of 5 stars. And if you’re interested in reading my top reads from previous years you can do so here too: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).
I started off the year wishing for more rest, space, and slowness in my life. This book articulated the importance of rhythms and rest and Sabbath, and many other spiritual practices that help ground us in life in God. I found this an excellent book, and it’s probably time to read it again. As I look at my bookshelves I do notice it missing so it evidently was kept by someone who borrowed it! Good books always disappear. In any case, this is a helpful book that gives rise to habits and systems in life that contribute to sustaining a life-long, well-paced, Christian life.
The best fiction book I’ve read, this year at least and possibly ever; although who can top The Partner by John Grisham–I digress. This is a serial killer crime thriller, one of Patterson’s first ever novels published in 1983. The suspense and the build up is terrific, and there’s a great twist at the end which gets you. It’s violent and disturbing, but what do you expect from this kind of genre? Top shelf fiction.
Improving in my vocation and my particular role as pastor is always high on the priority list each year. And this book was certainly a big help in doing so this year. I really appreciate everything Alistair Begg shares, his sermons, conference messages, and witings. Here he partners up with his former mentor-pastor Derek Prime and they take you through the theological and practical of operating as a pastor. I found this immensely helpful to think about in my role and in developing others in the ministry. It also provided many tips to help in areas of preaching, pastoral care, time management, and the like. This along with some broader chapters dealing with calling and vocation as a whole were useful.
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Once we got into lockdown for a second time I became obsessed about re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia. Since finishing the series again I have been listening to the theatrical audio series produced by the BBC and others. I’ve been listening to them as audiobooks while in the car and doing chores, and they were easily found on YouTube. They’re so good. Anyway, a particular shout out to The Horse and His Boy and also The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favourite of the series). If you’ve never read this series of seven short books that detail the story of Narnia then do yourself a favour. Lewis is such a good writer and his illusions to the Christian life are throughout.
I’ll admit, there was a theme in my reading regarding spiritual practices. This was another of at least 3-4 I read overall this year. Warren really writes in an engaging way, she’s so good. And here in The Liturgy of the Ordinary she writes in the intersection of ordinary life and the Christian faith. She takes big theological understandings and helps us see their relevance in the mundane everyday practices and rhythms of life. Whether it is waking up and making your bed, to preparing food and eating with others, or doing the dishes after a meal, each has relevance to the Christian life and at times it’s a mindblow. I highly recommend getting your hands on this, I even borrowed it from the local library!
Each year I usually read a few biographies and this year I landed on John Owen. Owen is a Puritan from the 17th century, and extremely influential in the Reformed and Presbyterian church. This book details his life alongside the theological contributions he has made to the faith. Owen is well-known for his writings and sermons, particularly around the doctrines of the Trinity, communion with God, and sin and sanctification. For example, when writing about communion with God he says:
“When the believer has a taste of this communion with his Savior, sin is bitter on the tongue. Furthermore, says Owen, the believer is on guard against sin, lest it should interrupt and disrupt this sweet communion he enjoys so much with his Savior. Owen writes: When once the soul of a believer hath obtained sweet and real communion with Christ, it looks about him, watcheth all temptations, all ways whereby sin might approach, to disturb him in his enjoyment of his dear Lord and Saviour, his rest and desire. How doth it charge itself not to omit any thing, nor to do any thing that may interrupt the communion obtained!”
I hung out reading the Sermon on The Mount for most of the year. It goes hand in hand with the themes of spiritual disciplines and grounding faith in action, among other things. And so to help understand the various sections of the sermon I read Carson’s commentary on it alongside. Carson is always clear, concise, and compelling. He’s one of the best commentators in the world and is highly regarded. This was originally a series of lectures turned into a brief commentary. Whether devotionally like me, or for preaching and teaching, I’d recommend dipping into this one.
Anyway, there’s my list for this year. Let me know what you read and enjoyed this year, I’ll add it to my list!