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!
In her fascinating longform essay, ‘Letting Go’, Amy Westervelt writes about the study of forgiveness in academia. And much of it aligns with what Christians have known for many centuries – that it’s good for us but that it’s incredibly hard.
And in the continuation of our series on the Lord’s Prayer we come to one of the more challenging phrases in the prayer itself. After asking for forgiveness from God for our own individual debts, or sins, we now find ourselves stating to God that we are forgiving the debts of others.
There are no two ways around this. The gospel calls on us to trust in our own forgiveness through Christ on the cross. Colossians 1:13-14 remind us, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” But in turn, the gospel calls us to action; the forgiveness of others for their wrongdoing against us.
And so “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” has to be the hardest phrase of this prayer, the hardest action to put into practice.
Who can so easily forgive those who have wronged us?
Degrees of Forgiveness
In our world, like the justice system we operate by, we recognise there are degrees of wrongdoing and therefore find justification to argue for degrees of forgiveness to give. The person who calls us names in high school does not require the ‘same level’ of forgiveness as the spouse who commits adultery, or the sexual abuser of children, or the murderer? We would say, our humanity would say, that forgiveness for one over the other is dependent on the wrongdoing against us. Forgiveness may be easy or hard to give, but we often find ourselves doing so as long as justice has been metered out correctly.
This is not to conflate justice into forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t make allowance for various levels of wrongdoing, nor does it speak of justice here either. Rather, it is a direct call to forgive others and encapsulates all types of wrongdoing in the process. We are to extend forgiveness to everyone. And of course, this is always a process. For some the giving of forgiveness will take longer than others, it isn’t easy reaching a place in your heart to forgive someone who has wronged us. Certain things are quick to forgive, other things seem to linger.
Forgiving From The Heart
A particularly salient point this phrase brings up is the challenge of how quickly and how good we are at forgiveness. It sets forgiveness in the context of a spiritual practice, a spiritual discipline. Forgiveness is not something that means the person who wronged us gets away with everything they have done. No, there are still consequences for any wrongdoing. But whatever the case may be, forgiveness is an act of the heart.
And this is why following Jesus is often harder than first appears. For who forgives everybody who has wrong us from the heart? As Westervelt’s article affirms, forgiveness is a ‘change of heart’, a very apt definition in light of this prayer and what God has done for us. Yet so often the hurt and the pain has a long tail. Part of our nature is to hold onto hurts and wrongs and slights in a way that often leads to bitterness. And not only bitterness, but actual power. For when we hold onto the wrongdoing of others against us we give them power over us. They shape our thoughts and may even guide our actions. In the act of forgiveness we actually release the power others have over us because of their wrongdoing toward us.
Forgiveness is not easy, particularly if the wrong is significant or life altering. Yet, the good news is that we are able to be forgiven by God through Christ and as a result are shown the way of forgiveness.
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts can be found at the following:
Forgiveness is an issue central to the Christian faith. After all, Jesus’ primary mission through his life, death, and resurrection, was to bring forgiveness; a forgiveness that would repair the relationship between humanity and God.
In the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus teaches us how to pray, and in doing so teaches us to ask for forgiveness from God. After asking for ‘our daily bread’, that is, our needs, we are also taught to ask for God to ‘forgive us our debts’.
To be clear, what Jesus is not teaching us here is that God will forgive our financial debts. So often we use the term ‘debt’ in a financial sense. This is the way the word is typically used today. Perhaps unfortunately for you, after praying this prayer you will still have your financial debts to pay. The mortgage will still be there, the car loan still needs to be paid this month, and the credit card bill continues to stack up.
But this idea of financial debt gives us an illustration of the position we find ourselves in. We are in debt to God.
We may ask, why am I in debt to God?
Well, the Bible teaches us that we are in debt to God because of what is called ‘sin’. Essentially, we have disobeyed, fallen short, and rejected God in our lives. In doing so we find ourselves in debt to God. As Romans 3:23-24 says,
“The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Here we find the Apostle Paul highlighting how great our sin is, therefore how great a debt we have, but also how great a God we have who freely gives his grace to those who believe.
I am well aware this is not easy teaching to accept. To understand our need for forgiveness means we need to understand and accept our own wrongdoing toward God. And considering the hardness of life and injustice in our world there are times we are tempted to blame that on God himself.
Yet, what God has done is actually grace. And that grace comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ. You see, forgiveness is achieved because Jesus has paid the debt we couldn’t pay. His death on the cross was the payment for our debt and covers all sin–past, present, and future. It is not through saying this prayer that brings forgiveness, through prayer we come recognising what has already been done for us–God has forgiven our debts through the death of his Son.
In preaching on Ephesians 4:32, Charles Spurgeon remarks about forgiveness,
“[God] not only forgave us at the first all our sins, but he continues daily to forgive, for the act of forgiveness is a continuous one. I have sometimes heard it said that we were so forgiven when we first believed that there is no need to ask for further forgiveness; to which I reply—We were so completely forgiven when we first believed that we ought continually to ask for the perpetuity of that one far-reaching act, that the Lord may continue to exert towards us that fulness of forgiving grace which absolved us perfectly at the first, that we may continue to walk before him with a sense of that complete forgiveness, clear and unquestioned. I know I was forgiven when first I believed in Christ; and I am equally sure of it now: the one absolution continues to ring in my ears like joy-bells which never cease. Pardon once given continues to be given. When through doubt and anxiety I was not sure of my pardon, yet it was still true; for he that believeth on him is not condemned, even though he may write bitter things against himself. Beloved friend, catch hold of that, and do not let it go. Divine pardon is a continuous act.”
It is hard to understand the need for forgiveness from God if we don’t recognise our own brokenness and sin. And it is hard to understand grace because it is so undeserved. But amazingly, it is done. The call for us is to believe.
And so when we pray this prayer, when we pray for God to forgive us our debts, we are to come with a humble heart, being self-aware enough to know our own brokenness and need for God.
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts can be found at the following: