Published: The God of The Last Dance

I had a couple of reflections about The Last Dance, the greatest sports documentary ever. I managed to form these thoughts into coherent words in an article for TGCA.

You can read the article here.

“In reflecting upon this series, I’ve been struck by how relatable it has been to faith. While there is no mention of God himself, there is allusion to the worship and wonder of God through what occurs on the wooden court. It would be a stretch to suggest there is a theology of ‘The Last Dance’, but it definitely contains traces of the God who creates things of glory and wonder—things like Jordan himself in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Other writings can be found here.

Easter Reflection – The Isolated Jesus

This Easter is weird.

It’s weird because it’s not what we’re used to. It’s not something we’re familiar with. It’s something new. This Easter is weird because we can’t gather as God’s people in the churches we’re part of, or celebrate meals together with friends and family, or head away on long weekend holiday adventures like usual.

Instead, we’re at home. We’re at home with those in our household, isolated from others, and perhaps going a bit stir crazy by now too. But all of this is for that important cause, the cause the government has called us into. This Easter we’ve been called to save lives by staying at home.

Copy of The Grieving of the (Non) Gathering of God’s People

Living this isolated life is but a momentary trial, and while Easter may have a unique shape for us this year its meaning and significance does not change. Easter is still central to the Christian calendar, it still speaks of God’s display of sacrificial love to the world. It still reveals to us a God of grace who puts his life on the line for us, cleanses us from sin, and gives hope and peace to our anxious hearts. The meaning and significance of Easter doesn’t change despite the circumstances we may find ourselves this weekend.

And yet in reflection I wonder whether this gives us an opportunity to enter into the ‘aloneness’ of Jesus. Despite Jesus being surrounded by people, particularly for the three years he was with his disciples, there are indications that Jesus too felt isolated in what we now know were his final 24 hours before his death.

First, in his final meal with his disciples Jesus eats with his knowing betrayer. Judas, one who has followed him for a number of years, is about to gain 30 pieces of silver for delivering Jesus into the hands of the Romans. We read in John 13:21, “…Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified [to his disciples], “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” The act of betrayal is sure to feel isolating for Jesus as a relationship he invested in has turned against him.

Second, his disciples still don’t understand what Jesus has been talking about. In Luke 22:14-30, still in the context of the final Passover before Jesus’ death, the disciples begin to argue with each other about which one of them is the greatest. After hearing Jesus explain the significance of their final meal and the betrayal to come they end up selfishly disputing their own importance. I imagine Jesus throwing his hands up at this point, exasperated at his own disciples incompetence. An isolating feeling for any leader of any thing.

Third, at the time of his arrest Jesus’ disciples scatter far and wide. The disciples have experienced Jesus for three whole years teaching, performing miracles, and showing himself as the Son of God. Yet, in a matter of moments his disciples disappear. When Jesus is arrested we read of this disciple dispersion in Matthew 26:55-56,

55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

If Jesus didn’t feel isolated and alone up to this point, he surely did now.

Fourth, as Jesus succumbs to his death on the cross we read of his isolation from God. You may remember that moments before Jesus dies on the cross he cries out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1-2). Jesus is essentially quoting the opening two verses of Psalm 22–words he would’ve known by heart. And as he calls out to God in this way he is in a place he had not experienced before, isolated and alone, apart from God. Smarter people than I can explain how this might work within the context of his humanity and divinity, what it means for the Holy Trinity at this point. But whatever the case, as Jesus takes the sin of the world upon himself the Father turns away from him, and places his rightful wrath and judgement for the sin of the world upon him.

The isolation of Jesus is vivid, real, and powerful.

As we enter into Easter this weekend perhaps it is worth considering the isolation and ‘aloneness’ of Jesus. We may resonate with feelings of isolation and aloneness as we sit at home with our friends, partners, family, or simply by ourself. All our social distancing measures mean we lack touch, we talk to friends through screens, and we only go out for essential needs. Our isolation is vivid and real for us.

At no time do I want to suggest that our isolation is similar to that of Jesus. We may have similar feelings but the circumstances are certainly different, aren’t they? Yet due to our experience of the Easter season we may approach this time in a way that we’ve never considered before.

As you remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus this weekend may you be reminded of the One who has saved your life. Jesus, the one who has given his life for your sake, enabling the forgiveness of sin, peace for your soul, and an everlasting relationship as part of the family of God.

Published: The Performance Trap

Last week I wrote about often feeling inadequate in the ministry, and it raised a few questions and comments. However, it also dove-tailed with a post I had published on The Gospel Coalition Australia later in the week, entitled “The Performance Trap“.

In this post I write about the amazing grace God gives to us, not because of anything we’ve done, but simply as a gift. Even though we may know this intellectually, often we fall back into performance-based living.

You can read the whole thing here.

“Intellectually we get it. We understand the heart of Christianity really isn’t about us, it’s about God and what he has done. Yet functionally we keep trying to make it about us. We are drawn back to performance in our attempt to live out our faith. In the end, we fall into performance traps; distorting the gospel and making our faith about us once again. “

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Youth Minister ‘But Now’ Series

Each day last week I had a blog post series published at Rooted Ministry. Each post focussed on particular slabs of Scripture that used the phrase ‘but now’. The entire series was narrowing in on the theme of identity in the life and times of a youth ministry practitioner (and others). The round up of each of these posts is outlined below.

Chicken Nuggets or Gospel Nuggets

Every now and then I like to spoil my four-year-old daughter by taking her out for fast food. Her food of choice is usually chicken nuggets. You know, those small morsels of processed chicken enveloped in a thin batter. If she’s hungry enough she’ll eat six in one sitting.

These little pieces of chicken are called nuggets because they’re small enough to eat quickly and they temporarily satisfy our hunger. Unlike a large piece of chicken, where we might need to use a knife and fork, chicken nuggets provide a quick go to for food.

Throughout the New Testament, either in the Gospels or in the Letters of Paul and Peter and John, we can find gospel nuggets. These are bite-size pieces of the Good News that remind us of who God is and what he has done in Jesus. Unlike chicken nuggets these are easily digestible and all-satisfying truths of the Christian faith.

One such nugget I came across recently is from Titus 3:3-7. It reads:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

In reading this I am reminded of the position I used to be in before knowing Jesus, and now the position I find myself in because of Jesus.

Formerly I was in a place that was foolish. In this position I sought to gain pleasure for myself, looking out solely for my own needs and wants. This leads down a path that is unhelpful and unhealthy. Seeking pleasure in the wrong place, and in pursuing wrongful passions, we end up being people who are prideful, egotistical, and self-centred.

Knowing the position we are in it is then revealed to us that through the love and kindness of God we can be rescued from this inwardly focussed life. Instead, through the mercy of God, we have been saved through Christ Jesus. We haven’t done anything to achieve such kindness and love but God has done it all. From one reality our eyes are opened to another reality. This new reality understands that through the Spirit our hearts have been changed and we have been rescued from our own selfishness.

Because of this we are (1) included into God’s family, (2) made right with God, (3) have an inheritance given to us from God, and (4) our hope is put into perspective because of eternity with God.

That is four gifts that God has freely given to us because of his kindness, love, and mercy.

What an amazing gift!

  • As you ponder your own position with God have you come to understand the gifts God seeks to give you?
  • As you dwell on this gospel-nugget can you see the all-satisfying grace of God?

As you go about your day today, take this gospel-nugget and chew on it. Digest it. Understand it. And may it nourish you in a way that no fast food outlet can.


This post was originally published elsewhere on the interwebs but is no longer available.

God’s Love Expressed: Through Our Love For One-Another

In the passage 1 John 4:7-21 the beginning and the end command us to love one-another.

It’s like a love one-another sandwich.

In v7-8 it reads,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

And v21 says,

“And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.”

Whether there is an issue within the churches John is writing to, I’m not sure. But he certainly makes it clear that loving one-another in an important part of what it means to be in community together.

Because love has come from God we are to love one-another.

To love one-another is an expression of what it means to love God; a visible expression of God being a God of love.

God's Love Expressed Through Our Love For One-Another

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find churches who have within their history periods of time where loving one-another is lacking.

But a church devoid of love is like a tap without water.

A church devoid of love is like a football team without players.

A church devoid of love is like an orchestra without its conductor.

A church devoid of love is like cushion without stuffing.

A church devoid of love is like a car tyre without air.

A church without love is an unmitigated disaster.

And I wonder whether John would suggest they are really a church at all.

In his book, ‘The Compelling Community’, Mark Dever writes,

“To follow Christ is to love other Christians…Love between believers isn’t a sign of maturity; it’s a sign of saving faith.” (Dever, 52)

And John seems to suggest this here in our passage. The church, when loving one-another, show they are people who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, acknowledge his saving grace, and understand his atoning sacrifice for sin.

We may know these truths individually and personally. But, we should also see and know it together as a community, as a church.

Love between believers is the sign of a faith that is grounded in Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

In the same book, Dever says,

“Our greatest confirmation of the gospel is the community of the local church. Therefore, our best strategy for reaching the world is to fan that community into a raging inferno of supernatural witness that will be far more attractive than any adjustment to our music, small groups, or sermons could ever be.” (Dever, 192)

The love of one-another within the local church is what is attractive to others. It is the love of one-another that stands out to visitors and non-believers. It feeds into the mission and evangelistic edge of the church that we are called to be part of.

As Jesus meets with his disciples for the last time before his death he says these words in John’s Gospel, 13:34-35,

““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And in Romans 12:10, Paul writes,

“Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Out do one another in showing honour.”

Through the love we have for one-another people see the gospel worked out in practice as we build one-another up through love.

When a local church is going through hardship, significant conflict and disagreement, there will often be less people drawn to the church. The effect of a church lacking in love will mean that there are less new people coming along and less people turning to Christ. On the other hand, when a church displays love for one-another the love of Christ is displayed for all to see. It can be seen and felt within the church itself and draws people in.

It is through our love for one-another in our church that expresses the love God has for us.

In my previous blog post I started by talking about the movie Frozen. How Anna can only be saved by an expression of true love.

We too can only be saved by an expression of true love. This expression of true love is God sending his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Through the cross God expresses his saving love for us. And building on this, we too can be part of God expressing his love for others by the way we love one-another in our church.

God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross

In our house princess stories and movies are high on the agenda. Over the last few years the movie Frozen has been a regular viewing experience.

You may know the story yourself.

We sit on the couch and watch the journey of Elsa and Anna, both princesses of the royal family trapped within the walls of the castle. Yet, it isn’t until Elsa becomes Queen that the gates are opened and the connection with the people is renewed. But because of Elsa’s special powers, and their uncontrollability, the city is sent into a perpetual winter and she runs away to hide and live by herself.

Princess Anna goes on an adventure to find her sister and have her return, but in the process she is struck by Elsa’s icy powers. From here on in there is a distinct concern for Anna who can only be saved by an expression of true love.

I won’t spoil the ending.

But Frozen is a story with twists and turns, and is of course a story of love.

In the Bible we read of the way God has expressed his love toward us. In fact, the whole Bible is God’s love story toward his creation. We see this from Genesis to Revelation, as God seeks to be with his people who are so often rejecting his love.

In 1 John 4:9-10 we read about the pinnacle of this story, the pinnacle of God expressing love. It says,

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This is the extent of the love God has for us; his expression of true love for his creation.

God's Love Expressed Through The Cross

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others, for your family, your friends, your pets, the things you do, the things you have?

A little while ago Ed Sheeran released his single, ‘Perfect’. In the lead up to the release of the song he publicly stated that he wanted this to be his best song ever. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me

Darling just dive right in

And follow my lead

Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet

I never knew you were the someone waiting for me

‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love

Not knowing what it was

I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own

And in your eyes you’re holding mine

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms

Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Ed here (yes, we’re on a first name basis) is expressing love. He is expressing his deepest love for his girl through song. It is a clear expression of love.

And while 1 John 4 isn’t talking about romantic love it nevertheless describes the love God has for us.

John describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love. He points out that God has shown his love for us through, (1) the sending of his one and only son, and (2) as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus.

The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

This love is a relational love, meaning God has such a strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal, a love that shows his commitment and faithfulness to us. This committed love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love God has for us.

In the original languages the particular word for ‘atoning sacrifice’ is only used twice in the whole of the New Testament. Here in v10 and also back in 1 John 2:2. As one commentator has put it, it is a term to,

“…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.” (Kruse, 161)

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour.

The reality is that our hearts are naturally inclined to sin. Sin isn’t just what we do that is bad, or immoral, or hurtful, it is more than that. It is a heart position. It is the state of our heart that means we are against God in everything we do.

The bible speaks of our heart as being against God and His goodness.

Our hearts, from birth, are defective.

Our hearts are selfish and messy.

Essentially we’re a mess.

And so, we find God sending his one and only Son in order for our sinful natures to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song, which I read out earlier, points to this. You may not remember but he sings,

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

We are a mess yet because of God’s great love for us he looks upon us because of the cross and says, ‘you’re perfect’. As we dance with God through what we call life God understands our mess, and because of the cross calls us perfect.

Our mess is made perfect through his sacrificial love.

Through the atonement God’s love is expressed. And through the atonement we find ourselves transformed away from selfishness and mess and made into people of perfected, sacrificial love.

What’s The Deal With Cranky Calvinists?

Seriously.

What’s the deal with cranky Calvinists?

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why any Calvinist should be cranky. I mean, it’s called the Doctrines of Grace for a reason.

You know, grace and stuff.

What's The Deal With Cranky Calvinists

Sometimes I meet with pastors and Christians who have been significantly impacted by the rise of New Calvinism. And sometimes I leave with a sour taste in my mouth. It seems the ‘grace and stuff’ portion is missing. All that is left is hard doctrine expressed in a way that sounds like a resounding gong and clanging cymbal.

In recent years, Calvinism has made a massive impact in the Christian world, and its only been on the increase in the 10 years since this article was written. So much so there was a recent documentary produced about it. It’s certainly impacted me.

When I lived in the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon for two years I devoured John Piper’s teaching on TULIP, the main structure of Calvinistic thought. I first came across Piper over 15 years ago now, while listening to his biographical messages on significant Christians in church history. This made me put words to a theological system that I’d grown up under. In some ways nothing had changed, but in many ways everything had changed.

Yet, after 15 years of knowing what I’ve known about God, the Bible, and the Gospel I look around at this rise in Calvinism and am sometimes saddened. I’m either saddened, angry, or cynical – I’ll be honest. For some reason people jeopardise their relationship with others over a system of thinking about the Bible.

While I believe it is the more consistent system in understanding God and His Word I realise it is just that. A system. It’s not Jesus himself.

Anyway, this rant-like post has been inspired by my reading of William Jay. In his autobiography he writes about Calvinists in his own day. Thankfully he came across some good ones, as he says,

“In my considerable acquaintance with the religious world, some of the most exemplary individuals I have met with have been Calvinists. Of this persuasion were the two most extraordinary characters I ever knew – John Newton, and Cornelius Winter. They held its leading sentiments with firmness; but their Calvinism, like that of Bunyan, was rendered, by their temper, milder than that of some of their brethren; and they were candid towards who who differed from them; and esteemed and loved them as fellow-heirs together of the grace of life.” 

Well, to have that said of you would be a terrific thing. But, evidently these cranky cage stage Calvinists must’ve been around in his day too (circa early-1800’s).

If you are a Calvinist, or lean that way, then I encourage you to be a pleasant and understanding Calvinist, not a cranky one.

Remember, grace and stuff.

Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

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Does Our Understanding of Evangelism Effect Our View of Sharing Faith?

My last post, which is a little reflection on a recent survey about how Millennials view evangelism, happened to come out the same day I attended an event where the speaker highlighted the need for understanding evangelism. While listening I was reminded of how important our understanding of evangelism is, and how that understanding then impacts way we prioritise it, and even do it.

In understanding evangelism as proclamation of the gospel we are to trust in God in the following:

  1. That he will spread the gospel through us.
  2. That the gospel will have an impact as we seek to share it with others.
  3. That it is God who calls people to himself.

In understanding these things we then find we are obeying God. It is not our duty to convert people to the gospel and the Christian faith, but it is our duty to proclaim.

Does Our Understanding of Evangelism Effect Our View of Sharing Faith_

We are to have a healthy realisation that the Word of God will speak to people as it is proclaimed to them. We are not relying, and nor is God relying, on our eloquence or lack thereof. What we are relying on is the Word, and trusting that it is the Word that speaks to the heart. In many ways, the pressure of evangelism is non-existent. It is the work of God in convicting and transforming hearts, it is not our work. Our work is to share the gospel.

This will then help us in our understanding of evangelism as a whole of body of Christ work, not simply the work of evangelists or the pastor at our church. The sharing of the gospel is an all-believer activity, the conversion through the gospel is an all-God activity.

Linking back to the question of why Millennials seems to believe it is wrong to share with someone their faith in order for them to begin sharing the same faith may also be because of this misunderstanding of evangelism.

When we believe we are the ones who do the converting then we feel the pressure and the awkwardness in sharing our faith. However, if we realise that God is the one who converts and we are the ones who proclaim the pressure of results disappears.

One writer puts it like this,

“…one of the most common and dangerous mistakes is to confuse the results of evangelism with evangelism itself…Evangelism must not be confused with the fruit of evangelism. If you combine this misunderstanding–thinking evangelism is the fruit of evangelism…then it is very possible to end up thinking not only that evangelism is simply seeing others converted, but thinking also that it is within your own power to convert others. This kind of thinking may lead you to be very manipulative… Misunderstanding this point can cripple individual Christians with a deep sense of personal failure and, ironically, can cause an aversion to evangelism itself.” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of A Healthy Church, 134-136)

How often have we seen, particularly in youth ministry, the speaker seeking to manipulate the emotions of the people they are speaking to in order to see results? This comes down to an inadequate view of evangelism. And the same can be said for numerous pressurised situations where people try to force others into making a decision. This again lacks an adequate understanding of evangelism.

I’m not suggesting avoiding the challenge, nor am I suggesting avoiding calling people to follow Jesus and make a decision. Sometimes people need to be asked, and the opportunity given, to actually make a decision. But perhaps it’s not that surprising Millennials don’t want to ask people to follow Jesus and convert because it has been modelled so poorly over the last few decades and is now commonly misunderstood.