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.

Unlimited Access To God

The Melbourne Cricket Club membership is one of the most important and prestigious memberships in our country. I’m not saying that because I enjoy my sport, I’m saying that because it will take you 20 years to receive the opportunity to join, if you apply today. That’s right, 20 years. Currently, the waiting list is over 225,000 people long. It tells a story of its importance to our city and to our country.

With this MCC membership comes particular privileges. You see, access into the more prestigious part of the MCG, including the Long Room and the Members Dining Room are now open to you. Along with these privileges comes responsibilities. These include appropriate behaviour and dress. But unless you have a membership, and wear the appropriate gear, you don’t have access to the seating and rooms available to you when you are a member. A non-member has no such access.

Thankfully, when it comes to access to God there are no such barriers. We have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God because of who Jesus is and what he has achieved.

Unlimited Access To God

One of the key themes of the Christian scriptures is that of access to God. Access to God in the Bible is depicted in different ways through the various parts of the Christian story but it all heads toward an understanding that we can have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God.

In the beginning, back when God created the world and everything in it, access to God is personal, relational, and unlimited. But this is torn to shreds when his creation takes it upon themselves to do their own thing. As Adam and Eve are disobedient to God we find the entrance of sin into the world, drastically changing the shape of humanity’s relationship with God.

And from here the story of God and his people unfolds like a dance. There is the seeking of restoration with God but also the reality and tension of son, distorting humanity and their worship of God as God.

In the book of Leviticus God and his people are together again. Yet, for the proper worship of and access to God particular regulations put in place. These regulations come in the form of instructions or laws, led by a tribe of people designated as priests for all of God’s people. These priests would perform their duties in the Tabernacle, a large tent designed and built for the worship of God. Later in Old Testament this would become a Temple, a permanent residence where God would reside in the most inner place, the Holy of Holies.

And so access to God was limited to the priests, often limited to one day per year for the particular sacrifices and festivals expected. The ordinary Hebrew is cut off from access to God, their worship is delegated through the priests. Like an MCC membership, access to God is restricted to certain people.

Thankfully, however, we understand through the New Testament, that the restriction in worship to God has been once again opened up. Jesus comes and fulfils the role of the priest. He is the one who restores our relationship with God. He is the one who is sacrificed for the sin of the people. He is the one upon which this sin is placed. He is the one who provides access to God – personal, relational, unlimited access to God.

The writer of Hebrews outlines the way Jesus completes and fulfils this role. But more specifically, he writes in chapter 4:14-16:

“Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The uniqueness of the Christian faith, the uniqueness of Jesus, is that we don’t have to do anything to have full access to God.

We don’t have to say any particular prayers, we don’t have to earn any particular merit, we don’t have to perform any particular rituals, we don’t have to give any particular gifts to earn God’s grace and mercy – to gain access to God himself.

No, God has provided for us personal, relational, and unlimited access to himself through this great High Priest Jesus.

We aren’t on any sort of waiting list. We aren’t required to have any particular dress code. We aren’t limited in our access to God because of what we have done. No, we can go with confidence and approach God, receiving his grace and mercy and help in our time of need.

Whatever our need, we find ourselves able to have access to God. And not just able to have access, but we can have confidence in coming to Jesus, the Son of God.

Spurgeon on The Psalms

Across the centuries the Psalms have provided inspiration, encouragement, comfort, and consolation for many Christians. The Psalms reflect the prayer and praise of ancient Israel, and speak to our head and our heart.

Perhaps due to its poetic nature, the Psalms lead us toward a devotional life with God.

We find an amazing array of emotions in front of us through the Psalms; everything from loneliness to love, from sorrow to joy, from discouragement to satisfaction, from shame to praise, from fear to peace, from insecurity to confidence.

Spurgeon on The Psalms

There something about the Psalms that we resonate with as the words of the Psalms reflect the human experience back to us.

For centuries Christians have turned to the Psalms in times of satisfaction and happiness, and in times of grieving and pain. As part of our meditations and devotional life with God the Psalms often become a cornerstone of reflection. When in our quiet times, when journaling, when sharing across the table, when publicly reading scripture in a church gathering, and at times of celebration or mourning, we often turn to the Psalms.

In preparing a few messages on the Psalms over January I came across this great quote from Charles H. Spurgeon. These are words from the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, speaking of the impact of the book in his own life.

“The book of Psalms has been a royal banquet to me, and in feasting upon its contents I have seemed to eat angels’ food. It is no wonder that old writers should call it the school of patience, the soul’s soliloquies, the little Bible, the anatomy of conscience, the rose garden, the pearl island, and the like. It is the Paradise of devotion, the Holy Land of Poesy, the heart of Scripture, the map of experience, and the tongue of saints. Does it not say just what we wished to say? Are not its prayers and praises exactly such as our hearts delight in?”

What a great description of the Psalms!

What about you, how do the Psalms help you? What kind of impact have they had on your life, devotional or otherwise?

Published: The Servant Songs And The Greatest Service Of All

With Christmas only a few weeks away there are plenty of Advent readings and articles written. I had the opportunity to add to this through a little Christmas series Rooted Ministry are doing, focussing on how the OT prophets speak to Jesus’ birth. I planted myself in Isaiah, with particular attention on the four ‘Servant Songs’ (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-52:12), and took some time to reflect through Isaiah 42:1-4.

It will probably become the basis for my sermon on the weekend before Christmas.

You can read it here.

Through his birth Jesus comes as the great justice-giver. Jesus comes to bring justice to the nations, and establish justice upon the earth. Jesus achieves these words of justice through his life and ministry, ultimately turning that justice upon himself, making himself the conduit of justice by taking upon the sins of the world. Through the cross Jesus achieves and establishes justice for the nations, and for us personally. He serves as the Servant-King, reminding us of the words of Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Can Ruth Help With Race?

The book of Ruth is one of the great literary stories in the Old Testament. While it might be a short story, it is a brilliantly constructed piece of literature that involves love, tragedy, and hope. It is packed with subtlety, meaning, and is masterfully written. And as I’ve been preaching through this wonderful book I’ve noticed how this story may well help us when we talk about race, ethnicity, and cultures.

It is in the introduction where this cross-cultural theme is raised. Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons move away from God’s Promised Land to Moab. In crossing the Jordan River they arrive in a foreign land, with a foreign people, who worship foreign gods.

Here tragedy strikes.

Can Ruth Help With Race_

Elimelech dies; seemingly before his time. And Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women.

And so, the author constantly references ‘Ruth the Moabitess’ as the story progresses. This action to marry women of Moab is not seen as a good thing. Given the historical context of the story these marriages, and the decision to leave the Promised Land, is a rejection of the promise-keeping, covenant-bound relationship with God. It is an act of disobedience.

The issue here in the book of Ruth is one of fidelity.

It is an issue of faithfulness.

The promise-keeping, covenant-bound marriage between God and his people is being broken through (1) a lack of trust in God’s provision and (2) what is more than likely a drifting into worshipping of other gods, rather than worshipping YHWH, the Lord God.

Any infidelity through other gods from foreign nations is considered a breaking of this promise-keeping, covenant-bound marriage between God and his people.

There is a constant refrain in the Old Testament of God having a people he calls his own. This is biblical Israel. This is those who are to trust and obey him with their hearts and actions.

Yet, the Old Testament also speaks of the people of God accepting and including the outsider, the foreigner, into the family of God. Israel is to refrain from oppressing the foreigner and provide justice for them, incorporating them into their festivals, celebrations, and sacrifices and offerings. They are incorporated into the people of God and to be treated as such (Leviticus 17:8-9; 18:26; 20:2; 22:18; 24:16, 22; Deuteronomy 10; Numbers 15:14).

God’s people are to be concerned and care for them just as they are to care and be concerned for their own people.

And so there is this balance. God wants his people to remain his people, while also being open to the outsider, the foreigner.

The author of Ruth highlights the disobedience of this particular family but across the story shows the significance of this particular foreigner. Ruth the Moabitess is to be the person in whom God fulfils his promises and plans; leading to salvation and redemption for all nations.

As we sit here today–post-Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection we understand the gospel continues to have a radical challenge for us in terms of cross-cultural relations.

As Ephesians 2:11-22 reminds us,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” 

It seems to go without saying that of all people Christians are not to be people who are racist or ethnically monochrome.

First, we understand that all people are created by God and made in his image.

Not much more needs to be said, other than this is a foundational truth for us as believers. Those we sit next to at work, those we play sport with on the weekends, those we interact with in our street, are all people created by God and are his image-bearers. Genesis 1-2 outlines the imageo dei for us, a crucial understanding of who we are as persons.

Second, we understand that the gospel is for all races, nations, tribes, and ethnicities.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:27-29,

For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

The promises of God, and the good news of what God has done in Christ, is open to all people. This is leading to a time when people of all nations and tribes and ethnic groups will worship God together. Revelation 7:9-10:

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

 Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

Third, we understand that God’s people, the Church, is made up of people from all nations and tribes and tongues.

There isn’t a flattening of cultures and ethnicities into one monochrome Christian culture. Rather, the Christian church becomes a deeper and more diverse faith because of the worship of God through cultures and ethnicities worshipping God in ways they understand.

God, in his wisdom, has provided a church that is multi-ethnic; and we as the people of God are to reflect that multi-ethnicity in our local communities of faith.

And fourth, we understand that we are to go and tell; to share this message of racial inclusivity to all nations and cultures.

The mission of his church is to show the gospel and the Christian faith isn’t a nationalistic faith, a ‘white-man’s faith’, or a Western faith.

It is good news for all people of all cultures at all times.

When we read the opening of Ruth we may have lots of questions around this issue of Ruth being a foreigner. Why does it seem so significant? But really, the surprise comes in that she is included into God’s family. In a similar way to Abraham, she is a person who accepts God by faith, and in doing so is accepted by God.

I wonder, I just wonder, whether Ruth can help us in our understanding of others…?

Published: Clarifying The Call Of God

‘Calling’ is one of those Christian words, used by Christian people, that is more confusing than clear. In this article for Rooted Ministry I try to unpack the meaning of calling and seek to bring helpful clarification.

“To feel called by God would be evidence that we are unique, that we are special, that we are being used for a divinely appointed task. To feel called would be proof of some sort of special anointing upon us, a special anointing that no one else would have. To feel called would mean that we have been set apart to have a significant part in the movement and growth of God’s kingdom.

To some extent all of this is true, but the trouble we run into with this thinking is that it places the emphasis on us and not God. God has called us unique, special, anointed, and called, whether we feel it or not.

We have confused feelings with calling. God’s actual calling does not always show up on a billboard, nor does it always feel right.”

You can read the whole thing here.

This article was republished at The Gospel Coalition Australia on June 27, 2018.

Divine Action In Youth Ministry

One particular aspect to Andrew Root’s latest work, Faith Formation In A Secular Age, is the concept of divine action.

Divine action is God’s work in the world. It is his activity in the world through the means of the Spirit and human beings. An older generation would term this ‘God’s providence’, and Root himself uses ‘God’s transcendence’ to describe the same thing. Nevertheless, divine action is helpful in capturing the idea that God is actively at work in the world.

Divine Action In Youth Ministry

Root wants to counter the disease of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) and believes that reaffirming the concept of divine action will do just that. MTD is the idea that God wants me to be a good person (moralistic), God is a being who should help me feel good (therapeutic), and God is a concept to decorate our lives with but isn’t an agent who really does anything (deism). Divine action, and the truth that God is at work even in the ordinary lives of middle-class Westerners, is Root’s solution to the ‘D’ in MTD.

With the loss of recognising God in our lives we are left believing that God isn’t there. We are left wondering if God is actually real, and whether he does indeed care for us.

As I finished reading this book I was also working through a teaching series on the story of Ruth. While the Lord barely makes a mention throughout the four chapters, never actively speaking himself, his handiwork is clear in the lives of the characters, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. If there is ever a book of the bible that teaches God’s divine action and transcendence in the lives of ordinary people then this is it.

When we turn to youth ministry I wonder whether we recognise the handiwork of God?

In all aspects of youth ministry in your church; with your students, with your families, with your leaders, God is at work. He is working in each of their lives and in the ministry-at-large.

And of course, it’s hard to see how God is working at times. It’s hard to see, in the moment, the ways God is comforting, strengthening, freeing, connecting, growing, and inspiring different people and their lives.

It is hard to see God at work when our eyes aren’t seeing it or our hearts aren’t feeling it.

How often we might doubt when someones say they think God is speaking to them? How often do we question whether someone is actually growing in their faith? How often do we feel disappointment over a poor conversation, or a seemingly poor youth night, or a rowdy couple of kids in our small group?

Yet despite this, God is often working while our limited perspective clouds our view of God’s divine action.

In this day and age of result driven, short-term, growth it’s hard to gain perspective. In this day where God is seen as a divine being who will only give happy, heart-warming therapeutic advice, it is no wonder we exclude the divine action of God in our own lives and the lives of others.

The bible promises that God is with us. And through his Spirit he continues to be at work. May we remember this in the excitement of summer camps and in the depths of winter lock-ins.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6:)


You can read my review of Faith Formation In A Secular Age here.

Published: The Book of Ruth, Critical to God’s Narrative of Redemption

I’ve recently been preaching through the book of Ruth. It’s been really exciting and energising to do so. For one thing, I’ve been fascinated by the various levels of meaning the author uses throughout the narrative. Anyway, in reading and re-reading the story of Ruth I put together a post, which has been published on Rooted Ministry.

I imagine in the work you do as a youth minister – the people you have conversations with, and the crises you get called into – there are similarly tragic moments you’re involved in.

The student who loses her best friend to suicide and didn’t know she needed help. The young man in high school whose father passes away suddenly. The family who is effected by a car accident, or by cancer, or by an illicit liaison.

As youth ministers, we often have the privilege of being part of people’s lives at the worst of times. And often we ourselves don’t know what to say or how to handle such events and experiences. But we sit there, we listen, and we show our love and care for them.

You can read the whole thing here.

Melito of Sardis On The Incarnation

Preaching 1 John 3:19-4:6 this past Sunday meant I touched upon the doctrine of the incarnation. In referring to the early defenders of this doctrine I quoted Melito of Sardis. He died toward the end of the second century and wrote about the incarnation this way:

“Though he [the Son of God] was incorporeal, he formed for himself a body like ours. He appeared as one of the sheep, yet he remained the Shepherd. He was esteemed a servant, yet he did not renounce being a Son. He was carried about in the womb of Mary, yet he was clothed in the nature of his Father. He walked on the earth, yet he filled heaven. He appeared as an infant, yet he did not discard his eternal nature. He was invested with a body, but it did not limit his divinity. He was esteemed poor, yet he was not divested of his riches. He needed nourishment because he was man, yet he did not cease to nourish the entire world because he is God. He put on the likeness of a servant, yet it did not impair the likeness of his Father. He was everything by his unchangeable nature. He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time he was sitting with his Father. He was nailed on a tree, yet he was the Lord of all things.”

– Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, 367