10 Tips For Reading In 2019

Taking the time to read can be a discipline, but it should also be a joy. Like anything goal-orientated, reading can require planning, persistence, patience, and purpose. There are many ways to approach reading, and there’s no rules about it, except those you make yourself.

For me, I have an annual goal of reading 26 books. Which means, as I’m sure you can work out, I aim to average one book every two weeks by the end of the year. I’ve had this goal since 2005, which again I’m sure you can work out as being 14 years, and read 361 books in that time. Go me.

How do I know that’s how many books I’ve read during this time? Well, I’m kinda nerdy with my books and have listed them all in a spreadsheet. Yeah, I’m like that.

10 Tips For Reading In 2019

But, at no time has anyone told me what rules I am to put into place to do this. That’s because there are no rules. You can read anything you like! It’s not like your English teacher is breathing fire down your back as you choose which book you want to read, or how to read it. There’s no set textbooks in life like there are in school. Just read what you like!

But of course, some people like rules, and without any rules chaos reigns or no reading gets done as you’re stuck on where to start.

So with this said, and for what it’s worth, here are 10 tips to influence your reading this coming year.

1. Don’t worry about how you read. 

There are so many ways to read these days. Whatever your reading goal, whether it be one book this coming year or 100, there are a variety of different ways to achieve this. To achieve my goal of 26 I count everything from physical form, to digital form, to even audio form. Yes, even audio form! Deal with it. While I might not be able to retain as much as I would in physical form they still count in my book (see what I did there). And, in reality, the books I listen to rarely make it into my “Top Books” posts at the end of the year (see: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014).

2. Think about when reading might be best for you

I’ve worked out that there are certain periods in the year where reading probably won’t happen. At the moment my summer holidays are usually chockablock with reading but I know that come April this will have dropped off significantly. Due to life circumstance and busyness reading can fall by the wayside. I know when this happens I’m either reading really slowly or simply not at all. But, it is helpful to think about when is the best time in the day, the week, the month, or the year for reading. My audiobooks are great in the car commute and while doing the dishes at home. The evenings, if I don’t have anything on, are also a good time for reading.

One of the biggest distractions to reading is the phone. I think this needs to be dealt with in a significant way for anyone who wants to read purposefully and regularly.

3. Choose books you think you will like

There are a lot of different books out there and in many different genres. Read whatever tickles you. I’d still encourage stretching yourself in another genre or area of knowledge, but to begin with and to get yourself going, just pick something you think you’ll enjoy. I know for myself, a good thriller or mystery will do me wonders during holidays times and in-between non-fiction reads. They’re often trashy quick reads, but I still enjoy them. The other area that I’ve found myself reading more is that of biography; finding out someone else’s story can be a learning experience but also just enjoyable. Pick something you think you’d like and begin.

4. If reading a non-fiction book, read with a pencil in hand

I read a lot of non-fiction. Things regarding theology and Christian living are more prominent on my list than anything else. And when I read these books I usually read with a pencil in hand. Books are there to be used and so underlining, writing in the margins, and even dog-earring pages are all acceptable uses of books. If you don’t like that you need to get over yourself. Don’t be so precious about your books, they’re there to be used and learnt from.

5. Make sure you read a fiction book every so often

I make sure I read or listen to fiction books reasonably regularly. At least a third of my list this year was fiction. I find too much non-fiction doesn’t give my brain a break. We need to remember that reading books is only one aspect of our daily and weekly reading. Add to this the emails, texts, documents, and articles and there becomes a lot more reading than we perhaps realise. Give the brain a break and read some fiction.

6. Don’t forget the reading of Scripture

With all the Christian reading available to us it is a temptation to believe our devotional life with God can be sustained through them. This is not so. There is no substitute for Scripture. It is through Scripture God speaks, it is through Scripture we learn of God’s instruction, it is through Scripture the Spirit works within us to shape us and convict us. If we’ve got a goal for our ‘normal reading’ then it would also be worth having a plan for our Bible reading too. I’ve written about that previously, here and here and here.

7. Try books outside your interests or current knowledge

I can’t say reading any deep philosophy or sociology or psychology grabs me. I think it would be terribly boring. The same goes for apologetics or Creation-science or marriage books in the Christian world. Yet, I know that it would be good for me to do so. Every now and then I try to read something that I wouldn’t normally read and it is usually beneficial. If you don’t think you’ll like history then read some. If you don’t think you’ll like science fiction then read some. If you don’t think you’ll like sport biographies then read some (they’re awesome). I’ll try to do that too.

8. Be willing to not finish a book

You don’t have to finish every book you start. You really don’t. I know the English teacher said you did, but you really don’t. They’re disposable. If you’re not getting anything out of it, or it’s gone boring, stop wasting your time and give it to the op-shop.

9. Join Goodreads or write down what you read

I am on Goodreads, which is like a social media platform for book lovers. I record the books I read on here, give them a rating, see what my ‘friends’ are reading, and offer the odd review. It’s pretty good and I enjoy looking at the stats page every so often. It can calculate how many books I’ve read, how many pages, when they were published and so on.

I mean, the other thing to do here is start a spreadsheet. Did I mention that before? It’s nerdy but it’s awesome.

Or, just use a pen and a notebook.

Whatever way you decide to go, I think the writing down of books read helps you know what you’ve read so you won’t pick it up again. But the biggest advantage I find is that it encourages you to keep reading.

10. The world will not end if you don’t meet your goal

Hey, if you don’t get to the goal you set this coming year don’t worry. The world is not ending, you can always try next year. What is more important is just giving it a go. You never know, you may learn something interesting, you may learn something that impacts your life, you may even find that you enjoy reading.

However you do it I hope you have a great reading year in 2019. Thanks for reading this.

My Top Posts of 2018

Each year I set a number of writing goals, some of which correspond to the regular writing on this blog. This year has been up and down.

I start off at the beginning of the year full of energy, but to sustain the goal of one post per week on this platform is often interrupted. Sometimes it is life that gets in the way, sometimes it is motivation, sometimes it is a lack of ideas, sometimes it is a lack of confidence, sometimes it is a perfectionism that I can’t get over for a while. Whatever it is and whenever it is I still try to push something out that I’m thinking or reading about. If you’re a regular reader of this site then I hope something has been helpful for you.

Top Posts of 2018

In assessing 2018, in terms of my writing and blogging, there are some encouraging things I’m pleased with and others that I’m not.

In terms of raw statistics, in the last 12 months, I’ve managed to:

In many ways this is pleasing to see. Things have improved and been on the increase year by year. There is slow growth, nothing viral, but growing nonetheless.

In terms of what people actually read when visiting this site, here are the posts written in 2018 that were the most popular:

1// Make The Bible Project Your Bible Reading Plan For 2018

By far and away this post was the most popular. I think it was helped by Google, who pointed people here when they search for ‘Bible Project reading plan’. It’s an excellent plan and one that I was following for some of the year.

2// Chair of Deacons Postpones Meeting To Confirm Identity of Youth Pastor

I was playing around with my writing a little at times and had a go at writing a satirical piece for the Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted but fun to write at least.

3// Billy Graham and Gramps

When Billy Graham passed away early in the year I interviewed my grandfather, who helped run some of the crusades in New Zealand back in the day. It ended up being republished on TGCA and on the NZ Baptists site.

4// 5 Learnings From Being ‘Acting Senior Pastor’

The Lead Pastor was away on leave for a few weeks. I was the only other person on staff. Here are some reflections from that time. It’s happening again after Christmas too.

5// Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading?

Another post about reading Scripture. This one looked at how we can take the guilt out of doing so, like skipping days or beginning to find ourselves behind in reading programs and guides.

So, those were the posts written in 2018. Overall, the top five posts that were most read, written at anytime in the last 9 years, were:

Thanks for reading!

For those interested in stats from previous years you can read about 2015, 2016, and 2017.

My Top Books of 2018

At this stage of the year every pretentious writer worth their while comes out with the most arrogant of posts. Knowing they’ve read more than most of their friends they willingly share this information in a list, highlighting their favourites reads of the year just gone. Adding to this pretentiousness I offer my not-so-humble addition for the fifth year running (for previous years see: 201420152016, 2017 ).

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top books for 2018.

Enjoy.

My Top Books of 2018

This is one of the books I used in preparation for preaching a series on Ruth. I think it is fantastic.

It’s more of a devotional commentary and gives good insight into the book. It teaches the meta-narrative themes of Ruth and provides devotional material to personally ponder. It’s very helpful in understanding the book of Ruth, who God is, and the implications of the story. It’s also helpful in teaching how to read Old Testament scripture in narrative form.

I preached through the book of Ruth in February and March. This was the main commentary I used, which was excellent.

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel Block is part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This particular commentary gives a good outline of all the textual, cultural, and literary issues of the book. It walks the reader through the text and its structure in a accessible way. It raises the theological issues and conclusions of the book too. It was very helpful in thinking through the book of Ruth and and a useful preaching tool.

The writer, Jason Lloyd, has been an NBA beat journalist for years. He was the Cleveland beat writer during the time of LeBron’s coming, going, and return to the Cavs. He gives a fascinating insight into the way the club operated during this time and how the club dealt with the superstar.

While there is biographical material of LeBron himself, the real insight of the book comes in the form of team strategy. That is, the management of an NBA team and what strategic moves the back office uses to build a winning team.

This was a great book, worth reading, and some good sports writing.

This is one of the best modern Christian books you’ll ever read.

I rate it highly. So highly that I made it the first book in our church internship program.

The Prodigal God is a short book that takes the reader through the parable of The Prodigal Son. Each chapter not only reveals the content of the parable in a fresh way but is powerfully mind-blowing and heart-convicting for your soul.

If you’re looking for a great read and something that will encourage you in your Christian faith then this is well worth getting your hands on. It’s short too.

I re-read this book this year and found it helpful again. This is 25 chapters of leadership thinking by the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The cover of the book is pretty crass, like any leadership book with the authors picture on the front. But inside it’s worth a look and a read. I find Mohler particularly clear and insightful when it comes to wrestling with leadership as a Christian and as a Christian leader.

I hadn’t read anything by the late RC Sproul until I read this book. I know he’s been around for many many years and very highly regarded. I was blown away by the content in this book, now over 30 years old. From start to finish Sproul outlines the holiness of God. He moves from creation to mystery, from the Old Testament to the New. He shows just how large an impact God’s holiness has in the relationship he has with his creatures, and just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is.

For a more comprehensive review you can go here.

I have no way near the experience of suffering as Cole or other friends of mine have. Yet, as a pastor, and someone who is now reaching the stage of life where hearing of death and divorce has become more regular, I have found this book quite amazing. It is so comprehensive in understanding the pain of suffering and grief and so deep and rich in biblical truth. This is a pastoral book, an encouraging book, and a helpful book for anyone who is, has, and will suffer in this life (read: all of us). No wonder it won World Magazine’s Accessible Theology Book of the Year.

Thanks for reading along, hope you find something in there to read in the coming 12 months. If you’d like to read more about what I’ve read you can do so here.

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.”

Published: Asking The Why – What Is My Calling?

I’ve written regularly about calling, and how to think through it.

Recently, I was interviewed by the YMI podcast “Asking The Why”. It was a fun conversation, and hopefully helpful too. Here’s how it’s described:

“What career path should I go down? Which relationship should I enter in to? Where should I live?

For many of us followers of Jesus, these questions can depend on what we feel God is calling us to do with our lives. In church language today, the term calling usually refers to a Christian discovering a specific job, ministry role, or use of gifts and talents that is out there for them. But for many of us who feel like we haven’t found that special “calling”, we can sometimes feel like we are outside the will of God or failing as a follower of Christ. So how then can each of us find out what the call of God is for our lives?”

You can also view the video here:

Martin Luther On Complete Forgiveness In Christ

In recent weeks I’ve found myself reading more about Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century.

I began reading more of Luther, again, because I picked up Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of the man. My understanding is that Metaxas isn’t looked upon too fondly within the scholarship world because of his writings and perceived errors. But I have to say he does tell a good biography. I’m about 200 pages in right now and the way he writes keeps you in the story. While some of his inaccuracies are something I’ll search out a little more later on; for the moment I’m enjoying his mix of personal interpretation and the life of Luther quite evocative.

In reading this biography though I’ve now moved into reading Luther for himself. This, of course, if the best way to read anyone. So in going to the man himself I’m working through his commentary on the Letter to the Galatians as part of my devotions (for a PDF version of this go here). And let’s be honest, reading Luther is even more evocative than reading Metaxas. The language, the criticism, the insight, the forthrightness of Luther’s writings. Wow. How great.

Martin Luther on The Complete Forgiveness of Christ

But lest this simply be an exercise in reading and analysing his writing there are particular aspects to Luther’s writing that are extremely helpful for the Christian. In particular, this early reflections on chapter one, with the focus on sin being dealt with by the cross is simply stunning.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with sin.

And I don’t just mean the battle with daily sin, behaviour or attitudes that we fall into. I mean the realisation my sin is so great that it raises the question of assurance of true forgiveness. How can God truly forgive the attitudes and behaviours I have acted upon for myself, let alone those things toward others!?

I’m sure I’m not the only person that knows the depths of their own heart, the depths of their own sinfulness, and the holding on of sin of the past, the sin that isn’t easily forgotten.

O how great a sinner we recognise ourselves to be in light of knowing the glorious nature and holiness of God! And how regretful, unassured, and doubtful we find ourselves when these things are brought to light through the Spirit.

And then at the same time we find ourselves neglecting the true grace that is given by the Lord Jesus. In our pursuit for holiness, and our disgust at sin, we become so self-centred about it that we hold on to it; just so we can feel bad and guilty about such sin. This could be for days or weeks or months or years. How many of us are holding on to sin that has been forgiven? How many of us are holding on to sin that grace has already dealt with!?

Well, for anyone that is dealing with sin, in dealing with a conscience of guilt because of sin, then I think Luther helps us tremendously. In fact, I don’t know whether I’ve read a better few pages that]n his reflections on this.

Below I copy much of what he says while reflecting on the phrase, “Who gave himself for our sins” in Galatians 1:4. I hope you are as edified as I was in reading this. It speaks to the person dealing wracked with guilt because of their continual stumbles into sin and temptation. And it provides great encouragement to get up off the mat and endure in the Christian life assured of every single sin, no matter how great or small, has been dealt with.

Enjoy.

Verse 4. ‘Who gave himself for our sins’.

Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does not say, “Who received our works,” but “who gave.” Gave what? Not gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for they are full of comfort for sore consciences.

How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: “The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins.” The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.

This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words “who gave himself for our sins.” So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word “sin” embraces the whole kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or merit we can dismiss sin.

This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.

All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Armed with this conviction, we are enlightened and may pass judgment upon the papists, monks, nuns, priests, Mohammedans, Anabaptists, and all who trust in their own merits, as wicked and destructive sects that rob God and Christ of the honour that belongs to them alone.

Note especially the pronoun “our” and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins.

This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them.

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonour of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.

St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God, delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important, for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.

Make ample use of this pronoun “our.” Be assured that Christ has canceled the sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.

We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the words of Christ, and distorts for us our Saviour, we so easily lose sight of our sweet High-Priest.

For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins.” Obviously, Christ is no judge to condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes “who gave himself for our sins.”

I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.

Wow. What a great word.

The Holiness of God by RC Sproul

The Holiness of God by RC Sproul is a well known and highly regarded book. Like Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ and Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, my understanding is that this is Sproul’s flagship book. The one that put him on the map at least. I can see why.

Sproul is terrific, from start to finish, in outlining the holiness of God. He starts by talking about God’s holiness in relation to his creation. He leaves us with dealing with the mystery of God’s holiness. He speaks of how the Old Testament shows so clearly that holiness is a huge factor in the way he relates to his creatures. And, by through understanding holiness more we see just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is to each one of us.

I found his chapters in dealing the the justice of God and holiness, and also his approach to some tough passages of the Bible very helpful. For example, he deals with how Aaron’s sons die when they offer the wrong fire to God. This is because of God’s holiness. He also tackles the passage where one of the Ark bearers seems to stop the Ark of the Covenant from falling. In touching the Ark the man dies. This is again because of holiness. In each of these chapters it was highlighted to me just how holy God is and just how unholy I am. Hence, the greater appreciation for God’s patience, graciousness and mercy.

I don’t think holiness is a theme or characteristic of God spoken of much these days. Nor is it applied very well either. Perhaps the only time we hear of holiness is when we are told to obey God’s ways, yet this is often heard as rules and regulations. There’s always a danger in trying to encourage people toward holiness and godliness because it can often be heard as works-righteousness. Sadly, this distorts the gospel and is a poor witness. While our faith may impact our lives we don’t pursue the holiness God requires of us.

And when I say, ‘of what God requires of us’, I want to make sure that we are clear on what I mean.

This is not saying that we need to be holy in order to attain salvation, in order to be made right with God. No, Christianity is not a works-based faith. It is a faith built on the ‘rightness’ of Jesus Christ, and the work he has done on the cross. As Sproul articulates so in the final chapters of his book,

“That a saint [a believer] is a sinner is obvious. How then can he be just? The saint is just because he has been justified. In and of himself he is not just. He is made just in the sight of God by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we put our personal trust for our salvation in Christ and in Him alone, then God transfers to our account all the righteousness of Jesus. His justness becomes ours when we believe in Him. It is a legal transaction. The transfer of righteousness is like an accounting transaction where no real property is exchanged. That is, God puts Jesus’ righteousness in my account while I am still a sinner.” (p212)

The calling we have as believers is to follow Jesus and become more like him. An aspect of this, and as Sproul strongly prioritises as number one, is that of holiness. We are to become more holy as believers. We are seeking to do away with sin in our lives and continue to live lives that are transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. The likeness of God. Holiness is then sought as a sinner-saint. We continue to examine our own lives in light of God’s holiness and know we have a lot of work to do.

Again, the trouble with talking this way is often we find ourselves slipping into a regulated or rules based faith. Yet, we must constantly remind ourselves that the heart of the holiness transformation is for the joy of being with God, knowing God, and being made right by God.

In reading this book, and thinking about it further, I have found myself appreciating the impact it has on my heart and mind. I have particularly found myself thinking about the undeserved grace God gives to us in light of his holiness. Furthermore, it is his holiness that impacts so many areas of the biblical storyline. In fact, from Genesis 3 right through to the end of the New Testament this theme of holiness plays a significant role.

I think this book inspires a greater understanding of God. A deeper appreciation for his grace and mercy, a real understanding of our sin and sinful nature and the impact of that on our relationship with God and this world. And then, the way God’s justice plays out because of his holiness. There are so many aspects to our faith and theology that this book speaks into. And is so helpful in our personal walk with Jesus, and our own transformation toward holiness.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship?

OK, let’s be clear from the outset.

To be a disciple is to be a student of a teacher.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from Him.

This learning and growing process is known as discipleship.

I imagine for the majority of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, discipleship involves some or all of the following – meeting with other believers, reading the Bible regularly, praying, going to church, meeting with a mentor, doing a short-course on an aspect of the Christian faith, listening to podcasting preachers, reading Christian books, talking about spiritual things with Christian friends, being involved in a small group, volunteering in a ministry at church and maybe even using Christian buzz words like ‘journey’, ‘organic’, ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’.

Most of these are excellent. They’re great and important. They help us grow in our faith. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the nature of God and the power and presence of Jesus. They help to build real and authentic (OK… another buzz word) community and inspire us into a deeper faith.

Yet, when I look at the discipleship ‘journey’ that Jesus took with 12 young guys, I wonder if we’re missing something in the discipleship package we’re sold today. Yes they prayed together, ate together, were part of a mentoring relationship and listened to cracker sermons (from Jesus Himself!). But all of this happened within the context of a much larger picture. There was a purpose that led to something greater than their own faith development: the faith of others. AKA Mission.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship_

From the outset Jesus equipped, prepared, challenged and released His followers into mission.

It was mission-focused discipleship.

A discipleship that was geared more towards the needs of others than their own. It was a kind of discipleship that required them to be active and to work out their faith in the daily grind. It was this kind of discipleship that grew some uneducated country fishermen into ‘missionaries’ committed to spreading the Good News to people who hadn’t heard it. Mission was not an added, optional, “Would you like fries with that?”’ extra. Rather, it was completely integrated into their discipleship. Just like your veggie patch needs light, food and water to survive, our discipleship is nurtured, fed and grown by engagement with others in mission.

Discipleship is the vital activity of believers around the world. In fact, it’s the model of mission Jesus has given us from the start. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 emphasises the making of disciples as the primary activity for believers. Jesus Himself showed us the way as He led His disciples, while in Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament believers continued to grow their faith in all the different places and cultures they lived in.

I wonder what part mission plays in your understanding and experience of discipleship? It may mean joining a new sporting team or club or being more intentional with your time, resources and language at uni, work or mother’s group or engaging with other cultures to see where God is already working and how you might be able to join Him.

If the job that Jesus left us with is really about being disciples who make disciples, then it applies whether we are here in Australia or in a far corner of the world. If we follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, then no matter the number of books we read, sermons we listen to or mentoring sessions we slot into our week, something will always be missing if it isn’t wrapped up in mission. And while this can seem impossibly daunting, even simple things like starting a soccer match or joining a Tai Chi class can be used by God not only to make more disciples but to help deepen our own experience as disciples as well.


Originally published in Resonate (ed. 20), a publication of Global Interaction

On Keeping A Journal

Over the years, probably on and off since high-school, I’ve kept a journal.

On Keeping A Journal

At times I’ve been consistent with this practice. I’ve taken dedicated time and discipline to write what I’ve experienced or felt about certain moments. Whether by typing or whether by handwriting I’ve dedicated time, notebooks, and files to exploring what is going on within. During certain seasons I’ve been able to write daily, expressing thoughts about the days just gone and reflect on how I’m understanding those experiences.

At other times, usually when the season is a hard one, I feel compelled to write. I feel compelled to make sense of what is going on. I feel compelled to discern what my mind and my heart is really saying.

You see, often through the exercise of writing, whether it be in list form or a more comprehensive essay, life can be made clearer. As I work through an issue, an experience, or a particular emotion, the ‘thinking on paper’ provides clarity.

Another aspect to journaling that I find helpful is the way it can become a spiritual exercise. A spiritual exercise centred around writing out my prayer for the day, the day coming or the day past, where I can be entirely honest with God.

Even within ourselves, we rarely take the time to really explore what is going on within our own hearts and minds. Through a journal we are able to explore those ideas, concepts, emotions, seasons, thoughts, issues, and pressures by patiently writing or typing our inner most thoughts. Between the pen and the page we are able to discern our own hearts and seek wisdom from above.

After more than 15 years of this practice, with a few breaks in-between, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way to journal. In high school we may have been taught some form of formalised writing, and for some reason we carry over to our personal lives those structured ‘rules’ around how we are to express ourselves. There aren’t any rules for writing a journal, it is yours and you can do with it what you like.

As to reading old journals, it probably depends on purpose. I’m always nervous about re-reading something I wrote years ago. It’s like reading the ‘old me’, or at least taking a step backwards, realising how stupid and immature I was. I’m certainly nervous about it. But, for some of those more diary-entry journals it is worth being reminded of what I’ve experienced and gives perspective on the now. For example, I always find it interesting reading portions of my journals from my time in Lebanon, now over 10 years ago. Those entries can be a reminder of what I did, who I met, and what I was thinking at the time.

A little while ago I came across this post, talking about journaling as a pathway to joy. It highlights, for those of us who have a faith, that journaling can be a beneficial spiritual exercise, keeping our hearts and mind on the things of God. It talks about some of the similar things I’ve outlined here, but provides some good ways journaling intersects with our relationship with God. As the author points out,

“…journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details”.

What about you? Do you journal? What have you learnt through it? 

Reflections On The Rooted Ministry Leadership Summit

In May just gone I had the privilege of attending a leadership summit organised by the US-based youth ministry organisation Rooted Ministry. I’ve written for their blog over the past couple of years and enjoyed many of the articles they produce. Unbelievably, I was invited to attend this small summit in Birmingham, Alabama with other 40 like-minded youth ministry practitioners.

rootedbadgewriter

This summit was three days of being fed in my faith, my love for God, my love for youth ministry, my love for writing, and for ministry in general. I made some great connections and friends, and was edified by everyone I met. I saw and heard more about American Christianity and life, and I also experienced some amazing Southern hospitality and food. Incredible.

In the months since this summit I have often reflected back on what I learned and the different conversations I had. Below is an outline of some of those reflections under four distinct questions.

Where Was God?

This is always a hard question to answer, because of course, God is everywhere! But, it is always worth asking because it helps us observe and be intentional about where we believe God is impacting us. It’s the kind of question I constantly ask on short-term mission teams, and we as a youth ministry ask it at the end of each youth night. The question is worthwhile in this context too.

I believe I saw God at work in:

  • The conversations I had with the people and those I connected with. I stayed with some friends before I arrived at the summit. It was great to reconnect with them and hear about how God has been shaping them and their lives in recent years. The conversations I had with my hosts and at the social gatherings of the summit were often powerful. And also, God was at work in the small group conversations we had as our writing and speaking was critiqued by others.
  • The terrific teaching we had from pastor and preacher Robbie Holt. Robbie was from a church in South Carolina (I think!). He spoke from Genesis 27-33, the story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. It was certainly encouraging; and in some ways was preaching I hadn’t heard in a while. The applications to church, youth, and family ministry was particularly beneficial.
  • Having a greater understanding of the vision and passion of Rooted Ministry. To hear more about the beginnings and then the hopes for the ministry, the impact it is having, was really encouraging and felt like ‘home’ in some sense. An organisation that upholds the grace of God, theological depth, and relational youth ministry.

How Was I Encouraged?

I was encouraged in ministry through:

  • Understanding more about the breadth of contexts there are in the US, but also seeing how similar some of them are to Melbourne and to me.
  • Hearing the stories, the challenges, and encouraging growth of God at work with people, youth pastors, and the ministry itself. Often it is hard to find the encouraging stories in amongst the trees, but they are always there.
  • Realising that many of the issues to church-based youth ministry and youth pastors are issues everyone has to deal with in their own contexts. Issues like human sexuality and gender, social media, biblical illiteracy, evangelism and mission, loneliness and isolation, and mental health.

What Was The Impact Of This Summit?

I think this summit will impact my future ministry in the following ways:

  • I am encouraged to be even more conscious of shaping the ministry through the Bible.
  • Thinking deeply and theologically regarding ministry shape and philosophy, including pastoral responses and issues.
  • I’ll continue to mentor younger youth pastors and emphasise the use and effectiveness of the Bible in their youth ministries.
  • This summit has put a greater urgency in the mission and evangelism aspects to youth ministry. The summit highlighted for me the importance and urgent need to think and speak in evangelistic ways in youth ministry.
  • I was also reminded of the need to gain clarity on strategy for our youth ministry and family ministries. This includes communication of that strategy, particularly to new students and families. In a world where most parents believe youth group is going to be either, (1) a saviour for their child or (2) a place where they find wholesome values that are similar to their own experience, it’s important to outline why we do what we do.

Why Was It Worthwhile?

It was worth going to this leadership summit because:

  • It helped build relationships and hear encouraging stories of other people involved in youth ministry.
  • It provided exposure to different contexts. There were youth pastors from all over the States and provided a microcosm of experiences and issues people were dealing with in their own cities and towns. The US is the largest youth ministry market in the world and as ideas on youth ministry filters down through resources coming out of the States; no doubt Australian youth ministries will be impacted by them in the future. Having a first hand experience with a number of people from different parts of the US has helped me in understanding this more.
  • It strengthened my alignment to Rooted Ministry as a youth ministry organisation. I was grateful for the grassroots type approach to the ministry that they are seeking to undertake and encourage.
  • It has made me reflect on the state of youth ministry here in Melbourne and Australia. There are very few, if any, youth ministry organisations that are solely church-based, with the similar approach to that of Rooted Ministry.

All in all this was a terrific time and a worthwhile week. It was a privilege to be invited and have the opportunity to go. I look forward to writing for them more and perhaps reflecting further in coming months. I’m very thankful for the opportunity given to me because of the generosity of Rooted Ministry, my church, and individuals too.