And Do Not Bring Us Into Temptation

I am often tempted to eat more than I should. I like food, and it is a temptation for me. I have been around far too many special church morning teas where there are so many good things on offer that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. The same occurs when there are big family gatherings, or Christmas celebrations. And there’s always the story of over-indulging in dumplings from a few years ago. But there are consequences when I over indulge, either in weight increases or general after-effects on the body. It is a delight to my eyes, to my tastebuds, and to my stomach, but I need to watch myself.

Temptations arise within us and surround us all the time. Whether it is the use of our time, the things we have, the purchases we make, or the people we spend time with. We are tempted by the expert marketers who sell us products and services we apparently need. We are tempted by the lusts of our age. And I think it is fair to say that the greatest temptation for men and women today is pornography. The search for gratification through sex and sexuality is highly publicised, talked about freely, and openly available to anyone who wishes to pursue this. There are real temptations which lead to real issues in our lives, which affect our relationships with others and our own wellbeing.

In v13 of the Lord’s Prayer, which we have been exploring for a number of weeks now (see below for a list of posts), Jesus guides us to pray against being led into temptation.

It is important to realise this is the first half of a sentence which ends, ‘but deliver us from the evil one’. The entire idea in this verse is that we need God’s help in overcoming our own sinfulness and fallenness, we need his help in staying righteous and on the path of godliness. The evil one is seeking to lead us down the wrong path, a path of destruction and temptation. Therefore, to pray that we may not be led into temptation is highlighting how we need help in order to avoid falling into the evil one’s snares.

To avoid temptation is an act of wisdom and godliness. To place boundaries or rails in our life to make sure we are adhering to the ways of God is something that falls under the category of wisdom. Sure, there are plenty of situations that will be different for different people, and there are plenty of temptations that are different for different people. And many a time this has been used to a negative or legalistic effect (one can think of the so-called ‘Billy Graham Rule’ here). But recognising and being self-aware enough of these things in our lives is helpful for us. With this in mind, here are three ways we might go about helping ourselves with respect to temptation.

1. Understand what you are tempted by and when.
Take time to reflect on what temptations to sin you are more prone to fall to. I believe all of us have different propensities for this. If we know that when we’re tired and up late with no one around that we’ll end up being tempted to flick onto porn then that’s a start. If we know that after a couple of drinks we will be more flirtatious with others then that’s good to know. If we know that when we’re bored we just pick up the phone and are tempted to start secretly putting money on the horses then recognise it. If we are going to a big party and know we might over-indulge in the food then recognise that. If we’re with certain people and we know we’re going to end up gossiping, then remember this when entering conversations with them.

Be reflective, be self-aware, and then be intentional.

2. Formulate a strategy on what you will do when temptation hits.
To be plan-less against temptation will more than likely lead to you falling into temptation. It’s been my experience, I’m sure it’s yours too. It is frequently recommended that having a close friend you can talk with, call, or text about your temptation/s will help. They can pray for you not only in the moment, but also on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, they can be someone who asks you some hard questions about your lifestyle, decisions, and general discipleship. And that speaks to the larger issue, it’s an issue of discipleship.

A difficulty here is often the call or text to a friend to pray is often left too late or not at all. There does need to be a commitment to this. But by telling someone about our temptation, and what we’re walking into in the coming days or weeks, we can lessen the power of the temptation. Of course, pray about the situation you face. Avoid the situation if it is possible. Staying up late, tired, and bored never really leaves one in a good frame of mind. Even the excuse, ‘I need to wind down a bit’, is helpful only if the actions are helpful. Sometimes just going to bed is the best thing, even if our mind is racing.

The point is, what strategy are you putting into place? What actions are you committing yourself to? What habits are you trying to build?

3. Remember that it is what you do in the lead up to situations that will form the way you operate when temptation hits.
You can’t rely on your own self-will when temptation hits. Saying, “She’ll be right mate” may be very Aussie of you but it’s a terrible plan for when temptation presents itself. However, in the days and weeks and months prior we are building up our own godliness, self-control, and patience by the actions we put in place.

Proverbs 7 warns against falling into temptations. In this case the point is centred on lust and sexual desire. In v25 the writer of Proverbs says, ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.’ And this is the case with temptation, we are not to let our hearts turn toward whatever the temptations are. Instead, we build up our capacity in being able to deal with this, not simply by putting in wise and understanding strategies and habits, but ultimately recognising that we need God’s help in doing so.

I’m currently reading through Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, and chapter 4 talks about Christ’s ability to sympathise with us in our temptation. When we do fall into temptation we have a Saviour who knows what it is like to be tempted and who is still accessible even when we feel the shame of wrongdoing. Ortlund writes:

“The real scandal of Hebrews 4:15, though, is what we are told about why Jesus is so close and with his people in their pain. He has been “tempted” (or “tested,” as the word can also denote) “as we are”—not only that, but “in every respect” as we are. The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.”


This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts in this series can be found at the following:

Our Father In Heaven

In the Anglican tradition, the Book of Common Prayer defines adoration as ‘…the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.’

I’m not sure about you but I find that hard. 

Prayer is often hard, and I don’t think many believers, whether they are new in the faith or those who are more mature in their faith, think they’re very good at it anyway. I know in different seasons my prayer life changes, it goes up and down, but it can also take on a different shape. Sometimes it is through a list, other times I write them out by hand, other times I pray while doing a particular task–like doing the dishes or vacuuming. 

But when we pray in adoration we turn our hearts and minds not only to the things of God, but to God himself. As we commune with God through prayer we do so in relationship with him.

In this COVID season, as much good there is that comes from text messages, phone calls, family gatherings over Zoom, and FaceTime calls with loved ones, nothing replaces the actual physical presence of being together with those we love and cherish. I’m sure you’ve felt this in recent months. Our relationships and friendships are still in existence during this time, we can still catch up with each other, but there is something missing when we aren’t in each other’s presence. Likewise, our relationship with God is made all the more when through prayer we come and enjoy being with him. 

As Jesus teaches about prayer in Matthew 6:9 he begins by pointing us toward adoration. Adoration in the context of relationship. 

At the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer this is described as a familial relationship between God and his children–“Our Father who is in heaven”. It’s not quite as close as ‘Dear Daddy’, but it certainly has a familiarity, a relational tone, that shows a deep and abiding relationship between us and God. 

Through the scriptures God reveals to us that he is a father to his children. The Old Testament portrays God as a father to his people–Israel–in Exodus 3-4; Psalm 2; Psalm 103; and Hosea 11 to name a few. In the New Testament we find that God the Father is, of course, the unique father to his Son, Jesus Christ. And the writers of the New Testament show the intimacy we, as the corporate people of God, have with God as we are considered his children, his sons and daughters. As 1 John 3:1 reminds us, 

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God…” 

For those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, we know that the Creator of everything is not a father; he’s our Father. As children we are able to commune and relate to God as one who is our Father. 

Jesus teaches us about prayer as someone who is in perfect relationship with God the Father. Through his perfect and acceptable sacrifice for us on the cross we are able to step into the presence of God as his children. Through the blood of Jesus we have access to the Father, and we come to him as such in prayerful adoration. The relationship we have with God is one that is intimate and personal–a point we can never emphasise too much. 

It is important to recognise that not all earthly fathers live up to our expectations. Earthly fathers are not perfect; they fail us, they fail God, they fail themselves. Yet, whatever our relationship with our earthly father, it does not compare to the perfect love and care shown by God the Father toward us, his sons and daughters. 

Galatians 4:6-8 reminds us powerfully about our identity because of God’s love and care toward us,

“Because you are his sons [and daughters], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

As Jesus begins this model prayer for us, and as he teaches us a way to pray, he begins by stating the unbelievable truth that we are in relationship with God–the Creator God of the universe–who we are able to call ‘our heavenly father’. 


This begins our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts can be found at the following:

Christ In A Curfew

Our city has now been under a curfew for a week.

What an amazing sentence to write.

I’ve always figured that to be under curfew would mean I was living in a country under martial law or something similar; where there would be the threat of violence and war.

Even living in the Middle East for a couple of years, in a country that had numerous political assassinations, bus bombings, a short-lived war with its neighbour, and military checkpoints throughout the area I lived, there was never a curfew.

It’s a strange and sad sentence to write.

And it’s a sentence that already feels like it’s taking a toll.

Christ In A Curfew

I’m not sure how you’re feeling about this curfew and this Stage 4 business, but in conversation with people I know it seems we already feel the weight of it. There’s the emotional toll, coming to terms with the shock and awe of being in such a lockdown again and all the feels that come along with that. There’s the psychological toll, as people wrestle with their own mental health, anxieties and depressingly negative thoughts of what the next six weeks is to look like. And then there’s a relational toll, as the alone-ness continues the loneliness of isolation is felt more deeply. Let alone all the other stresses and pressures this lockdown now leads to–unemployment or lower job security, financial pressure, family pressure at home, and the overwhelming stress from remote learning for young families. It feels like a dangerous cocktail.

Is there a positive in this at all?

Let’s be honest, sometimes it seems hard to see through to one.

Nevertheless, positives or not, there are some truths worth holding on to. Because despite what is happening in our lives, despite the pressures we’re under, and despite the strain of the day, there is still a God who is with us, who cares for us, and who brings hope into our lives.

He Is With Us

Even though we’re all surprised by how 2020 has turned out God is not.

For thousands of years God has been across and involved in the world we live. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He hasn’t changed. He remains steadfast, he remains faithful, he remains a God of love. He remains a God who looks upon his creation and seeks to be with them, to know them and he be known by them.

God has not disappeared. He hasn’t gone on holiday. He hasn’t run away. No, God is with us. He is with us in the confusion and the chaos, just as he is with us in our health and in our happiness.

In John 14:26-27 Jesus speaks with his disciples promising that God will always be with them through the Holy Spirit. He says,

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

How assuring to know that God is with us. As followers of Christ we can know that he is with us. That upon his death, resurrection, and ascension Christ didn’t leave this world to its own devices. Rather, Christ has given us his peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace through his Spirit and worth holding onto in this season.

He Cares For Us 

And just as Christ is with us, so too he cares for us.

As 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

When we feel all is lost, when we’re under pressure, when we’re despondent, when we’re angry, when we’re in tears, when we’re annoyed, when we’re anxious, when we’re fearful, when we’re worried, and when we’re none of the above, Christ still cares for us.

However we might be feeling, and in whatever situation we may find ourselves during this curfew period, Christ cares.

He cares for the overwhelmed parents juggling remote schooling and their own work from home.

He cares for the single person stuck at home with little relational contact with friends or family.

He cares for the bored student trying to make their days somewhat productive but seeing no point.

He cares for the grandparent confined to their home without grandchildren running through their house as usual.

He cares for the worker who has just lost their job who now faces months of uncertainty.

He cares.

Christ cares.

Christ cares for you.

He Brings Hope To Us

This time of curfews and COVID brings with it a loss of hope, a loss of purpose, and a loss of identity. We understand hope is diminished because of all the feelings, the restrictions, and unwanted changes to life. But in Christ we find hope restored. Christ is our hope. He is our hope in this season and our hope in eternity to come.

This hope doesn’t come from some positive feeling, nor even a positive action or thought. This hope comes from Christ and the cross. Ironically, through death comes hope.

Through the death of Christ comes the hope of Christ.

For through the death of Christ comes the hope of knowing we are forgiven, we are accepted and loved as we are, and we are at peace with God.

As we recognise, and perhaps even more so in these strange days, we are not in control we may come to realise that there is little we can do to save ourselves. Whether it be an internal or external struggle we are familiar with the exhaustion that comes from those constant waves beating down upon us. And so as Christ goes to the cross for us he takes with him our exhaustion, our frustration, and our brokenness from life in the world.

As we put our faith in this Christ on the cross Paul reminds us in Romans 5:1-5:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Are there greater words than this!?

That through our faith in a crucified Christ comes the hope of Christ through the love of God. May we know this hope this week. For during this time of curfew we may be isolated and lonely. We may be angry and hurt. We may be disappointed and sad. Whatever we may feel will be what it is. Yet, what we can know and be sure of is that Christ is with us, that he cares for us, and that there is hope.

And perhaps that’s the sentence we really ought to be amazed by.

Exploring The Habits of The Christian Life: Listening To Sermons

There is much on the Interwebs that speaks of how best to listen to sermons, even books have been written on the topic. However, as I work my way through the book Habits of Grace by David Mathis I am struck by the simplicity and meaning in listening to a sermon.

When we think of listening often we imagine ourselves not talking, and that’s about it. But, of course, listening requires more of us than simply shutting our mouths. It requires intentionality in actually hearing what someone is saying to us. It means we need to stop and focus, it means we need to take the time to hear someone out before chiming in with our own thoughts on the conversation at hand.

In a section on listening Mathis speaks of the grace that comes when we take time to actually listen to a sermon. The preaching of the Word is God speaking to his particular people in a particular location, and so listening is an important skill in this instance. But the symbolism of this act of listening is deeper than perhaps we’ve thought of before.

While preaching can get a bad rap, it is one of the ongoing activities of the Christian faith where God speaks to us through another human. And while the rest of our week may be filled with different activities, conversations about faith even, there comes a time where the faithful gather and seek to listen together to God’s Word. There are plenty of hours in the week to do other things that pertain to our life and faith, but for 30 minutes a week Christians gather to close their mouths and listen to the preaching of the Bible. This is fascinating act, a symbolic act, by believers around the world as they seek to encounter Jesus more deeply and in a powerful way. And even then, many are restless and sleepy for those 30 minutes too.

The other aspect to this is the fact that it is Christians gathered together. There is a corporate and communal aspect to the worship of God in church each week. It is not an individualistic activity, despite people not knowing one-another too deeply at times. It is the Christian community of a particular location getting together to hear from God together. Another sign of the unity that comes through Christ. And as Mathis writes,

“But preaching is not just about Jesus; it is his way of being personally present with his church. Good preaching brings the church into an encounter with her Groom by the Holy Spirit. As Jason Meyer writes, “The ministry of the word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word. In faithful Christian preaching, we not only hear about Jesus, but we meet him.”

As Calvin once wrote about the purpose of preaching, “…to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.”

While we may find preaching tedious at times I appreciate the fact that God has set this as one of the ways he gives us grace. In all our other activities of faith, particularly on a Sunday morning, there is the giving and receiving of grace to God. Through songs, through prayers, through communion even, we are often speaking to God as well as hearing from him. Through the preaching of his word we actually take the time to be still and quiet before him, solely receiving from him.

I wonder if this affects our thinking about the sermon for this weekend? 

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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Steven PD Smith: The Australian Jesus

For those of us who take a glimmer of interest in Australian cricket, this week has been a memorable one. The Australian cricket team, so often a symbol of our nation, has begun the five-match series against our arch-rivals, England, competing for the holy grail­–The Ashes.

And there is something about test match cricket that enables allusion to the Christian faith. The hope our nation puts into the team’s success, the perseverance required for a five-day match, and the ebb and flow, the highs and lows, of what takes place out on the field. Each of these things are aspects of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus–hope and endurance, joy and suffering.

Copy of A Sent People - Part 5_ Being Part of the Answer

But in this past week we have seen the return of king, the resurrection of the spiritual leader of the team, the one in whom our nation trusts.

For a number of years, cricket fans especially, have been in awe of the ability of Steven PD Smith as a batsman. He has led time and time again as a player and as a captain.

But some 18 months ago it all came crashing down. Like Good Friday for us believers, something seemingly bad occurred. Under Smith’s leadership there was cheating, #sandpapergate as it became known, and caused uproar for the Australian public that ricocheted around the cricket world. Down came the leader, whipped and beaten by the relentless pressure, by stupid decisions, and soon enough expelled from the captaincy and the team. Australian cricket’s Good Friday event unfolded, leaving the team, the disciples, in a confused and disappointed mess.

And so, for a year and a half Australian test cricket has been trying to deal with its Easter Saturday. A day of awkwardness, a day of wondering. It is a day with a certain uneasiness about what has just happened and deliberating what’s going to take place going forward. Here we sit, trying to comprehend the awful nature of what has occurred and seeking strategies to cope in order to move forward. Where has the hope gone? What has happened to our saviour? Do we continue on in the same fashion or do we scatter?

But this week we have seen the one who restores and rescues us as Australian cricket fans.

Through two magnificent innings of 140-odd runs we witnessed the resurrection. Our redeemer has returned and all will be forgiven.

Easter Sunday has arrived, and we couldn’t help but be pulled into the hope and joy that comes from such a performance. Whether listening on the radio or watching on TV, we became drawn into the unfolding drama. In the Bible we read of how the disciples were initially shocked to hear that Jesus had risen, and so they ran to the tomb themselves into order to believe. We too became a nation who had to see for ourselves such greatness and glory.

For now, hope has been restored. The joy of watching cricket has returned. The disciples have been re-ignited for the mission. And so we wait, we watch, we have faith and want to follow the king.

When all thought was lost, we see what has been found. We have hope and look to the saviour, seeking sporting salvation. As the coming weeks progress we as a cricketing nation once again put our hope in the Australian Jesus, Steven PD Smith.

A Sent People – Part 5: Being Part of the Answer

This is part five of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one and two and three and four) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 5: Being Part of The Answer

Passage: Luke 10

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

A Sent People - Part 5_ Being Part of the Answer

Consider:

One of the problems we can see from the passage, and in throughout this series, is that there aren’t enough followers being harvesters in the field.

Rather than being part of the problem, we are to be part of the answer.

We are the ones who have been sent by Jesus to share his Good News to the people of the world. In connection with the previous posts we are involved in the wider story of God. Today, we continue to be God’s messengers. We are his workers in his harvest field, seeking to share the Good News with the people who need to hear it. And while there will be judgement on those who reject God that is not ours to take part in. We are here to be part of what God is doing in the world. It is the message of the Gospel that provides hope for the world and true salvation for those who accept it.

If we aren’t being followers of Jesus who are taking part in the harvest then we are being part of this problem, are we not? How do we become part of the solution? It is by intentionally living lives that are witnessing to our faith and to Jesus’ impact in our lives. It is by not merely walking through life believing that we know the Good News and leaving it to rot. It is through becoming one of the workers.

As we’ve seen, there is a cost to this. It may mean giving up or leaving behind things that we consider precious. We need to let go of stuff, as Jesus talks about to his followers. That which binds us down or stops us moving forward is a hindrance to working in the harvest field.

As we intentionally go about focusing on being a solution in the Kingdom of God we are to seek out those who are friendly to us and the message of the Good News. There are people of peace who we can connect with, begin building relationships with, and who open up their lives for us just as we do so for them. What we need to do here is to open our eyes to the people God has placed in our lives and see where God is already at work.

As we speak, and as we show the love of God through the person of Jesus, we are an open people. Learning and loving along the way from our mistakes but more importantly, representing Christ as we seek to follow him authentically. It is this kind of living that helps bring people closer to the Kingdom.

It is hard. It’s not promised as easy. There will be times when we fail and make mistakes. But what is important is that we continue to try. We attempt to do this with love and compassion of God and people.

Ask Yourself:

  • Jesus expects his sent followers to share the message of the kingdom to the towns they go to and the people they meet. When was the last time you shared about your faith to someone else? What is stopping you from sharing something of your faith in the coming month?
  • The kingdom of God is near. How can you bring the kingdom of God to people in your community?

Take A Step:

  1. Write out your story of faith. Find someone to share this story with in the coming month.
  2. As you pray this week, thank God for the Good News and how the kingdom of God has impacted you and your life. Pray also for those who don’t know God and ask that he can reveal himself to them.
  3. Choose to give a certain amount of money to an organisation or person that helps share the Good News to people who do not yet know Jesus. Make this a practical step this week in helping others hear the Gospel.

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.

Reading For The Head And The Heart

Over the summer break we’re exploring some of the Psalms in our Sunday gatherings. I was able to kick off the series this past weekend by preaching through Psalm 1. It was an apt Psalm to end 2018 and look toward a new year. Like much of the Psalms there is a call for a response. One aspect to this is the assessment, or re-assessment, of our delight and meditation in the instruction of the Lord.

The start of the year is often a time of assessment. New Year’s resolutions aside; the sun, warm weather, and most people being on of holiday helps conjure up an environment for reflection. Continuing on from my last post, particularly point six of my 10 Tips For Reading In 2019, Psalm 1 challenges us to re-assess our affections and reading habits of God’s Word. Psalm 1 encourages people to delight and meditate on the Lord’s instruction because this is the way to happiness.

Reading For The Head And The Heart

The first three verses of the Psalm read:

1 How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

The central verse for the whole Psalm is verse two. The way of happiness – which is a contentment, a peace, a satisfaction – is through the delight and meditation on the ‘law of the Lord’, the Lord’s instruction, the Scriptures.

And here we find two characteristics of the way of happiness:

First, there is the aspect of the heart. The delighting in the Lord’s instruction.

Here is our emotional response to God.

We are to have affection for him and his instruction. We know God through his Word, through his instruction, and our heart response is to be delight. We are to be moved in feeling and fondness toward God because of his instruction. As Psalm 37:4 says,

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Our heart, our desires, our delight is to be in the Lord and his instruction. This leads to the way of happiness.

John Piper, in his book, Desiring God, puts it this way,

“Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture – this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”

Second, there is the aspect of the head. The meditating on the Lord’s instruction.

Here we read of our knowledge and understanding of God that affects our thinking.

Day and night, we are to chew over the Word of God in our minds. Like a never ending piece of gum, we’re to chew over the Lord’s instruction in our heads. Our minds are created to understand the things of God through our thoughts, this in turn is to influence the way we live. This is why Paul, in Romans 12:2 says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” 

In its proper vision, we find the knowledge of God is to touch our hearts and inform our heads.

Theology, which is simply the study of God, is not just head knowledge. It is something that affects our heads and our thinking, but it should also move us and affect our hearts and affections for God.

As we start off a new year I always find it helpful to re-assess my devotional life. The habits of reading Scripture and prayer. The start of the new year is great for starting a new bible reading plan, creating a new prayer list, beginning a new devotional work. It’s essentially a good time to re-assess a lot of things, so why not be intentional about it for your faith?

This year I’m seeking to read through the Bible using this plan. Other plans worth looking at are the one from The Bible Project (which I wrote about last year) or simply reading through four chapters of the Bible per day. In reality, if you’ve got a Bible and you’re using it then that’s a great thing. 

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.