Below is a guest post by Steve, a member of my church, who writes a terrific little thoughtful piece that will make you think and have a chuckle at the same time. Enjoy.
Recently my Mum passed away after a short illness. She was a generous soul. The whole experience has triggered a number of thoughts, including her lived example and images of soft serve ice cream.
It’s a metaphor.
Soft serve ice cream is hardly a food, certainly not one that is healthy or that we need but on occasion it is okay to have as a treat. In fact I believe it is very good to do so, and one day we won’t be able to treat our loved ones because they have gone; either passed on, or just away.
In some ways my two children are smarter and, in some cases, even wiser than me (they must have had a good upbringing). I’ve had a tough time at work recently, actually over the last couple of years, and one of my children has repeatedly said to me that I should retire. True enough it would be good for my mental health. The reality is that it would mean quitting my job without an alternative source of income, which is not an ideal situation. Financially I am in an okay spot, and working keeps me in a good spot. However, my intention is not to store up riches upon riches as an end to itself but rather to prudently save. With enough extra for soft serve ice cream once in a while, of course. Neither extreme is good for me spiritually. To ask a rhetorical question – Why does God bless us with gifts, talents and finances if not to give them away?
The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-20 are helpful for me in this.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Are there certain lessons which we only truly learn through age and personal experience? Even though it ends up being an expensive way to learn. Probably.
Of the times that I could have treated my children but didn’t for fear of spoiling them (and there were not many of those) I wish that I could go back and treat them ten times over. Perhaps this is also an impact of COVID lockdowns.
We have all lost a lot, not the least of which is time, which is difficult to replace. I get the impression from reading the gospels that Jesus was always in the moment, blessing as the occasions presented and required.
If I could have time with my Mum back what would I want to do?
In my last post I described walking through Hebrews 11 like entering a corridor at the museum. Paintings hanging on the walls, dim light from the ceilings and windows, and statues and busts of important people lining each side. Next to each of their depictions sits a plaque with the little description we find in Hebrews 11, all beginning with “By faith…”
They are highlighted by the writer because they are people who provide an example of what living by faith means for those who come after. For us.
All of these people mentioned in Hebrews 11 are commended for the faith they had. They didn’t receive what was promised to them in this life, but they continued to live by faith because God had revealed to them something greater. A future together as his people, living under his right rule, in his perfectly created place.
In v39-40 we read,
“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.” (CSB)
The writer reminds us that living by faith is for the long-haul. It’s no short, sharp, snap discipleship program. It’s a lifetime of living by faith. Throughout the chapter we read of those who in their lifetime suffered and did not acquire the fulfilment of the promises given to them by God. Yet, they endured in the faith, by faith, so that they would be made perfect at a later time. And that later time is when all of God’s people are gathered. When all of God’s people are together in the place he has set out for us.
All the saints, whether old or new, will be made perfect when all of God’s people are together. Whether that be the Old Testament saints, the Hebrews themselves, or whether that be us. There is a future hope of being together with God in perfection.
So as we walk this corridor of heroes of the faith we can be encouraged to live by faith ourselves. To be followers of Jesus for the marathon of life, not just the sprint of this season. With this in mind, here are six ways this passage encourages us to live by faith for the long-haul.
First, Hebrews 11 helps us when we are in times of doubt.
While doubt is not the opposite of faith, it certainly has an impact on our faith. Whether we are struggling to see God, doubting his goodness and faithfulness, or when we’re confused by what he is doing in our lives then we can lose sight of what he has promised. Hebrews 11, however, enables us to see that he is indeed faithful to his promises and that those who went before us held fast to Christ knowing there was something better in the future, something worth holding on to.
Second, Hebrews 11 helps us when we are struggling with sin.
We might feel plagued with sin. We might feel guilty. We might feel ashamed. We might be holding on to certain sins like a comfort blanket, always reasoning with ourselves that we will be able to battle with it and get over it at some point in the future. Instead, we can take confidence in knowing that Christ has that sin, has forgiven us for it, and is in the process of making us perfect in him. Therefore, we live by faith that he has taken the sins of the past, present, and future, and has dealt with them decisively for eternity.
Third, Hebrews 11 helps us when we wonder what we’re meant to be doing for God.
Those who were commended were people who lived by faith. They didn’t sit and wait around to be taken to a better place. They didn’t live in laziness, twiddling their thumbs wondering what they were to do. Instead, they trusted God in the ‘now’, obeying his commands and trusting his judgements. The future is in God’s hands and for us we are to trust and obey. Anyone remember that old hymn, “Trust and obey”?
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
This may involve choices we make about our lifestyle, or our career, or our relationships, or our spending habits, or our social media use, or our use of time, or our service, or our attitudes, or our behaviours. God, of course, doesn’t just deal with one aspect of life but the whole of life. Our response is to live by faith.
Fourth, Hebrews 11 helps us know we’re not alone.
Thank goodness we aren’t the centre of the world. We aren’t the centre of reality. God is. And we see through this list that we also need to put our life in perspective.
God is the one who is to be the centre of our worship, we aren’t.
God is to be the centre of our lives, we aren’t.
Yet, God is with us. We are not alone.
Further, we know that so so so many people have gone before us, treading out a path like a walking track in the bush. Someone else has done this and so can we. Someone else has walked the same path we’re on and lived by faith. So can we. These millions of believers before us can inspire and encourage us to live by faith.
Fifth, Hebrews 11 helps us to know we are being made perfect.
Those final two verses show us that we aren’t perfect and nor are the saints of the past. The aim isn’t perfection in this lifetime, the aim is to live by faith.
And so, we take encouragement that we are being made perfect through Christ, who uses our lives and our experiences to shape and mould us into more like him. This is also living by faith.
Sixth, Hebrews 11 helps us to know there is a better day.
I’m not sure what you’re going through right now but I suspect there’s something. Everyone is always dealing with something. With this being the case Hebrews 11 provides for us a hope. A future hope. A hope that one day things will be better, that one day we will be with God and it all will be made perfect. One day the acute pain of living now will be made into sustained enjoyment with God.
And perhaps this is the key.
For as we walk with God by faith we walk in the shadow of those gone before, encouraged and inspired by their faith.
In recent months there have been numerousarticles suggesting more Australians have been thinking about aspects of faith and spirituality. COVID seems to have had an impact, not only in the way we think about health and operate as such, but also in matters of faith, priorities in life, and the dwelling on eternity. Something about this past year has driven people to think about these things!
On one hand this is great. This should be the case due to what the world has experienced this year–coming to terms with our lack of control, the limits on our own capacity, and the realities of living in a broken world. Further, the personal reactions we’ve had due to the circumstances we’ve been through have led many to question and reflect on life. This year has been a reminder that there are greater things going on in the world than you or me.
But on the other hand this has been such an exhausting year for many that the capacity to contemplate and dwell on aspects of faith, and dwell on the Lord and his goodness specifically, has diminished. The impetus, the motivation, the inclination to sit with God is hard at the best of times, but add in the fear, stress, worry of 2020 and we find ourselves hindered in doing so.
Here in Psalm 103 we find, I believe, a passage of scripture to dwell on as we enter somewhat of a new year. In the earlier verses of this psalm we are encouraged to remember the Lord, and we are given plenty of examples. But to take it a step further, we are also given scriptures here to dwell on.
You see, the writer David continues in v5-12 by dwelling on who God is and what he has done. In turn he helps us to dwell upon God, naming the character of God alongside the benefits of God.
There is the reminder of God’s work in bringing his people out of Egypt through Moses, which leads to statements of truth about God’s character. David speaks of God’s compassion and grace, his slowness in becoming angry, and his abounding love in v8. This verse, v8, is such a significant refrain in the whole of the OT.
It is referred to in Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:13; and Jonah 4:2. If you ever want or need a short and succinct answer to the question of who God is, this is the answer, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
This is God’s covenantal love; his marriage promise to his people encapsulated in one verse.
God’s commitment to his people of the Old Testament and his continued commitment to his people in the New Testament through Christ.
We are reminded here of the incarnation, God coming in the form of a man for the rescue of the world. God has such compassionate love for humanity that he came to be part of our lives. In physical terms this occurred through Jesus of the first century, in spiritual terms this comes to us today through his Spirit. And so when we place our faith in him, recognising our need for God and having that need met through faith in Christ, then we are receiving his compassionate love, his covenantal love, his promised love.
As we walk through 2021 may we dwell on this compassionate love of God knowing the truth of v9-12. Knowing he does not accuse us, he does not hold his anger toward us, he does not treat us as we deserve, he does not repay us for the sins we commit, and nor is he vengeful toward us.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Instead, the Lord’s love is as far as the east is from the west, displayed through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the second of a three part series on Psalm 103. The first post, ‘Remember The Lord’, can be found here.
I doubt any of us who aspired to achieve a quieter and more peaceful life in 2020 thought this was the way to go about it. Sure, in my case, less children’s birthday parties, less meetings, and more time with family were all good things to aspire to. But at the sake of people contracting a virus, people losing jobs en masse, and not being able to visit anyone outside of the home wasn’t really what I was thinking. I suspect the same for you.
BC, ‘Before COVID-19’, life was hectic. Everyone in their different ways and in their different stages of life were walking at a brisk pace that was hard to keep up with. The calendar was always full and the different people and events garnering my attention was constant. One of the first books I read this year was “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer. It’s an excellent book and well worth the read, but also a symbol of how I was approaching this year–one that required some work in order to become less hurried in life and more at peace with a slower pace.
I’ve often been struck by Paul’s encouragement to the church in Thessalonica to aspire to a quiet life. It’s a little verse tucked away at the back of the letter, there in the middle of the New Testament, encouraging something that seems beyond our comprehension. He writes,
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, ESV)
In context we’re talking about loving others, loving the brothers and sisters of our churches and those around us. There is also a missional bent to this passage where we are to seek to walk in godliness in order to witness to outsiders. But there tucked away in v11 is this little phrase, ‘aspire to live quietly’.
These days of isolation aren’t all quiet. I know they are for some, painfully so. But for others, these days of isolation are even more full and tiring than they were before coronavirus hit. While we may not be in the same boat, we’re all sailing the same seas and being hit with different waves.
As this year has progressed we’ve been incorporating different things in our weeks that have helped to slow us down. While the meetings and events may have disappeared, in person at least, there is still plenty to keep our family of five occupied. One particular rhythm we’ve begun is to have what we call a ‘Saturday Sabbath’, which basically means we do things as a family that are life giving to us and avoid all digital devices. Phones are kept in drawers and not looked at until late in the evening (and to be honest, the addictive nature of these things become so much more evident on this day!). An all-in family activity usually happens in the morning. We talk, and read, and play, and pray, and celebrate life together. They’ve been refreshing, and something we don’t want to do away with come post-isolation.
But that’s just an example from our household, I wonder how you’ve pursued the quiet life in yours?
In this second round of isolation, here in Melbourne at least, I wonder what pursuing a quiet life might look like? My situation will no doubt be different to you, and by now the whole thing is becoming more and more frustrating. That’s the reality. Yet, as we continue to aspire to a quiet life, how might it be marked by the love of God and the love of others?
The surface level small talk and the triviality of much of life, thanks to social media and the busyness of life, makes it hard to take time and listen to others. Recently I’ve been pondering this, particularly after observing the way people around me use social media and their devices. My ponderings made it into an article, which was then published on TGCA.
“Often it takes something significant to disrupt our regular practices and habits. The other week I had two funerals to attend. If there is ever something that will disrupt us, get us looking up and out from ourselves, then memorial services for the dead are the way to do it. For there in front of us is the reality of life and death. There before us is the end. And reflecting on the end can jolt us back into what really is reality.
Our social media stories give us a picture of a life in front of us. And however momentary this picture is, it depicts a false reality. For behind that picture is a person, and in that person is a heart, and in that heart is the desire of things greater than can be captured by a phone.”
Here are some short summaries of books I’ve read recently. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like in recent time, but here are some of the books I’ve dipped into.
1. The Reckoning by John Grisham
This is the best Grisham book I’ve read in a long time. It is his usual fiction, but this time structured differently as he delves into one of the character’s past in particular detail. This is a very sad story in many ways, but keeps you interested as there are plenty of turns and twists and secrets, only to come together in the final few pages. A great read.
2. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
I hadn’t read The Pilgrim’s Progress properly, well, not that I can remember. I certainly remember the child versions I had when I lived at home. But thanks to Christian Audio I listened to it via their app. It was a great reminder of the trials and joys it is as a believer. This is Bunyan’s classic work and is an allegory for the Christian life, following Christian and his wife and family as they seek the Celestial City. Definitely worth the read (again) and encouraging for my walk with Jesus.
3. Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
This is a memoir, which details Jackie’s life as she has wrestled with her sexuality and lesbianism. It tells of the horrific situations she has experienced in her childhood, everything from abuse, to being discarded by her father, to family breakdown, and more. But then she tells of how she has been be called by God to follow Him and in turn find her life transformed. This is a powerful story, and great story that points more to God than it does to Jackie herself. It’s certainly worth the read.
Scott is a youth minister up in Sydney and has written a whole selection of books for young people. This one targets the youth pastor and volunteers.
I found this book really helpful, and will most likely use some of the content to help train my leaders. It gives a good theological and ministry philosophy foundation at the beginning. The book then moves into more practical and specifics aspects of youth ministry, everything from team meetings, youth group meetings, how to prepare a talk, how to communicate to kids, parents, leaders, and the church etc. It also comes with good resources very clearly laid out in the appendices. And, it’s short – 100 pages or so.
I’d recommend this to any average youth pastor like me.
5. The Autobiography of William Jay by William Jay
I’m still working through this second half of this book but it is excellent. Jay was a minister and preacher in England during the 19th century. He was pastor of Argyle Chapel in Bath for 63 years. His story is amazing; but his reflections on life, discipleship, evangelism, church, and preaching, and writing are even better. He writes these reflections in 19 letters to his children, about ten years prior to his death. There is a wealth of gold in these letters and reflections, some of which I’ll no doubt write about in due course. You can read a little something I wrote about his views of writing memoir and keeping a diary here.
You can also read more book summaries I’ve written at the following posts:
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.
The first three verses of the Psalm read:
1How 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! 2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 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?
‘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.”
I’m not even a fanboy but it seems I have found myself reading everything Mark Sayers has written. OK, not ‘Vertical Self’, but ssshhhhh. Anyway, his books make me think and for that reason alone I find them useful.
Over a month ago I finished reading his book, ‘Disappearing Church’. And perhaps it’s because he writes as someone living in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or because I need a simplified version of various cultural and philosophical ideas, I find myself wrestling with his ideas. My understanding of what Sayers says in this book is that the church needs to be less concerned about being culturally relevant, and build greater resilience and understanding in the Gospel and who it (the church) is. This is in order for believers to be able to live as a minority in today’s secular world, being and producing resilient lifelong disciples of Jesus.
Early on Sayers states his aim for the book,
“This book will argue that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church’s favoured strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made “relevant” to secular Western culture. Instead we need to rediscover gospel resilience. To walk the countercultural narrow path in which we die to self and re-throne God in our lives as the supreme authority…Living with gospel resilience in the corrosive soil of Western culture requires a posture of living as a creative minority. Throughout history God has replenished cultures, through the witness of minorities of believers who hold true to their beliefs while blessing the surrounding culture. It is to this position we must return.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 12)
The book is broken into two parts.
The first is similar to his other books where he examines culture. In Disappearing Church Sayers focusses on dissecting what a post-Christian culture looks like. He makes the case for how Gnosticism and the self has become central to Western thinking. He also writes at length about how the church of the past few decades has been seeking to stay relevant to culture. This effort has resulted in the poor effort of liberalism, millennials leaving the church in droves, and sustained modern criticism of the Christian worldview in society.
In part two Sayers pivots to show what a resilient faith looks like. This resilience is rooted in a deep faith centred in the Word and prayer. A fair amount of time is spent on acknowledging that we live in such an individualistic society and self-centred world that what Jesus calls for is in direct opposition to this. The aspects of grace given to believers, and the call of God to deny yourself in love and sacrificing for others are two examples of a counter-culture faith. This leads to an understanding that God is not a bit player in life, but the centre of it all. To follow Jesus means He is made central to every aspect of life. He becomes the heartbeat of life and makes life relevant to us. Therefore, in acknowledging the grace of God we are to subordinate ourselves under his Lordship. Essentially the biblical call of following and obeying. As he writes,
“To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit in the third culture is to break its only taboo: too commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and His rule. To admit that Christ is ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into His arms of grace. To dig deep roots into His love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 76)
This is an excellent book and I don’t think I can do it justice in 700 words. I appreciated the ideas, of which there are plenty. Of all of Sayer’s books I have found this most helpful. I believe he helps the church navigate a post-Christian culture and live as deeply rooted, faithful, followers of Jesus. In essence, he is calling people back to the historical faith, to be diligent and disciplined in seeking after God through the Word and prayer. Jesus is to be relevant in private and in public, the centre of individual faith and their church communities.
“…to do grown up things and hold responsibilities, such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage or rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown-ups.”
When entering youth ministry it is not uncommon to be in our early to mid-20s. In all reality, there is little of life lived and much more of life to come. Some things we aren’t taught in school and one of those things is adulting.
Part of adulting is having a system to deal with all the adulting things we need to do in life and work. Having a system to deal with these things can be learnt and is important in any job, relationship, or area of responsibility you might find yourself in.
With this in mind, I wish I had a better idea of organising my workflow and system when entering youth ministry. I have always considered myself someone who is pretty decent at organising and planning. For example, I have colour-coded calendars that tell me what’s coming up in church and family life. I have a spreadsheet that details every book I’ve read since 2005. I keep my books in categories. I keep notes of conversations I’ve had with people. I used to rename individual photos according to date and place. So, yeah, I think I’m OK at this organising thing…sometimes a bit too much.
But starting out life in my twenties I had no idea. It took me a number of years, through working as a Personal Trainer and Gym Manager, and into missions and ministry, before I felt I had a good system.
This system refers to how one handles their to-do-list and what you do with all the life administration you end up doing. This can include how to deal with email, reminding yourself of the improvements you need to make when running that camp again next year, setting a date to write a report, trying to remember the contact details of a new person at youth group. And so on.
There is a lot to deal with in youth ministry, and in life, so a system to deal with this is always helpful.
If I had my time over again I would begin thinking through this stuff earlier than I did. In many ways this is a learned process but there are plenty of resources to help young Youth Pastors think through the skills they need to improve as part of the job. In youth ministry there can be plenty of things going on in church life and it is hard to keep all the balls in the air at once. If starting out again, I’d think about how to structure my week, how to get my emails down to zero, how to plan the next 12 months and the next 3 years, how to understand the rhythm of the church’s year, how to deal with budgets, and how to plan one-off events.
All this non-people work makes our world turn on its axis.
What’s it called?
That’s right, administration.
The death of many a good Youth Pastor.
In every job there are things that people don’t really wish to do. Some can be delegated but others need to done. This is one of them.
So really, I’d simply encourage you to read two books.
First, Do More Better by Tim Challies, outlines briefly how to approach a working system that is adaptable to your needs and scaleable to your work and life context.