Who pastors the Pastor?

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll notice that I commonly post up stuff about ministry amidst all the other stuff about life, family, and the other interesting things I find online.

The reaction to one article I posted recently has taken me by surprise. It’s been liked over 100 times, uncommon in of itself, but more surprisingly almost three quarters of those likes have been from non-friends. Further the article has been reshared 37 times – and again, mostly from people I don’t know. What is it about this article which has hit such a raw nerve in people?

In brief, the article summarises the sad resignation of Pastor Pete Wilson, who stepped down as senior pastor from Cross Point Church back in September, 2016. The reasons for his stepping down, as indicated in the article, were because, ‘I’m tired. I’m broken.’ The article goes on to detail the sadness of this admission and reluctant stepping down, and the many ways in which pastoral ministry is a real struggle for those involved in it. Some of they key ones mentioned include criticism of sermons, sermons delivered during spiritual emptiness, scrutiny over pay, close relationships ended through innocuous decisions, loneliness, and temptations. It’s a long read, but worth your time and effort – if only to encounter the very real circumstances many pastors minister under.

In a number of ways the struggles listed in that article echo my own struggles that I have previously posted about. I’m glad that my experience has contained many joys in ministry as well, and so far the joys have outnumbered the negatives. Still, this is not always the case for many pastors. Even late last year I experienced a short season of discouragement, which all came to head one afternoon as I studied 1 Peter 5 with my beloved youth fellowship and realised that the instruction to elders to shepherd willingly and eagerly (ie cheerfully, with joy) was something I had been struggling to do for a while. It was hard to lead a study on that knowing I had been empty of it for some time, and I am thankful for the friends who ministered to me and prayed for me during this season. Eventually I was pulled through.

This brings me to an important discussion paper I read a few years ago, and have run training sessions on before. ‘Who Pastors the Pastor?‘ by Philip Jensen and Tony Payne. Again, it’s a long article worth reading. But here are some highlights:

On whether it is right to depend on other pastors to encourage your pastor:

  • Depending on other pastors to encourage your pastor creates an elite class that is inconsistent with Scripture. Of course, it is natural that people who have trained for the ministry together, or who have been associated in some way in the past, should turn to each other for advice and encouragement. But for a congregation to unload the spiritual care of their pastor onto his fellow professionals is extremely unwise. It places him in a different class, as if something more substantial than the application of the Word of God to his life is required. If the pastor does not confess his sins to, and receive encouragement from, his ‘laymen’, an unbiblical hierarchy is created.

On who in the end should pastor the pastor:

  • The congregation should pastor their pastor. This is not only in keeping with the emphasis of the New Testament, but is far more practical. The congregation is in the best position to care for their pastor. In the web of personal relationships between a pastor and the members of his congregation, there is ample opportunity for sharing spiritual things, for encouragement and for rebuke. The congregation will be aware of their pastor’s shortcomings and will be able to help him through them in a way that no outsider could.

On the obstacles to this sort of mutual encouragement:

The pastor:

  • …the pastor himself can prevent his own spiritual nurture. Too many pastors lock themselves away, spiritually speaking, by being unable or unwilling to receive the ministry of others.
  • Those who carry the Word of God to others can easily fall into the trap of always teaching it, but never listening to it.
  • Many pastors find it impossible to receive the ministry of others because of their own insecurities… The pastor may feel that if he reveals too much of himself, he may be seen as a weak leader, and lose control. As a result, he holds it all in and discourages others from taking the initiative.
  • Pastors are encouraged along this path by the whinging and criticism that they so often bear. Everybody knows how to run the church, and the constant griping tends to drive the pastor back into his shell. He protects himself by refraining from any kind of interaction at this level.
  • Another problem for the pastor is the sheer number of people who might minister to him. He is known by all, and his foibles and shortcomings are seen by all, and members usually feel they have the right to comment on them – mostly to each other, but sometimes to the pastor himself.
  • [When] a pastor accepts the mantle of [many impossible and often unspoken] expectations [in their ministry] and fails to meet them (as he inevitably will) he begins to hide. His guilt becomes a barrier between him and his congregation. He will not open up to them… for fear that they will see his ‘double life’.

The congregation:

  • [Members of the congregation can often be reluctant to approach their pastor – sometimes out of an appropriate reverence for those who have been placed over us in the Lord, however…] …it is more usually the result  of an inappropriate elevation of the pastor onto some super-spiritual pedestal. Many congregations regard their pastor as a breed apart, rather than as a fellow heir of the kingdom, who is as much in need of care and spiritual nurture as all of us.
  • But perhaps the chief reason for congregations failing to pastor their pastors is that they don’t know how. Even if the congregation is willing and the pastor is open, it is still hard to work out how to do it effectively.

At this point I’d love to copy and paste the five suggestions outlined by Jensen and Payne, but I won’t as I think it’ll breach copyright – and I would like to encourage everyone who loves and cares for their pastor to click through and read it for yourself.

So let us know in the comments below – if you’re a minister, what has been some of the most encouraging things your congregation has done for you to spur you on in ministry? If you’re a congregation member, what’s one thing you’d like to do for your Pastor to encourage them more?

Ignite Training Conference 2017 | Day 5 [Live Blog]

[Steven: the final day is here, I’m on my second coffee already, and as Ying Yee wouldn’t often encourage us: the week has been exhausting but exciting – exciting to have our hearts exposed and the cure administered by a most loving and faithful heart donor and High Priest; exciting to have great discussions about life and faith (and books!); exciting to see how much has been learnt by delegates (and strand leaders alike!); exciting to see a bunch of Gen-Y and Millennials apparently not get the memo that you don’t go to conferences like this, sing the songs we sing, and submit to an authority far greater than themselves – and love every minute of it; exciting to be a part of investing into the eternity of others; and exciting to be praying for Steve, Keiyeng and their family as they take the next step of their faith journey down to Canberra. The end of conferences like this are always bittersweet, but here we are – and we are exhausted… but excited :)]

Day 5 | Morning Talk | Richard Gibson – Cultivated (Colossians 3:1-17)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

The secret garden

Springsteen of Asbury Park

The song by Bruce Springsteen ‘The Secret Garden’ – a song of the idolatry of sexual liason of our age, but also a song about the frustration one feels because while Springsteen can access her in some intimate ways he’s frustrated about her ‘secret garden’ that he can never get access to.

In some ways this is what we’ve been talking about this week. God created human beings with a depth and hiddenness and an internal reality that is so complex and rich, that one of the great joys of a creatureliness is that we can’t conquer, own, and know perfectly another person. People are endlessly fascinating – because of the complexity and richness of their hearts.

 

Clement of Alexandria / Weeding and feeding

Long before Springsteen used the image of a garden for our internal world – for our mind and soul. The interest of the philosopher was for us to tend to this garden. The challenge for Clement was to keep the garden cultivated, tended, and looked after – to make it a beautiful garden. To plant lovely beautiful plans that honour God, and tearing out the weeds that dishonour God.

But for any gardener you’ll notice that weeding never stops. There’s always work to be done in terms of weeding, and constant feeding to do – constant watering, especially in the heat and dryness of Brisbane.

The cultivating of our hearts involves a lot of weeding and feeding. Weeding = repentance. Getting rid of those things that take root in the secret places in our life – the sins, fantasies that we might be feeding and watering… but to get rid of them. Conversely we have to feed our faith in God, trusting it, storing it up in our hearts, not getting stuck on it and never putting it into practice. This is what we look forward to as Christian people for the rest of our lives. Even some of the most godly older people are more and more aware of the noxious things in our heart – and that is kinda how Christian living is.

 

Jesus on storing up treasure (Matt 6:19-21)

The image Jesus uses here is a matter of investment – where we see true value is where we will invest in life.

Living to impress people (6:1-2, 5, 7-8, 16)

One of the ways in which we lay up treasures of ourselves on earth rather than up in heaven is living to impress people, to establish a status in life. It is in the moment that we are living to look religious that we can be ensnared by the total misdirection of our faulty investment.

6:1-2 – If you’re living to look righteous infront of people we need to be very careful – because we cannot expect to live to look good before others and be rewarded by God at the same time.

We live to be seen in our works and in our prayers.

While we may not intentionally seek praises – but we can get into the habit of praying in public, and rarely in private.

v7 – hypocrites love to draw attention to themselves by heaping up lots of words

v16 – and they can do it via public fasting

The problem: the constant temptation to turn our hearts away from God and turn towards seeking the praise of others. This is a constant temptation especially for those in full-time paid ministry: to focus on the externals and neglect the internals.

My worst lies have come from keeping up appearances in the Christian community. The worst lie is often, ‘I will pray for you’ – because I want to appear spiritual, I want to appear like the carer… and a week later I haven’t prayed… and never intended to pray. They were just a form of words that were intended to make myself look good.

How does one change from this habit? Turn from the audience of man towards the larger audience of One.

 

Pleasing the Father who sees in secret (6:3-4, 6, 9-15, 17-18)

Note how much the idea of secrecy is in these verses.

Secrecy safeguards sincerity. Recognition that God knows the deepest recesses of our heart means that we are prepared to practice our piety for his witness alone – because you are so convinced that God sees everything.

 

 

Serving wealth (6:24-34)

When Jesus started talking about treasure here is where he ends up – you cannot serve both money and God. You can’t navigate through life and make life decisions based on living for money and security vs God. Eventually you’ll collapse into the sin of materialism, living for physical comfort.

From v25ff we are reminded not to worry because our Heavenly Father knows what we need. The One who provided the heart transplant that we needed, the One who rewards what is done in secret, is the same One who knows our deepest needs and looks after us. Jesus goes about watering our faith in this One.

The illustrations of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are an affectionate, gentle, and kind reminder of our loving brother. He’s gently tearing at the weeds of our hearts.

Our great fear about repentance is that we will be driven away or rejected because we will not match up to the standards God sets… and yet Jesus offers to come to him and find rest. We constantly forget the forgiveness and grace that is on offer – and this is why we meet and gather together constantly… to remind each other of the forgiveness and grace that is on offer!

 

Seeking first the kingdom (6:33)

The Father knows what you need more than anything else, and through Jesus we are told to set our hearts on his Kingdom and righteousness.

 

Jesus: the true treasure (Col 3:1-17)

Where your treasure is (3:1-4)

By our union to Christ by faith our whole lives are now reoriented. Our lives are now hidden with Christ. And that day when he appears in glory we will also appear in glory with him. A relationship with Jesus is to be a our true treasure.

 

Weeding: putting idols to death (3:5-11)

V5-10 is a whole range of weeds. You cannot show these things mercy, and you cannot coddle them – they will over run your garden if you don’t take action. The action we need to take: recognise that they are noxious and poisonous and repent of them.

  • focusing on sexual immorality for a moment – the world’s lie and temptation is to find heart satisfaction in sexual passion – and you need to find the right person in the right circumstances and you’ll find satisfaction. And we so ache for this satisfaction we’ll chase for it on the computer screen… but there’s no treasure there.

v8 – Anger and malice – we can habour it and nuture our ‘righteous’ anger like our prized plant as best in show. When we are wronged we slander in order to feed and nurture the weed of anger.

Tear these weeds up and start feeding the flowers that ought to be there in our garden. The flowers found everywhere in Jesus’ life and ministry.

 

Feeding: putting on Christ (3:12-14)

Compassion and love – think of Jesus’ constantly meeting and healing the lepers. Humilty, the grace to put aside what’s best for me, to lay aside my status for the good of others (as Jesus did in Phil 2). Gentleness – the quality of not being overly impressed by ones own self-importance.

And all the other qualities are the qualities we need to be feeding.

V15-16 shows us how we feed it – we let his peace rule in our lives, go back to the cross and make it central, we never move on from the place where our forgiveness and transformation is found, and you make God’s Word absolutely central to your life. You listen, you read, you hear it explained, take it into your heart and put it into practice. At every opportunity we need to take God’s Word permeating through our lives together.

v17 – we honour his name – so that in all our activity we are honouring and actively treasuring Jesus as Lord. Constantly seeking to bring every word and deed, closing the gap between lips and heart, so that we honour Jesus with every fibre of our being.

 

Treasuring Jesus (Col 3:15-17)

[Steven: running out of time here – so Gibbo has to skip this point]

His peace (John 14:1, 27)

His Word

His name

 

Never Alone

There can be a sense that in all this weeding and feeding we’re alone in the job. But we are not!

The theatre where God operates

  • Filling with joy (Acts 14:17)
  • Purifying (Acts 15:9)
  • Opening to respond (Acts 16:14)
  • Searching to hear (Rom 8:27)
  • Making light shine (2 Cor 4:6)
  • Putting concern (2 Cor 8:16)
  • Strengthening (1 Thess 3:13)
  • Encouraging (2 Thess 2:16-17)
  • Directing (2 Thess 3:5)

Fellowship from the heart

We are responsible for each other’s hearts. It’s a matter of basic brotherly Christian life to keep asking each other, ‘How are you going – how are your thoughts, feelings and motivations? Are you responding to Jesus the way you should?’ If this is not a characteristic of the culture of your church then we prayerfully need to build that up – and we start here, with basic relationships that we begin to open up and reveal the hidden secret places that we can remind each other to weed and feed properly.

  • Unity (Acts 2:46, 4:32)
  • Mutual responsibility (Heb 3:12, 1 Peter 1:22)
  • Ministry (Phil 1:6-7; 2 Cor 2:4, 6:11, 7:3)
  • Mission (Rom 9:1-5, 10:1)

Above all else, guard your heart

Know that you are known – by God in the deepest recesses of your being.

Be aware of the symptoms and consequences– of a hard and stone heart

Put your heart in his hands – into the hands of our Father who loves us and cares for us

Tear down your idols

Clothes yourself with Christ – cultivate the love of Christ in ourselves

Love one another deeply – to the glory of God.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7

[Steven: What a great final talk. It’s been an exposing week – the Word of God has stripped us naked, leaving us open to feeling the shame of it all… and yet the gospel has been clear, clothing us in Christ. Now clothed, secure, and loved, we can keep honestly opening up to each other. Let’s do it – for each other’s eternal joy rooted deeply in Jesus.]

Ignite Training Conference 2017 | Day 4 [Live Blog]

[Steven: Penultimate day is here! I’m feeling the exhaustion of the week creeping up, but am thoroughly encouraged from conversations and my strand group that I’ve led so far! Prayers for energy to sustain us all is appreciated!]

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7

The Great Exchange

Barnard in Capetown, 50 years ago

50 years ago the world learnt that it was able to transplant the heart of one person into another person and live on. You could give someone a new shot at life when their heart at reached the end stage of functioning.

The race to be first

The Americans and Russians were rushing to be the first on the moon. But there was also an American doctor for years working on heart transplants – who had transplanted 100’s of dog hearts with other hearts. He was ready to trial it on a human. But it was a South African who beat him to the line.

Certain death

Of course one of the tricky things about doing a heart transplant is having someone on the brink of death ready and able.

Suitable donor

And then you’ve also got to have a donor – and a suitable one of course!

Compatible – the right blood type, and the right tissue type (the right antigens that wouldn’t have the body reject the heart)

Healthy – it also had to be healthy, from someone relatively young who hadn’t done much damage to their heart and who didn’t die because of damage to their heart.

Dead – they also had to wait for someone to be brain dead.

A new life

The operation was a success… sort of. It lasted for 19 days, but was a success in the medical world.

And yet, 2600 years before this successful operation, the prophet Ezekiel also spoke of a heart transplant.

Ezekiel in Babylon, 2600 years ago (Ezekiel 36:22-30)

For the sake of his name

The deportation to Babylon was a judgement on the rebellion of God’s people. He had warned her and warned her and warned her. And when she would continue to not listen he ran out of patience.

God then promises in Ezekiel 36 to intervene – but not just for their sake. When God chose the nation of Israel his name became attached with him. When the nation rebelled against him they not only dragged down their reputation in front of the other nations but also dragged down the name of God.

But in intervening God would lift up his name again.

So the nations will know

And he would act in a way so that the other nations would see as well (end of v23).

Cleansed from impurity and idols/Heart transplant

God would reach into the chests of his people and take out that stony hardened hearts, and replace it with a heart of flesh, beating, tender, ready to respond to God and his Word. And also cleansing his people from their impurity and idolatry.

My people, your God

The final promise in v28 is also astonishing – he will intervene so dramatically in Israel’s history and address the most fundamental problem: what’s going on in our hearts – the corruption, the darkness, the contamination. He will perform the most remarkable act of surgery – a heart transplant 2600 years before the first medical one was attempted.

The idea of a heart transplant is completely foreign to history – only until the 20th century did someone actually think you could do it. And yet, 2600 years before Ezekiel gave this radical picture of this graphic, drastic and out of the ordinary act needed to really change God’s people.

We’re just waiting for a donor – waiting for someone with a compatible heart. Someone who will have to die in the process in order to perform that heart transplant for us.

The New Covenant

Jeremiah in Anathoth, 2600 years ago (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The parallel to Ezekiel is apparent. God will do something internal in order to transform the whole person. God will write His Laws onto the hearts of his people – which means that His people will well up with the desire to obey and listen to God. No longer will God carve the Law into stone tablets, he will carve it into the hearts of his people. Instead of the language of judgement and wrath we now have the language of forgiveness of sins, and remembering them no more. No longer will sin define His people.

Anon in Rome, 2000 years ago (Hebrews 8:7-13)

The writer to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah verbatim – one of the longest quotes of the OT in the NT.

The whole point: in chapters 8-10 of Hebrews the author explains how Jesus fulfills that new covenant, how Jesus makes that heart transplant happen.

Jesus in Jerusalem (Hebrews 10:1-25)

The inadequacy of the old

V1-4 – points out the inadequacy of the OT sacrifices. They were meant to be a shadow of a better reality to come. The sacrificial system was set up to teach how sins are washed away and forgiven, but they were always a provisional and temporary arrangement. Going to the temple and making your sacrifices year in and year out was a regular reminder that God could forgive their sins – but it was also a reminder that the sacrifices didn’t really fully deal with the problem of sin… because you would be back again soon enough to offer another sacrifice.

Into the world, to do his will

v8-9 – another sacrifice comes into the world ready and willing to do His will – willing to do everything that God desires. Jesus has come to be that person.

One sacrifice for sins

v11-12 – Jesus comes to offer the final and perfect sacrifice – A once and for all sacrifice, to cleanse and purify His people once and for all so that we could live as his people for all eternity.

v13-14 – and because Jesus has become the perfect sacrifice, he also becomes the judge of all. Jesus, is the one appointed to judge all – and yet also is the one who offers the sacrifice to make perfect those who are being sanctified.

What does it mean to be made perfect those who are being sanctified? v16 – God will write the law on the hearts, and v17 their sins and lawlessness he will remember no more. V18 – And where there is forgiveness of sins there is no longer anymore need for sacrifices.

We are made perfect, we have been washed clean, we have been forgiven. And having established our relationship with God, Jesus then goes on to a renovation project in our lives. Jesus has secured our standing and acceptability before God before that transformation process. We don’t relate to God, we don’t strive for holiness, out of insecurity that God will judge us – but out of boldness that Jesus has fully and finally cleansed us from our sin.

Boldness to enter with a true heart

And so, we are urged to enter God’s presence boldly – not flippantly, but with humble and full knowledge that Jesus allows us.

v19-22 – we approach God now with a sincere heart – no longer is their a chasm between our lips and our hearts. We come with full assurance – because Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s prophecies have been fulfilled.

Hearts cleansed of an evil conscience / Promoting love and good works / Encouraging each other

All this now leads to rearranged priorities. We now live for God and for the people around us. We spur one another on to love and good works. We meet regularly together to encourage each other. There is therefore a responsibility we all have for each other’s hearts (expanded more tomorrow).

 

The Righteousness That Comes By Faith (Romans 10:1-13)

From God vs their own

Paul’s heart and prayer is that people would be saved – especially his own people. But they made mistakes. Paul doesn’t question their zeal or seriousness – but as they sought to establish their righteousness they ignored God’s Word and followed their own.

From the law vs from faith

And in following their own rules and laws they didn’t yield wholeheartedly to God. And they ended up rejecting the one whom the whole Law pointed to and was finished in: Jesus. They tried to come to God via the Law, but God said the only way to come to me is on the basis of faith. Faith alone, because of the mess we have made in our lives – to throw ourselves on his mercy and beg for forgiveness and mercy.

For Moses writes (Deut 30:6, 12-14)

Rom 10:5-8 – coming to faith is as simple as hearing the message of the gospel and responding with belief.

Moses said in Deut 30:6 that God would circumcise their hearts in order to love him. That promise is fulfilled as people come in faith through Jesus.

Deut 30:12-14 – Moses commands his people to choose life – and Paul says in Rom 10:9-10 that choosing life means confessing Jesus is Lord, and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead. And in that act of confessing and believing a heart transplant occurs.

The message of faith / Heart and mouth united / For everyone who calls

Rom 10:13 – everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. Everyone is able to come – no matter where you’re from or what you’ve done.

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

[Steven: what a beautiful analogy – in order for us to live we need a heart transplant, and in order for that to happen we need the perfect donor and he needs to die in order for that to happen. Jesus… you’re beautiful.]

Day 4 | Evening Talk | Steve Nation – What rules you? (James 4:1-10)

Who is your enemy?

The enemy within

“Them’s fighting words” – James 4:

    • What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? (4:1)
    • Your passions are at war within you (4:1)
    • So you murder (4:2)
    • You fight and quarrel (4:2)
    • Enmity (hostility or antagonism) with God (4:4)
    • Makes himself an enemy of God (4:4)
    • Resist the devil and he will flee from you (4:7)

These words, after James 3, should be profoundly disturbing. In James 3:18 James said that a harvest of righteousness is sewn from those who seek peace… and here we have war language?

Context: a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:18). What’s gone wrong? How do followers of the Prince of Peace bring strife and war, and become enemies of God?

This is not a new topic, this is a shift in focus. How do followers of the Prince of Peace bring strife and war?

When you consider church splits, how can people who have the Spirit of peace act in the ways that have split and destroyed churches and people?

The war within (4:1-3)

If you’re living in the real world the conflict is inevitable. A broken relationship in the home. With work friends. Or church members. And at the end we often ask ‘Why? How and why does this happen? Where does this brokenness come from?’ But even further – why do I need to lock my car, and house, why do I need to carry all my belongings with me?

James says the root of the problem is the passions within us at war with each other.

Stage 1: Desire (“I want”).

We crave. Inside of us is where we find our deepest desires and dreams and passions – and it’s imperative that we express them. How to live is up to me – what I want and desire. If I say it’s my passion you have to accept that. It’s wrong to not do what I want – it’s wrong also for me to get in the way of what you want.

When our desires clash with another’s desire then all that can happen is the strongest will win. Whoever has the better lobby group, whoever has the better cultural influence (media, universities, etc) will win.

Stage 2: Demand (“I must”).

The desire becomes a demand – we close our fists over something to grab it for ourselves. Not only must you support my desire but you must also enable my desire.

Stage 3: Need (“I will”).   

We view something as something ‘we need’ in life.

Stage 4: Expectation (“You should”). 

If I’m convinced I need something and you say you love me then I’m convinced you should do that thing for me.

Stage 5: Disappointment (“You didn’t!”). 

As we move from fights and quarrels we end up in disappointment. Because we think you should give me something and then when you don’t there is disappointment.

Stage 6: Punishment (“Because you didn’t, I will. . .”).

We are hurt and angry because those who say they love us, or should love us, disappoint us and then we punish them.

  • God’s concern is more with the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrel than the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints. How do you fight?

What God is concerned about is what is in our hearts rather than what we are talking about.

Most church splits are based on a distinct lack of respect, honour, and openness and a willingness to interact not with just the words by why people are acting the way they do.

Selfish prayers. You can tell a lot about a person by what they pray for.

We can treat God like a Pinata in the sky – if we ask/whack him enough then we’ll get what we want. Where is their mind and heart, motivation, and focus.

Friends of the world, enemies of God (4:4:-6)

The central paragraph of the letter of James. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity against God?” (James 4:4)      

What a change in language in the letter! Christians are married to God – united as one, in the intimacy as of a marriage. A little bit worldly? There is no such thing – you’re either in or out.

Genesis 3 is where we see Adam and Eve seek to live without God. And the world has been seeking to live this way ever since. Our friendship with the world can be expressed in so many ways – we go to church and bible study, and then off to the financial planner to hold on to all our money, and to all other sorts of acceptable and respectable idols.

God gets emotional: Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (v.5)

Jesus is a godly jealous lover of his people. We should be satisfied in Him, who has given us everything, and to turn away from that is dishonouring. The jealousy of his love is a beautiful picture.

What hope do we have? But he gives more grace (v.6) – not referring to saving grace but empowering grace.

Verse 6 here is simply amazing given the tone of what happens before. He gives more and more grace. He opposes the proud, those who set themselves against God, but to the certain people he gives more grace.

God gives grace, but only to certain kinds of people (v.6).     

He gives grace to the humble. Those who will submit – to be open to change.

How do we become humble? Repent! (4:7-10). How?   

  1. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (v.7). Resist means taking a proactive stand.
    We resist the devil, and whatever power he has we know we have been given the power of the Spirit who is stronger than the devil.
  2. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (v8). Again, this is a deliberate, proactive action.

What do we do?

  • Hate our sin (v.9)
  • Humble ourselves before God (v.10)

Testing our worldliness

#1: Take some time out this week to write out your weekly schedule. Write down every activity, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you. Where are you investing your time?

#2: On another sheet of paper, write out your budget. Now, look at your check register, credit card and bank statements, cash flow. Where are you investing your money?

Time and money are two big markers that Jesus has given us. This two part test exposes in part where our heart is. When Jesus says ‘where your treasure is there your heart is also’ he’s saying your heart will follow your treasure. If you stop and read the scriptures and dwell on Jesus’ magnificence, he will be your treasure. But if you put your time into money and don’t study Jesus and no effort in understanding him, then your treasure is not Jesus and you’ve become a friend of the world.

If you find something

  • Identify it – we are so good at confessing in vague generalities – we need to confess in detail
  • Again, hate it – do you see where your lusts for comfort or pleasure or reputation or power or respect will lead you? Can you see the effects of your sin?
  • Bring it into the light – ‘I see it, I do not like it’, and can you share it with a trusted friend?
  • Confess it and receive 1 John 1:9
  • Reject the lie that we can’t win over temptation – your temptation is not God, God is. James is not only trying to shock us in this passage. James wants us to know the damage of our sins and passions.
  • Fill that hole with something else – Jesus and His grace.  

If you want to trash your life then simply follow your heart.

James isn’t just trying to shock us: he wants us to find the reality of God’s forgiveness. He is reminding us that God stands ready to cleanse the impure, to forgive the sinner, to lift up the humble.

^Can you imagine our church likes this? Who take sin seriously, who love what he loves and hate what he hates. God willing the church will grow into this, the world will see it and will know that we are His by our love for each other.

[Steven: the final evening talk finishes with a bang – James has cut deep and hard this week with his straight talking words.]

Ignite Training Conference 2017 | Day 3 [Live BLog]

[Steven: Middle of the conference – hump day! Please pray for the delegates and their energy levels, and for the speakers to keep preaching it up!]

Day 3 | Morning Talk | Richard Gibson – Christ’s Heart (Luke 4:1-21)

I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

The leaders we deserve

There’s a saying, particularly at election time, that the people get the leaders they deserve. Especially in a democracy. And now that we’re days away from the inauguration of Trump in the USA it’s a pretty profound saying. In our post-modern world he’s almost perfect. He says things primarily for effect, not necessarily for its truth.

Two big news items in Australian politics. First is that the Australian government is cracking down on welfare cheats – but the issue has been that some debt collection letters have been incorrectly given to some people. We also know that there are people who do rip off the system and it’s a problem that does need to be tackled. Second, the rorting of travel entitlements by government ministers is also in the news.

The bible says that the problem of picking bad leaders is because we can’t see their hearts. We have a level of trust with our government leaders, our pastors, and even our bible colleges. Our culture is geared in so many ways to making superficial judgements. If only we could look upon their hearts it would be easier to identify people we could entrust our churches and colleges to.

But in the bible we find a heart revealed to us – the heart of God. God is not condemned to the practice of judgement the way that we are – he can identify leaders on their hearts, whose synchronization of lips and heart qualify them for leadership. God, in his mercy and kindness, has provided people with darkened sinful and corrupt hearts a leader they need, not just one they deserve. A leader who can capture our hearts for God, who can captivate our imagination, who can present us with such treasure, such glory, that he can eclipse the idols of our hearts. He repossess our heart for God by the quality of his own devotion and obedience to God, and his willingness to lay down his life for us.

The heart of God

The bible uses the language of God’s heart in the way that is analogous to the way it speaks of our heart – as a way of speaking about getting into the inner life, thoughts and emotions of His inner being. And because the Bible reveals these things to us we can know God more intimately, to know what really matters to him and what he wants from us.

  • Grieved (Gen 6:5-6) – God shares his grief at how humanity is treating each other and Him. When we enter the mess of this world and are grieved we can know that God shares this grief.
  • Setting his heart (Job 7:17, Deut 10:15) – Deut 10:14, God owns everything and yet out of all the nations of the world he set his heart and affection on Israel’s ancestors and loved them, and chose their descendants over and above all the other nations.
  • According to his heart (2 Sam 7:21, 1 Chron 17:19) – Extraordinary promises to King David. David planned to build a temple to God, but God said no (your son will do it), instead I (God) will build a dynasty for David. David responds by acknowledging the greatness of God. God has bared his heart to David, let David into his plans to bless the whole world and bring salvation through one of David’s descendants.
  • Vengeance (Isaiah 63:4, Jer 23:20) – The intention of God’s heart is justice – to not allow people to get away with rebellion and sin. God in his heart nurtures his plan to bring people to judgement and to expose justice. And yet…
  • Compassion (Hosea 11:8, Jer 31:20) – …there is something else going on in God’s heart. The Prophets present this as a tension, somewhat of a conflict, in God’s heart. He wants to bring justice, but also wants to shower compassion. He knows what the people deserve, but even as he plans his judgement compassion and tenderness wells up inside of him. This tension between justice and compassion is resolved at the cross of Jesus!
  • Wholehearted commitment (Jer 32:40-41) – the verses that wrap up all things – for even people whose hearts are corrupt, unclean, dark and sinful – in Jer 32 God makes a new covenant, and places a new heart in his people – and his promise is made with all his heart and soul. Hear how the Creator speaks here. The whole hearted response that God wants from us is a response to HIS wholehearted commitment to us. (Steven: just… wow…) And God will not stop until he’s able to achieve this.

What we’re looking for is now someone who can carry this off. Someone who can bring about all that God’s heart desires.

 

Someone after God’s own heart

A faithful priest (1 Sam 2:35)

The person are we looking for – looks like Samuel. But here we find out that it’s not Samuel at all – Samuel’s task will be to minister before the anointed one.

A ruler (1 Sam 13:13-14, 16:1-13; Acts 13:22)

1 Sam 13:13-14 – Samuel’s blast against Saul and his unfaithfulness. God has selected ‘a man after ones own heart’ – which is often understood to mean a special man whose heart is for God. But… given the way that David behaves later in his life it’s hard to argue that David’s heart was always after God’s own. The phrase itself more likely refers to God choosing the man that God’s own heart has chosen.

  • The Lord’s Anointed
  • From Bethlehem
  • The Eliab principle – the principle that most people use, which has gotten us in a lot of trouble appointing Christian leaders. Eliab looks externally very impressive. Samuel thinks immediately, ‘This must be the guy…’ And it’s not just Samuel’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem – we are always focused on the outside, on the externals.
  • The LORD sees the heart – 16:7 – God operates on a different principle – God looks at the heart. God’s choice isn’t even in the lineup before Samuel. Jesse’s family is mostly lined up, but the youngest and ruddiest little boy is out in the field. So Samuel calls him in and anoints him as King for David is God’s choice.
  • The Shepherd
  • Controlled by the Spirit
  • Greatness from God’s heart (2 Sam 7:18-21)

David’s Son, Solomon

  • Heir to the house (1 Kings 8:17-19) – there are high hopes for Solomon. He’s the heir of the dynasty, and he built the temple. At the dedication of the Temple Solomon repeats the need for a wholehearted response to God.
  • Wise to the issue (1 Kings 8:23, 46-48, 58, 61)
  • Where Yahweh’s heart is (9:3) – In response God says that the Temple is precious to him above all that has been made – his eyes and his heart remain there… conditionally: as long as Solomon walks upright before Him God will always be with him.
  • No David (9:4-5, 11:1-4) – but Solomon is no David. There is a mighty gulf between his lips and his heart. We see this in 1 Kings 11 with his numerous wives.

David’s Greater Son, Jesus (Luke 4:1-21)

  • From Bethlehem (Luke 2:4) – not just a geographic coincidence.
  • After his heart (Luke 3:22)
  • Son of David (Luke 3:31)
  • Full of the Spirit
  • Tested in the desert – Jesus is thrust into the desert for 40 days, a parallel to the way Israel was sent off into the desert for 40 years. There in the desert Satan tempted Israel and they failed. And so with Jesus he seeks to do the same – and he’s looking for some crack to drive a wedge between Jesus’ lips and his heart.
  • Faithful where Israel failed
    • Trusting God’s Word – the first test from Satan in Jesus’ hunger is to turn the stones into bread. Jesus deflects Satan’s attempt and quotes God’s Word about living by God’s Word alone.
    • Serving God alone – Satan’s next test is to offer him the whole world if he would bow down to him… Jesus responds by quoting scripture about worshipping God alone.
    • Refusing to test God – the final temptation from Satan is to test God’s faithfulness – Satan quotes scripture to Jesus about the protection of the anointed, but Jesus responds by also quoting scripture about not testing God.
  • The LORD’s anointed

In this temptation we find a leader willing to live for the sake of God and other people – someone who will always live for His Father’s will. Jesus is the one who can recapture our hearts.

He who dwells in our hearts

Jesus is the one who can dwell in our hearts, he is the one who gets our hearts pumping as they should. Cleans out the contamination and washes out the filth and guilt.

By his Sprit (Rom 5:5, 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:18)

  • Hope
  • Adoption
  • Co-heirs

Ruled by his peace (Col 3:15; Phil 4:7)

Sanctified as LORD (1 Peter 3:15)

Peter says we are to sanctify Jesus as holy – quoting Isaiah 8:13 where Yahweh is the one we are meant to honour as holy. God himself, in the person of Jesus, clothed in compassion and mercy and kindness, comes to give us rest from our chaotic, destructive and deceiving hearts. God comes in flesh to reclaim our hearts, so that we can give him the devotion that he longs for from his people.

…strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Ephesians 3:16-17

 

[Steven: the heart of the Lord is demonstrated in his wholehearted commitment to transform our rebellious hearts so that we can delight in and be in awe of his glorious heart forever. Just… wow…]

Day 3 | Afternoon Workshop | Grace Lung – Help and Hope for Handling Conflict in God’s Way

Biblical wisdom for handling conflict differently…

This seminar brought to you by PeaceWise! Who is PeaceWise? Vision: to provide practical help and real hope to a conflict-weary world. We help people: learn life-changing biblical peacemaking principles; and build cultures of peace.

What do I most struggle with?

You might think about a current situation, or pattern in your life where we struggle with conflict. Each of us have it to some extent.

How do people usually deal with conflict?

  • lashout
  • stew
  • silent treatment
  • avoid/ignore it
  • complain about it to others
  • passive aggressively

What is different about the way Christians approach conflict?

  • At the end of the day we’re family – and will spend eternity together – so resolution must happen (either now or in the future)
  • God is the motivation for resolution
  • In conflict with Christians we can draw on other Christians to help mediate the issue
  • As Christians we recognise that conflict is rooted in our sinfulness, and we need the gospel to help us resolve
  • As Christians our resolution seeks to build each other up, rather than just resolve an issue

Big point of the workshop:

  • we all deal with conflict, it’s a basic part of living with others
  • but we’re also not very good at it
  • and the Bible has the help we need

See conflict as an opportunity!

In 1 Cor 10:31-11:1 – do everything to the glory of God, try to please everybody in every way, follow the example of Christ.

A radically different way to see conflict: conflict is an opportunity to…

  • Glorify God
  • Serving others (not in the sense of being a people pleasure, but having a servant heart to bless the other person even within a conflict)
  • Imitating Christ

This sees conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow more like Jesus.

So what’s different for Christians? First – how we think about conflict (as an opportunity); and secondly how we act in relation to conflict (the wisdom in the bible is our framework to respond).

Here’s a simple four part biblical framework to respond to conflict…

God: Glorify God (1 Cor 10:31)

Rather than seeing conflict as a complete disaster, we can use conflict as a chance to focus upon God and asking how can we please and honour God in this situation?

Me: Get the log out of your own eye (Matt 7:5)

How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to this conflict? Rather than blaming the other person alone, we ask ourselves whether we’re willing to see what our contribution to the issue is. Often most people have made a contribution to the conflict.

What’s often our knee-jerk response to conflict?

You: Gently restore (Gal 6:1)

How can I lovingly serve others by helping them take responsibility for their contribution to this conflict?

Consider this question: if you did have a speck in your eye, what sort of person would you like to help you remove that speck?

  • you wouldn’t want someone with a log in their eye – someone coming up to you and pointing out the speck with that sense of hypocrisy over themto
  • it would be good to have a third person who is more neutral to the matter to help
  • a humble and gentle person

Us: Go and be reconciled (Matt 5:24)

How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage a reasonable solution to their conflict?

 

Responses on the slippery slope of conflict:

  • Fight: peace-breaking!
  • Flight: peace-faking! Often based on fears in our heart.
  • Peacemaking: peace-making (a first response is ‘can this be overlooked?’ Prov 19:11) – the response where we choose to involve God.

Peace breaking/faking make conflict worse by inflaming it or not dealing with it at all.

Ways to lean and grow from here:

  • Get further training – you can ask PeaceWise to come to your church and run a training event (highly recommended)
  • Get free online resources – there are a lot of free resources on their website.
  • Come to a hub – there are small ‘hubs’ that PeaceWise runs in local areas to help people work through practical examples of conflicts and what can be done

[Steven: a very practical little session, with simple tools on how to resolve conflicts. And yet as simple as the tools are, they require gospel-centred hearts that seek to glorify God and seek the best for others – and that’s hard prayerful work!]

Day 3 | Evening Talk | Steve Nation – Our words say a lot – about us! (James 3:1-17)

The power and devastation of the tongue

Remember that Mel Gibson incident when he was pulled over by a Police Officer for drunk driving? What he said about Jews was deplorable. An Oscar winner, a hero to man, a respected man in Australia and America… and because of this people vowed to never work with him again. Only now, 10 years later, is his reputation beginning to come back. 15 words said early in the morning while drunk radically changed his life.

 

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what they say they are a perfect person able to keep their whole body in check (James 3:2). What hope do we have? To know our hope we really have to nail our problem  

Most of us can say we’re not going to stumble in corporate fraud or into violence – but we are likely to stumble in our words. When our words come out we cannot take them back. We struggle in saying the right things, we struggle in saying the wrong things… so what hope do we have?

Well, our hope is that we have been saved from our sins, we have the Spirit indwelling us, we can call God our Father, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence for help in our time of need, we have church to encourage us daily so that sin will not harden our hearts. And so fuelled by these things we are to speak wisely. But in order to speak well we must understand the root of our condition of failure with our speech.

 

Problem #1: our tongue (3:3-12)

The first thing James tells us is the incredible power of the tongue (vv.3-6)

  • Horses: powerful but controlled by a little ‘bit’ (v.3)

The ‘bit’ is the little piece of metal in their mouths that rider uses to direct the direction of the horse.

  • Ships: massive, powerful but controlled by a little ‘rudder’ (v.4)

How in the world do these big ships still float? yet they are directed by a relatively small piece of metal…

  • The tongue (vv.5-6)

The tongue is relatively small in the body – but what a muscle to control us.

  • Small things control big things

A fire that rises 10m high in a bush fire can be started by a cigarette thrown out the car window. By comparing the tongue to fire we are focused on the destructive consequences of the tongue. Our speech is not just ‘words’. So many flames that we experience in life are started by a loose tongue.

 

The warning (v.6).

There is no member of the body that can wreak as much havoc as that little muscle in our mouths.

Words that destroy:

    • Gossip – we try to sanctify it with ‘prayer’ but can use this as a cover for gossip
    • Negative innuendo – little words that cast a little, but negative light
    • Flattery – gossip is stuff you wouldn’t say before a person, flattery is what you would never say behind their back
    • Fault-finding – picking on little things, especially how our Asian parents communicate to us – will we be people of grace and truth speakign the truth in love or will we be fault-finders?
    • Diminishment
    • Angry words, sharp words, impatient words, careless words…

The tongue is extremely difficult (almost impossible) to keep under control (vv.7-8)

All sorts of animals have been tamed by humans, but no human can tame the tongue.

 

Double talk (vv.9-12).

With the same mouth we praise the Lord then tear down another Christian. The spring of water illustration is also apt – two types of water cannot flow from the same spring.

  • How we speak to others is a test of our Christian life.

Resentment and bitterness that we speak of others is truly Hellish – for that is where they spew forth from. A person who is not right with God, walking daily with Jesus, cannot consistently speak pure and helpful words.

Destructive words come out of a compromised heart

Problem #2: our heart (vv.13-16)

The “humility of wisdom” – the foundation of all that is beautiful that can come out of a person’s life (3:14, 4:6, 1:21).

How do we assess wise people? We often think about theology as the first. But it’s about how they live first – someone living with Jesus first, being shaped by his truths, is the wise person. It’s not so much how much we know but what you do with what you know. At the heart of wisdom is humility.

Humility is not something prized by our world. We are taught to talk up our lives and work hard to earn prestige. We are not taught to think of ourselves less.

Our problem = bitter jealousy and selfish ambition

  1. “Bitter zeal” is desire going wrong in the heart (3:14, 16)
  2. “Selfish ambition” means we self-exalt (3:14, 16).
  • For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34)

If we don’t deal with God on a heart level then it will come out in other ways. Whatever is in you will come out. Our trials only bring out of us what is already there. We often ask what will help me prevent hellish words coming out of our mouths… but we don’t often ask what was in there in the first place to cause those words.

James sets up a two-sided worldview: Will you choose wisdom or folly? False wisdom is:

    • Earthly, unspiritual, demonic…
    • The end result: disorder and every vile practice
  • Our problem: a compromised heart     

Is there any hope for us???

The solution: wisdom from above (vv.17-18)

    • Pure
    • The peaceable
    • Gentle – gentleness treats others with utmost consideration
    • Open to reason – can you be approached and appealed to?
    • Full of mercy and good fruits
    • Impartial and sincere – impartial is the ability to be honest without condemning
    • Peace – real peace, not some shallow face response – in the East it’s about keeping a happy outward look, in the West it’s about keeping people happy no matter what – a peacemaker is someone who enters the mess, asks questions, is vulnerable

James asks us to reckon with what is wrong so that we can really grapple with the wrong in our lives in order to move towards what is right.

Implications

Our response: how do we get this wisdom? How do we tame the tongue? How do our hearts become uncompromised?     

  • Repentance: no self-righteousness – no self-justification of sin, no excuse making, stop with bearing all guilt (godly guilt vs ungodly guilt – godly guilt leads to the cross, ungodly guilt keeps it all on shoulders). We need to own our words and the enormity of the outcome of our words.

  • Faith – When we consider Jesus on the cross he was silent, he accepted our guilt upon his shoulders. We ask God to forgive us, and cauterize our lips. We thank Jesus that he bore the penalty for the misuse of our tongues.

  • Prayer: James 1:5
  • Silent Fast:

  • Goal – we are to be people who have been gripped by the gospel and sound like Jesus. The effect this will have in church, in our marriage, with our children and at work will rock the world. Jesus guarantees that peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

 

[Steven: Another big challenge to consider the weight of our words and how powerful they are. We prayerfully remember that our tongues must never be underestimated, and keep praying and asking God to transform our words.]

 

Ignite Training Conference 2017 | Day 2 [Live Blog]

[Steven: After a wonderful night of sleep, and now dosed up on caffeine, we’re ready to go!]

Day 2 | Morning Talk | Richard Gibson – Corrupted (Mark 7:1-23)

…their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21)

If we don’t understand the depth of the problem then we won’t apply the appropriate solution. Nothing short of radical surgery on our hearts will set us aright. There are very serious consequences of not treating our internal disease (of sin) properly.

Cardiovascular disease: the great killer

Heart disease is one of the great killers in Australia. Ever 26min someone dies from heart disease related illness.

Statistics

There are 1.2 million Australians affected by heart disease. But the stats don’t capture the horror of the problem.

Beyond Numbers

Gibbo shares a stories of family and friends who died of a heart attack.

Warning Signs

There are plenty of public health campaigns drawing attention to the risk factors – not to scare us, but to encourage us to change. To change from the lifestyles that will affect our lives negatively.

The bible has in mind an issue like heart disease – but something greater than just physical heart problems. Heart disease may limit our lives on earth, but the inner heart problems of sin threatens each of our lives. The bible warns of this problem consistently to remind us what threatens our spiritual life with God the most.

 

Israel’s Problem (Mark 7:1-23)

Unclean hands

The presenting issue of the debate in this passage here has to do with the washing of hands before meals… but…

Traditions of the elders

The issue is not about God’s Law – it’s about the Jewish traditions that had grown up around the Laws. The rituals had become important to Jewish identity to show themselves different to the surrounding nations. There are rules in the OT about washing – Priests entering the temple, and people washing their hands after a ‘bodily discharge’, BUT nothing close to what the Pharisees had developed by the time of Jesus presenting in this passage. And this issue reveals that they had many other traditions as well.

The Pharisee’s challenge Jesus about this.

Lips vs Hearts

Jesus’ response seems disproportionate at first instance. He quotes Isaiah calling them hypocrites. The quote from Isaiah 29 references how the presenting issue is just like the older issue in Isaiah – an issue of calloused hearts.

Jesus’ point: the Pharisees were playing games with something actually far more serious. Calling them hypocrites was another way of saying they were impersonating someone else: impersonating people who cared about God’s will, but were really people who were hung up on human rules and regulations, of defining their own in group and excluding others. The religious leaders had fallen into the terrible gap of attending and being preoccupied with outside appearances (and that everyone else knew their outward appearance of cleanliness) and shift focus from what was going on in their hearts.

This is not to say that they were insincere in doing their practice. But sincere practice doesn’t cover their sins. Their hypocrisy remains. Their hearts had deceived them and convinced them that this is what God wanted.

They had become sidetracked from giving God heart-obedience by focusing on external and superficial appearance.

 

Tax Avoidance

Jesus gives another example of their hypocrisy. He goes to the Law in Exodus about children respecting and caring for their parents. But the Pharisees had worked out a little trick to get out of their responsibilities. They argued that if you dedicate the money, due to your parents, for God (Corban) then you didn’t have to pay it to your parents. Jesus calls this tax avoidance – a breaking of God’s intention in the Law.

What goes in

Jesus cuts through the rubbish of their arguments – and says that it is not what goes in that makes you unclean, it’s what comes out of your heart.

You might feel some sympathy for the disciples who really didn’t get what Jesus had just done. Jesus had essentially just wiped out the food Laws. A revolution in thinking.

 

Our sewage outlets

And yet, what Jesus said was not really revolutionary at all. For even the OT Laws pointed to the fact that the human heart itself was the cause of uncleanness.

Jesus was affirming what the OT pointed to – that our hearts are a sewage outlets. We are profoundly contaminated by nature. Out of hearts spew forth the sins listed in v21-22.

Working through that list we can diagnose our heart:

  • Sexual immorality – do we entertain adultery and porn?
  • Theft – do you want something so much that you’re tempted to take it without paying the appropriate price, like downloading a song or a movie?
  • Murder – do you ever wish someone was dead?
  • Adultery – have you planned out in your heart having a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse?
  • Greed – do you have a desire for possessions and wealth?
  • Malice – have you spoken cruelly to another with the intent on hurting them?
  • Deceit – have you misrepresented a situation to preserve your own standing, or shifted the blame to get you off the hook, have you deceived to gain an advantage?
  • Lewdness – have you thought of abandoning yourself to something for the sake of trying?
  • Envy – evil eye – have you resented someone for the gift or relationship they have, or been stingy with what you have unwilling to share?
  • Slander – have you spoken about someone behind their back to damage their reputation?
  • Pride – arrogance and the puffing of yourself up?
  • Folly – have you been foolish to the consequences of your actions?

And there are heaps of other sins.

And we must be careful not to deflect and miss being cut to the heart. How many of the above have we ticked – how many of the warning signs are there in our lives? Attempts to soften reality so that we don’t have to face up to the depth of the problems that we have, then we are not ready to receive the treatment necessary.

 

Our Problem (Romans 1:18-32)

The symmetry of justice

There’s a striking symmetry to this passage in Romans 1. There appears to be a Chiastic structure, which charts the descent of human wickedness and sin.

Darkened hearts

The refusal to treat God as God means that at our very core we become foolish and darkened.

Given over

God’s punishment is to give mankind over to their dark desires. Being given over to these is a slippery slope to ever more darkness.

Idol factories

In verse 22-23 there is an allusion to Psalm 126 – in which Israel exchanged the glory of God for an image of a bull that eats grass.

Calvin said the heart is a factory of idols. We have turned the heart that was created to love the Creator into a sweatshop for truth exchanging, and for things over the Maker. And we maintain the delusion that these things will give us the satisfaction that we deeply long for in the core of our being.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This is the depth of the problem. And until we wrestle with this we will not see the appropriate solution, and we won’t see how God has provided that solution.

Warning Signs (for the heart)

  • Uncircumcised (Acts 7:51)
  • Calloused (Matt 13:15, Acts 28:27)
  • Hardened (Mark 6:52, 8:17; Eph 4:18; Heb 3:8, 15, 4:7)
  • Darkened (Rom 1:24)
  • Veiled (2 Cor 3:15)
  • Far from God (Matt 15:8)
  • Going astray (Heb 3:10)
  • Stubborn (Mark 3:5; Rom 2:5)
  • Proud (Luke 1:51; Rev 18:7)
  • Sinful, unbelieving (Heb 3:12)
  • Defiled (Matt 15:18)
  • Unforgiving (Matt 18:15)
  • Weighed down (Luke 21:34)
  • Filled by Satan (Acts 5:3)
  • Trained in greed (2 Peter 2:14)

[Steven: running short of time now and Gibbo skips through the following points]

Hardening of the heart: a greater killer (Heb 3:7-4:16)

Israel’s problem (3:7-19)

A reminder of the hard heart of Israel

Our problem (4:1-11)

The same problem they have is the problem we have.

‘He who searches the heart’ (4:12-13)

Nothing in hidden from God’s sight. And we are warned of the same that we might heed the warning.

Searched in order to deliver justice (Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 4:5)

Do we see the sins in our hearts in order to repent? Or do we take God’s patience in waiting for repentance as indifference?

 

[9] The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
[10] “I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10

[23] … And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

Revelation 2:23

If your arteries were clogged and you had a heart attack that would not necessarily exclude you from the presence of God. But the heart condition of darkness and sin will exclude you. The God who searches all things and knows the hearts of every person and exposes all things will come to deliver justice. We will all face the consequences of the state of our heart.

 

Warned so we will turn

This is an issue therefore of absolute urgency. Don’t harden your heart. Don’t turn away and be distracted, face it squarely – and do what you need to do to make peace with God.

The bible speaks to us so that we will turn. And we will find out God’s solution to our deeply darkened hearts in the days to come. We are called to repent and live – and we will see how God makes that graciously, and wondrously possible.

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn (Deut 10:16)

[Steven: A deeply cutting talk this morning. Our hearts are opened and they are rotting and festering and hardened against God. An epic and scary diagnosis. Lord, have mercy.]

Day 2 | Workshop | Q&A with Ben and Faith Ho – Real-Deal Discipleship

What is a disciple?

A disciple is a rather broad generic category. The bible says many things about being a Christian, and the word ‘disciple’ is one of those words. The word has an emphasis on being a learner – to follow him in his teaching, to embrace his teaching and the teacher, so that the disciple looks like the master. To be a disciple is someone who is taught to become more like Jesus.

Discipleship as a process is about helping someone become a better learner and better follower of Jesus. From preaching, to a blog post, to a text forms part of discipleship as long as they help us better learn and follow Jesus. So discipleship can happen formally and informally.

See ‘The Vine Project‘ for more on this sort of thinking and approach to discipleship.

 

How do you approach people for discipleship?

Formally and informally. First port of call is usually in the formal church setting, and then as I get to know them through relating to them.

It will also depend on how, for instance, a non-Christian enters the church. If they are fairly random then I can be a bit more bold in asking questions. If they are already connected with some Christian community (like being the housemate of a Christian), I’ll take the approach a little lighter and softer.

Then I’d ask them if they are keen to find out more in a one-to-one context.

 

What is your approaching question when you meet someone?

I tend to search out what understanding they have of the gospel. Through various contexts I want them to see the needs that they have, and seek to help them see how Jesus fulfills their needs.

With a potential leader I look at someone who is maturer in their faith, and affirm their growth. And then try and convince to see that they can be a part of Word ministry – teaching the word to various people, and explore their gifts of teaching. And through that decide what ministry might be worth their time.

When you approach someone and they freak out a little at the question and possibility, what do you do?

I try and look at whether they’ve picked up the culture of our church – that people often meet up not just to socialise but also to learn more. I generally don’t approach a new person for 6months, and give them time to settle into our community and spend some time with them.

If you have to go cold-turkey with someone totally new, then you’d want to start off informally – coffee and chat. Then through those conversations work out where any discipleship relationship might start.

 

Why is discipleship important?

Everyone should be a disciple – we should all be following Jesus as best we can. So why leave that only to the sermon or the bible study? The encouragement that can be had through the opportunity of deeper relationships makes it worth it.

In non-Christian secular life we do well and flourish in life with a best friend or a closer group of friends. Imagine that for a Christian person. We are made relationally by God for this.

And if we truly believe that church is to be a family, with elders (father-figures) and other younger members (brothers and sisters), and if we believe that an older brother should usually care for the younger siblings – then if we see a family function and one family member off in the corner doing nothing then that would be a strange family set up. Same thing at church. It wouldn’t be a properly functioning family. If church is an event, or if you go as a silent consumer, then you’ll be disappointed as you look for this type of discipleship relationship.

 

Do you meet with just guys or guys and girls?

My wife Faith was going well with a group of girls on Wed evenings, so I found a group of guys to train and disciple. I also train guys and girls in the university leadership team, and also the Church Council made up of men and women.

I generally wouldn’t meet with a woman one-to-one. Bible study is a ‘sexy’ activity – godliness is ‘sexy’ as well. And as a Pastor I want to also remain above reproach and make sure that there is no hint of impropriety.

 

What material do you use? And what is your structure?

With a non-Christian I use the material ‘Christianity Explained’ – which is 6 sessions one to one. I like this because it helps those who are searching, and if they are committed this course can be very helpful.

On an adhoc basis with a non-Christian I go through Two Ways To Live and see how it goes.

With a new Christian I used ‘Just for Starters (I use a lot of Matthias Media because I’m used to it, trained in it, and are very comfortable with it). Just about anyone who is discipling another person one-to-one is trained to use ‘Just for Starters’.

Afterwards I tend to go through either Romans or Colossians. Romans for the keen beans, Colossians for those still a little cautious as it’s a lighter book that’s still encouraging in Christian growth.

In regards to structure I tend to go 50-50 – 50% of the time spent in the bible, and 50% of the time spent on the person and their life. The reason is that you don’t want the whole time you spend with someone to be life and problem centred – or it could become a gossip session. Discipleship is about leading people to Christ, and if we leave Christ out of the conversation then that’s not discipleship. And you can’t lead people to Christ without the Word.

On the flip side you can’t spend all your time in the bible because then you’re not dealing or interacting with the person infront of you. Over a few weeks and months I try to gauge whether our percentage of time together is being used well.

 

How frequently do you meet, and for how long?

It varies between once a week to once a month – and all depending on life circumstances.

For something like Christianity Explained it’s good to go through the 6 sessions over 6 weeks. Once a week is neat.

Once a fortnight is a little more doable with workers. But you have to commit, because if you miss one week it becomes once a month. And for those far away Skype has been helpful.

In terms of how long – it depends on the person, but as a Pastor I usually can only commit to one person over 12 months. Once a week over a year mentorship is usually enough to invest enough in someone that they can start to invest in others.

Adhoc meetings vary depending on the person and circumstances.

 

Do you always have to drink coffee?

Meeting over a drink and some food is always good. I highly recommend not having soft drinks and sugar because you crash energy wise later in the meeting. Not good!

 

Do you diversify your meeting space?

I get really sleepy sitting down after lunch. So I got introduced to walking ministry – which means walking and talking. But you have to find what works for you. Opening the bible works better sitting down :P But maybe some of your time together can be done doing something else.

Faith might take the kids out of the Park for them to play while she meets with another person on a bench to read the bible.

 

How do you know if it’s working?

It’s working when I feel like there’s a real relationship being built. With one guy it was just a little weird relationally for the first few weeks – it was just a question and answer sort of bible study and meet up. But then the ice broke, I got to know him personally, and a real relationship was built. There was much laughter and growth in the desire to love each other and want to serve together.

You’ll also see fruit when your twosome becomes larger because of the desire to include others.

 

And also picking up on Gary Millar’s workshop on holiness as we see that magnified in someone we’re meeting. But what if it’s not working, what do you do?

Let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t get along with some people. So self-examination is needed – working out whether it’s you or them that might be the stumbling point. And you might need to ‘break up’ then. It’s no failure on either part, but it’s realistic – so be open about it, ask for feedback from the other person, and see if you can deal with it in humour and love.

 

Some people among the crowd here have never seen this form of discipleship before – what can you say to those who haven’t seen this before and want to try it out?

One practical thing – introduce a bit more Christian talk in your everyday relationships and conversations. Talk about the sermon after the sermon – avoid criticising the sermon and maybe just look at that passage together. And then maybe just ask if someone is interested in meeting up! Take the baby steps that we’re comfortable with and keep pushing out. Meet up, talk about life, and as you catch up more talk about life and the bible.

 

‘If someone wanted to meet up with me I’m not sure my heart would be in it. I’m not sure I’m in a place to be able to handle it.’ What would you say?

Keep praying to God to soften your heart. And take the brave step to meeting up, even if just sometimes. There’s so many ways that God works in us to transform us, so find that small thing that can help us and go from there.

 

To Faith: you meet with girls, what do you do differently and why?

Everything I have in my notes Ben has already covered! A few additional remarks:

  • I don’t assume the person I’m meeting with knows the gospel. Just because someone grew up in church and is serving doesn’t mean they know the gospel. It’s very helpful to do ‘Just For Starters’ with people, because it helps you have a firm grip on the gospel.
  • It’s important to help people learn to read the bible for themselves – that’s why it’s important for the bible to be at the heart of what you do together. If God speaks to us and shapes our lives through his Word then we need to teach people to read it well – otherwise they won’t grow as a Christian.
  • I also focus on helping the person I’m meeting up with become someone who can meet up with others.
  • Modelling is a huge part of discipleship and meeting up – modelling a deep desire to read God’s word, modelling repentance (you both sit under the Word), open about struggles with sin, transparent about our lives. We’re not just teaching God’s Word to them we’re also modelling it in our lives.
  • Seek accountability – if you’ve been discipling people for a while, then it can be easy to hide behind your role as a discipler. You’re the helper, and that can mask self-reflection on your own life. It takes humility to have someone else disciple you.

Some distinctives:

  • When I meet with girls I try to show them godliness for a woman looks different to what godliness for a man does. For instance in Titus, Paul tells Titus that he has to teach things slightly differently depending on the gender of the people overseen. Titus teaches older men and younger men, but the instruction to older women is for them to teach the younger women.
  • Women are made differently from men, and the bible’s teaching on what a godly woman looks like is important to teach.

Final thoughts:

Discipleship might look differently as a single person versus a person with a family. Basic principle: as a single person the way you disciple and follow up people changes when you get married and have a family. I went from meeting with 10 people a week, to meeting a few people when married, to hardly meeting with anyone when the family came. As a parent I would sometimes get people over when the kids were in bed at night or during their nap time. But I was limited to 1-2 people a week – as my main ministry is to my children. But now that my kids are older and in school I have more time to meet with and disciple others.

 

Other Questions:

  • How do you get feedback from the person you’re meeting up with – especially with someone from an Asian culture? If you’ve built up a good honest relationship, then there’s a good chance that they will give you honest feedback. Your one-to-one relationship can build a different culture to the normal Asian culture that someone swims in. You’re always aiming to be as helpfully open as you can. And sometimes you need to be clear about asking and giving permission to someone to seek or give feedback.
  • In discipling someone to be a disciple maker, when can you tell someone is ready to do that? It depends on the context, if you have a mature church then you might hold someone back to build their confidence. If you’re in a less mature church then you might want more people out there sooner. Probably the big factor is whether someone can articulate the gospel well. If someone can communicate gospel truths well then that’s a good sign. I also train people in ‘Just For Starters’ and I’m pretty honest in feedback during my training – and if someone lacks an ability to be clear in communicating the points of one easy study then they will receive that feedback. If I can’t train someone I’ll try and make sure they have good guidance from leaders notes or other resources.
  • How can you help a church shape this sort of discipleship culture? Culture is hard to shape. You need people to shape it. Culture is an expression of what people are doing. You can shape it if you’re a Pastor – from top down. Otherwise focus on the people around you and shape them, and prayerfully that will expand to others.

 

[Steven: great little seminar on discipleship with some great nuggets of gold to chew on.]

Day 2 | Evening Talk | Steve Nation – Get Real (James 1:26-2:26)

A job title and what they do

Some job titles are hard to understand. What does an Occupational Therapist do?! Some job titles are clear. Pharmacist. Golf Ball Divers. Potato Chip Inspectors.

What does a Christian do?   

This is the question isn’t it…

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is (1:26-27)

What is religion that God approves of?

The word ‘religion’ is scary to some Christians. We tend to overplay the idea of ‘religion’ as a bad thing – since the word comes up with so many connotations of ‘doing stuff’. But James uses the word here.

The word ‘religion’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to bind’. Religion means being bound to something. Whatever it is that we are stuck to, bound to, or even addicted to, is our ‘religion’.

The gospel is the glorious message…    

… through the grace of Jesus Christ we have been delivered from sin and death and the wrath and judgement of God. But it’s also more than this. The gospel word – meaning good news – carries an announcement and declaration: calling for the response of submission.

Too often we declare Christianity as ‘Jesus is Saviour’ and miss that we should also add ‘Jesus is Saviour AND Lord’.

The context of James 2 seems to be that people have neglected the Kingship/Lordship of Christ. And if you have missed this message, that you don’t have to do anything, then James says in 1:26-27 that you are in danger of being deceived.

True religion is manifested in a lifestyle of obedience to God. What does God require?      

  1. keep a tight rein on your tongue (1:26)
    All about our speech – words matter to the Christian. God’s Words restore and build people up – and so must ours. (more tomorrow night)

  2. Looking after widows and orphans
    God in the OT is known as the Father of widows and orphans. The care of those who are hurting and in need of healing – the original word for hospitality did not translate to ‘cook well’ – but ‘hospice’. The place of rest. Hospitality is about providing a place of rest.

  3. To keep oneself from, being polluted by the world
    True religion is other-worldly because we are bound to someone who is completely other. Not to this world that would pollute us. We are bound to the Son who healed the sick and raised the dead, taught radical things, was crucified and resurrected – and in all was so other-worldly.

True religion has true God-centred ambitions.

Breaking the law of love (2:1-13)

Who will you approach, connect with, honour with your time?   

Christians are not to show favouritism – not to judge and favour on the ‘face’ – to discriminate unjustly. Favouritism is evil because it shares glory to those who don’t deserve it – there is only one who deserves glory. Gold rings, nice clothes, a big bank account, a nice car – are these things really worth comparing and sharing the glory of Jesus with?

And then compare the people – a wealthy, middle class person vs someone of lower class: who would be more likely to be welcomed in your church?

Verse 5 – A rhetorical question with the assumed answer of ‘yes’? BUT – is James saying that God prefers poor people to wealthy people? A: it’s not simply a money issue. Those who are most aware of their inadequacy, the poor in spirit, are those that God esteems and honours.

Consistent Christian conduct comes only from a consistently Christian heart and mind.

“Are we being more shaped by and drawn to political ideologies, than gospel realities; more gathered around social causes than the centrality of the cross and what it means for reconciliation between God and humans, and humans and humans” (Steve MacAlpine)

If we have been transformed by His compassionate love, then we are to live that way. When God says ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ then we have only two options in response: obedience or disobedience. To not love our neighbour, to favour someone over another, is to turn our backs on something so central to God’s ethics.

The test of Christian health: church attendance, accurate theology, experience of the Spirit’s gifts, involvement in evangelism…? There’s one that’s preeminent: love. 1 Cor 13: faith, hope and love remain, and the greatest of these is love.

Saving faith is proved through works (2:14-26)

Key verse: But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds (v.18)

What good is it to say we believe and do no good works? No good at all.

Verse 15 – is not about asking people for help, it’s about seeing people who need help. Being situationally aware of the needs.

Sometimes when we see needs and concerns we often ask, ‘Should we act… or share our faith?’

Three examples of faith:

  1. Demonic faith (v19)
    Intellectual belief is not enough – for even the demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

  2. The faith of Abraham (v21-24)
    Picking up from Genesis 22 – phenomenal faith from Abraham to obey God in this instance.

  3. The faith of Rahab (v25)
    Rahab in Joshua endangered her life by helping the spies.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (v.26)

The shape of the Christian life will look different to different people. We’re not all called to be Amy Charmichael’s or Hudson Taylor’s and live in big ways they did. But we must find the ways in which we can be most faithful.

 

Implications / so what?

  1. Be encouraged
  2. Be warned – has your faith become mere profession? With no love for God, affection for others, and practical outworkings that is a problem. If you trust Jesus you’ll do what he says. Does the way you use your time say that you trust Jesus?
  3. Be active – who is your face to? There is always the danger in Chinese Churches or purely Caucausian/*insert class/race here* that you hang out with only like people. This passage is calling us to go, get out of our tight circles and seek to bless others.

How are your good works going?

Start small and then go big.

A $50 iTunes card is fine. Maybe it’ll be an encouragement to spend just as much to Compassion for the work they do. A meal out at a restaurant is a privilege. Maybe it’ll be an encouragement to spend the same amount for Tear and the work they do.

Think of your situational awareness – are we seeing the needs among us around us?

True saving faith will always result in a life of love. We can start small, but we are to go deep and wide with multiple acts of kindness in the name of Jesus bringing his Word when we can.

If we have been saved by grace to do good works then it’s worth asking each other, ‘How are your good works going?’

 

[Steven: Finishing on a bang again. I love those last lines – start small, go deep and wide. An achievable challenge, I would think.]

Ignite Training Conference 2017 | Day 1 [Live Blog]

 

We’re here again! This time at the Brisbane School of Theology – which means the comfort of my own bed and coffee machine! As per last year, I’ll be live blogging my way through the talks and select workshops. This year our morning speaker is BST Principal Richard Gibson. Our evening speaker is Pastor Steve Nation.

Day 1 | Morning Talk | Richard Gibson – Created (Psalm 139)

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

Warning: your heart at risk

The dangers of smoking are pretty obvious now on cigarette packets, thanks to the graphic warnings you can see on them. Especially the warnings about smoking’s risks on your heart.

Confronting

By exploring what the bible says about the heart we are exposing ourselves to risk. There is going to be an uneasy sense of being watched as we search the bible and what it says about the heart – as though there is someone watching us as we do so. There is also the firm words of the heart that are confronting, and they are unrelenting – just like the warnings on cigarette packages.

Cut

The first risk is that you will be cut to the heart this week. The very first sermon in the book of Acts left people cut to the heart. When Peter spoke in Acts 2 the response reported was that people heard and were cut to the heart. It’s a graphic picture of a painful experience – they were stabbed, pierced in the deepest parts of their hearts, to picture their remorse and regret at having done something terrible and messed up badly. The terrible realisation you get when you realise you have been completely wrong. As Peter spoke they realised they shared the guilt of the execution of Jesus – God’s Lord and King.

Today when we read the bible we expose ourselves to that same risk – the risk of being cut to the heart in the same way as Peter’s hearers. Of realising we’ve messed up and not only missed opportunities to honour God but also to flee from doing so. We read of a God who does not regard this fleeing as a trifling matter – but as a matter of life and death.

But we are better to take this risk rather than the alternative…

Hardened

The way to avoid the piercing, stabbing remorseful recognition of our wrong is by desensitizing our heart. We’re very capable of doing this. Our refusal might be gradual and incremental before it becomes a pattern. After a while our hearts harden so that when the bible seeks to cut our heart we can dodge it.

The risk this week is to fall to the temptation to be impervious to responding to God’s Word. The right response is wholehearted devotion and love.

When the crowd responded to Peter his first response was ‘Repent and be baptised…’ Getting cut to the heart opens up the possibility of repentance and forgiveness – there is  a way forward. No matter what sewage we find in our heart, if we allow God to cut our hearts there is an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. If we harden our hearts then we will miss the chance for change.

 

Biblical Cardiology

Chaotic anthropology

The bible generally doesn’t have positive words about the state and health of our heart. From Proverbs to Jeremiah to Jesus himself.

The bible speaks of the chaos of the way that we are constituted. There are many terms that overlap and make this a tricky topic to wade through. What function does the heart have – and how it differs from the mind, how it correlates to the soul, the role of the bowels/kidneys, where I think and experience emotion, where I plan and do things, receive a whole range of different answers – and the heart plays a very big role.

 

Multi-function centre

The bible’s teaching on this topic doesn’t give us a precision that we would like. What we discover is what a flexible organ that it is. The essence and core of us as human beings.

It is both the place where evil thoughts come from; where we consider and perceive the message of the kingdom; where evil overflows from and forms destructive words; where people speak to themselves and have an internal dialogue; where a man commits adultery; where we forgive people from; where we love God from; where we keep our treasured possessions – and all of this just from the Gospel of Matthew!

Strikingly there is no correlation between the ‘heart’ and romantic affections! In our culture the heart is all about feelings and romance – not so in the bible. There is also no strong correlation between emotions and the heart – and while emotions are located in the heart, they are also located in the mind as well.

 

Holism of the heart

The heart becomes a way of describing our wholeness – our totality. The bible expresses the heart as something of our essential selves, our core. The bible doesn’t drive a strong wedge between our body and our heart – between the internal world and our external presence. The heart is a way of picturing and capturing the inner reality – and therefore resists the compartmentalism of modern scientific approaches. We are a complex product of a whole range of functions, unified as an individual person. This is how God has made us, addresses us, and how he calls us to respond to him.

 

‘The hidden person of the heart’ 1 Peter 3:4

Lips vs heart

Peter focusing in 1 Peter 3 on the adornment of women – rather than focus on the external beauty, focus on the internal beauty of godliness. Focusing in on the expression ‘your inner self’ (NIV) – lit: the hidden person of the heart (ESV translation FTW!)

God looks upon the heart – this is where God esteems a person. This is the reality that we need to be cultivating and focusing upon.

This tension between external and internal is littered throughout the bible. The image of ‘Lips’ often focuses on the external – how you present yourself. The ‘heart’ is often focused on the internal. eg – Jesus speaking of the Pharisees who give ‘lip service’ to God, but their ‘hearts’ are far from me (ie. God). This is confronting stuff – it’s possible to mouth orthodox theology, lead people in public prayer, lead in public praise, go through the posture of deep worship, and yet have hearts that are a million miles away.

The bible keeps pushing us to consider this gulf that can appear between our ‘lips’ and our ‘hearts’.

 

External vs internal

Mark 7 – the Pharisees had an emphasis on external washing and what they ate. Jesus’ response was that it was not what went into a person that made them unclean – it’s not your physically dirty hands that contaminate your relationship with God, it’s what comes out of your heart that contaminates you.

 

Superficial vs deep

Psalm 64 – the wicked search out injustice, saying they have accomplished a diligent search – but have failed to look at the deep inward heart of men.

 

Whole-hearted devotion

‘He who set his heart…’ Deuteronomy 10:12-16

God sets his heart – there is a mutuality here. That God sets his heart means that his people must render their hearts to Him in obedience and devotion.

 

‘… requires of his people’ Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27

Jesus emphasises this also when he calls on people to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul. The God who has redeemed us will not settle for half-hearted commitment. He will not settle for less. You were made for a relationship for Him – of lips, heart, and every aspect of your being.

 

‘He who searches the heart’

God is known as one who searches the heart – it’s one of his names.

Searches – Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 8:27; Revelation 2:23

Tests – Psalm 7:9; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 11:20

Knows – 1 Kings 8:39; Acts 1:24, 15:8; Luke 16:15

When Solomon speaks of God ‘knowing’ us it qualifies him to judge our hearts. People will get what they deserve at the Judgement because he knows all that is in their hearts.

 

Exposed in order to enter life – Psalm 139

This intimate knowledge of God is an invitation to know Him and to be known by Him. An invitation to live in his presence fully aware that he knows me better than I know myself.

This is the great challenge of human existence – the recognition that we are an open book before God. We are like cockroaches – when the light hits we run off into the dark. But in God’s light there is no refuge from His light. You are an open book.

When you’re playing ‘peek-a-boo’ with a child under 2 they will think that covering their eyes means you can’t see them – since they can’t see you. It’s an out of touch absurd reality – but understandable for 2 year olds. But adults keep playing this absurd game with God. We think we can bury things in our hearts that God cannot see. Even if there is a gulf between how we are acting and what we are thinking we think we can get away with it – as long as other people don’t know we’re fine.

Psalm 139 gives us a model response to God knowing us.

 

Extraordinary knowledge, beyond me (1-6)

David, the author, had some terrible dirty secrets. But he came to term with the reality that God knows him intimately and lived in response to that light. Knowing that God is his creator that God is entitled to know all these intimate details. Rather than being terrified and intimidated by being known like this he embraces it.
Nowhere to hide (7-12)

 

There is nowhere to flee from the presence of God. There is no dark enough place to hide you from God. David is someone who has given up the childish game of hide and seek – he embraces the knowingness of God as a wonderful truth.

 

Fearfully and wonderfully made (13-18)

David acknowledges that because God built him cell by cell, and remains sovereign over his existence, and the more David reflects on this the more precious God becomes to him. It is a wonder that God knows him so intimately.

 

Your enemies are mine (19-22)

David’s identification with God means he hates what God hates.

 

Expose my offence to me (23-24)

Make these verses our encouragement this week – the prayer we bring to God as we reflect on the nature of our heart and our relationship with him. David wants to be known, and wants to know and experience real life in all its depth – and real life in all its depth is lived in relationship with God where we recognise and acknowledge that there is nothing hidden from him in every aspect of us as people.

 

Searched in order to be known – 1 Corinthians 2:9-13

The deep places of God

God’s Spirit searches the living God – searches His deepest places, and then reveals to us what we need to know about the Living God in order to be in relationship with Him. It’s what makes scripture so wondrous – as it gives us everything we need to be known by God and in relationship with Him!

The searching Spirit

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

‘And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.’ Romans 8:27

David counted as infinitely precious to be intimately known by God, and that God in his great purposes revealed himself to be known by David. God pierced David’s heart in order to do this. And this will be the challenge fo this week – in the storehouse of our heart we must bring out our most treasured idols and repent of them: because we want to know the living God with all of our being – head, heart and soul.

[Steven: What a ripping start to the conference – setting the tone of everything to follow this week: to know God and be known by Him requires a naked openness – are we willing?]

Day 1 | Workshop | Gary Millar – Holiness from the Heart

Gary is giving some book plugs (Steven: on my behalf – thanks Gary!), and in plugging ‘The Valley of Vision’ he makes a salient comment: we need to read books like Valley of Vision because we need voices from the past to reveal blind spots in our present. Each generation has blind spots in their faith, and a previous generation’s voice can reveal them much clearer. (Steven: there are two copies available for $15, and a couple of CD’s of the songs for $10!)

 

What does God ask for us?

He wants us to be Christlike, godly, wise, mature, strong (in weakness). These are all big categories, global categories, that the NT uses. And they all roughly talk about the same thing: the basic thing that God wants for all of us.

Holiness is like these big categories – summing up what God wants for his people.

Be holy, for I am holy.

Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:26, 21:8

God saying to his people, ‘Here is what it means to be my people.’ This phrase, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ is basically a summary of the whole book of Leviticus. God paints a picture of holiness – though it’s a word picture very unfamiliar and strange to us.

Tip: for reading through Leviticus keep taking in the big picture – stand back and look at the effect of what is being said rather than get bogged down in the meaning of the details. The big picture: this is what it looks like to follow a holy God.

Problem: God says you can live with me if you are holy… but we can’t pull that off!

What does this picture of holiness look like?

  1. Separateness
  2. Morally pure
  3. Belonging to God

To be pure and His.

God demands that we are holy.

When the NT writers come to this command in Leviticus they basically repeat it. In the NT God is still committed to the idea of his people being holy. Both Paul and Peter naturally operate with this idea that holiness is what God asks of us – the end goal of God’s work in our lives.

Ephesians 1:4, 2:21, 5:27 – Paul alludes to Leviticus and holiness a fair bit in these passages

1 Peter 1:15, 2:5 – Peter is more obvious, he just quotes Leviticus directly.

This is not rocket science, it’s unavoidable.

 

Big Question: how can we pull this off?

In Leviticus God calls his people to holiness – but through the OT they fail and mess it up heaps. So when Paul and Peter repeat these commands they can do so because something radical has changed in God’s people. What is the radical change? It is not effort – for that ends in legalism. It’s not through ditching the commands in general (ie antinomianism). The key is thinking through what God asks of us and what resources he gives us to do it.

If I say I can keep God’s laws properly I’m deluded and I forsake what God has done to forgive me and make possible to follow him. If I say that it’s far too hard and not even try to do that – I’m selling God short by saying he is not going to provide us with the resources to do it. Whether we are rule keepers or breakers the basic problem is the same: we don’t take God at his word, and we don’t need the gospel.

How do we think biblically about holiness?

  1. Union with Christ
    In the NT the phrase ‘in Christ’ helps us understand a lot of what it means to be a Christian. Eph 1:3-15 has a lot of ‘in Christ/Him’ and it is central to understanding what is being said in that glorious opening chapter. Long before there is a discussion of what a Christian is there is heaps of discussion of being ‘in Christ’.

It is union with Christ that makes us ‘positionally’ (or ‘definitively’) holy. This is why Paul routinely addresses Christians as saints. So we can say definitively that we are ‘holy’ – even though that is not a description we would normally use of ourselves because of the guilt of our sins. But, because we are ‘in Christ’ we are holy.

  • Faith in Christ
    How does God bring us into Christ? By awakening FAITH in us by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. Faith is what brings us into Christian salvation, and it is why carries us dynamically through the Christian walk.

 

In a lot of ways our churches (or at least our church circles) don’t talk too much about faith. Possibly because the prosperity gospel has pushed the idea of ‘faith’ too far, so we’re afraid to be associated with this. But the bible speaks of faith as all conquering – 1 John 5:4 – And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. That’s a verse in our bibles!

  • Transformation in Christ (Steven: sorry – got caught up in listening to this point rather than typing!) And as we live in Jesus, by faith in Him, we will be transformed by Him. A gradual and real transformation, looking forward to total and complete transformation when Jesus returns.

 

The nature of change is really important to grapple with – what are we expecting? Holiness may feel like it operates like a ladder – ie really holy people were at the top of the ladder. But to think of it this way is really unhelpful. Holiness is realising we are in Christ and trusting in Christ, and constantly growing in our awareness of how much we need Christ.

This is a pattern throughout the NT.

We can expect to grow in holiness not because we are great but because Christ is. And we grow more in holiness the greater Christ grows in our lives. Holiness is essentially living in Christ – it’s just what we do. It’s the product of living by faith.

The Marks of Holiness

  1. Love
    Holiness is to be as God is – and God is love. HOliness is appreciating who we are in Jesus, how we’ve been accepted, how our transformation in under way and guaranteed – Jesus says that the way this continues is by loving other people. You can’t be holy without being loving.
  2. Evangelism
    1 Peter 2 – when Peter says you are a holy nation you then proclaim Jesus’ greatness to the world. Evangelism is what you do when you are holy. Israel was set up to be a light to the nations.
  3. Repentance
    To be a Christian is to live a life of repentance – every day we should be able to ask each other, ‘What are you repenting of… just now?’ We drop the ball when we don’t ask that question. If I am not aware of my sinfulness then I am not a pleasure to be around (!).

See Revelation 2-3 – Jesus speaking to the churches and calling them to repent.

  • Suffering
    To be holy is to suffer. Suffering is the normal Christian life. The question is when and where we will suffer for Christ, not if. Living authentically as people joined to Christ is not welcomed in our world.
  • Joy
    Note – these marks are not individual, as though we can choose them. But they are all a package together. Joy is often seen as not a part of holiness – happiness and delight. But God is forever telling people to rejoice and delight in Him. The NT says the same thing also (see Philippians 4:4).
  • Hope
    Holiness leads to hope.

 

So how should we live? As people who are holy in Christ who live holy lives by faith and are growing in holiness as the Spirit applies the gospel to our lives. The holy life is a matter of loving, proclaiming, repenting, suffering, delighting and hoping.

How does God do all this? Through the gospel as the Spirit works in us.

So what should we do?

We could grit our teeth and say, ‘I should be more holy…’ But that won’t work.

So:

  1. Do everything in our power to remember who we are. The first thing you do when you get out of bed is remind yourself of who you are in the Lord Jesus. Get out of bed and read your bible – even if you’ re not a morning person :P There’s no command to do this, but it’s stupid if you don’t. Do what it takes – get yourself out of bed, take a cold shower, have a strong cup of coffee – and run to the word to remind ourselves through the Gospel of who we are in Jesus.This is why we gather together as people in church. That’s why we have communion. That’s why Luther told people to go back to their baptism when they had sinned and stuffed up – to remind ourselves of who we are in Jesus.Now there can be a legalism with reading the bible and quiet time. But the solution is not to not read the bible! Keep soaking ourselves in scripture.
  2. We will love because we are loved. Speaks for itself.
  3. We will speak because God has spoken. St Francis of Assissi never said, ‘Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.’ Not only because he never said it, but also because it’s a stupid idea. The gospel needs words to be said. The holy life involves communicating something of the reason why we are living a holy life – and what we communicate is the gospel.
  4. We will die to self. Because we are in Christ the old self has been crucified, killed off and eradicated.
  5. We will expect to suffer for Christ wherever we are. And yet…
  6. We will enjoy Christ in the mess of life. Christians are to be the most happiest people in this world.
  7. We will live in the light of eternity. We live for the delight of living the new creation forever with the Son, Father and Spirit.

This is what it means to be holy. It’s not God saying, ‘Here is the spiritual ladder of superiority – climb it and wave to the plebs below.’ Holiness is no compartment of our lives – it’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to be those who have been joined with Jesus by faith.

Final tip:

  • Take our sin seriously. Our tendency is always to take our sinfulness too lightly. Some of us are prone to self-pity – and we’ll spend way too long looking at our sin. Either way, we need to keep moving to the Cross. We need to spend appropriate time on our sinfulness (either more if we don’t do it enough, or less if we spend too long on our sin), and move towards the Cross. Movement towards Jesus is the key.

[Steven: I love Gary. He’s one of my favourite teachers, because he makes things so clear and helpful, and he points constantly to Jesus. If you can get a hold of the recording of this workshop please do so – it’s worth it. Some hard words, but strong encouragements that holiness can be striven for… and should be.]

Day 1 | Evening Talk | Steve Nation – Living the Joined-Up Life? (James 1:1-18)

“I want to guarantee that betrayal never, ever happens again”.

The words of a husband. A married woman who commits adultery, convicted of her sin, repents before God and confesses before her husband. After a short time of indecision they decide to rebuild their marriage – it’s hard, but they stick at at it and they persevere. After 8 months the husband is suspicious, the wife feels under surveillance – they are shocked by it. The husband is wondering what’s going on – he desires that the infidelity would not happen again, but that meant he would continually evaluate and judge his wife’s actions and behaviour, becoming controlling rather than loving.

Some things bring out the best in us, and some things bring out bad.

The big questions: Why do certain things bring out good or bad responses? If another person violates me, how will I respond?

  1. Will I forgive or be filled with wrath? (the issue of rage)
  2. Where will I take refuge in times of uncertainty? (the issue of escapism)
  3. Is there a basis in which to have courage in the face of evil – around us and done to us, and within us? (the issue of despair)
  4. What will it mean to have hope?  Where does hope come from? (the issue of fear)

James in his letter answers these sorts of questions.

James and Jesus

  • James the younger brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3)
  • James an unbeliever (John 7:5)
  • James believes his brother is the Messiah – even prays to Him (Acts 1:14, James 1:1)
  • James the pastor of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 15:13) – his role in the Jerusalem church is big.
  • James a slave of Jesus (James 1:1) – James calls himself a slave of his brother, this really is an odd thing among brothers! Ain’t no blood brothers going to call each other divine and willingly call themselves slaves of their brother. As much as this is a problem for earthly brothers, not so for James. And that’s a profound thing.

James had faithfully seen his brother’s ministry, and then he took on a massive role as ‘senior pastor’ of the Jerusalem church.

Consider trials pure joy! (James 1:1-2)

James is writing to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion – a group of believers who have been banished from their home lands. James knows the shame of being in the family of Jesus and the same of being a disciple of Jesus. He also knows the pressure of living for Jesus as his disciple.

He starts the letter with ‘Greetings’ which is more than ‘hello’ – it’s more like ‘Be glad!’ A big start to the letter.

He writes to brothers and sisters in Christ, bonded together in the family of God.

Then he writes something completely weird… he says, ‘Count it joy, rejoice, be glad and happy, when you go through trials of various kinds…’ What the?! No wonder some people think that the bible is nuts. We live to avoid trials – that’s why we diet, we exercise, we get insurance (so we get support when we get sick to pay the bills), that’s why our parents work hard to give us the life we have so we won’t have to go through the same. Whatever the trials are – exams, depression, exhaustion, every kinds of trial (a wide net cast so we can find our trials in here) – and when we experience them (not if, but when – for we cannot escape them) – we rejoice.

Why? Not because the trials are a fun thing to experience. Suffering and evil and trials are not inherently good in of themselves – we are not to be trial hunters. And there is always pain and grief in trials – James is not saying all trials are pure joy. But that joy should be an undercurrent of these trials. Why? Because it produces something else far better than the trial itself.

Perseverance is called for because the end goal is worth it. Perseverance is not generally something our world encourages – move, shift, get around something for your growth. But in scripture perseverance through the difficult is what will cause growth.

Verse 4 – the benefits of perseverance comes to believers who respond in the right way. If you respond with perseverance through trials then it has it’s full effect: a person moving towards perfection and completion, lacking in nothing.

Do we see suffering as something to be avoided, or something to convert you? Something to destroy you, or something to remake you?

Wisdom for trials (1:5-8)

Wisdom is a key theme in the book of James. Wisdom is clarity on how to live life well in God’s world. Wisdom is a life harmonised with reality. All of life – the joined-up life – joined-up with God, living to the glory of God the Father.

What should we do if we lack wisdom? Ask God – why? Because God is the God who gives generously without finding fault. Imagine a scenario: you are part of a company think tank, coming up with a plan to move the company forward. The company is Microsoft, and Bill Gates is there at each meeting. You meet together, you come up with ideas, but you fail to ask for his help and resources, and head off to do your thing to try and improve things. This makes no sense. And yet we do this often with our Father in heaven.

We do not have the skills on our own to do ministry and life. We need God.

The little brother of Jesus rewords what his big brother said, ‘Ask and it will be given you.’ But he also says to not doubt when asking. Not the occasional struggle or doubt – it’s a specific, dishonest, cowardly doubt. It’s the doubt that says God can’t do something, or I don’t need him to do something. To keep your mind perpetually closed to God. In the end this is foolishness.

This sort of person should not expect anything from the Lord.

The trials of blessing and curses (1:9-11)

We often have our eyes on externals, on the things outside of us. In trial we moan, whinge, seek sympathy, we get jealous and active to fix things. We have excuses when we go through trials: I would be a nicer person if you didn’t treat me like this; I act this way because I grew up in a dysfunctional family; I have gone through pain and have been abused by someone and so I act for myself; I had a hard day and you caught me at a low point; I have unmet needs, my dad didn’t love me when I grew up, so I need to find someone who can fill up what I need; I’m tired and didn’t sleep enough.

And yet James speaks of a perfection and wholeness that ripples through the whole of life. But we say, ‘But.. but… but…’ and instead of being joyful we find comfort in stuff, instead of being obedient we make up excuses.

The end of trials (James 1:12)

 

The heart and trials (James 1:13-15)

In verse 13 the word ‘temptation’ is the same as the word in v2 translated ‘trials’.

When we go through trials we often go to blame shifting – even blaming God for them. Verse 14 reminds us that it’s our own fault when these things happen. The imagery of fishing – of being baited and taking the hook is kinda what is going on here.

Why do certain things bring out certain responses? When you shake a bottle what comes out? Whatever is already in there. Our circumstances don’t make us who we are – our circumstances reveal who we are. Sin is not inserted by experience, suffering or the Devil – as though they are determinative. They are influential but not determinative.

How can we tell what our desires are? By our fruits. By our fruit we can see the root of our desires. They come forth and others will see and experience this fruit. Verse 15 – desire leads to sin. In any moment we will see what’s really in our hearts.

This passage is leading us to wholeness, wisdom, and perfection. And we get to wholeness, wisdom and perfection through trials.

 

Implications

Wisdom is the key here: where do we get it?

Trials of many kinds

We need a proper lens when we see trials. When you look at the cross with a narrow lens it is a horrific incident in history. When you look at the cross with a wide lens then you’ll see it’s saving beauty. This is what we will see often in our own lives. And if we have the proper God-sized and God-shaped-perspective lens it will make sense.

Trials show us what we lean on. They smoke out what we are living for. They bring us to the end of ourselves and show us who we really are.

I don’t want to say ‘bring it’ to trials… but I do because I know the end result… but I still don’t want to say it as well. In the end we need to say to God, ‘Whatever it takes…’ We hunger for control, love simple answers to questions – but trials help us long for something better.

How are we responding to the trials of this life? How do we respond to the passions and sins in our lives? Do we ask God to do whatever it takes to work in me, so that I will experience your joy and glory forevermore?

Trials as gifts of grace (John Newton)

  • Maybe a bad thing in our life is actually a good thing.
  • To show us our idols     
  • To bring us to the end of ourselves and take us to a place we could never imagine    
  • Trials are about God liberating me from me, and maybe you from you.
  • The worst thing – the death of the Messiah, is actually the best thing – the death of the Messiah.     
  • Eyes to see and hearts that are responsive

 

[Steven: Our response to trials reveals what’s deep in our hearts. What a brilliant encouragement and challenge: are we willing to ask God to do whatever it takes to make us whole, expose our hearts, and bring us to Him?]

The First 5 Years

 

The end of 2016 has signalled for me another year of ministry done and dusted. I’ve now been at this particular work for five years now. Two years ago I was up for renomination as Pastor and I’m thankful to God, and to my church, for their confidence vote in the ministries I’ve been involved in.

The past five years have also reminded me of Gary Millar’s favourite John Chapman story. Gary’s ministry in Ireland wasn’t always swimmingly great. In fact, if you ever sit down with Gary to hear how ministry was for him you’d be utterly surprised that he didn’t throw in the towel sooner. There were some pretty bad things said about him and done to his family (though, thankfully, nothing physical).

But Chappo was always telling Gary, “Brother, they killed our Lord Jesus. Don’t expect anything less! And remember, the first 50 years of ministry are the hardest.”

I’ve been at it now for five years. That’s 45 more to go before it gets any easier…

So with five years under my belt here are some of the bigger personal reflections.

Preaching is hard work. I came out of College bustling with energy and ideas and convictions that had been freshly laid. The tendency in my early sermons was to preach what I had just learnt (and was wowed by, and wanted people wowed by) and what I wanted to say and show these points from the text before us. By the steady guidance and feedback of my friend and co-pastor Ben I’ve made greater strides in my preaching – to speak clearer on what scripture itself is saying and being a little more discerning (though I often still fail) of what to leave in and take out. Five years on the task is still hard and filled with plenty of ‘woulda shoulda coulda’ moments and reflections.

Another aspect of preaching which is daunting is the sheer responsibility of being clear and faithful. Clarity wasn’t something I was always good at. Points within my sermons were sometimes jumbled and a confused mess. The saying ‘mist in the pulpit means a fog in the pew’ has been apt on many occasions. I’ve been working the hardest on this aspect of my preaching the most over the last five years. But what has struck me more recently is how weighty the responsibility is when the scriptures are clearly and faithfully preached.

For instance, I recently preached on the topic of loving your enemies. It was a hard sermon to chew on and preach on – because Jesus words seem so black and white that to caveat everything would be to miss the point of the radical nature of his words. A few short weeks later and I hear of a family in church which were struggling to cope with a difficult neighbour – an enemy. They had heard God’s word to them and were wrestling with the implications of it. It struck me how weighty those words of mine were. And it drives me to my knees to cry out that my words be faithful, and that the people I have oversight over will faithfully apply the words they hear.

The administrative side of church work can be quite mind-boggling. My first few years oversaw some major changes in the structure and organisation of my church. Basically, it came down to one of the elders in my church to sort out – and wow, the amount of work that went into it was incredible. I’m even more thankful today for God gifting men and women for this task.

Part of the reorganisation of our church brought up a stark reminder on what unity in the church looks like. Unity is not just about doing things together under the same roof happily. Unity not only needs relationships, but must also be grounded in theology and ministry philosophy – because eventually differences over these things will come to the surface and reveal a distinct lack of unity.

Here are some other short reflections. Starting with some negative personal experiences over the past five years:

  • There are always going to be people who talk about you and not to you – and usually about issues they have. And it always hurts. I’m up the front a lot, and I have a lot of energy out there, but I’m also human – and so is my family. It hasn’t happened a lot, but it has happened. And it’s sucked each time. I don’t think this will change either – not because I’m a pessimist but because of the doctrine of the sinfulness of man. It’s a tough reality of pastoral ministry that you need to grow a thick skin while at the same time wearing your heart on your sleeve.
  • The fear of man is real and utterly pernicious. It’s plagued my first five years – especially after the first round of criticism. It plagues me whenever I know I need to have a hard conversation. Those conversations I keep delaying, keep putting off, because I fear the confrontation. Coupled with this I have realised how much the sin and desire of having people like me hinders faithful ministry. This is something I still struggle with.
  • Coupled with my fear has been a growing realisation of what insecurities I have as well. The gospel that I encourage others to keep wrapping their security and significance around is something I desperately need as well. The past few years of ministry have made that clear time and again.
  • I need to constantly remind myself that even redeemed people are sinful and will act in sinful ways. I’m still surprised when I see this happen, but I should not be – for if we truly believe the battle that is being waged within us between the Spirit and the flesh we need to recognise that sometimes, sadly, the flesh will win.
  • There’s probably few pains in ministry like the pain of shepherding someone, even a close friend, who doesn’t listen to your counsel and drifts away – either from your church or from the faith. It’s utterly heartbreaking to watch.

Some challenges:

  • When Paul says in Romans 12 to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep’ it seems like such a wild contrast – but ministry is exactly that. The past 12 months have been filled with wonderful moments of rejoicing: weddings I’ve been a part of; celebrations of new births; tears of joy at the conversion of someone after one of my sermons. And there have been many moments of weeping: crying with someone who has unexpectedly lost a loved one, feeling the emptiness and sadness that comes with job loss or unemployment; sharing the anxiety and burden some have over their loved ones who have turned from Jesus. Lately this emotional roller coaster has been experienced in quick succession of a few days. It’s quite emotionally taxing to ride this wave.
  • It’s hard to keep self-learning. I have heaps of books now in a massive bookshelf waiting to be read. Unfortunately I have allowed the busyness of ministry to chew into personal reading time. I’ve been convicted of making time for personal growth, and the need to feed myself as much as I am feeding others. Let’s see how 2017 goes with regards to that.

There’s quite a few negatives and challenges listed there. I find it easy to remember and repeat these things. But over the past five years there has also been immense joys:

  • Watching people convert under your bible teaching is an immense privilege. I’ve seen some converted who have been around for a long time, and then something in one of your sermons or bible studies just makes things click. I’ve seen some converted only after a few weeks of getting to know them. Truly my task has only been to plant and water. To be a witness to God growing faith in someone is remarkably awesome.

    I’ve shed the tears of joy as I sat with someone who finally saw how beautiful the gospel is. I can remember those excited moments shared with a team of leaders who have seen a group converted after a camp talk. There’s just nothing like it.

  • Watching people respond to the Bible when it becomes clearly unwrapped before them never gets old. Those light bulb moments when someone connects the dots for the first time, and you can see the awe and excitement in their faces is just a brilliant moment in ministry. It’s massively encouraging – especially when you hear someone repeating those same truths enthusiastically later. And it’s not just the light bulb moments, but I’ve also had the joy of walking with some whose theology had previously been all over the place – and seeing them not only come to a much more grounded and clear understanding of the gospel, but also to see them putting that into practice in their own ministry.
  • Watching people grow in their walk has given me a wonderful and godly sense of pride and joy in them. I’m a father to three young children, but I feel like a father figure and older brother to many others as well. One younger sister once approached me, seeking my advice, because she felt like I was her older brother who was always looking out for her best interests. Yup, right into the heart that went! Pastoring must never be reduced to a mere job.
  • I count it a massive blessing to know that there are many who not only call me their Pastor but also their friend. My friendships in ministry have been invaluable for their encouragement and spurring me on just as much as I have been involved in spurring others on.

In the first five years there have been some hard and discouraging moments. And there have been wonderful joys. I’m glad that the joys have far outweighed the negatives. Here’s to another 45 years.

And I know for some of my readers: I’m really looking forward to those 45 with you.

Songs for a Time of Grief

Great American theologian Jonathan Edwards once explained the purpose of music and song for the Christian in this way:

“And the duty of singing praises to God seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”

The affections that Edwards speaks of are not just emotions and feelings, but the ‘vigorous and sensible exercise of the inclination and will of the soul’, or put another way: the affections are what drive what we do. Thus ‘song’, for Edwards, is given by God as a tool to move our whole persons towards being in awe, worshipping, and faithfully trusting God.

And I can think of no other time that we need this more than in our grief and sorrow.

With this in mind, here are some suggested songs for times of grief and sorrow:

Still, My Soul, Be Still

“God, You are my God
And I will trust in You and not be shaken
Lord of peace renew
A steadfast spirit within me
To rest in You alone”

 

It Is Not Death To Die

“It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears”

 

I Have A Shelter

“O Jesus, I will hide in You
My place of peace and solace
No trial is deeper than Your love
That comforts all my sorrows”

 

Valley of Vision

“Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley”

 

To Live is Christ

“And though we grieve for those we love
Who fall asleep in Christ
We know they’ll see the Savior’s face
And gaze into His eyes
So now we grieve, yet we don’t grieve
As those who have no hope
For just as Jesus rose again
He’ll raise His own”

 

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Is ‘Pokémon Go’ demonic?

Confession: it’s been just over a month now since I installed and starting playing the Pokémon Go smartphone app/game. It’s been an interesting time—with lots of light hearted moments shared with my kids as we’ve high-fived a good catch, and shared the loss of a Pokémon which has escaped my Pokéball and escaped in a puff of cloud.

Over the month that I have been playing I’ve also noticed that the game has had a fairly polarising effect on people. It seems you either love it or hate it! I can understand those who love it—it’s a fun game, it’s a novel take on social interaction and engagement, it’s helped me get outside and walking (!), and I’ve heard many couples enjoying time out together on ’Poké-dates’.

Those who dislike it range from those who find the game (and its users) a mere annoyance (since so many people in public seem glued to their phones), to those who find the game demonic! I’ve been asked enough by parents what I think about this game, so here’s my take on the concerns that some have.

Animism

Starting from the most serious concerns, I have read a few websites and blog posts which have made the claim that the game promotes animism (a belief personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs, and consequently, that human beings must discover what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power).  While there are shades of truth about this, I consider these arguments to be over-reach and over-reaction.

The very light shade of truth is that Pokémon Go, like the Pokémon games before it, does involve capturing mythical beasts and using/controlling them as their trainer to battle other Pokémon (and their trainers) on your behalf. And that’s about where the similarities between animism and Pokémon Go end.

Concerns that the game promotes Animism in some subtle form of spiritual deception is massive overreach: accusing the game of doing something that it very clearly is not.

First, there is no storyline or narrative within the game that promotes animistic concepts. There is no commentary or subtle hints in this direction either. While the game itself does use elements of manipulating these beings known as ‘Pocket-monsters’ there is nothing within the game which makes any spiritual connection to the users’ activity.

The other day my wife sent me video of our 4 year old son playing with Iron Man and Captain America action figures. Even without seeing the movie, he picked up the two toys and ‘battled’ them together (and of course one lost… but why did it have to be Cap?! #TeamCap). I think there is little intrinsic difference between Pokémon Go users battling their Pokémon in a gym and what my son did with those two toy figurines. At the end of the day both Pokémon Go user and my son walk away having ‘played’, and little else.

Second, to say that the game is influencing the minds of young adults towards accepting animism is to give undue influence to the medium. Put simply: it’s a game. Most normal people can discern the difference between what takes place within a fictional world/universe of a game and real life.

There’s a great story from Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor (who plays a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Stars Wars prequels) who tells how cute it is when kids come up to him and ask how they can join the Jedi Academy. But McGregor says he gets really annoyed when adults come up to him and ask the same thing – because he knows, and we know, that it’s silly that an adult would think that something like the Force and the Jedi Academy from Star Wars exists in real life.

Third, Pokémon Go is not pitched at young children. In fact, it’s near impossible for young children to play it. You need a mobile device, and the game requires you to be out and about, walking around trying to find wild Pokémon. Parents are not going to be walking around constantly with their kids every time they want to play it. Ain’t no(parent) got time for that!

Rather, the vast majority of Pokémon Go users are young adults. Young adults who should know enough to discern between the fictional game world and real life.

Evolution

Another major concern is that the game teaches and promotes ‘evolution’.

Does it? In a nutshell: no. Yes, part of the game involves ‘evolving’ Pokémon to a higher and more powerful form but there are critical differences between this in-game evolution and the Darwinian Evolution that many Christians are often so fearful of.

First, the type of evolution that occurs within the game involves mystical/magical transformations: the Pokémon rises into the air in a brilliant ball of light and then *poof*, out comes the new evolved Pokémon. Check out the video below for what it looks like in game.

I hope from that video that it’s obvious this can hardly be seen as promoting Darwinian Evolution.

Second, the irony of evolution in Pokémon Go is that is requires an intelligent being (the user) to make a ‘sovereign’ and free choice over the type and timing of the evolution, and then to push the ‘evolution’ button. Darwinian Evolution by definition rejects the involvement of any intelligent being controlling the process of evolution.

But seriously, young adults (ie. teenagers) are more likely to be influenced by Darwinian Evolution by doing their studies in High School Science than they are going to be playing Pokémon Go. I make no comment on whether studying evolution in school is a good or bad thing – I’m just saying that fears that Pokémon Go promotes evolution are woefully overstated.

The real concern

When I got sent articles and posts about the so-called dangers of Pokémon Go promoting animism and evolution I was annoyed. It annoyed me that the writers didn’t engage with the game itself to test whether their fears and concerns were genuine. But it annoyed me the most that these overstated fears cloud out real and genuine concerns regarding the game.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul quotes what may have been a common Corinthian catchphrase ‘All things are lawful’. It seems that some in the church were using the catch phrase based on their inadequate understanding of the gospel – “Jesus has set us free from condemnation, so all things are now lawful for us to do!” That’s my guess.

So Paul writes back that this catch phrase is only partially correct – “All things are lawful, sure, BUT not all things are helpful.”

There are some things in life which are neutral at best. Neither good nor bad. Some are free to participate in these things – but for some it might not be so good to do so.

In relation to Pokémon Go I think there are three ways in which it can be unhelpful.

Lack of Self-Control

The first area concerns self-control.

I’m cautious about using the word ‘addicted’ to describe how some play the game so often. Addiction is medical term with a distinct medical definition, and every time we use the word wrongly we cheapen the effects of real addiction.

Lack of self-control is, I think, a better way of looking at this issue. Those who play it constantly, talk about it constantly, and are often disengaged and staring at their phones. One parent shared this concern with me that he would not let his two daughters play the game because they have a habit of lack of self-control when it comes to these things in general – a constant preoccupation with these sorts of games: hours on end, day after day. I get that, that’s a real and genuine concern that I see not only in others but also in myself.

The gospel trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:12). A preoccupation with this game, which I think is a common danger of it, is not helpful.

Idolatry

One of the main features of the game which compels users on (since it lacks any narrative to compel users on) is the idea of levelling up in order to catch more distinct and rarer Pokémon. Levelling up in order to be ‘the very best, like no one ever was’ because  you ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ is a key mark of the Pokémon experience.

But when we begin wrapping our identity and status around what level we are, what our highest combat power Pokémon is, how many Gyms we own or have taken, then we verge into the danger area of idolatry.

In Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshear’s book ‘Vintage Jesus’ they provide a list of questions to help identify our idols (also known as our functional saviours):

  1. What am I most afraid of?
  2. What do I long for most passionately?
  3. Where do I run for comfort?
  4. What do I complain about the most?
  5. What angers me most?
  6. What makes me happiest?
  7. How do I explain myself to other people?
  8. What has caused me to be angry with God?
  9. What do I brag about?
  10. What do I want to have more than anything else?
  11. What do I sacrifice the most for in my life?
  12. If I could change one thing in my life what would that be?
  13. Whose approval am I seeking?
  14. What do I want to control/master?
  15. What comfort do I treasure the most?

In answering these questions you can see how our rank on Pokémon Go could act as an idol in our lives.

Distraction

I honestly think this is probably the biggest danger that Pokémon Go users face. Not because I think ‘there are better things to be doing with your time’ – there are heaps of other time consuming, and more expensive, hobbies that get less criticism than Pokémon Go has in the past month.

No, the biggest concern I have for any Christian playing Pokémon Go is that we’ll have good reasons for playing it, but end up distracted by the game itself. Using this game to connect with non-Christian friends and go out on outings is great; spending all your time with your friends glued to your phone, not great.  Using this game as a connection point for conversations, perfectly fine; spending all your time talking about this, not fine.

And there is one further pointed danger. The truly demonic is all of this is not the so-called animism or the evolution promotion. The truly demonic is to take our eyes off eternal realities and fix them on earthly cares, concerns, and distractions.

Matt Chandler explains this problem the best in this short 2.5 min clip:

The biggest potential danger with Pokémon Go is that it gives us a big enough distraction from our boredom that we will miss that we have been called to bigger and greater things in the gospel.

Conclusion

I think Pokémon Go is a pretty fun game. It’s got me out and about walking with the kids – which has been good for my health. It’s been a point of connection in my youth ministry as I use it to start conversations with teens before moving onto what else is happening in their lives. I know couples who have been able to enjoy time out together on Poke-dates.

Does Pokémon Go teach and promote animism and evolution? Hardly. Can Pokémon Go potentially stumble us into a lack of self-control, idolatry, and distraction from eternal matters? Potentially.

Basically there are helpful and unhelpful ways of enjoying this game.

 

P.S

I was forwarded a document from an Asian church which basically decried the game as demonic. To be honest I found it ironic: I find the preoccupation with academic excellence in our Asian circles to be much more demonic, and potentially eternally damning, than a phone game. I’ve seen more youth fall away pursuing academic excellence than I have seen youth fall away because of computer games.

Census – What to put if you’re not part of a denomination?

Census night is upon us, and there’s been some confusion as to what to put for those of us who are non-denominational. Our church, SLE Church, doesn’t have a particular denomination and a few of our members have been wondering how to mark the census form appropriately.

Here’s my simple take: Fill in the ‘Other’ category and simply put ‘Christian’.

Part of the reason for this is that this is simply the truth. Our church is neither Baptist, nor Anglican nor any of the other options available. And while many of us (including your pastors) have a particular theological position within Christendom (ie Reformed Evangelical) it’s not overly helpful to place this down. Here’s why: the purposes for which the data is used.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics most of the date is often used by governments to sort out planning and administration. The more that people simply put down ‘Christian’ the larger that population becomes. If you put down ‘Reformed Evangelical’ in the eyes of the ABS the population of ‘Christian’ decreases. If you’ve already done that, no sweat. Next time around we’ll know what to do :)

On what you should put down for your children, well Michael Jensen has a nice op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. That’s really up to you what you put down, and I think the aim is to be honest.

What are your thoughts on what to put down and why? Put them in the comments below.