Conference Highlights

“You cannot celebrate the Reformation nor call yourself a Protestant if you do not preach, teach, love and follow this Christ… and anyone that stands in the place of Christ is anti-Christ” Joe Thorn

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So we’ve just finished up at the latest Acts29 New Zealand Conference in Wellington and man was it a great time. It’s always a great time hanging with what I like to call ‘my tribe’. Like-minded men and women that seek to deepen their understanding of the gospel and widen their hearts towards God and his mission in the world.

This year the conference threw something a little different in the mix. Not only was their keynote sessions by Dr Jim Renihan, Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler, there were also four live Doctrine and Devotion Podcasts with Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler that were super insightful. If you are interested in learning theology but in a very raw, real and conversational way, then I encourage you to head to their website, http://www.doctrineanddevotion.com and download their podcasts. They are super helpful.

The Doctrine and Devotion conference centred around the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. Here are a few take aways from this year’s conference.

Christ is Pre-eminant 

Joe Thorn kicked off the conference with a great session on the Pre-eminence of Christ. Teaching from Colossians 1:15-20 he reminded us that the entire point of the reformation and the church at Colossae was a reforming around Christ. Christ is the priority. He is the supreme one, he is the maker of all things and the holder of all things. 
The church is the church of Christ. It is his church, He is the ruler of the church, the builder of the church, the sustainer of the church. Therefore as his church, we must submit to him through his word and trust him and our worship and practice should be for him, because of him and simply all about him.

“You cannot celebrate the Reformation nor call yourself a Protestant if you do not preach, teach, love and follow this Christ… and anyone that stands in the place of Christ is anti-Christ” Joe Thorn

 

Faith as Knowledge, Assent and Trust 

In one of Jimmy Fowler’s session, he gave a really helpful analogy of understanding levels of faith. The analogy was that of a chair. First, we can see a chair and ‘know’ it’s a chair. We can see the legs and see what it is designed for.  Secondly, there is assent. We not only know it’s a chair based on its design, we actually believe it to be true. While these are both necessary elements of faith. True faith moves us towards trust. We not only know it’s a chair, believe it’s a chair we trust it is a chair knowing that if we sit in that chair it will hold us up.

So too with Christ and the gospel. Faith in the truest sense is resting in Christ knowing that he will hold us up in the palm of his hand and will never let us go. Man, this was such an encouraging reminder.


Katie Luther is a genuine hero and you need to learn about her

Dr Jim Renihan did a very different session on Martin Luther’s wife Katie. Rather than a typical teaching session, it was more of a biographical talk of her life. It was the only session I didn’t take any notes. Rather, I sat and listened to an incredible story about an incredible woman in history. Her amazing faith in a good and gracious God in spite of her continual grim circumstances throughout her life was an incredible encouragement to me. 
Martin Luther’s love and devotion to her was also beautiful to hear. The way he wrote about her and to her calling her the greatest joy treasure of his life was heartening and helped me to take stock of my own affections and affirmations of my wife. I hope they make a good movie about the Luthers as it will lead to tears of joy of what is possible in a godly marriage during harrowing times.


Theology Matters. It really matters

As a pastor of a local church, I genuinely love our people and I want our people to love God. The best way I can see both of these realities is through good theology. Our people need to know the truth of God found in scripture alone. Joe Thorn gave another great analogy of how to understand the importance of good theology. Often theology is spoken of as the foundation of a building or the church, Without a good foundation, there cannot be a good building. While this is true and somewhat helpful, Joe challenged us to think of theology more like the sail of a sailboat.
Our theology is the sail, high and lifted up to harness the wind. It has to catch the power of the wind, which comes from without itself, in order to move forward. It’s possible to have a boat (church) but without the sail, you’re just not going to go anywhere and in fact, you’ll end up dying out in the waters of nowhere.
My job as a pastor is to consider first and foremost my own life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16), then that of my family and then additionally that of our church in order that God may move us by the wind of his spirit towards himself through his word. 


Without good theology, experienced and expressed there will be no true safety, genuine salvation and progressive sanctification of God’s people.


Thank God for his word, his Spirit and his people, past and present, that remind us of the goodness and graciousness of our glorious God that loves us and has given himself for us in Christ.
Looking forward to flying home and loving my wife and kids after another great time with Gracenet Community Church and the team.

Now get on over and start listening to and learning from Doctrine and Devotion at http://www.doctrineanddevotion.com

SSM and The Christian Worldview.

Christians are typically asking the wrong question…there is a more fundamental question that we must ask and how one answers that question will determine their approach.

Recently the Australian Government called for a voluntary postal vote on whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry within Australia. We were given 14 days, and today Thursday August 24th 2017 is the day to register for ballots and to have our say. Some have condemned the government for this move viewing it as cowardice on their part, while others welcome the approach, as they believe it creates opportunity for their voice to be heard. Whichever way you view it, controversy describes the current political and cultural climate within our society. There are those that say ‘yay’ to same-sex marriage, those that say ‘nay’ and those who simply say ‘meh’. Here are some of my thoughts on how a Christian worldview can guide you.

Are We Asking The Right Question?

Over the past two weeks I have been inundated with Christians asking me for my opinion on how they should handle the plebiscite. What I have come to realise is that Christians are typically asking the wrong question. When I converse with people there is a genuine sense that they are seeking guidance in how to vote. They want my opinion on the issue and to know how I will vote. While it’s a legitimate question that must be asked I believe there is a more fundamental question that we must ask and how one answers that question will determine their approach.

So what is the right question?

In Matthew 22 a bunch of religious Pharisees, one being a lawyer, came to Jesus and essentially asked, ‘Hey Jesus what is the most important rule of all the rules. Like if there was only one rule that was to govern all we do and say what would it be?’ Regardless of the motivations behind the question, Jesus’ answer is very insightful. He answered in short by saying, ‘love God and love your neighbour’ (Matt 22:37).

If you are a Christian the question is not ‘should I vote?’ or ‘how should I vote?’ The question we must ask is ‘how do I love God and neighbour?’ This is the foundational question that is to shape how we think, how we act, how we speak, how we live and even how we vote. The response of Jesus is also really helpful.

Here are two ways this instruction is helpful.

 

1. It Makes It Personal.

I often like to say that the Bible is a mirror not a set of binoculars. What is the purpose of a mirror? A mirror is something that you look into to investigate your current state. When you wake up in the morning you at some point go to the mirror and see where you need to make adjustments in order to benefit the rest of the onlooking world. In this sense the mirror benefits you in helping you make the necessary adjustments but it also benefits your neighbour because they reap the benefits also of those adjustments. Well hypothetically anyway!

The purpose of binoculars is the very opposite. Binoculars help you to see everything other than yourself. Its focus is on others out there. The Bible is not meant to be used in this way and in fact when it is, it can be actually be destructive. The binocular approach leads us to moralism rather than the gospel.

Moralism is essentially looking at life through the lens of right and wrong. Do the right things and life is good, God is happy, but do the wrong thing and life goes bad and God is unhappy. This is simply not the gospel. In fact moralism is the greatest false gospel in our culture today. The gospel does not teach that if I behave a certain way that God will accept me. The gospel teaches that despite my behaviour God loves me and has chosen to accept me based on Christ and his finished work. The heart of the gospel is love, not conformity or morality. When I am aware of God’s love for me despite my brokenness and sin, it helps me to likewise love others as I have been loved.

Moralsim is destructive because it leads people to idolise one form of morality while demonising another. This can lead Christians and the church in general to look at culture through the lens of morality and to be the moral police. This is right, this is wrong. Do this, don’t do that. In a Christian worldview there is defintely objective right and wrong. Jesus’ response to ‘love God and neighbour’ is effective however because it helps me to ask the question of myself not others. ‘How am I’ loving God in word and action. ‘How am I’ loving my neighbour by what I say and what I do?

 

2. It Makes It Purposeful

It’s very easy in life to get distracted. There are so many things pulling for our time, our money and our energy. All of a sudden we look up and our life has drifted. We’re off topic. We’re off target. We’re just off. What I love about Jesus’ response is that it has less focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and more on the ‘why’. It drills down to why you do what you do. It gets to the purpose.

A common part of my role as a leader in a church is to meet with people that are seeking wisdom on important decisions in their life. People have options on the table and are genuinely seeking wisdom on which is the right option. I’m often surprised that people seek my wisdom but the title of Pastor must have some persuasiveness to it.

What I have found time and time again is that people often ask the wrong question at this juncture. They ask – what is the right decision to make? The better question to ask is – what is the wise decision to make? (Andy Stanley has some exceptional teaching on this. Go check it out). This is a far more helpful question because most of our decisions are essentially morally neutral. For example, it’s no more moral to choose one job over another. What determines the moral and ethical value of a decision has more to do with why you made the decision rather than what decision you make.

 

Let’s return to Jesus’ response to love God and neighbour. With regard to the same-sex marriage debate the question has less to do with whether you vote or how you vote and more to do with why you choose to do what you choose to do.

In this instance the Bible doesn’t tell you how to vote. Some people will try and tell you that it does, but it doesn’t. You have to think for yourself and consider how you love God and neighbour in and through this matter.

In terms of the voting there are only three real options. You vote ‘Yay’, you vote ‘Nay’ or you choose to not vote, so you vote ‘Meh’. If you are a Christian then consider these two questions as you approach a decision. If you’re not a Christian you may not answer the first question but you likewise can ask the second question.

 

Question – Is it possible to hold/vote ‘Yay/Meh/Nay’ in a way that loves God and my neighbour?

Question – How do I respond to someone that holds a differing view/vote in a way that loves God and them?

 

If you are a Christian please take the time to ask this question throughout your whole life. ‘Am I loving God and neighbour?’

 

Saint Vs Sinner #2 – 4 Categories of Theology

In the opening post of this series I made the statement that ‘theology matters’. Now I want to explore this in more detail by outlining four categories of theology. With each category I will explain what is meant by the term, the implications of believing such theology, our response to those believing or teaching it and some examples. I acknowledge that this is not a perfect framework and not every doctrine will fit simply into one of the four categories. In saying that I still believe it can be somewhat helpful and further highlight why theology matters.

 

4 CATEGORIES OF THEOLOGY

 

DEFINITE THEOLOGY

Meaning – By definite theology I simply mean clear and truthful theology. The bible speaks clearly to this particular topic or doctrine. For those that take the Bible seriously there is no debate. I have to preface ‘take the Bible seriously’ because there is always someone that will twist the clear teaching of scripture to put forward their unfortunate agenda. Definite theology implies that all Christian’s essentially agree with this particular doctrine.

Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology or doctrine it leads to life and godliness. Their faith is grounded in truth. Their Christian experience will be consistent and their eternity with Christ secure.

Response: Believe and Rejoice. Our response to truth is faith and joy. True theology is to celebrated; people coming to know and believe the truth is to be celebrated. We believe it ourselves and rejoice when others do likewise.

Examples: The basic core elements of the Christian faith. Jesus death, burial and resurrection for example are something we all agree on as clear biblical truth. As Christians we all believe it and rejoice in what is meant by it. When someone from a slightly different church camp from us comes to believe in this same truth, we likewise rejoice with them. Definite theology is what makes it Christian theology.

 

DEBATABLE THEOLOGY

Meaning: By debateable theology I mean that bible is less clear to this particular topic or doctrine and it would be regarded as more of a secondary issues within Christian belief. Those that hold a different view on these doctrines remain as part of the Christian community because they believe in the definite theology. Within ‘Debatable Theology’ there is a great sense of appreciation for someone else’s view while graciously and humbly disagreeing. This theology is held with more of an open hand than a closed hand.

Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine the implications are predominantly intellectual, though at times may alter ones Christian experience to some degree. Whichever side of the debate one lands their eternity with Christ remains secure. They are Christians with whom we disagree with their interpretation of scripture.

Response: Debate and Disagree. Our response to such theology is to disagree graciously. In love for each other and with a godly desire for truth we will debate but we do not arrogantly argue, fight, or slander. Rather we encourage each other to continue to seek truth and to submit to it as we see it. Good godly debate around these topics is helpful rather than hurtful.

Examples: Baptism. There has been much debate in the church over which mode of Baptism is right, Paedo (Latin for child) or Credo (Latin for believe) baptism. If it’s of interest to you check out R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s debate (youtu.be/2VzUOiNtgio). Two incredible minds and two great friends completely disagree with how they interpret scripture on this topic. Both seek to be obedient to their interpretation while extending grace to the other. Due to the nature of the doctrine of Baptism, neither side is placing anybody’s eternity at risk through their teaching.

Other examples could include the debate of cessationism Vs continuationism and whether the miraculous gifts of tongues, prophesy, miracles etc still exist in the church today. Or the debate around eschatology and the end times. These are secondary issues that do not affect one’s salvation only one’s intellect and Christian experience. Therefore we hold our interpretation of scripture but we do so with humility, grace and openness to learn from the other side.

 

DANGEROUS THEOLOGY

Meaning – By dangerous theology I mean that there will be elements of truth layered within significant error. Due to the mixture of truth and error a trajectory is set that can be harmful and even destructive if arrived at a particular destination. It’s dangerous not because it’s utterly false but because there is falsity within the key premises upon which the overall theology is derived.

Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine they may remain a Christian however it will affect their Christian experience greatly and has the potential to put their eternal security at risk. This theology leads down a dangerous path and therefore needs to be carefully considered.

Response: Reject and Warn. Our response to such theology is to reject it personally and to warn both teacher and learner of the potential danger in holding to such theology. Debate and discussion need to occur however due to the possible ramifications a step further must be taken to warn people in love. It is stronger than basic disagreement; there is genuine concern that this theology is able to lead someone down a very dangerous path.

Furthermore, let’s not throw out the Heretic label here too quick. I do believe scripture allows a distinction between a false teacher and someone that teaches falsely. Well meaning, passionate people can be ill informed, ignorant, naïve and lack adequate hermeneutical education. It’s possible for people to learn, grow and eventually correct previous errors. I sure know this has been true of me. So while it is plausible for someone teaching falsely to be a false teacher, it’s not necessarily always the case. Dangerous theology while false theology may not necessarily mean heretical.

Examples: Liberalism is often a good example because it always begins with slight theological nuances and sometimes ends it utter denial of definite truth. I say sometimes because it depends on how far one goes. But the trajectory is always set by that 1% adjustment in the theology. If followed through to it’s logical conclusion certain aspects of liberalism often lead to despair and complete loss of ‘definite theology’

A good biblical example of warning against dangerous theology is in Titus 3. Speaking of people that are teaching foolish controversies, genealogies and the like Paul tells Titus to warn them. If after a few warnings they don’t heed the warning then reject the person, ‘knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned’ (Tit. 3:10) Titus is to reject the theology and warn them first, before out rightly rejecting them.

 

DAMNING THEOLOGY

Meaning – By damning theology I mean heretical. It is false and will lead people away from Christ.

Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology they will not inherit God’s kingdom. They will not be saved. They will not live with Jesus in glory. Their experience will not be consistent and their eternity will not be secure.

Response: Reject and Rebuke. Our response to such theology is to call it out for what it is – false. While I do not believe we have to call out every individual teacher by name, we must identify the theology and when necessary call out the teacher. We cannot and should not tolerate any such theology because only truth leads to freedom.

Examples: Prosperity theology teaches that God wants everyone to be materially wealthy and if you have enough faith, give enough money God will give you material wealth. Prosperity gospel is a false gospel and needs to be called out for what it is. It is destructive. It misrepresents God and misleads people to worship a completely different god. The message is ‘come to God he’ll make you rich’. Through this false gospel, many people come to God as a means to an end. God in essence becomes their butler or better yet their genie that gives them what their hearts desire. Prosperity preachers have riches as their true god, and they ultimately use God and people to get the false god the truly want. Prosperity theology needs to be rejected and prosperity preachers need to be rebuked and called to repentance.

We are often told in the Christian community that we shouldn’t call out bad theology because it causes disunity. The bible teaches us that we must rebuke false teaching and false teachers where necessary because it would be unloving not to do so.

In fact Paul outlined in Titus 1:9 that a qualification of an Elder is one that must, hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit. 1:9)

A few verse later Paul states that those of the circumcision party ‘must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families’ (Tit. 1:11) by their false teaching and that Titus should, ‘rebuke them sharply’ (Tit. 1:13). Paul himself called certain false teachers ‘dogs’ in Philippians 3:2; he stated that those who distort the gospel should be ‘accursed’ or destroyed and damned to hell (Phil. 1:8).

In the same way that I as a father would not allow someone to come into my families life and speak destructive lies to my children about who they are, or where they came from, I am instructed by God to protect his spiritual family. There we rebuke false teaching and false teachers.

 

Q – So where would I place sinless-perfectionism and the saints by nature theological movement?

Well I guess you’re just going to have to wait to find out…

Our Story by Mr & Mrs Smith

The biggest strength being a married couple who both have mental health conditions is the empathy and understanding that we both have for what’s going on… I kind of picture it as us limping along together in a marathon. We hold each other up.

Mr & Mrs Smith have chosen to remain anonymous. After receently talking with them for a couple of hours over coffee, I was actually brought to tears. Not necessarily because of how much pain they have both experienced but rather because of how great their love and support for each other is. I was simply blown away by how perfect they are for each other. They are my friends and in my eyes they are superheroes. This is their story…

 

Tell us a little about your story?

Mrs:

I have been living with Depression for 8 years. I was diagnosed in 2010, though I had unrecognised bouts before then. In 2013 I developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder. There is no real reason for my conditions; I am genetically predisposed to having a mental health illness. The first signs I remember were losing interest in my hobbies. I grew very fatigued, sometimes sleeping an extra 4-5hrs in the middle of the day after 8hrs of sleep at night. I would wake up regularly at 2 or 3am in the morning for no reason, often with night sweats. I began crying at the smallest things, and having suicidal thoughts. I felt empty, and at the same time I felt I had this dead weight inside of me. I began self harming. It was a release of my pain, and also a way to feel pain, when I felt emotionally numb.

Mr:

I experienced a patch of depression and anxiety in 2014/2015 caused by burn-out. The first thing I noticed was that I could not get out of bed. When I finally got out of bed and got to work, getting out of the car would take immense effort and time. Sometimes a whole hour. Small tasks became ridiculously hard, and I became very apathetic. My self-confidence plummeted and my motivation and zest for life (something which had defined me) disappeared.

  

What has it looked like living with depression and anxiety?

Mrs:

When I am depressed or anxious, the smallest decisions are hard and become a lengthy process. My mind becomes foggy. My concentration wavers. I literally can’t think properly. I become paralysed and trapped within my own thoughts. I can become harsh, blunt, and have little empathy in my interactions with people. When I’m anxious I can also become hyper productive. Needing to control and keep on top of everything so I don’t feel out of control. I often feel agitated and easily irritated. Sometimes I just feel grumpy for no reason. My patience disappears, and I become cynical. When something is hard, my mind jumps straight to suicidal ideation. I don’t want the thoughts, and I don’t want to act on them, but they are there, tormenting me. Sometimes at the forefront of my mind, sometimes as white noise in the background. Most of my anxious thoughts feel like that; like a separate entity tormenting me, whilst a small other voice tries to fight them off. It is exhausting. I don’t feel all of these things all the time – there are periods of feeling fine for a while, and then periods of erratic mood changes. The swinging of emotions becomes exhausting. My brain is tired. And yet onward I go. Life doesn’t stop.

Mr:

Similar to the first answer. Life was much harder on the inside. I was still doing normal things but just with a hectic level of effort. It was like running on second gear when I used to have six.

 

What has marriage looked like with both of your struggling? 

Mr & Mrs:

I think the biggest strength being a married couple who both have mental health conditions is the empathy and understanding that we both have for what’s going on. We both have similar coping mechanisms and I think perhaps if we didn’t, it would be harder. I kind of picture it as us limping along together in a marathon. We hold each other up.

We have been married almost three years and so far we have found that if we are both struggling, we can quickly surmise who has the strength to help the other and act accordingly. Alternatively, we both just hide together in a cave and enjoy each others company. Eventually, one of us will pick the other up and we continue to do the things we need to do.

Recently an event in our lives caused both of us much hurt, and our ‘cycles of emotion’ did clash, making it hard for the other to cope with their own emotions. Advice given to us was to process separately with someone else, and then come back together and talk. We found this helpful. There were a few times the sharing of raw emotion would bring the other back down to the pits where we were, and it wasn’t helpful. So processing our feelings separately and coming back together with ’better-thought-out’ feelings was definitely helpful.

 

What has helped you through you struggle?

Mr & Mrs:

  • Medication (both of us)
  • Talking to Psychologists/Counsellors/Psychiatrists/Pastors
  • Finding understanding friends to talk to about it
  • Managing the lows, through healthy habits (food, exercise, sleep) and open conversations
  • Avoiding the spiral of dark thoughts, through some kind of distraction.
  • Avoiding isolating ourselves
  • Figuring out the root thought to an anxious thought – “Why am I really feeling anxious?”
  • Not playing the comparison game
  • Changing lifestyles to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Working less hours.
  • Regular exercise with friends
  • Keeping a mood journal and graph to rate moods, to notice patterns and various triggers
  • Remembering the moments ‘down in the dumps’ don’t last forever
  • Believing things can change
  • Working out what we enjoy and doing it
  • (In marriage) Knowing each others limits and acting accordingly
  • (In marriage) Empathy towards each other

 

Where are you now?

Mrs:

Eight years on and my depression is still here. It is still as hard as ever. Over the 8 years there have been seasons feeling good, but also seasons of not. Currently I’m in a time of struggle, and its a day-to-day battle. The length of my depression and anxiety battle is now a factor that contributes to my struggle.

Mr:

I am in a good place; the healthiest I have been in years, I still have a disposition towards depression and anxiety but I know the signs and I ensure I act accordingly. I still lack a little bit of purpose and am low on the passion levels towards life, but ultimately I am going pretty well.

 

What would you like to leave us with?

Mrs:

If you struggle with mental health, don’t play the comparison game. Nobody wins at the comparison game. Don’t focus on where you are, or where others are; focus on where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, try and work out where you want to go. Ignore anyone trying to play the comparison game with you. Ignore yourself when you slip up and play the comparison game. Try to enjoy yourself when you can, because there is no shortcut to defeating mental health. It’s a long journey.

Mr:

Don’t play the comparison game with your past-self either. Don’t dwell on who you think you ‘used to be’. I’m often saddened because I feel as though I’m not as energetic, outgoing or as excited as I was when I was younger. Mental health battles can change you forever, but know you are not worse or weaker version of you – just different version, and that’s ok. You develop new strengths through the struggle and a new way of seeing people and the world and this should be celebrated, not seen as a failure.

The Shack Attack & What To Think

First of all let me just say from the outset that it’s neither my job nor my goal to tell you what to think. My goal is to help you to think. I’ll be making some points that I think are worth your consideration but at the end of the day you need to think for yourself. With that in mind let’s talk about The Shack Attack.

The Shack was a book written by Paul Young roughly a decade ago. Within a few years it had sold millions of copies and had likewise divided the Christian world down the middle. Some absolutely loved Young’s book saying it really helped them through their own wrestle of understanding God and particularly with relation to their own pain. Others called it outright heresy damning Paul Young for his use of graven images (Young paints God the Father as an African-American women named Papa, the Holy Spirit is an Asian women named Sarayu, and Jesus is a Middle Eastern carpenter – go figure) and some of the theological implications that are presented throughout the narrative. With the movie launching in Australia today the Christian world is once again divided with those who love it uses the movie to invite friends and family and those who hate it calling for Christians to boycott the movie and some even stating it would be sinful to go view such a movie.

If you don’t know the story it is of a man named Mack who experiences great tragedy. While on a camping trip Mack saved his son from drowning and in doing so looses track of his daughter as she is kidnapped and eventually murdered. Like I said, this book is based on great tragedy. After some years of deep struggle over his loss, Mack receives a letter from God asking Mack to meet Him at the very shack his daughter was murdered. After wrestling whether to go to the shack or not Mack ends up taking the risk and encounters “God” in a unexpected way as he is confronted with his own sadness and anger towards God. And the story unfolds.

If you choose to see this movie (or read the book) here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. It’s a movie (book)

The Shack is fiction and fallible. It’s not the Bible. It’s not authoritative. It’s a story. A human story written by a human, seeking to narrate how humans may understand God in light of the pain that we humans experience. (That sentence may not be grammatically correct). In light of this, be careful allowing it to shape your worldview of God, pain, suffering and redemption. That’s why God gave you the Bible. Yeah but isn’t the Bible just a story written by humans also? Well in short. No! The Christian worldview is that the Bible is a story written by human hands but authored and inspired by the supernatural God. This is why we understand the Bible to be authoritative. It’s ultimately God’s story. If you are a Christian keep this in mind no matter what you are reading or watching. The Shack is not the only narrative to ever shape a community. I remember vividly in the 90’s Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” series. Many Christian’s understanding of spiritual warfare was shaped by this fictional spiritual thriller. So whatever your flavour of entertainment, make sure the Bible is your source of truth. Filter everything through scripture.

 

  1. It has an agenda

With that in mind some have been prone to state that because The Shack is fiction is should not therefore be critiqued through a theological lens. In one sense I do believe some of those that are throwing the ‘heretic’ word around have not allowed for any room for the category of fiction. But to say it should not be critiqued with theology in mind is a little ignorant to the fact that every author has an agenda. Paul Young himself has admitted as much. So yes it’s a fictional movie, but it’s also a theological one. What is the theological point of the movie? I guess only Young can truly answer that question. Some have said his motivation was to try and explain the trinity in a way that is accessible and understandable. Others have stated that Young’s agenda was an ‘Arminian’ human free will expose. I’m not so sure. I get the sense that Young’s big drive is the wrestle of human suffering and how we understand God in the midst of it. I may be ignorant, and I’m not always the sharpest knife in the draw, but I understood this to be why the book was such a big hit. Like Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’, Paul Young was scratching where people were itching. In every age we ask the question, ‘why does a good God allow suffering?’ This is my reading of the author’s intent. I may be wrong. But if this is his agenda I think Young deserves some credit as a narrator. He hit the emotions exposing our struggle of pain.

 

  1. It has theological Implications

Because the author has an agenda and has chosen to use the genre of fiction to achieve that end it is important to consider the theological implications and our response. If Young’s agenda was to describe the trinity (that is the Christian view of one God, 3 persons – Father, Son, Spirit) in a way that was accessible to our human minds, I would suggest that a narrative is probably the most limited of methods. The Trinity cannot be explained by any one story. That’s why we have the Bible being 66 books. It’s stories over thousands of years, in all sorts of cultures and periods of time and people groups that give us insight into who God is and what He’s like. While I’m not convinced this was Young’s agenda, if it was he chose a poor medium and opened himself up to huge criticism. It’s one of the most complex theological categories that humans have been trying to explain for millenniums. A novel will always fall short. As for describing the Father and Spirit as women, there has been a plethora written as to the problems with this, but for me it was more the over emphasised nature of God being a sensitive friend. While it may be true that God is sensitive and gentle, and that he is our friend that is not all the Bible tells us about God. God is also sovereign ruler, righteous judge and holy king. Because He is such, the Bible treats sin differently than The Shack would indicate. Again it’s only a movie and therefore there’s limitations to how much of God’s nature can ever be fully fleshed out. But I would point people to read the Bible and filter The Shack through it. This way you are able to affirm things that are true about God in the story while maintaining it doesn’t describe all that is true about God.

I have two other additional questions for you to consider. 1) What does the Bible teach us about God and suffering? And 2) what does the Bible teach us about hearing from God. In my context, many Christians I meet believe that there is no category that includes Christian suffering. Suffering then points to our own sinful choices, and therefore we should repent and change leading to our suffering dissipating. Or we lack enough faith, and therefore if we can just muster up enough faith we’ll be free from experiencing suffering, pain, sickness or even failure. This worldview leaves God to be powerless and us to be our own saviours. The Bible however holds God’s sovereignty over all things and man’s responsibility in a unique tension that is not easily understood. But it absolutely does not in anyway teach that all suffering is out of God’s will and design nor is it absolutely a direct result of bad choices or lack of faith. Read the book of Job to see just one of many stories of the nuances involved in human suffering in the Bible.

Even more troubling in my context is the drift away from objective Bible to subjective mystical experiences. We are all tempted to create our own version of God and not allow him to reveal himself to us through scripture. This story, if allowed to influence your worldview, leans itself away from the Bible and to the subjective, internal, personal experience of God. Without a doubt all Christians have spiritual experiences that are subjective, internal and personal. But we are to interpret these in light of what scripture teaches not the other way around. We must remember that God has revealed himself to us through the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets. This testimony has been written down for us in scripture and it is in scriptures that we learn to understand God and ultimately hear from God. And here’s the best news. The Bible is so practical today. These ancient stories speak to us and help us to wrestle with the culture we currently live in. This for me is further evidence of God’s inspiration because it’s timeless.

So, if you want to read the book or watch the movie, go ahead. It’s just a movie after all. I don’t believe as some other respectable Christian pastors do, that to watch the movie would be sin. For me this would rule out practically every movie that misrepresents God. But if you do, do so with wisdom not ignorance, and do so allowing God’s word to be the filter through which you understand God, pain, suffering and redemption. I read the book and probably won’t see the movie more because it’s not my style than a boycott against bad theology. But that’s just me. You do you.

Why I Love Our Acts 29 Network

So our annual Acts 29 Australia & New Zealand Conference has finished and once again I have returned more encouraged by our network and that our church is a part of it. Below are a few reasons for my optimism.

1. Gospel Centrality – If you ever attend an Acts29 Conference I can guarantee you will hear about Jesus. Sure, you’ll most likely hear about Jesus at every Christian conference. The difference for me is the centrality of the gospel. The gospel is not an add on or a launching pad, the gospel is central to everything that is sung and taught.

2. Diversity – This year we had 5 speakers from 5 different contexts with very different churches and ministry approaches. This is a great strength to our network. It is really refreshing to see churches seeking God’s leading in where they plant their churches and how they approach gospel ministry in their context, rather than trying to copy and paste another churches approach. This fleshed itself out in the conference by the 5 different talks.

  • Mike Beck kicked off the conference. He and his GraceNet team are from Wellington NZ. They are a reformed baptist church which is clearly evident when Beck preaches. You’re never going to get a 5 point sermon from Beck, unless it’s 5 points of calvinism, even then he’d probably find away to deliver it with a solid Biblical Theology. This is what Mike delivered, taking us back to the first covenant community in Genesis and helping us see the mission of God through his people from Genesis to Revelation. “It’s to our shame that Pepsi and Coca Cola would be distributed more widely than the gospel. Let’s be a people who call upon the name, trust the name, preach the name, and by the Spirit’s power we will drill deeper and reach wider for the cause of Christ”
  • Adam Ramsey, Pastors Liberti Church on the Gold Coast. Liberti’s team hosted us again and did an incredible job. Thank you Liberti. Mr Ramsey is a good friend so I may be a little biased here but the boy has got some serious lungs and can preach. If backed into a corner, like me, Adam would most likely say he’s a reformed continuationist. He encouraged us that “The risk is costly, but the mission is worth it”. He reminded us that while we are called to the mission, it is God’s mission and he is the one who is sovereign. Therefore we rest.
  • Ryan Kwon flew in from the Bay Area of California with his wife Jenni and they blessed us immensely. 10 minutes with this couple and you know they are genuinely some of the most loving people you will ever meet. Love oozes from everything they do and speak. This is exactly what came through with Ryan’s session. He preached a clear gospel message encouraging us to not leave God’s love. It is easy to get busy doing ministry and over time forget about ministering to our own hearts and minds. What we need is to be reminded of God’s great love for us. “On the cross God treated Jesus as if He lived our lives, and now God treats us as if we have lived Jesus life.”
  • Sam Swadling leads Gospel Church in Newcastle. Sam is a big country guy and has no interest in trying to pretty it up. I love this about him. There’s no pretence. Ever. This is the first time I had ever heard my friend preach and man he didn’t pretty it up and pull no punches. His topic was about cultural engagement. Rather than give us a bunch of strategies on how to engage culture he got to the heart of the matter – love. His main point was that if we don’t get the love part, our strategies, plans and ideas are worthless – “It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of love”. 
  • Guy Mason leads City on a Hill Church in Melbourne. This was probably the best I’ve heard Guy speak. Vulnerable, motivating, funny and his usual clear and concise message. Guy challenged us about being dangerous leaders and reminding us of our need for God. “Leaders – Are you leading with your chest out or your knees bent” . It was a great way to round out the conference.

3. Joyfulness – The picture above illustrates one of my favourite things about our network. While we are very serious about doctrine and mission, we also don’t take ourselves too seriously. We enjoy each other and more “australianly” (that’s a word right?) we enjoy having a bit of banter with one another. There is so much to ministry, church and family that tends to steal our joy and make us take life a little too serious. But every time we come together as a network I find myself laughing and enjoying my time with great friends. Even Citizens and Saints, a band from Seattle that lead us in song throughout the conference, were constantly on stage smiling. Filled with joyfulness as they gathered with God’s saints from the other side of the world to sing about and to God. They represented our Network well.

Our Life Centre Team had an absolute blast and I’m so thankful to all who came and joined us as a church down at conference. I’m proud of being the Lead Pastor of such a great church. Every conference I receive incredible feedback from others about our team. I too think we reflect the network as we are gospel centred, diverse and man we love having a good time. Thanks team. I love and appreciate you all so much.

If you missed conference this year be sure to be on the look out for our Regional Gatherings throughout the year ahead. It’ll also be a good idea to book out the 30th Feb – 1st of March 2018. That’ll be our next Acts29 Australia New Zealand Conference and it’s going to be another cracker.

The 4 W’s of Decision Making

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. So many decisions. How do you know whether you’re making a good decision or a bad decision? According to Google (yeah that’s right I googled it) adults make 35,000 conscious decisions per day. A young child makes closer to 3000. This sounds a little excessive to me but I don’t really have the time to test Google’s estimation so I’m going to roll with it. No matter the number, we know we are making decisions all day long. Most of our decisions are inconsequential. From how much milk to pour into your cereal to whether you’ll stand on that crack on the footpath or step over it. However many choices we make have significant consequences and many of our choices compound. If you make that financial purchase it will lead to another financial decision later. It will affect you for either better or worse.

So how do you make decisions that set you up for a better future? Here’s a filter I call the 4W’s.

 

  1. WORSHIPFUL

If you’re a Christian then this should be absolutely critical to your decision making process. As a Christian our highest end is to glorify God. We seek to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Before making a significant decision consider how it reflects on God and his reputation. Does it please Him? How will others view God in light of your decision? It’s easy to forget that before anything else you are a child of God. Before you are husband or wife; spouse or sibling; employee or employer – you are a Christian! You not only consider the affects of your decision on your own future or others but on God.

If you’re not a Christian then maybe think of this as ‘Valuable’. How will your decision meet up with your highest values? As a Christian our highest value is God. We seek His pleasure and His purposes and believe that all things that lead to His glory also lead to our joy.

Before making that decision think – Is It Worshipful?

 

  1. WISE

I learnt this from Andy Stanley. He’s taught and written much on ‘Wise Decision Making’ and it’s super helpful. Andy encourages us to not think through the lens of right and wrong, but wise and foolish. Is it the wise thing to do? 1 Corinthians speaks of a similar distinction when Paul writes to the Church at Corinth.

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.’ 1 Cor. 6:12

Paul challenged his audience to not just think through the lens of right and wrong. There may be some things that God is ok with you choosing – it’s lawful – but is it helpful? Is it a wise decision? Yes alcohol is lawful, but is it helpful for you? Maybe it’s controlling your life? Yes having a better half is lawful, but is it helpful for you right now? Do you really need that distraction at this point in your life? Yes buying that home is lawful, but is it helpful to spend that amount of money based on what you currently earn? You get the point. Don’t just think right and wrong.

Before making that decision think – Is It Wise?

 

  1. WITNESS

Again you may not be a Christian and therefore might think to tune out on this one. But it applies to you also. The big idea here is to think how your decision affects others. In our narcissistic culture we are told time and again to not worry about what others think or say. As long as you’re happy and not hurting anyone. This isn’t the worst advice in the world but it is narrow, self-centred and undefined. What classifies as ‘hurting someone’? When we say ‘happy’ are we thinking short term or long term?

In a free society you will always live with the tension between individual responsibility and community responsibility. For an individual to flourish, the community must not supress or restrict the individual. For a community to flourish, individuals must consider what leads to the flourishing of the whole. If you’re a Christian I really want to encourage you to consider personal decisions in light of the community you find yourself a part of.

A good example of this was my Life Group from church. We meet together every fortnight to eat, hang out and encourage each other in life. Being on a Friday night most of our group would drink some form of alcohol (wine or beer). It was lawful and personally helpful. People enjoyed it. However we had a new member join our group who was attending AA. For her alcohol wasn’t helpful it was hurtful and she had made a ‘WISE’ decision to not drink. As a Life Group we decided to lay aside our freedom and make a decision to not drink alcohol to benefit her. This was a decision that was about our witness. We modelled to her what true love looks like. Love lays aside personal rights and preferences to benefit the other. This is how Jesus treated us. He laid aside his life to benefit our life (Phil. 2:1-11).

How will your decision affect others? How will it affect their view of God? What example does it set to others in following Jesus? How will it help and bless others?

Before making that decision think – Is It a Good Witness?

 

  1. WORKING

This may seem redundant but I have found it is really necessary to consider. In fact it is this question that really determines the outcome of most people’s new years resolutions. For example how many people at the beginning of the year decide they want to get healthy? They sign up for the yearly gym membership and start strong. Only for March to roll around and it’s been two weeks since they’ve seen a treadmill. Why? Because every time they ate that food or reset that alarm, they didn’t ask the question – will this decision work? Will it help you get where you want to be?

Think about marriage. How many marriages don’t get to where they could be because other decisions were made that undermine the ultimate goal? This is about priority. What is most important? Do those behaviours and decisions help or hinder where you ultimately want to get to? When you are clear on the end game it helps you to say yes or no, now or later.

I want to have a great marriage! Ok so will having coffee with that person of the opposite sex help or hinder? Will it work?

I want to finish Uni with honours! Great. Will hitting those parties regularly help or hinder? Will it work?

I really want a career in _______! Awesome. Will playing it safe in that job you don’t really like help or hinder? Will it work?

Before making that decision think – Is It Working?

 

This is a simple filter but I have found it effective in my decision making process. You already have a filter whether conscious or unconscious. The question is whether it’s a good one or not. These 4 questions help me. If a decision hits on all four I’m confident to go ahead. If it doesn’t it gives me pause to reconsider and go through the filter again. I hope this may help you or at least get you thinking about your own process for making decisions to set you up for a better future.

 

 

Gospel Promise #1- God Is For Us – Part 3

Either God is teaching you to rely on his grace and sufficiency through your pain, or he is teaching you to return to his grace and sufficiency through your pain. Joe Thorn

Like me, you may often doubt God’s goodness and love for you even though the Bible says it’s true. As my friend Alex Early said when preaching at Life Centre Church in 2016, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so – is the deep end of the theological pool. Not the shallow end.’ You can listen to his message here (https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/alex-early-reckless-love-god/id455195706?i=1000369351776&mt=2). The love of God is central to the Christian faith and crucial to our Christian experience. In my previous post I looked at three evidences of God’s love and I’d like to look at three more in this post.

GOD INSTRUCTS 

I’m not sure whether this is more of a guy thing than a girl thing, but I really enjoy the challenge and process of helping my kids develop into who God has designed them to be. They are all unique and consequently they all learn differently. However one key component to each of their growth is instruction. As a culture we are resistant to instruction. We feel it implies incompetence on our part (think men and instruction manuals) and superiority on the part of the one giving the instruction. Both of which just highlight our insecurity. In the Bible however it is commonplace to see people viewing God’s instructions as delight. The Psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments… 68  You are good and do good; teach me your statutes…70  their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law…72  The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Psalm 119:66-72

God’s instructions are not his attempt for control but his desire for our joy. As our creator he knows what’s best for us and as our Father he wants what’s best for us. God’s goal with giving instruction is fruitfulness and joyfulness as seen in Psalm 1 above – prosperity describes frutifulness. We often doubt God’s intetnion as Adam and Eve doubted in the garden (Gen. 3). Don’t fall for the same lie. God loves you and is for you, that’s why he has given you good instructions.

Psalm 25:8 says, ‘Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.’

Notice he doesn’t abandon the sinner, nor condemn the sinner. What does he do? He instructs the sinner. Why? Because he cares and loves the sinner. His intention is to help the sinner not harm the sinner. This is great news and evidence God is for you. Only a good God would choose to instruct you rather than abandon or condemn you. God is for you and his intention is to guide you towards fruitfulness and joyfulness. His word (instruction) is a ‘lamp to your feet and a light to your path’ (Ps. 119:105). All through the Bible God is leading and guiding his people through his word because he loves them and wants what’s best for them. Likewise God is instructing you through his word because God loves you.

GOD INTERVENES 

Where would we be without God’s intervention? Seriously? Consider for a moment a destructive path that you are grateful you ‘almost’ took. What stopped you taking that path? What led you to make a better choice? I guarantee, that even if you are unaware, God was involved in intervening on your behalf. I promise you God’s grace was all over that situation. It takes great wisdom as a parent to know when to intervene, how to intervene and when to allow a child to learn through personal experience. God is a perfectly wise Father who knows precisely when and how to interact with us in order to keep us on the right path or get us back on it. Whether it is affirmation, encouragement, correction or even discipline, God will intervene out of love. Now let me be clear, not all pain in life is God’s discipline. In fact much of the pain we experience in life is because of choices that others or we made ourselves. But the Christian faith makes room for good Godly discipline, which can be painful, but is always beneficial.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. Hebrews 12:5-6

Nobody enjoys discipline. But it is proof that God is for our good. If it is true that our hearts are prone to wander away from God and away from what is good, then it would be unloving for God to allow us to drift without intervening. James Macdonald often says, ‘God’s love is not a pandering love, but a perfecting love’. God is not the grandparent giving ‘billy’ more and more ice cream and fairy-floss. He’s the parent that gives the child what they need not want they want. He will not allow us to remain on paths that can affect our earthly or eternal experience. The gospel promise is this: whether our pain is due to our own foolish decisions, the decisions of others or the discipline of God, God will use it all to intervene for our good (Rom. 8:28). God’s sovereignty is such that he will not waste anything in our life. As Joe Thorn writes in ‘Experiencing the Trinity’ we can be sure of two things in our suffering and afflictions

Either God is teaching you to rely on his grace and sufficiency through your pain, or he is teaching you to return to his grace and sufficiency through your pain. Joe Thorn

  • GOD IMPARTS

The most famous verse in the whole Bible begins by saying, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave’ (Jn. 3:16a). God is a giver. It’s in his nature. He loves to give. In Christ, God hasn’t just done something for you, but he continues to give to you. God designed you from before the foundation of the world to do something. Whatever your something is, God promises to help you with it. He hasn’t just pointed in a direction and instructed you to do it. He has and continues to impart what you need in order for you to do it.

‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ Eph. 2:10

This makes much more sense to me now that I’m a father of four. I don’t just want to give instructions to my kids, I also want to give them the tools to succeed in following those good instructions. I want to set them up to win. So too is God’s intention towards us. The personality you have is God’s gracious gift to you. The story you have is God’s gracious gift to you. The skills and gifts you have are God’s gracious gift to you. God hasn’t only instructed you to do good works; he promises to give you the grace you need in order to actually do the good works.

‘And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work’ 2 Cor. 9:8

Often we feel unloved because we feel ill equipped. We look at where we should be and look at where we are, and see the large chasm. But here in lies the secret. Don’t look in yourself to measure whether you are equipped for the journey ahead.

  • Look down to the scriptures that remind you that God in ‘his divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness…’ (2 Pet. 1:3).
  • Look up and thank God for his abundant and sufficient grace in all things and at all times
  • Look out and see what God is calling you to and be confident that he is for you because he has imparted to you all that you need to live your life.

As the Danish Proverb goes, ‘The next mile is the only one a person really has to make.’ Knowing that God loves you and is for you will keep you going when the next mile seems impossible. Look at all the evidence of God’s love and grace and be reminded that God is for you.

In closing consider the greatest gift God has given us – HIMSELF!!! This is the focus of my next post – Gospel Promise #2 – God Is With Us.