Recommended reading (30 July)

readingFirst there was road rage and now there’s internet rage. Does “gentle” describe your tone when disagreeing online?

For the dissatisfied pastor/teacher. No platform high enough

If your pastor seems discouraged. One simple way to encourage your pastor

Liberating us to become more hospitable. The point of hospitality

When your best friend is struggling with depression. Serving your spouse during their dark sessions

We all know someone. What to say to a friend with cancer

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How to walk into church

hwic_265It’s important to be able to do things on autopilot. Can you imagine having to think through every step to riding a bicycle every time you got on? Or opening your users manual every time you wanted to watch TV?

However, sometimes, autopilot can be a problem. We visited our premature daughter at the hospital every day for over 3 months until she was able to come home. Many times after that day, I’d get in the car, and be almost at the hospital before I realised that I should have been going in the opposite direction.

I suspect that going to church is an autopilot experience for most Christians. Sunday comes around and we get up, head to church, sit in the same place, and do what we always do. Interestingly, the Bible teaches us that we shouldn’t head to church on autopilot. We should turn autopilot off and engage manual. Hebrews 10:24-25 teaches us:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We are encouraged to meet together regularly so as to encourage and spur one another on in our Christian lives. I take this as encouragement to make church a regular and important priority. We are also urged to ‘consider’ how me do this, which I take as call to disengage autopilot. We are to think about why we go to church, what we will do when we are there, who will be there, how we might encourage them, and more.

Tony Payne’s brief book, How to Walk into Church is written to encourage us to switch off the autopilot and think how we can make our time at church amongst the most valuable activity we engage in each week. He writes:

We come not to spectate or consume, nor even to have our own personal encounter with God. We come to love and to serve.(p13)

This little book is firmly grounded in Hebrews chapters 10 to 12. We are introduced to the heavenly gathering called church and move to the implications of belonging to this church for how me spend our time together with other Christians in our local churches. Our churches are to be shaped by love, and this only happens as we make God and one another the purpose of our gathering. We meet to love, which means we meet so as to build one another by the truth of God’s word. Tony suggests that every time we walk into church we should be wearing a metaphorical t-shirt that says:

“God is important to me, and you are important to me”. And on the back it says, “And that’s why I wouldn’t dream of missing this.” (p37)

How to Walk into Church contains helpful suggestions for promoting ‘every member’ ministry. You don’t need to be the preacher, the Bible reader, or the song leader to be able to influence others. We can all strike up conversations shaped by the Word of God. We can look out for one another, notice who’s missing, and show hospitality to newcomers. If church has become a passive experience, then this book will help you to turn things back toward active engagement every week.

This brief book is one that I plan to use as a tool in our ministry. Our church has already purchased a box of these books and we are promoting them to our regulars. My hope is that the book can also become part of a membership toolkit. When people indicate that they’re keen to belong to our church, then we will talk through how they can contribute to the ministry. We may well give them this book, urging them to read it, jot down some notes and questions, and we’ll talk about it together. I will be recommending this book to churches, small groups, and individuals.

There are many strengths of this book, not least is that it’s only 64 pages and takes 30 minutes to read. Yet more importantly is that it is derived clearly from the Scriptures. Some books about ‘what to do in church’ simply springboard from the Bible into the pool of pragmatism.

Having read over this book a couple of times, there are improvements that I think could be made in a second edition. It’s a good book that could be even better. I’d like to be able to offer this book to anyone who comes to our church—whether they are Christian or not. Thus, I think the book would benefit by a clearer explanation of how to become part of the heavenly church, the church belonging to Jesus. While this point is made, a few pages completely devoted to the message of the gospel would strengthen its impact.
I’d also like to read more practical ideas for ministry at church. Perhaps in between chapters we could read some cameos of people in their service at church. Alternatively, each chapter could finish with some dot points of ideas, or even a section for personal reflection and prayer for the reader to map out some ideas for service.

I had an opportunity to raise these suggestions with the author at a recent conference and he was most receptive. I sensed that his desire is to serve the church by listening as well as by writing.

This review was written for The Gospel Coalition Australia

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Recommended reading (16 June)

readingNext week the church I pastor is looking at what we believe about church. What we truly believe will be shown in how we speak and act. Here’s some helpful food for thought on how we approach church.

Brian Borgman The Danger of Seeking your Dream Church

Carey Nieuwhof A Response to Christians who are done with Church

Check out this infographic of the ‘one another’ verses in the New Testament

Keller, Piper and Carson on Thriving Churches in a Hostile Culture



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Recommended reading (14 June)

readingThe following articles are helpful food for thought if considering how to encourage people, especially atheists, to consider Christian faith.

Sandy Grant On Good and Bad Evangelism

Stephen McAlpine Christian: Are you Ready for Exile Stage Two?

Nathan Campbell When in Rome: Reframing our Expectations as the Post-Christendom Church

John Gray What scares the New Atheists?

And an old post by Nathan Campbell How to talk to atheists about Christianity

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Why Christians believe Jesus is God

From time to time I get asked why Christians believe that the man of history, Jesus Christ, is believed to be divine. It’s one thing to believe that he is special and that he’s left his mark on history, but it’s another thing altogether to believe that Jesus is God. Sometimes people support there critiques by claiming that Jesus never said he was God, or that the Bible doesn’t actually describe Jesus as God. While it is true that you won’t a quotation of Jesus saying “I am God” in the Bible, this is not to say that Jesus and the Bible writers deny this. In fact, there is significant evidence to support the claim that Jesus is divine.

jesusasgodIf you are interested in considering the Bible’s claims on this matter, the following list of references is a helpful start. They’ve been adapted from the book by Murray Harris called Jesus as God.

Divine functions performed by Jesus

In relation to the universe

  • Creator (John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2)
  • Sustainer (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:3)
  • Author of life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)
  • Ruler (Matt 28:18; Rom 14:9; Rev 1:5)

In relation to human beings

  • Healing the sick (Mark 1:32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38)
  • Teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31)
  • Forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col 3:13)
  • Granting salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 10:12-14)
  • Dispensing the Spirit (Matt 3:11; Acts 2:17, 33)
  • Raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)
  • Exercising judgment (Matt 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5)

Divine status claimed by or accorded to Jesus

In relation to his Father

  • Having divine attributes (John 1:4; 10:30; 21:17; Eph 4:10; Col 1:19; 2:9)
  • Eternally existent (John 1:1; 8:58; 12:41; 17:5; 1 Cor 10:4; Phil 2:6; Heb 11:26; 13:8; Jude 5)
  • Equal in dignity (Matt 28:19; John 5:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Rev 22:13; cf. 21:6)
  • Perfect revealer (John 1:9, 14; 6:32; 14:6; Rev 3:7, 14)
  • Joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph 5:5; Rev 11:15), churches (Rom 16:16), Spirit (Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19), temple (Rev 21:22) divine name (Matt 28:19; cf. Rev 14:1), and throne (Rev 22:1, 3)

In relation to human beings

  • Recipient of praise (Matt 21:15-16; Eph 5:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev 5:8-14)
  • Recipient of prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16, 19; 1 Cor 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor 12:8)
  • Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom 10:8-13)
  • Object of worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil 2:10-11; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:8-12)
  • Joint source of blessing (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; 1 Thess 3:11; 2 Thes 2:16)
  • Object of doxologies (2 Tim 4:18; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev 1:5-6; 5:13)

Old Testament passages referring to Yahweh applied to Jesus

  • Character of Yahweh (Exod 3:14 and Isa 43:11 alluded to in John 8:58; Ps 102:27-28 quoted in Heb 1:11-12; Isa 44:6 alluded to in Rev 1:17)
  • Holiness of Yahweh (Isa 8:12-13 [cf. 29:23] quoted in 1 Pet 3:14-15)
  • Descriptions of Yahweh (Ezek 43:2 and Dan 10:5-6 alluded to in Rev 1:13-16)
  • Worship of Yahweh (Isa 45:23 alluded to in Phil 2:10-11; Deut 32:43 and Ps 97:7 quoted in Heb 1:6)
  • Work of Yahweh in creation (Ps 102:25 quoted in Heb 1:10)
  • Salvation of Yahweh (Joel 2:32 quoted in Rom 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; Isa 40:3 quoted in Matt 3:3)
  •  Trustworthiness of Yahweh (Isa 28:16 quoted in Rom 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet 2:6)
  • Judgment of Yahweh (Isa 6:10 alluded to in John 12:41; Isa 8:14 quoted in Rom 9:33 and I Pet 2:8)
  • Triumph of Yahweh (Ps 68:18 quoted in Eph 4:8)

Divine titles claimed by or applied to Jesus

  • Son of Man (Matt 16:28; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56)
  • Son of God (Matt 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom 1:4; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2)
  • Messiah (Matt 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)
  • Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 8:5-6; 12:3; 16:22; Phil 2:11; 1 Pet 2:3; 3:15)
  • Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13; cf. 1:8; 21:6, of the Lord God)
  • God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1)
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Wisdom in Leadership

wisdomIt’s a while since I’ve been as excited about a book on leadership as I am about this one. Craig Hamilton’s Wisdom in Leadership is a treasure chest of wisdom. It’s set to become my “go to” book for Christian leaders and I’ve already pre-ordered copies for each member of our church’s leadership group.

Craig has managed to successfully integrate Christ-focused biblical theology and gospel priorities with the best of the literature and practical wisdom. There is a depth of maturity about this book that belies the age of the author. He’s studied the Scriptures, he’s read widely from the best, and he’s tested and refined his wisdom in the course of his own ministry.

Wisdom in Leadership begins with a clear theological foundation that avoids the common practice of arguing prescription from the descriptions of leaders in the Bible. I’d buy the book for this section alone. It’s an excellent example of how to think theologically and then apply our thinking to what we do. The gospel of Jesus, the strength of God, the dependability of the Bible, the necessity of prayer, the significance of serving others, and the importance of being before doing — all take priority over the particulars and practicalities of leadership.

This is a big book. It’s almost 500 pages and it contains 78 different chapters. It’s really a compendium of quality advice on a wide range of leadership matters. When I first read it, I could imagine it being a series of short books on a range of leadership topics, or a long series of posts on a quality leadership website. But I love the fact that Craig has gathered so much together into one volume. It’s the type of book to write notes in, to return to topics over and again, and to dip in and sample, rather than having to read from cover to cover. I expect to refer to chapters and use them as discussion starters with different groups of leaders. I’ve already written summaries, comments, questions, and tips for application in the margins of my book. I’ve typed up a 20-page summary of quotes and ideas from the book, so that I can remember where to go for what.

Here’s a taste of quotes to whet your appetite:

“The biblical model of leadership” is a stupid title because of the words leadership, model, biblical, and the. I do want to make it clear, though, that I quite like the word ‘of’. (p 30)

You want to be a leader? Good. You want to be a great leader? You want to be the greatest? That’s good too. Be a servant. Be the greatest servant. Serve everyone you can. Everyone you meet. Be all about others; be in it for others. (p 53)

Who God wants you to be will always have an impact on what God wants you to do. Secret sins will choke your heart and erode your ministry. Deal with them tirelessly and repent of them quickly. (p 73)

Submitting to authority, being a follower, is a mark of maturity. Those who can’t follow, or are unwilling to follow another leader, shouldn’t lead. It’s a lack of character that needs to be addressed. (p 120)

Leading is pain. It’s part of the job. And if you’re planning on not being hurt then you’re planning on not being a leader. (p 135)

When it comes to how you view the world, the future, and your life, if you’re measuring your circumstances then you’re measuring the wrong thing. Your hope is not based on the shape of your circumstances but on the size of your God. (p164)

Having read this book for myself, I’m looking forward to working through it with others. I anticipate using it as a reference tool for many areas of leadership development. Wisdom in Leadership will help to get our leaders onto the same page, working together for common goals, with a unity of spirit and purpose.

If you’ve read widely in the world of leadership, management, teamwork, time management, change and the like, then Wisdom in Leadership will serve as a refresher course by selecting from the best of the best, adding some home-grown wisdom, and distilling it all through the lens of the Scriptures. If you’re starting out on the task of becoming a leader, or you’re training up new leaders, then I’d recommend saving a lot of time and money by starting with this book first.

This review first appeared on The Gospel Coalition Australia website.

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Recommended reading (4 June)

readingWhen it comes to pastoral care, it’s not one size fits all. Nicholas Batzig has written a helpful article on The Complexity of Pastoral Care.

Given the ubiquity of pornography and the many temptations on the internet, buying your child a smart phone is a major decision and needs appropriate guidance. Tim Challies offers helpful advice in his article Letter to teens unboxing their first smartphone.

Having attended three funerals in the past month of friends who’ve died from cancer, I appreciate the gravitas of this article by Marcus Brotherton reflecting on his friend’s life: Five wise principles gleaned from a too-short life of excellence.

Nancie Guthrie shares some insights from experience on What not to ask someone who’s suffering.

I’ve recently read  and reviewed a superb book about Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton. I expect to repost the review on this site in the future.

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