Tune My Heart

Living and speaking for Jesus

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Don’t even try to pay God back

Lovely stuff from Neil Powell:

I don’t think for a moment that Paul wants us to see the purpose of the Christian life as pay back to God. The problem I have is that it is pretty instinctive to want to pay back what I owe, and to begin to apply that to our relationship with God. So can I ask whether your Christian service begins to function in that way for you? Ever tempted to think that way? I owe God and therefore what he wants of me is to pay him back.

The problem, friends, is that when our drivers are duty, or even guilt, our very ministry begins to be a denial of the gospel. It’’s actually putting the gospel in reverse. When Paul says that you and I have a debt to God he is not using guilt or duty to motivate your service. You see the secret of the gospel, I’m just beginning to discover, is that the right place for us to be, the only place for us to be, is forever in Jesus’’ debt.

“O to grace, how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wand’ring heart to thee.”

Why Stoicism Is Toxic

Brilliant short answer from John Piper on why emotions are crucial in the Christian life.

Come praise and glorify

Top secular books of 2013

My top secular books of 2013 – not necessarily those published this year (as will be apparent) but those I read for the first time this year. Related: Top Christian books of 2013.

  1. Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare. This play went from being unknown to my favourite Shakespeare play in a very short space of time due to its word-play and verbal sparring between the leads, but also because it is often laugh-out-loud funny. The Joss Whedon adaptation was my initial introduction, and is also my film of the year.
  2. Quiet, by Susan Cain. A book on introverts by an introvert that helped me understand myself and others better, whilst also showing me that quiet is not only possible but desirable for extroverts like me too! This and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (see last year) make a powerful case for silence, space and reflection: a message I need to keep hearing in the noise of our always-connected culture.
  3. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. Oh my. This is the year that Margaret Atwood became my favourite living author. Stunning in its scope, subtle in its nuances, bringing together biography and fantasy in an intense narrative that hints and weaves and dances before reaching an explosive and emotional end. Epic and oh-so-worth-it.
  4. Tender is the night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had one failed attempt at starting this slow-moving but beautiful portrayal of 1920s glitz in terminal decline, but I’m so glad I persevered. If The Great Gatsby is small and perfectly formed, this is the sprawling and strange elder sibling.
  5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré. A gripping introduction to one of the great Cold War story-tellers. This is to Ian Fleming’s Bond as Alec Guinness is to Roger Moore – sophisticated rather than salacious, complex characters rather than stereotypes, and thoughtful prose rather than terse one-liners. (This may be unfair to Fleming, but it’s certainly not unfair to le Carré.)

Top Christian books of 2013

My top Christian books of 2013. Related: Top secular books of 2013.

  1. Confessions, by Augustine. Emotionally raw and incredibly honest, this book is Augustine’s reflections on his slavery to sin and his eventual conversion, all in the context of a prayer to God. I accidentally picked up an abridged version, but it was nonetheless astonishing.
  2. Serving without sinking, by John Hindley. The church’s book of the summer, and with good reason. Hindley starts by diagnosing many bad reasons for service, spends the majority of the book discussing how Jesus serves us, and only then moves to our service of him. It left me delighting in Jesus more and with a fresh joy in his service, and for that it comes warmly commended.
  3. J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ, by Roger Steer. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into reading Christian biographies. This one was a real encouragement. Seeing God using an ordinary, sinful man to bring thousands of Chinese people to Christ and to raise up multiple generations of Jesus-loving missionaries, all off the back of simple, faithful prayers, gave me a renewed heart for God’s mission to the world and a renewed confidence that he is powerfully at work to this day.
  4. Integrity, by Jonathan Lamb. I’d been meaning to read this for a while, and it didn’t disappoint – in fact I read it twice! Jonathan Lamb shows how Christians need to be those with integrity – to have lives that reflect the God we love to the church and to the world. It’s a thematic walk through 2 Corinthians and deserves thoughtful reflection. I need the message of this book daily.
  5. Emotions, by Graham Beynon. I had great expectations of this book, and it came very close to fulfilling all of them. I found it pastorally helpful, realistic, biblical and encouraging. My one concern is that I already agreed with its thesis, and I’m not sure what those of a more stoical mindset will make of it. Still, a much needed message in the Christian sub-culture I’m in (precisely because we tend to be more stoical than biblical when it comes to emotions!).

Honourable mentions go to Tim Chester’s Unreached, Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed, Phil Ryken’s Loving the way Jesus loves, and Christopher Ash’s Bible Delight. The latter two are brilliant books for daily devotions.

Light in the darkness

This year I’ve been reminded constantly of how appropriate it is that we celebrate Christmas in the depths of winter.

First there was Glen Scrivener’s video:

Then there was his beautiful entry “He shines in the dark“.

Then there were the storms. Bad weather reminding us that this world is broken, is groaning (Rom 8:22), is not as it should be.

Then there was the fourth century theologian Athanasius, and his work “On the incarnation“. He tells us why Jesus came as a man:

[N]ow [the Word] entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us… He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own… He, the Mighty One, the Maker of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own…

Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

Isaiah writes:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

Winter is a time of long nights, of dim days, of barren trees and fallen leaves. It’s a time of darkness. And it’s into this world that Jesus enters—not the sunny summers where everything seems right, but into a world marked by sin and darkness. Whether we’re mired in sin, facing the unknown, or feeling distant from God, in the midst of our darkness, Jesus comes as Light.

It’s typical at this time of year to reflect back on the past twelve months and look forward to the next. For me, a lot of things are up in the air. I don’t know what the future holds.

But I do know who holds the future. He’s the one who entered into the darkness in order to bring us through to the light. Where he goes, we will follow. Glory!

He shines in the dark

This is absolutely beautiful from Glen:

I preached again on Christmas in dark places. Afterwards a woman told me she’d buried her husband that week. Another man told me his daughter had just lost her child in labour. Another spoke of a divorce this year. Everyone agreed Christmas was hard.

At the end I spoke to Barry. I took his hand and he grasped it hard. He whispered a phrase. I pulled in even closer: “Say again Barry?” He said it again. I thought I caught it but I wanted to make sure. Now my ear is right by his lips. “One more time Barry?”

“He shines in the dark.”

Oh, what glorious news this is!

Never always winter

I love this from Scott Oliphint:

Even before the entrance of sin, God condescended, in His Son, to speak to Adam and Eve, and to walk in the Garden. This condescension of God, in the person of His Son, was a constant pledge of the relationship to man, the covenant, that God had unilaterally established.

But then the sin of man ruined everything. Left to itself, the world would be a place where it was “always winter.” Yet the LORD God refused to let creation languish. Even with the devastating effects of sin, this now man-mangled habitat would not be “always winter.” In His grace, the Lord determined, according to His own redemptive time-table, to fight against and conquer the sin that we brought upon ourselves and on the rest of His creation.

The danger of morals

Steve Collier and I have never met, but each blog entry he writes makes me hope we will soon! In this entry (click on the title to get to the original) he responds to David Cameron’s view of the Bible:

lawHave you ever felt burdened by something? I know I certainly have! And for many of us, maybe we have had times in our lives as followers of Jesus that we’ve felt burdened. If so, I wonder what those burdens were? I have an inkling that for many of us, those burdens may be to do with that word that Cameron uses: morals. Are we doing the right thing? Are we acting in the right way?

If we take Cameron’s understanding of the Bible, then what we have is a book of morals. And if we adopt his understanding of faith, then what we are left with is the slavish burden of attempting to live up to those moral standards. You see, by reducing the Bible to a book of morals, what we really do is impose the law upon ourselves – that very thing that Jesus died to set us free from.

Glad to see you’re blogging again Steve!

Colette’s story

Emma Scrivener has the wonderful testimony of a friend of mine on her blog today. Click the title above for more, but here’s an excerpt:

When I was 14 I became very unwell with anorexia.  I didn’t know Jesus’ love so I focused my energy into school and exams interspersed with stays in hospital, and managed to get good A levels and escape to Bristol for university.  However at the end of my first year I had to go into hospital again for another few months.  Ellie and Cathy had taken me to church a few times, but I thought like all uni friendships that this wouldn’t last, and that they would realise that I am not worth bothering with.  I thought that they would see me as a complete failure for not being well.  But, praise God, this wasn’t the case.

I was thrilled to be at her baptism earlier, and so very thankful for God’s grace in her life (and through her to others). He is very good.

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