Category Archives: Christian living

Not all desires are equal

Not all desires are the same.

Kind of obvious? Yes! But important in a world whose ethical arguments depend so much on desire. What rights rule today, in the western world? The right to self-determination, to self-expression, and to self-definition. Desire is all-knowing.

If I will it then it is OK. (The usual illogical caveat that follows is as long as it hurts no one.) And more than OK, if I will it then it’s morally required. Desires reign.

Proverbs 6 shows how false that is. The back end of the chapter warns at length about giving in to the desire for illicit sex: don’t go to the strange woman, the adulteress, your neighbour’s wife.

But in the flow of the argument, there’s comment about stealing food. Why? Have a look at these verses (29-32).

So [burned] is he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife;
    none who touches her will go unpunished.
People do not despise a thief if he steals
    to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
    he will give all the goods of his house.
He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.

In the middle of warning against adultery, here is a hungry thief. He steals out of poverty and hunger. His desire for food is reasonable. We understand, and we don’t despise him for his crime. But we still punish him.

Theft remains theft, even when driven by the understandable desire for food.

But the point is not that the thief will still receive punishment. Not ‘the thief gets punishment, so too will the adulterer’.

The point is this: theft driven by hunger (though wrong) makes sense, but adultery is just plain stupid. Adultery is always self-harm.

He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.

Proverbs compares two desires here – the desire for food, the desire for sex. The comparison is in the realm of wrongdoing (stealing and adultery). And the comparison tells us to treat different desires differently.

Now there are lots of ways we need to heed this point. It’s pretty plain that there’s a trendiness in pushing for same-sex marriage. And it would be easy for me to go there (‘just because two people desire sex with each other does not mean it is good, or needs state validation’).

But I’d prefer us to see that ethical difference between desires applies all over the place. Perhaps I – and maybe you too? – need to consider where I err in this matter?

We might think of:

  • Any sexual desire outside of committed, life-long marriage
  • The desire to enjoy alcohol
  • Longing to see more of the world
  • The desire to succeed in your chosen employment
  • The longing for a successful ministry
  • A desire to be well thought-of
  • The desire for physical or mental health, for self or a loved one

And on and on we could go. Again and again, I believe, our desires take us. Then our reasons and arguments follow along to justify what we want.

So let’s remember that our desires can take us into error. Even the good desire for food can go feral. Jesus (in the final verse quoted below) said to desire first what is truly first – God’s kingdom.

The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked in wrath. (Proverbs 11:23)

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

 


 

Quick review: One Forever

One Forever: the transforming power of being in Christ (Guidebooks for Life)One Forever: the transforming power of being in Christ by Rory Shiner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do I feel about this book? Answer: I wish I had a whole pile of copies to give to my Christian friends (as well as to non-Christians interested in this whole Jesus-business).

This is a short work, written after the material initially appeared as conference talks. So my rating is for that kind of book – a relatively quick but oh so important read. (It would be unfair to rate it for what it never tries to be.) One Forever is a book for any reader.

One thing I have found among all Christians, myself included, is the slip in grooves of language. Take the example of prayer. We know that he will always start, ‘Dear God’, while she says, ‘Loving Father’, and yet another invariably says, ‘Lord and Saviour …’ None of these are wrong, but words can lose meaning by being uttered without reflection.

The same is true, even more true, for the way we discuss our connection with God. I suspect one reason we become stale in our walk of faith is that we become stale in the descriptions we use for our walk of faith.

This need no be so. God’s word uses many beautiful colours and powerful patterns to describe how believers know God.

Being united with Christ is one such description. We should treasure it, and Shiner’s book is a tool to help us do precisely that.

Unity with Christ, or being ‘in him’, is a wonderfully all-encompassing description of the Christian life. One Forever, in eight short chapters delves into some of these. For instance, being one with Jesus in his death, or being one with Jesus in his resurrection, or being one with Jesus in his body.

I won’t include much more detail, because I don’t want to write one of those reviews which allows us to think: Great, that’s helpful and now I don’t need to read the book. Please do read it! And I think you’ll be encouraged by thee content, as well as the practical changes that follow a serious commitment to living in the light of union with Christ.
 


 

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Ashley Madison and the search for security

The folly of sin is when we flee from security in search of security. We run away from what’s good and justify it as the search for good. It’s a daily universal pattern. Sometimes this pattern becomes even more clear than usual.

Earlier this year there was big news for the customers of Ashley Madison – their personal details had been hacked and published on the internet.

This would be poor form for any online business, but was more nerve-jangling for these clients since Ashley Madison exists entirely to promote infidelity and sexual unfaithfulness. Who cares about credit card details once the whole world knows your secrets?

The irony of this hack is that it was a security breach of the company whose business model was to breach security.

Ashley Madison promote married dating (ie, cheating). They target people who have made promises to a partner, people who have also heard promises from their spouse.

Of course no marriage is perfect. Yet it’s wonderful that men and women seriously promise each other the security of life-long commitment, “until death.” That’s a basis for security!

But at some stage the clients of the Adultery Madison Ashley Madison opted for the fragile security of an on-line business. “Oh look”, they might have thought, “they have secure socket layer security. I will definitely trust that!”

And so the potential adulterer says farewell to the security of a spousal promise, and entrusts privacy to the security of the internet. Dumb choice.

That is like sin in the heart of every person. Just as in the Garden of Eden, where the man and woman lost the whole garden because they opted instead for the one banned fruit.

Or, in the Lord’s words through his prophet, “my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

The folly of sin: we run away from what we really want, under the impression that we will find what we want.

So Ashley Madison is a jolt to all of us, not only the individuals named.

  • It’s time to turn back from seeking good things in bad places.
    Repent of the adultery sites, of ‘financial security’, of looking as good as whitewashed tombs.
  • It’s time to turn back to the living water himself, Jesus Christ our good Lord.

 


 

Quick review – Compared to her …

Compared to herCompared to her by Sophie de Witt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good and very short look at the problems that follow compulsively comparing ourselves with others. Not all comparisons are bad, just most of them.

If comparison-itis is the negative, the positive is contentment, found only in the sure blessings of Christ. De Witt explains all of this around three axes: significance, satisfaction, security. These three, helpfully, crop up again and again as de Witt explains cause, effect and treatment of the curse of comparison.

This is a book aimed at women, with plenty of women’s voices quoted throughout, but I’d say it is just as valuable for men.

There is one omission, or neglect, that I consider worth comment. De Witt’s method appears to focus on understanding and comprehension (of ourselves, of Jesus, of the hope we have in God). But there is little – perhaps nothing – on trust, or faith. I would expect an explanation that confidence and contentment flow from trust in Jesus, not just comprehension.

Nonetheless, recommended!


 

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Hope for the sake of Jesus

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

That is what I have argued in three posts on hope. In summary, Christians look ahead in hope, with joyful hope, and our hope is trust-filled confidence. This final part of the series reminds us that hope is not selfish. Instead, the good outcome of all our hopes is praise to Jesus.

It’s significant that the fulfilment of all Christian hope is the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of Christians. The focus is him. And the success of our hope results in praise and glory and honour (1 Peter 1:7) – praise to God, I take it.

In my view, the whole of 1 Peter is chock full of the idea of a final reversal: those who presently hope in Jesus, and are slandered for this hope, will be vindicated by the final glory of God. Jesus’ greatness trumps everything – ‘To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 5:11)

This reversal means Christians persevere in honourable conduct knowing mockers will glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12). Slaves are to endure, modelling themselves on Jesus who entrusted himself to God for final vindication (1 Peter 2:23). Reversal happens for wives of unbelieving husbands (3:1), Christians treated with evil and reviling (3:9), all who suffer the temptations of flesh (4:1-5), and believers in ‘fiery trial’ (4:12-13).

It’s as if the universe will say, ‘We judged their hope as folly. But their hope in Jesus was perfect because Jesus is perfect. Praise be to Jesus!’

Jesus is the only source of hope (my previous post). So too Jesus is the final outcome of our hope.

Therefore, putting this into practice, we live every present moment of life for Jesus.

We hope in great devotion for the day Jesus’ name is confessed by every tongue, when every knee bows to him (Philippians 2:9-11). To truly hope for this coming day, we live it today.

Today we confess Jesus, our hope. Today we bend the knee to Jesus, our Lord. Today we show the reality of hope by willingly obeying Jesus’ gospel. Present obedience to the Lord Jesus is an act of subversive hope. Despite not yet seeing his universal rule, we know it and hope for its revelation and therefore live by it.

Present obedience to the Lord Jesus is an act of subversive hope.

So, in 1 Peter, the command to ‘set our hope fully’ on the grace to come leads directly to the call for holiness (1 Peter 1:12-16). This hope also overflows in evangelism, as people quiz us about Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). In Hebrews, holding fast to hope sets us up towards love, good works, and mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:23-25).

I hope you have gospel hope! Show it to the world in obedience to Jesus.

 


 

Hope by Jesus’ work

In my first two posts on hope, I introduced this description:

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

It does not go without saying that Jesus is the one whose work produces real hope. We need to say – again and again – that hope comes from Jesus. That’s what this post is about.

The wonderful hope of every Christian is ‘through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3). This hope becomes public ‘at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:7). Hope is of Jesus from start to end. Believers do not create our own hope, but we set our hope completely on Jesus’ return and unveiling (1 Peter 1:13).

This hope is absolutely unlike all other hopes in our world.

The football team hopes to win: their hope looks like training, strategy and years of effort. The movie director hopes for an Academy Award: her hope looks like obsessive attention to detail and passionate communication of vision. The student hopes to graduate: his hope looks like study, assignments and exams.

Any hope in this world depends upon human achievement. And therefore is exceptionally flimsy. Only one team wins the grand final. Most movies bomb. No student ever achieved 100% in every assignment of every course. Human hopes are often seen, justifiably, as close to dreams.

But Christian hope is different because gospel hope comes from Jesus.

Jesus has done it: death is defeated, sin’s sting is gone, the believer’s future is guaranteed. (See my first post.)

Therefore Christian hope has confidence and assurance. Our hope is already safe, so our hope is justified. Jesus is alive, so to trust his hope is right. Jesus guards our hope in heaven, so Christian hope is realism not escapism.

They say that receiving a terminal diagnosis concentrates the mind. That makes sense! “I will die soon – what should I make of my remaining time?”

Hope is just like that, but 100% good. Because of Jesus, every Christian has an ‘eternal life’ diagnosis. It should remove all fear and doubt. “I will live forever by the work of Christ – how assured I am!”

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The next post:
Hope for the sake of Jesus


 

Good hope

In this post I introduced my mini-series on hope. For each post I work of the following description:

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

It’s amazingly important, and wonderful, to insist that Christian hope is for the good. Our future is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Post number 1 in this series might have felt a little neutral, or unemotional. That was deliberate, because I wanted us to look ahead and to think well about the certain future we have. And I knew that post number 2 was coming!

As we look ahead and think well, we rejoice (Romans 5:2). We bless our Father in heaven who have given us this living hope (1 Peter 1:3). We’re instructed to rejoice in our hope (Romans 12:12). Our hope is what we boast in (Hebrews 3:6).

As we look ahead and think well, we love and long for the future. We love Jesus, even though we don’t yet see him (1 Peter 1:8). We desire this future so greatly that our eagerness groans (Romans 8:23).

The Christian future – our hope – is so good that of course we want it, and of course we are disappointed that it’s not yet ours. To be with Christ is better by far, even when there are good works to complete here today (Philippians 1:23).

Putting this into practice has two parts.

Firstly, and most obvious, we rejoice and sing and praise God in prayer. We love what lies ahead of us, and engage fully in this good expectation. When Christians sing in joy, it’s a reminder of this good future and it again teaches joy to our hearts.

We must not wait for joy and thanks to well up to perfection before we express them. We instead express our joy and thanks as part of discipleship, training ourselves in godly longing.

Secondly, we are to flee from dead and deathly joys. Rejoicing in the transient hopes of this world will strangle our desire for the real hope we enjoy in Christ. The downward spiral of greed is really joy in ‘things’. The addiction of watching porn promises happiness or some kind of emotional connection, but it’s a false promise.

Too much love for job and career, too much joy in the commendation of neighbours, too much time spent on hobbies and interests … these all kill our boasting in the glory that is to be revealed.

Amid all the tools we have to avoid sin, here is one of the greatest: cultivate joy in the hope of Christ. Do it, because Christian hope is going somewhere good.

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The next posts:
Hope by Jesus’s own work
Hope for the sake of Jesus


 

Hope ahead

The Bible’s idea of hope is a wonderful treasure of many parts. This post is the first in four I plan to write, all based on the following description.

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

Hope looks ahead, because hope is going somewhere. Hope is a sure future.

This future includes the resurrection of all, just and unjust, for God’s final reckoning (Acts 24:14-15). This hope is our Christian inheritance, currently under guard in heaven until its unveiling (Colossians 1:5; Hebrews 6:19; 1 Peter 1:3-4). We hope for the glory of God (Romans 5:2). When all boiled down, our hope is Jesus himself (1 Timothy 1:1) – we long for him and we will see him.

There are, of course, false hopes in this world. Money is a greatly deceptive hope (Acts 16:19; 1 Timothy 6:17). Such worldly hopes will fail.

But Jesus does not fail and cannot fail. Hope, when it’s hope in the Lord, does not disappoint us. This hope is already won, already secure, already waiting.

Therefore, putting this into practice, we look ahead.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:13

 

We expect this hope, and teach ourselves about it. As we look ahead, we dedicate ourselves to learning what God has said about this hope. We will ever ask: What does our Father say?, Which things has he taught us?, What is the promise of God?

After all, angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12). We would be fools to be uninterested or uncaring! As much as God has said to us about our hope – and no more than God has spoken – let us learn, and so hope well for the guaranteed future we have in God.

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Future posts in the series:
Good hope
Hope by Jesus’ own work
Hope for sake of Jesus


 

Quick review: The First 48 Hours

The First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First RespondersThe First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First Responders by Jennifer S. Cisney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a volunteer ambulance chaplain, I was given this book by my senior chaplain (thanks Paul!), and I am very glad to have read it. In two words: highly recommended.

Before I describe why, however, there is one bugbear to note – questionable use of the Bible.

I’ve often seen that Christian books dealing with counselling or other personal helps tend to read their pastoral situations back into texts of the Bible, and thereby determine what they think a particular Bible verse means.

So here we read of disciples, ‘Struggling with direction, full of doubt and fear, they believe they are alone’ (p.20) – this sounds more like one of the authors’ crisis care situations than an accurate portrait of Matthew 28:18-20. Yes, there are elements of this, but not as much as is claimed. And so Jesus’ closing words (‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’) become comfort. There is, undoubtedly, an element of comfort. But also of challenge: the one with all authority has given a command and is with us!

This is important because the Bible word lives and is powerful. When Christians adopt powerful emotional ties to wrong interpretations, it’s an unstable help. One of the authors mentions how Hebrews 12:1 is a great comfort to him after his father’s death: believing that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ witness us, rather than bear witness to the faithfulness of God (p.120). I could not help but think he will be painfully discomforted when someone points him to a more accurate reading of Hebrews 12.

Noting this point, though, I still highly recommend this book.

It has a clear focus on the first stages of helping people in crisis. It has helpful definitions (for example, the difference between critical event and crisis). And it is so very realistic – speaking of the first 48 hours as a first aid-type involvement. That is, first responders don’t need the advanced skills of fully-trained psychologists or psychiatrists.

With presence, sensitivity, compassion, one’s own life experience, and a few fundamental skills caregiving is possible.

The First 48 Hours names these skills, as well as illustrating them with real life examples. Perhaps most importantly, it generously encourages Christians to provide this type of crisis care.

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Don’t do good

If you find something good to do, please do not do it. It could be an awful mistake.

I’ll give you an example: would you stand up to protect someone’s privacy, especially their medical privacy? I certainly consider medical privacy a good thing!

But try out this report:

Dr Mourik said he would not invite the protesters [to a forum] because “they are not interested in women’s privacy”.

“They believe protection of the baby’s life is worth invading people’s privacy over,” he said.

Mourik wants to move protesters away from the Albury clinic that completes abortions, to protect privacy. Those protesters, without breaking any law, believe something as petty as protection of the baby’s life. How foolish!

If we automatically move to protect privacy we might thereby support killing babies in the womb. To support one good can destroy another good. Which one would you choose?

There are plenty of cases when good things compete, and only one good can succeed. Freedom is good, but we judge some crimes require imprisonment. Opioid drugs are powerfully helpful, but we agree that their distribution needs strong restriction. Speech creates culture, but we know the need for anti-libel laws. Good versus good, and the best should prevail.

There’s a second place in which good is a bad idea, and this is much more common. We shouldn’t do good when we can do better. This is not when good competes, but when goods compare.

For example, you find two charities working in a famine zone, but which do you choose? If their main difference is how much goes on administration and advertising (25% versus 10%), I’d say go for the latter. They’re both good, and they don’t cancel one another out, but one is better.

Comparison and choice of the better seems to be behind Paul not taking Mark on mission with him (Acts 15:38). The choice of what is best time management is every Christians’ duty (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5). And doing the better thing, even when painful, is fatherly – for both human and divine parents (Hebrews 12:10).

Tragically, so many fellow citizens frantically chase a good that is far from the best. And Christians are as affected as any other group!

Instead of peace with God and love for neighbour we choose: comfortable housing, a career path, educational or sporting ‘success’ as our kids’ priority, travel, and all the temporary things of this world.

So here’s my advice: When you find a good, do not do it, but consider instead what is best. Make best use of the time, because the days are evil.