Is your faith really that attractive?

This is a troubling question. Who is supposed to find it attractive? And what would if mean for faith to be attractive? Is everyone supposed to agree with what I believe?

We know enough about life with God to know that not everyone agrees with us. Some find faith disagreeable, even odious.

But God calls his people to be different, set apart, focussed on living the life he had graced them with before a watching world. They were to reflect his character. They were to be holy, as he is holy. They were his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). No surprise that Jesus called his followers salt and light (Matt 5). No surpise that when Jesus ministered through the towns of Judea thousands flocked to him and hung on his every word. His words were winsome, his faith was attractive, his Kingdom is what they wanted to see.

Opposition was real too. There were some who hated his works and viewed his works as demonic. Opposition grew, he was rejected, abused and crucified. So, people did not always accept Jesus, either. That did not stop him loving them. His death and rising again meant new life for those who believe him. Something happened when people came under his rule: they became an attractive community, so wonderfully new that they enjoyed the favour of all the people (Acts 2:47). Jesus’ call to love one another was coming to beautiful expression. Even when persecuted, those who did not share their faith would sometimes remark, ‘See how they love one another!’ And then, as Peter writes to the scattered, persecuted church, he reminded them how the original call to Israel now belonged to the church:

…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:9)

Even in the hardest and most difficult times the church is to live a winsome faith. God’s people are to be an appetising taste of the new heavens and the new earth.

Here’s the question: is this what people see in me? Is this what people see in the church? Am I eager to do what is good? Am I keen to reflect this new life Christ has given me to everyone I meet today? Even those I don’t get along with? Do our churches have a culture which enjoys the favour of their local community – even if that community does not believe Jesus?

I have been pastoring churches for over 30 years, and I find this question disturbing, humbling and sometimes haunting. My comfort is Jesus’ promise that he is with me and his church always, and he has all authority and power to have his new creation overflow through me and his people. Hell has its fury, but it shall never overcome the glorious new community Jesus created when he rose from the grave. Living water keeps flowing.

So, I want my faith and my church to be more and more attractive. I want new life to be seen in me. I want the living water of Jesus to overflow in our streets and neighbourhoods.

I have been helped in this by reading Tim Costello’s “Faith” – it’s such a wonderful encouragement to live the attractive life of Christ in the mess of sin and the fall. Short chapters packed with punch and challenge – you could even read it as a devotional.


Want your faith to be more attractive? Beyond reading, pray that Christ will continue to transform your life:

  • For Christians – “God, what good things do you want me to do today?”
  • For Churches – “Lord, how do you want us to bring the goodness of your Kingdom into our community?”

So we may obtain everything you have promised

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Prayer for the week

Almighty and everlasting God, give us the increase of faith, hope and love;  and so we may obtain everything you have promised, help us to love everything you have commanded. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

(Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, 1662: The Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity)

I love the way this prayer ties the receiving of everything the Lord promises with loving everything he has commanded. It is a powerful reminder that ‘living in God’s will’ is living in conformity to his will. It assures us the best life we can hope for is a life transformed into the likeness of his son Jesus.

In what specific ways does your life need to be transformed?

Pray this prayer for the week, and leave a comment to share you experiences.

Prayer for the Week

Almighty and merciful God, by whose grace your faithful people are able to bring you true and praiseworthy service: Grant, we ask, that we may so faithfully serve you in this life that we do not fail to attain your heavenly promises through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[adapted from ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ 1662]

Do we really believe in the sovereignty of God?

This morning I read this tweet:

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…and I started to wonder (again) why some reformed churches tend to have a low growth rate, little emphasis on evangelism and a poor outward focus. It just doesn’t make any sense.

As IJM‘s Gary Haugen reminds us, the sovereignty and faithfulness of God – themes which resonate deeply in reformed thought and reformed preaching – are the bedrock of mission, every work of justice and compassion, every act of witness.

God is sovereign – so he knows my needs and the needs of my city. He is all powerful, he will give me what I need to do what he calls me to do (see Matthew 7:7-12)

When Jesus returned to the Father, he reminded his disciples – as he gave them his great commission to disciples the nations – that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. His presence and his resurrection power would embolden witness and empower everything we do to share the good news.

These wonderful realities must be at the forefront of all mission and ministry.

And I wonder, if mission, outreach, sharing the good news, and living the ‘new goods’ are not at the forefront of all we’re doing as churches and individuals, whether we actually believe in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness at all.

Bow your heavens… Psalm 144:5 (ESV) #1mwESV

So this is my first day into “One Month with the ESV” (#1mwESV). This morning’s reading was from Psalm 144, where David praises the Lord for his protection and provision, and calls out to this glorious Lord for continued intervention, for enemies still remain.

I was struck by the wording in Psalm 144:5

Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke!

I stopped at the word ‘bow‘ … I wondered what it might mean for God to ‘bow’ the heavens? In English, we have ‘bow’ as in ribbon, ‘bow’ as in showing deference, ‘bow’ as in bow and arrow, ‘bow’ as used with a violin, ‘bow’ as in bend under pressure, and ‘bow’ as in the piece of timber is bowed, or legs might be bowed if you’re talking about a classic moseying cowdude. Maybe it’s me, but I had to really process this, as none of the meanings really made sense in the Psalm’s context.

I turned to the Hebrew, and found that the root verb meant ‘to stretch, spread, lengthen, bend down, turn, turn aside, enlarge’ – with many of those contexts relevant to the image of a nomadic tent. I get that the ancients saw the heavens as a tent, a blue canopy stretched above the earth (see Isaiah 40:22, 54:2), but it still did not make a lot of sense as to why ‘bow’ would be such a good translation in Ps 144:5.

The NIV2011 has ‘part your heavens, Lord, and come down…’ which made a little more sense on first reading. It carries the idea that, with the heavens being seen as a tent, if someone (like the Lord) was going to leave the tent and intervene for King David, the natural thing to do would be to part the tent flaps. You would not expect someone to talk about ‘bowing the flaps’, or ‘bending the flaps’. You would more naturally talk about ‘parting the tent flaps’.

It looks like the ESV has carried a more traditional translation here. ‘Bow’ is found in the NASB, the RSV, and the KJV.


I also noticed Psalm 106:7

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.” (Psalm 106:7, ESV)

“Steadfast love” is an excellent translation of the Hebrew HSD (Hesed) alerting the reader to the ‘covenant faithfulness of the Lord. The Hebrew word is a linguistic signpost, often missed in English translations. Take the NIV for example, where this rich word is rendered ‘kindness’. It’s not a bad translation, but when Hesed refers to the Lord’s love and faithfulness to his covenant obligations, as Richard Laird Harris maintains (TWOT), it’s very helpful to have a consistent translation.

The ESV’s ‘steadfast love’ is really helpful here, and the NIV’s varied translations of the word tend to obscure the rich meaning of our Lord’s covenant love for his people.

One month with the ESV…

In May the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia decided to adopt the English Standard Version (ESV) as a preferred translation of the Scriptures.

At the time I did not think it was such a great decision. I am no New Testament scholar, so I find it hard to engage with the discussion at that level. I am a preacher, however, and I have the weighty responsibility of opening the Scriptures weekly and exposing its message to God’s people. I have an interest in making that process as clean, efficient and as accessible as I can. My prior use of the ESV had indicated that it was slightly more difficult to use in a public setting than my preferred translation (the 2011 version of the NIV). So I was inclined to stick with the NIV2011.

Even so, I respect the solid work of the CRCA’s Bible Translation Committee, and I recognise the ESV as having an edge in the accuracy department. This is because it is a more ‘word for word’ translation, while the NIV is more ‘thought for thought’. This may in part explain why in my view the NIV works better in a public setting. If it’s easier to follow, people will engage with it more readily. On the other hand, with the ESV being a more ‘word for word’ translation it may carry a closer understanding of the original languages.

The other impression I have of the ESV is that, for reasons unknown to me, the translators have sometimes opted for what appear to be somewhat archaic English. For something that purports to be contemporary English, I don’t get this. I don’t want to go into examples of this now, but may draw attention to some of these cases as time goes on.

It has occurred to me that my dislike for the ESV is more subjective than anything, arising out of the fact that I have been reading the NIV for the last 40 years. Maybe I like it more because I am so used to its form and cadence.

So I decided to use the ESV in my private reading and study for a whole month – starting tomorrow. I typically read from the Revised Common Lectionary – Daily Readings (RCL), which give plenty of variety as to genre and and style. I use the RCL with Logos Bible Software.  From time to time I will write a short blog about my experiences. If you are reading the RCL, you might like to read and well and contribute to the discussion. It can be helpful to share our thoughts.

Thanks for journeying with me.

How Fragile We Are…

Journalist Alison Parker and Cameraman Adam Ward were shot dead yesterday as they went about their work reporting for a local television station in Virginia.

I have so many questions about US gun laws, and what I perceive to be a totally irrational desire not to place some restrictions on the availability of firearms in US jurisdictions.

My most persistent thoughts, however, surround the brokenness of our world, the brokenness of people, and how much we need to be put back together by the work of God in Jesus his son.

I do not know the faith context of Stevie Wonder and Sting, but this clip seems so relevant to the heaviness we must all feel after yesterday’s events.