Contact

The Ghost blogging platform does not have a comments feature as yet and I am reluctant to use Disqus as it requires you to set up a disqus account in order to use it. So currently the only way to give me feedback is to email me at mikemcarthurnz at gmail.com, just be aware that my response time is in the order of a day or two rather than within minutes! I’m married to my wife, not my email.

About

Hi, sorry, not much to see here. I am in the process of migrating 5 years worth of blogging to the Ghost platform so it may be a bit messy here for a while. Once I’ve got all the posts moved across I will get around to writing a more informative ‘about page’. Until then have a dig through the posts and see if anything inspires you.

Enjoy,
Mike

Closing the gap between belief and practise

I am on a journey. A quest to span the gap between what I believe and how I live. ​

As a Christian this should be pretty simple – just follow the teachings of Jesus and things will be fine. ​In practise I find that within days (if not hours) of resolving to be more committed in following Christ I have stumbled into the mire of selfishness and lukewarmness.

Therefore, I am going to embark on an outrageously scary project for someone like me who has long thought that spirituality should be internal and private: I am going to write as openly as I can here about my own attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ while living and working in a secular society. There will be mistakes, blunders, laziness, sin, doubts and fears. As God wills there will also be worship, rejoicing, and faith. This will not be an exercise in ‘correct’ theology or preaching at you. Consider it more like a window upon a soul stumbling in the footsteps of John Bunyan’s Christian.​

The state of my heart

My desire to live consistently according to my beliefs is a bit like someone setting out to make some healthy changes to their lifestyle (in fact it is a lot like that!). Most health programmes carry a disclaimer stating that anyone over forty years old should only begin a fitness regime on the advice of their doctor, a big concern being that someone may start exercising and collapse with a heart attack.

I am over forty, and know that I am out of shape spiritually. Therefore it would be wise to do a bit of a heart checkup as I seek to exercise some spiritual discipline in my life. ​

Just as a cardiologist will do multiple tests to assess the state of a person’s heart muscle, understanding the state of my heart before God must take into account many factors: Am I hungering and thirsting for God? ​Is my life governed by God’s Word? Am I becoming more loving? Do I delight in the Bride of Christ? Is my heart broken over sin? How quickly do I forgive?

​That is not an exhaustive list (in fact it is stolen from the book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald S. Whitney), I am assuming that I will come across many other indicators of the state of my heart as I go on. There are also the ‘rough and ready’ indicators which we are all familiar with, and these serve to reveal the baseline of my current spiritual state, just as heart rate and blood pressure give a quick estimate of cardiac health.

WARNING: this will be disappointing!

Prayer: I currently pray very little. Days may pass completely without purposeful praying. When I do pray it tends to be while doing other things such as washing the dishes or walking to work so my thoughts wander far and wide in the process. When I timed how long I actually prayed over several days it was less than 5 minutes each day!

Bible reading: This used to be a strong point but has dwindled in the last couple of years. Some days I manage to read my target 5 chapters a day, often I read only one or two chapters and it is not uncommon for me to not open my Bible at all for several days.

Giving: Woeful (erratic and not much).

Serving: I preach about once every 6 weeks and serving as a member of the leadership board for our little church.

Evangelism:​ Nonexistent, fear keeps my lips sealed.​

As you can see, this is a picture of someone who is fat, flabby and complacent. Moving out of this state will be a challenge and is going to take time. My gut feeling is that prayer is where I need to begin, with the first battle being to make space for quietness before God. On that note I’d like to point you toward a post from a friend about exactly that:​ Learning in silence.

Suicide and salvation

I know this is likely to be a touchy topic.

Soon after the tragic death of Matthew Warren I found a list of ‘helpful links’ which included an article from the ministry of John MacArthur, Grace to You. The article is titled: Can someone who commits suicide be saved? and frankly caused my hackles to rise.

Suicide is murder of the self

As such it is clearly sinful to commit murder. God has stated unequivocally that murder is sin (Exodus 20:13), very cut and dried – perhaps we can leave the topic there?

There can be many motives for murder, summed up by author John Lescroart as: love, lust, lucre, and loathing. To kill another person is something most of us recoil from as being utterly abhorrent and we struggle to comprehend how someone could do such an act. What then can be the motive for the violence of annihilating self?

Again, there can be many motives: financial troubles, pain/illness, shame, romance problems, substance abuse, mental illness.

All sin can be forgiven in Christ

Suicide is a grave sin equivalent to murder (Exodus 20:1321:23), but it can be forgiven like any other sin. And Scripture says clearly that those redeemed by God have been forgiven for all their sins–past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14). Paul says in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

So if a true Christian would commit suicide in a time of extreme weakness, he or she would be received into heaven (Jude 24). But we question the faith of those who take their lives or even consider it seriously–it may well be that they have never been truly saved.

That’s because God’s children are defined repeatedly in Scripture as those who have hope (Acts 24:15Romans 5:2-58:242 Corinthians 1:10, etc.) and purpose in life (Luke 9:23-25Romans 8:28Colossians 1:29). And those who think of committing suicide do so because they have neither hope nor purpose in their lives.

Is considering suicide sin?

The ‘Grace to You’ article claims that a person who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in their heart based on Proverbs 23:7 in the NASB translation. However, in other translations, such as the ESV and NLT, the idea of “as he thinks in his heart, so he is” does not come across so clearly. I do get the point though – a suicidal person is constantly thinking of committing a sinful act of self murder so surely they are wilfully playing with sin.

The issue here is not so much about suicide per se, but a question of whether repeatedly considering any sinful act is a sin in it’s own right (i.e., is the thought of the sin a sinful act?)

Furthermore, one who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in his heart (Proverbs 23:7), and 1 John 3:9says that “no one who is born of God practices sin.” And finally, suicide is often the ultimate evidence of a heart that rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ, because it is an act where the sinner is taking his life into his own hands completely rather than submitting to God’s will for it. Surely many of those who have taken their lives will hear those horrifying words from the Lord Jesus at the judgment–”I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

So though it may be possible for a true believer to commit suicide, we believe that is an unusual occurrence. Someone considering suicide should be challenged above all to examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

(I am choosing to publish this draft that I started in 2013 as it stands despite it being very incomplete. My rationale is that it maps some of my thinking at the time which I want to keep a record of [14 February 2018])

Your money or your life

holdup

I have a dilemma – my job is negatively affecting my health, but we really need the income to stay afloat as a family.

My current work is at the NZ National Poisons Centre giving phone advice to both the general public and medical professionals for acute poisoning exposures. As with all jobs, there are good and bad days, interesting parts and boring parts. Unlike many jobs, we work rostered shifts covering 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the aspect of the work that is messing with my health.

I suffer from depression which can be severe for months at a time when I am not well. A key element in trying to stay well for any mental health illness is to maintain stable, adequate sleep habits – not easy with this job.

My training and most of my work experience is in science, a field known for crappy pay rates. The job I currently have pays better than any I have previously had and more than any position I am qualified for that I’ve seen advertised in the last year.

(an incomplete draft that I’m choosing to post as is, 14 February 2018)

Unlived truth

I came across a statement today which got straight to the point:

Knowledge isn’t bad – but gaining it is a waste of time if it doesn’t lead to action! (Darren Rowse)

Those studying hard for exams would perhaps disagree, but it is much easier to acquire knowledge than to apply it. This is true not only for bloggers such as Mr Rowse, but for all of us in all areas of life.  In the realm of Christian faith the relative ease of acquiring knowledge versus difficulty in applying it becomes especially marked, at least for those of us living in affluence in free nations.

I have long known that my greatest need is not really to know more about God or theology but rather to live the truth I already understand.

“… the gap holding back most believers is not the gap between what they know and what they don’t know. It’s the gap between what they know and what they’re living. Many Christians are trafficking in unlived truth. They are educated beyond their obedience.” (Dave Browning)

I am not implying that theology or knowledge are bad, unnecessary or superfluous for the individual Christian or the church.

Bloodbath

A wise person once told me that in bringing up his children he allowed them to read whatever they wanted to but resolved to also read the same books and discuss the meaning of the ideas presented by the authors.

So I am currently reading “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins as my 11-year-old daughter is also reading it. The story is gripping and moves fast enough to draw me in. However, even though there is not much gore in the descriptions of the killings, the whole thing is very bloodthirsty and is messing with my head a bit.

Then, in order to bring my mind back to reality, I dipped into by Bible reading plan – Joshua chapter 11. Have a read for yourself.

Even more bloodthirsty, and currently messing with my head a bit also!

Productive on paper

I am very slowly sifting through the posts from my old blog with a view to collating the better material into some sort of eBook eventually. In that process I came across an off-topic post that I wrote about my blog-writing workflow, which at the time (written in 2010) was distinctly paper based:

Blog content comes out of your head, and unless you happen to have Dumbledore’s penseive you need a reliable way to get that stuff from your head to your blog.

For this capture process I use a small notebook and pen. I cross-out, scrawl messily, doodle and tear pages out – this is a scruffy notebook because I cart it everywhere and am just scribbling down rough ideas.

The next step towards a blog post that does not resemble keyboard vomit is to take one of those ideas and work it into sentences and paragraphs. For this I also prefer to use pen and paper because it is quicker to access (no startup time), helps me see the flow of thought best and it is easier to concentrate on writing without gadgetry to distract me. Only once I’m happy with what I’ve written on paper do I type it into WordPress and add formatting, hyperlinks, images, headings, tags and category metadata (often I indicate on my paper version what formatting or tags is required).

Then comes editing to fix all the typos and etc. I know some folks don’t edit posts after publishing them, and it shows! Others care about the quality of their writing and take time to fix errors.

What intrigues me is that the process described was actually a lot more productive in terms of finished blog posts than the much more digital workflow that I currently use (also this blog is hosted on Squarespace rather than WordPress). Part of my recent dearth of writing has been due to lack of motivation and needing to focus on other things in life. However, I think having an easy, no-real-thought-required workflow does help a lot. For this, pen and paper wins with ease of use, rapidly accessible, and minimal distractions.

My current workflow relies on Evernote as a central hub and I am able to input stuff from my home or work computers or through my smartphone. This is really good for collecting ideas, but seems to clog up at the crucial writing stage where the initial idea is crafted into something worth reading (I hope!).

​Two styles of writer

In an essay which pre-dates web 2.0 and blogging, Daniel Chandler discusses two different styles of writer; those for whom writing is primarily a communication medium for the thoughts they already have formulated in their mind, and those for whom the act of writing is a process of discovering what they are thinking.

Hemingway wrote initial drafts in pencil: ‘You have to work over what you write. If you use a pencil… it keeps it fluid longer so that you can improve it easier’ (Strickland, 1989). Many writers, of course, experience a similar fluidity with the word processor. The word processor extends the malleability of the written word. Paper ‘sets’ text, but text on disc and screen is ‘wet’ and workable. Some writers enjoy this sense of fluidity. However, some report that the ease with which they can edit encourages them to be ‘sloppier’ or less critical than they feel they are with the pen or the typewriter (where words must be pre-considered). Some feel that the word processor encourages them to do too much editing, and leads to a loss of spontaneity. (Daniel Chandler, The Phenomenology of Writing by Hand, 1992)

Chandler also makes the point that, “writing done with a word processor obscures its own evolution” compared to pen and paper in which, “the handwritten text maps paths not taken in a way that enables them to be re-explored if necessary”. He discusses at length the sense of intimacy a writer can achieve when handwriting on paper in contrast to separation between writer and pixels on a screen.

Not only is the writing process different between paper and keyboard, the resulting media has different characteristics which influence how writer, editor and reader interact with it. Paper has an inherent tangibility and weight with which we are very familiar. Bits and pixels have no physical weight, their size and flow can be manipulated and are fluid – dependant upon the device rather than the document. Composing text on a screen is a different experience to composing on paper in ways which are rooted deep within our worldview.

Although I personally like the tactile experience of writing on paper with a pen, a digital workflow works well for me during the editing phase because I can easily move text around, inserting a thought where it fits better in the flow of an argument or cutting a section out and saving it in draft form as the seed of another post.