Thinking about Christian books I’ve read

“What Christian books have you read?”

That was one of the questions on my application form for bible college (more on that here). I scanned the rest of the form and decided that the two lines provided wouldn’t be enough space.

So one night, I sat down, trawled through my memory, our library catalogue, e-book purchase history, and typed out a 3-page list of books I’ve read (book nerds go here).*

Upon reflecting on the last 13 years of reading Christian books, here are some observations:

  • Lots of books on worship, service planning and music ministry
  • A few authors are recurring favourites: for example, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Vaughan Roberts
  • I’ve only read two books on parenting (either I’m deficient in this area, or parenting isn’t learned in theory but in practice)
  • I’ve read two Rob Bell books (and found both frustrating and concerning)
  • I’ve read three biographies (I’m keen to read more)
  • I haven’t read many books by dead people (I’m keen to read more)
  • I tend to read according to immediate needs and interests rather than looking further ahead
  • For every book I read, there’s another one that I haven’t started. I’m rebuked of my wastefulness, for sucking in literary oxygen from social media feeds instead of the books in front of me.

More importantly, however, reviewing my reading list makes me thankful:

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to read. What a privilege it is to live in a generation and society where books are freely available.
  • I’m thankful for how certain books have shaped my thinking on important issues: the gospel, marriage, family, worship, music, preaching, and so on. I’ve rarely changed my mind about something over a Facebook discussion. But time and time again, I’ve changed my convictions on something upon reaching the back page of a good book.
  • Finally, I’m thankful that reading books has helped me to love God and neighbour better, by understanding his Word (the Good Book) better.

I know I’m not able to read everything out there (certainly not as much as 500 books a year like Don Carson). But I do want to love God with my heart, soul, strength and mind, as a child who delights in His world and in His Son. And one of the ways I can do that is to read more.

Right – off to read something new.

* This list is just for Christian books – I haven’t made up a list of all the other books that I’ve read.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”
René Descartes

Bible College – following the call of the gospel on our lives

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Two Sundays ago, I shared this letter with our church family:

To our church family:

On behalf of our family, I’d like to share some news with you all.

After much prayer and discussion, Cheryl and I have found ourselves united and sure that by God’s grace, I should pursue training at bible college, with a view to full-time gospel ministry. With the advice of those around us, our plan is to move to Sydney, Australia to study full-time in 2017, which is in 18 months’ time.

This has been a difficult decision to make. We love our family here at Howick Baptist Church. For 8 years you have been family to us. And we also know that, for some, there may still be confusion and unanswered questions about this interim period. Perhaps as you’re hearing this, some of you are thinking “Oh, not again.”

Yet you might recall that last month, the Lord confronted us all in a sermon from Acts 6:1-7 about the need to prioritise between what’s good, and what’s best. It would certainly be a good thing for us to remain here the rest of our life and to continue serving as we currently do. But with the need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word and prayer ministry.

This call is both internally desired and externally affirmed, through the encouragement of our elders, Jay Behan, Calvyn Jonker, Peter Somervell, Joe Fleener, Richard Cutforth and others.

The Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy was this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

So here is our rough plan for the next 18 months:

– I will continue working in my current job as a medical writer, but I will also be serving 2 days a week at HBC in order to gain ministry experience.
– I will apply to study at Sydney Missionary Bible College in Australia, commencing in 2017.
– We will keep serving here at HBC until then in all the different areas we’re involved in.
– We will begin approaching individuals, churches and Christian trusts on whether they would prayerfully consider financially supporting our family.

Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps.

Please come and chat with us if you have questions or concerns. We’re happy to share more in person.

For now, it’s life as usual for the Chongs here with HBC. We count it a joy to partner with you all as we strive together for the gospel. “It is He whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps. Perhaps Christ will return before we make it to seminary. Perhaps one of us will be called to be with Him. Regardless, we count it a joy to trust in the LORD who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who clothes the flowers and feeds the birds of the air, who loved us while we were still enemies by giving His only Son Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and who we are privileged to call ‘Abba, Father’.

Here are some prayer items:

  • For each of us to grow in our love for Christ, His Gospel and His church during this time.
  • For Cheryl and I to serve each other with gratitude and to communicate with each other well as we prepare and plan for significant changes to our family.
  • For our girls to grow to become women who love Christ.
  • For the ministries we are currently involved in and for the Lord to raise up others to continue in our place.
  • For individuals, churches and trusts that might desire to support us financially.
  • For the members of HBC as we continue to seek the Lord’s direction for the future.

Some questions answered up-front

Do you think you’re called to ministry?

In one sense, the answer is simply ‘yes’.

I, like every Christian, have been called to take up my cross and follow Jesus, and to take part in the work of whatever ministry God places in front of us – marriage, family, church, community, world.

A more specific question however, is this: “Does God want my specific ministry to be as a leader in the church, and to serve by equipping others in gospel ministry?”

And over the past few years, through the encouragement and example of those around us, including our elders, it’s become clear that yes, God is calling me to be set apart to lead and train others for gospel ministry. God’s gradually changed our desire for more gospel workers, and our willingness to be used by God for this purpose.

(Tim Grant has a helpful write-up on being “called” to ministry)

Why seminary/Bible college?

Seminary is no replacement for practical ministry experience in a local church – what I’ve been involved in at Howick since 2008 (and would continue to do while in Australia). But a good seminary provides a dedicated environment to learn skills that most local churches aren’t in a place to provide, such as Greek and Hebrew original languages, church history, biblical and systematic theology and so on. We see seminary as a place to equip us with the skills and foundations for a lifetime of Word ministry in a local church context.

Why now?

The advice we’ve been given is that the sooner we go, the better. We’re told that with a family, the longer you leave it the harder it is to get to bible college (particularly once they enter school age), and the adjustments to the family are more difficult to handle as children get older. So there’s no time like the present.

At the same time we know that our church family is in a transitional time. That’s a big reason why we’re not leaving straight away – we want to help out through next year, when (Lord willing) we’ll have a new Senior Pastor.

That’s why the plan is to start in 2017 (a year and a half away). We also hope that this gives a good timeframe for us gradually hand over our ministry responsibilities to other capable individuals, and to train others up to continue serving the Lord.

Why Sydney?

Based on the advice and counsel of those around us, we believe that SMBC would be an excellent seminary to be thoroughly equipped for whatever God has in store for us. In the Lord’s kindness I was able to visit the campus earlier this year for a block course, and met the Principal and others from New Zealand who were studying there. All this helped me to see the benefits of studying in a close-knit campus environment with proper training in the original languages, church history, theology, as well as a robust practical programme including preaching, counselling and pastoral care.

Also, Cheryl was actually born in Australia so there may be a little bit assistance for her while we’re there (as a Kiwi though, William gets no help – hence our need for support).

Where do you want to serve in full-time ministry?

Ideally Auckland – we see the need for more healthy, gospel-centred churches in New Zealand’s largest city. There’s a decent pipeline of theologically-trained workers heading to other areas of New Zealand, but not so much to Auckland. And having lived here most of our lives, we want to see our communities here changed by the gospel.

Yet ultimately we’re happy to trust God in where He directs us – as John Newton puts it, “tis grace hath brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”

Are you moving because of the ongoing changes at Howick?

No. Cheryl and I visited Howick Baptist for the first time in April 2008. We began attending regularly from July that year, and quickly found ourselves surrounded by a community that cared for us and was eager to proclaim the good news of Jesus in word and deed.

8 years on we’re still committed members of HBC (even as others have come and gone). In fact, it’s through serving with our HBC family through thick and thin that we’ve seen how much we love gospel ministry, as well as how inadequately equipped we are for the many questions that come up when we open the Bible and share it with others.

It would certainly be a good thing to remain at Howick the rest of our life and to keep serving as we currently do. But with the urgent need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word ministry.

We’ll keep sharing and journaling our thoughts as we continue serving the Lord in our momentary marriage and ministry – whatever it looks like in the years to come.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We look forward to sharing more in person.


Paper chain family protected in cupped hands

Something greater than marriage

Our home church (Howick Baptist) belongs to the Baptist Union of New Zealand.

After our government’s decision to pass the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, the Baptist Union met at the 2013 Assembly to consider its position on the matter. The delegates voted to affirm the current position on same-sex marriage, and resolved to set up a working party to consider the matters of same-sex marriage and church autonomy further.

The working party was appointed in March/April 2014, and submissions were invited up to 31 August 2014.

HBC’s submission to this working party included a members statement on marriage and sexuality, and an additional document that discussed local church autonomy in general.

The Working Party spent the first half of 2015 working through the submissions (both verbal and oral).

Last month, the NZ Baptist Union Working Party released their report on same-sex marriage and church autonomy and sent it out to churches for consideration ahead of the 2015 National Assembly. Our church family will be getting individual copies of the report and recommendations this Sunday.

Having read it, I can say that there’s quite a lot that’s good about the report. It’s well-written and carefully thought out. There are some areas where it doesn’t go far enough on, but that’s for our leadership to work through and respond to.

Yet I still think our church’s members statement explores all the issues around marriage and sexuality in a clear and gracious way.

In particular, Points 5, 8 and 9 are often forgotten amidst the discussion (with added emphasis in bold):

5. We must carefully distinguish between same-sex attraction and homosexual acts. Temptation, including sexual attraction, is not sin. Sin is yielding to temptation. Jesus himself was tempted, yet without sin (Matt. 4:1-11, Heb. 4:15). It is not a sin to be tempted in the area of same gender sex. Jesus sympathises with our weaknesses and promises to provide a way of escape in every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).

8. The gospel is full of grace and truth. It is an offer of grace and forgiveness to all sinners, including homosexuals, as well as a call to live a holy life. It empowers us in the struggle to resist sin, including the sin of homosexual practice (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Tit. 2:11-13).

9. The church is to be a new community that resembles a family of brothers and sisters united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit displaying deep relationships of love. Celibacy and singleness are to be celebrated and affirmed within the church family.

It’s concerning that some of the opposition to same-sex relationships I’ve heard from people is not really grounded in anything much more than the “yuck” factor. And it’s not good to hear the tone and tenor of Christians who oppose gay and lesbians as though they could never be God’s image-bearers, as though they’re not your friends, family, neighbours, or part of your church family. It can be as simple as the flippant “that’s so gay” comment, or just that you haven’t got an ongoing relationship with a single friend or family that identifies as same-sex attracted.

Could it be that in our efforts to defend marriage we end up putting it on a pedestal and worshipping it as the highest ideal of life? I mean, Jesus and Paul lived rich and full lives as single, celibate men.

My marriage to Cheryl is a good thing, but it is meant to point to something greater. As Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield put it:

“As important as earthly marriage and family are, they are both fleetingly temporary, while Christ and the family of God (the church) are wondrously eternal.”

Please keep the elders and leaders of Baptist churches across New Zealand in prayer as this topic will come to a head again later this year at the November Baptist Assembly. We also shouldn’t forget our friends in other denominations that will be wrestling with similar discussions (e.g. Anglican churches regarding Motion 30).

Most of all, please pray that we would all be clear and compassionate in all we proclaim and practice, for the glory of our Bridegroom Jesus.

More helpful reading:

  • Livingout.org – everything on here is fantastic and comes from same-sex attracted individuals who are striving to follow Jesus Christ
  • We are all messy – Rosaria Butterfield on loving our gay and lesbian friends


When your yes means no


Our oldest daughter turned 3 in May. We had a fantastic birthday party with friends and family, involving all kinds of instruments, and it ended with a sing-a-long with E on the ukulele.

About a week later, we got a call from a kindy who had E on their waitlist. “We’ve got two days a week available. Are you interested?”

A week later, lunch made and bag packed, off we were.

The teachers were professional and caring. We were given lots of support. E loved all the activities there (she would cry when I came to pick her up). Everything was run well and we felt it was a safe environment.

But we quickly figured out that the overall philosophy of this kindy was to develop independent, self-directed learning. In contrast, we’re still wanting E to continue developing as a child under her parent’s authority and care.

All in all, kindy wasn’t working. So we apologised, backtracked and took E out two weeks later.

But as we reflect back on the last month, a few more things have come to mind.

One was that our kindy experience revealed that we were controlled by a desire to please others. If we’re honest, looking back, we had a hard time saying no. It was much easier to do something with the approval of our Plunket lady, our friends and our family. After all, they did it, so why not? As kids we went to kindy, so why not? Why wouldn’t you put them there?

Another was that we essentially made the decision by default. It was more a “can you think of any reason not to?” Rather than “are you convinced about the reasons to?” We hadn’t really sat down and thought through how we wanted to teach our children beyond the next year. The total amount of discussion about kindy came to 2-3 brief conversations and a quick visit. In hindsight, we should have been more thoughtful about it. What were our reasons for sending E to kindy? What will be the benefits? What are the costs? In the helter-skelter of life, we failed to devote ourselves to word and prayer about this. It’s a warning against making decisions by default in other areas of our life. Why go to uni? Well, why not? Why take this job? Well, why not? A decision without conviction ends up being detrimental.

Finally, it was a vivid object lesson for us that saying yes to one thing is saying no to another.

Rory Shiner puts it this way:

“Every yes is a no. When you say, ‘Yes I will be at that soup kitchen’ you are also saying ‘No, I won’t be visiting mum in hospital.’ If you say, ‘Yes I will spend every night with church people and in church programmes’ you are saying ‘no’ to bearing witness to Jesus among your work friends and social network. So consider the ‘no’ in your ‘yes’.”

In our case, a yes to more time learning at kindy meant a no to more time learning with mum.

A yes to going to a different stimulating environment was saying no to our home (and the places mum and dad go) as a stimulating environment.

So in our next decision – whether it’s about school, home, ministry, marriage, career, hobbies – we need to remember considering the no in the yes. Rather than ask “What are we saying yes to?” – maybe it’s better for us to also ask: “What are we saying no to?”

After all, Jesus Himself put it in similar terms when making the call for disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” We say no to one thing when we say yes to Another.


Would we send E to kindy again in future? Perhaps. But it would definitely be after serious thought.

In the meantime, as I write this, I’m sitting around the table while Cheryl is teaching E and H how to write. And as our eldest daughter writes her name out in confident strokes, and hands me a self-made card with her careful, single-stroke observations, I’m reminded again that saying no to something is not always a bad thing.


Family devotions: building for the long-term


Tim Challies gives some good encouragement here regarding family worship:

There is no good way to measure the success of family devotions except by this: Did we do it? The thing is, we are building for the long-term here, not the short-term. A single episode of family devotions can so easily seem like a complete waste. But I am confident that when we measure by the hundreds spread over the 20 years the children are in our care, we will see that God worked powerfully in the hearts of our children and their parents.

Family worship doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But over time, God can be gracious enough to use it to awaken the gospel in the next generation.

You can read the whole post here.