Heroes of the Faith

And it’s Monday again, and it’s a bank holiday at that, so I’ve had another good long weekend. Feels like I’m getting a lot of time off work at the moment – which isn’t a bad thing. But I forced myself to write this on Monday evening again, trying to build a regular habit of posting, even though I probably could have done something this morning. I figure if it’s the same time every week it’s easier for me to create a “habit” out of it. Regular postings are key. Consistency is at least. Nevertheless, excuse my rustiness.

img_03511.jpgAnyway, it’s been an eventful bank holiday and I wanted to write about an amazing lunch I had on Sunday. We were invited to dinner with some real hero’s of the faith! Wolfgang and Beryl Stumpf. An older couple at our Church who have an amazing story to tell (in fact it’s so amazing he put it in a book, one I’d highly recommend!)

The Long View Forward

We’ve known this couple for years and Wolfgang in particular has had a giant impact in the way I live out my faith on a daily basis. When I was in youth group as a teenager, he came in  to deliver a session for us instead of the normal youth leader. He came in and shared about his personal devotional time. What he’d been doing for decades and decades!

Every morning he wakes up at 5am and reads his Bible and prays. To a wide-eyed teenager I was so convicted and challenged and awed at this man’s dedication to meeting with God. This was my target. And now as a 24 year old, I’m still doing it. Waking up early because some “old-person” in our Church told us that’s what he did to keep close to God. What an example to imitate! Let’s never be scared to talk about our devotional lives and what helps us connect with God with others’ because we don’t want to be perceived as proud, who knows what some eager listener might adopt as a result.

Anyway, long story short this couple spent a large amount of their lives in the middle east as missionaries. Now retired, they are still living out their faith passionately loving Jesus and providing themselves as a beautiful example for younger generations of disciples. I want to be like that when I’m old!

We really got to know them through their daughter and her husband who mentored us through our dating years and who now serve as missionaries in Egypt. Thank God for amazing role models, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without the example, mentoring and investment of a stream of amazing hero’s. Wolfgang preached at our wedding on a highly unconventional & difficult passage we’d given him (Rev 19:1-10)

We got to spend time with them again for lunch at theirs after church… and well, what hospitality, what interest they showed in us, what vulnerability in what they shared, what hope they displayed for the future and what love for Jesus…what legends!

 

Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

Long time coming, maybe we’ll be able to hammer out a bit more consistency over the next few weeks. Who knows. It’s only me putting this pressure on myself to finish the book by the end of 2019. But if that goal is to become a reality we need to pick up our pace. Like seriously.

Doctrine 2, once we’ve passed this section, I’ll be able to say, along with Samwise Gamgee, that this is the furthest I’ve ever been…on the road to finishing Grudem’s book and I’ll be covering *new* ground! Whoopie!

So Chapter 9 The Existence of God, answering the question: How do we know that God exists. I trust no one is on this blog actually hoping to be convinced that God exists by me, because I’m not that clever. But the Bible is compelling and the Holy Spirit at work when we read the Bible is powerfully compelling, so watch out hard-core atheists….(See I still remember what was covered before, it’s not gone over my head.)

Obviously, I’m not going to go through the reasons given in depth, but the 3 main reasons given are 1) Inner Sense of God, 2) a – Evidence in Scripture b- Evidence in Creation, 3) Traditional Proofs (all the x-ological and y-ality arguments you’ve probably heard about in RE classes at school.

What did I like about this chapter:

  • I love that Nature tells of God. The heavens declare the glory of God, writes the Psalmist (19.1-2). As someone who saw Louie Giglio’s talk on if the earth were a golfball and Indescribable, I am convinced that creation speaks of God’s existence. I think the reason it stood out to me in reading, was because I’ve recently tried to incorporate walks in nature into my devotional life. I’ve had some fantastic moments with God doing this.
  • The traditional proofs, make sense, even though there are arguments that find faults in these arguments. Which I understand. However Grudem says that these “proofs” are limited in their ability to compel. I know this goes without saying, but for me this really emphasises the importance of Scripture and God’s power to bring about faith! This is cool, because it means we don’t get to boast that we came to faith because we’re clever, Grace disqualifies us of boasting!
  • Grudem refers to one of my most favourite Bible verses at the end of this chapter, 1 Cor 2.5. The whole chapter unpacks how God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and emphasises our need of God to overcome the blinding effects of sin and enabling us to believe in His existence.

Systematic Theology 0.b Preface

Wayne_Grudem_Photo_2014My target posting rate for this project is a chapter a week. That’s what we’ll aim for, but I am interested in applying it all as well, so I might go slower. And that’s not the only reason there might be delays, if you’re the praying type and you can spare a petition for me. Pray that I stay on it this time round! Best to start something like this dependent on God, not just for commitment levels, but also for brain capacity. Anyway enough about my weakness… the Preface.

In short it captures the distinct features that Grudem, no, lets go with Wayne. (Make it sound like I know him well,) the distinct features of this particular study of Systematic Theology has. I think they’re all worth mentioning and I want to unpack a few of them.

  1. A clear Biblical basis for the doctrines. From what I’ve covered so far, in previous studies/attemptes, this guy uses a lot lot lot of scripture to ground the doctrines he unpacks. Which is reassuring. He quotes Bible passages in length and I honestly don’t mind that! Because of his value for the Scriptures he includes a memory verse for each chapter. A memory verse that I’m going to try and memorise. This’ll be quite straight forward for the first few weeks, but maintaining that for a while will increase in difficulty. All the best.
  2. Clarity in the Explanation of doctrines. As an advertisement for this book, what I’ve read before also lives up to this standard. It is very simple to read and follow. Not like other books I’ve read: Piper, Lewis and Willard all fantastic fantastic fantastic reads – but  do require a bit of extra brain grease to fully engage. This one although clever and deep is also easy to read.
  3. Application to life. You’ll notice I bold and underlined this one too, that’s because it’s really important to me. I don’t just want to study this, to grow in head knowledge, but also grow in love of God, love for the Church and the world. (Corny?) Maybe, but if this study doesn’t increase my love then it’s just a clanging symbol. (I think another Paul said that once).  But it’s not just love I want to grow in, Obedience and Humility are virtues that I’m hoping to grow in too. That’s why I’ll be doing the applications, and at the moment the intent is to record how it was – here. “Learning by doing – what a novel idea” – Propaganda: Board of Education
  4. Focus on the Evangelical world. Wayne says that you can only go so far in reasoning on theology without an agreed bases for authority. Therefore in this book he focuses on dealing with arguments from the parts of the Church that believe the Bible is true and authoritative. I agree and get the reasoning. As someone who loves reading the Bible, it will be so helpful getting the different scripture arguments for different interpretations and viewpoints. For example end times & beginning times.
  5. Hope for progress in doctrinal unity in the Church. One of my personal values for the Church today is unity, I believe Jesus cared massively about this. And I think as a Church we miss this too much. Even without realising. What value we place on those who can critique a book, a service or a sermon. How quick do we compare our churches to another based solely on style. I don’t think Wayne’s goal here is to get everyone thinking the same as him – he even says he expects people to disagree on points, but the fact that we can discuss these things with honesty and humility allows us to learn from each other and be united.
  6. As a Church we need to grow in this area. On one hand I don’t agree with this statement. I see a lot of “intellectual” churches (perhaps because I work among University students) whose sermons are very theologically sound and thought through – but who’s love has gone a bit cold and passion and emotion has been outweighed by thought. But this outbalance, one way or another, actually demonstrates that we need to grow in this. If we are to worship God with all our heart and mind…we need to know truth and not just knowledge-facts, but freedom-bringing, change-initiating, Christ-exalting TRUTH.

Wayne then goes on to thank some people I don’t know.

There we go, Wayne’s (No, I’m going to stick with Grudem – I tried it, I did and it just feels weird!) systematic theology preface. But wait, there’s more. Before we go any – further. I want to give some of my own reasons/attempted distinctives in this blog. So excuse a blog with two lists but brace yourself for more of this. (I’ll soften the blow with a couple of pictures..)

  1. Personal Satisfaction – I recently read Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways, which talks about the different ways individuals connect with God. It’s very much like the concept of the five love languages, but for a relationship with God. And there’s like 9 of them. Anyway for me 1 of my top ways to connect with God is as an Intellectual. No, that doesn’t mean I’m super bright – but I find that as I am learning and reading and listening and picking new things up – that’s when I feel close to God. It is my sacred pathway. For some it’s walks in nature, or tradition or….you get the point, read the book it’s fantastic! Really freeing for Churches and congregants to get. Highly recommend it. Anyway  to return to the question (RTTQ) why do this – because it’s one of the ways I worship God naturally.
  2. Ministry – in the olden-day, misguided sense and use of the word – my work with Church and Navigators. I want this blog to train people. To be an informal means for them to pick up some of the basics without reading/buying the shoebox of a book (1000+ pages) I got because I’m…(see last post!) Hopefully some of these posts will also be professional/formal enough to easily be turned into worksheets/resources to be printed for group studies.
  3. Evangelism. That the gospel I present, argue and live out is more truthfully Biblical than it is culturally-(westernis-ed-ly)-relevant-slightly/majorly-distorted.

books-open-on-table

 

 

Systematic Theology 0.a Pre-Preface

d95ab732c70acd0150b2fb9b61cc165bThis will be something like the 5th time I’ve tried to read through Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. But hopefully blogging about it will hit two birds with one stone. Get me posting regularly here again AND get me reading the book with some level of accountability. Hopefully. Also hopefully is the thought that this might be useful to someone else. There’s no chance this’ll fail – none. Zero….

For those of you who don’t know when I was at Uni I was mentored by a guy who was doing his PhD in theology with a focus on discipleship. He’d been involved with Church plants and churches through his life. And one day I asked him what he’d recommend someone (like me) studying to go into Church leadership. Like what curriculum. Anyway amongst other things he said: systematic theology would be a great place to start.

There I was about 19 years old and I bought myself the thickest book I’ve ever seen. Outside the bible, which uses thin pages so doesn’t count. I mean this book is almost like a shoebox (slight exaggeration)! But it’s big. I opened it up, I remember, the first time with highlighters, pens ready.

A few weeks later I stopped.

Tried again a bit later and then again. One time I even tried to make notes in a journal for each chapter, another time I tried audiobook, and still another I found the guys lectures. But no, now I’m confident to that a blog will do the trick. Of course it will. I mean, why wouldn’t it?

And how will I go about this? Well, believe it or not but I did give some thought to the process. Sure it’s a blog and time is bound to let the structure evolve in one way or another. But here goes my starting structure:

Memory verse, chapter outline, what stood out, any answers to the questions and any questions I thought up, updates on applications.

Each chapter comes with a memory verse and application. I plan to really engage with the book and use it not only to grow but affect my personal walk with God. So these I’ll be putting into practice. There are also questions that I’ll make an effort to think about and answer. But probably not here, unless I’m super proud of the answer or put a lot of time into it or am simply blown away by the profoundness of the question.

I will also try to answer the question ‘what struck me’ or ‘what stood out’ and why . I think this question will help record what Gods saying specifically to me through the learning.

You’re most welcome to join me on this journey, may it be a long one indeed.

So where to start? Preface seems good to me, one page at a time, we’ll climb this mountain.

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Phillip Yancey – Vanishing Grace

23307619And I have a lot of catching up to do…There is a lot I want to write about, a lot of things have been being processed in my mind. A lot of good stimuli, and not a lot of time to put them into blog form. So I’ve got an hour or so to clear some of the backlog.

Vanishing Grace – Well thanks Tim Fawsett for recommending this book to me, when we did our pre-marriage counselling with you over 3 years ago. It’s not marriage related, but I bought it, and 3 years later read it. And what a mistake to leave it so long, but what good timing. As we enter a year of evangelism being our focus for the student ministry – such good insights.

What’s it about? Yancey is acknowledging that Christianity just doesn’t seem like good news for a lot of people. And why is that and what we can do about it.

What’s stuck with me and struck me? Glad you asked. Aside from a lot that was fantastic in this book, one of the sections was devoted to how we can effectively and attractively communicate the good news to people. Vanishing Grace offers 3 really great pathways to do this – to a post-christian culture/society.

  1. As Pilgrims – if we as Christians were honest about our own shortcomings, and that we are also pilgrims on a journey – this would be much better. A lot of the time we try to present to the world, that we are “sorted” people, with it all together. Not only is this a lie, but its also unattractive. However if we are prepared to say that we don’t have all the answers, we still make mistakes, but that we do have a hope and that hope keeps us moving.
  2. As Activists – One of the biggest objections to Christianity is that the Christians don’t practice what they preach. They say they care about such and such but what do they do. Yancey encourages us to care for the marginalized, the down trodden, lonely. Etc.
  3. As Artists – Using creativity, in art, drama, poetry, writing (books, blogging, letters), to convey. He uses a powerful illustration that our art should both be ‘wise like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails’. That art has responsibility to tease and challenge and ‘prod to action’, but also to lodge itself in us and make us really think.

I can’t really do justice to the book, other than recommending it. But I would say that if you feel called to art as a means of witness do read that chapter, or this article I found by the author on the topic.

Short and simple, sorry no flare, I have a few more to write now.

To engage or not to engage…that is the question

Deep wellOne of the books I am slowly working through at the moment is called ‘Water from a Deep Well’ by a guy called Gerald L. Sittser. It’s basically a book about the Church’s history from Early Christian Martyrs to the Modern missionaries. As a History graduate and a Christian this book has a natural appeal.

However in the third chapter it looks at the Desert Fathers, who were a bunch of Christians who found the popularisation of Christianity in the Roman Empire after Constantine damaging to the “cross-carrying” life they felt called to. So they fled to the deserts and practiced various extreme methods of self-denial and disengagement with the world around them.

Whilst this kind of behaviour has obvious benefits (learn dependence on God, not be distracted by sin, etc), there are some subtle hindrances and dangers. For example

  • Pursuing self-denial for its own sake, or to fuel a sense of reputation and pride in misguided piety
  • An inability to change, bless or even relate to the world around them.
  • Forgetting that it is by grace we are saved, not by works

As a modern believer one of the questions I have is how far to engage with the “world”. For example, will I watch 18 rated movies, go clubbing, listen to music with swear words or celebrate Halloween. Where do I draw the line on personal Holiness and effective outreach?

Well, I sat down with a friend from the Navs group and we came up with some helpful gauges for engagement vs disengagement. We agreed that for each Christian, in each circumstance and each moment it was likely to be unique. So we wanted a “tool” by which we could personally decide whether to engage or disengage.

5 Gauges of disengagement vs engagement:

  • Conscience/Strength of faith. This has been covered in a previous blog post (or maybe it hasn’t :/ ) and John Wecks book: Free to Disagree. But in a nutshell in order to determine whether it is wise for us to engage or disengage with an activity of the world we need to evaluate whether our conscience permits us. Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8 calls this “strength of faith”. See the post for a more full discussion. But 1 Cor 8 goes a little further and tells us that we should also act in the awareness of the conscience of other believers, especially younger and weaker believers.
  • Calling. Just as Paul was called to engage with the gentiles (Non-Jews), Ezekiel was called to disengage for periods of his life. For example when told to literally lie on one side for a year! God may call us into situations, relationships or ministries of engagement with the world. One lady I knew became a Christian through someone who felt called to share his faith in clubs and bars.
  • Empowered. What ability or power has God given us. An example of this is the power given to the early disciples to speak the languages of all the people around them in Acts 2, by this power they could engage with the culture. Empowerment can take the form of: Natural abilities, Spiritual gifts or Acquired Skill (Clinton – Unlocking Spiritual gifts). On the flip side of this, we may be empowered to disengage: Jesus fasting for 40 days, or the 3 men in Daniel 3 who were empowered to survive the fiery furnace and therefore disengage with the activities of culture.
  • Law. Jesus said that not the least letter of the law would be changed. In our engagement or disengagement, we are never called into sinful activity. We shouldn’t be engaging to the point of sin. This is obvious but it must be said. 2 side-notes: 1) we shouldn’t disengage to the point of sin either (“all that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing”). 2) We must also have a thorough understanding of the law – remember the Pharisees who thought they understand the law of Sabbath, but were actually wrong, and they mistake led them to sin by disengagement.
  • Motive. We should be asking ourselves in disengagement and engagement. What is my motive? Are we like Paul, who was able to become/engage like a Jew, Gentile, Slave or Free for the sake of possibly winning some (1 Cor 9.19-23)? Or do we disengage in order to show that we live for a different Kingdom and thereby witness.

Since meeting with my friend I have thought up a 6th: Integrity and Consistency. I came across this one in my Bible readings. Gal 2.11-17. Paul describes how Peter would only eat with Gentiles when Jews weren’t present. Because he didn’t want to ruin his own reputation. When we choose to engage or disengage with culture, is because of selfish motives and therefore will change depending on who is watching. Or are we the same when no one is looking.

Unclogging the river: dumping the leaves

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Sometimes, I just need to get a quick update done on my blog page before I can carry on again. Like pushing all the leaves in the drain out the way to get the water flowing again (and that’s as creative a picture I paint). Hopefully this will be it. Not very pretty, eloquent but it’s hits the nail on the head…So:

I got a job! God provided at just the right time. I work for Cancer Research now at the university I was working with Navs. This is ultra convenient because I can carry on meeting with the students in my new role. Hopefully, my prayer is, I can model this stage of life well.

I’ve been in the role for two weeks now, and enjoyed settling into routine! I arrive on campus for 8am for a quiet time before work starts at 9. It’s a perfect job, and so far, I love it. Feel really blessed to have it, and looking forward to getting to know the people there. I work in a small office, with 4 other people who are all really nice and have welcomed me into the room.

My aim is to start applying for a long distance, part time learning Master’s in theology or divinity to start Sept 18, to do alongside my work. But we will have to see. I recently read a book on simple church called the Rabbit and the Elephant and it’s begun to challenge my perception of what leadership and church actually is/are. Probably more in detail later.

Just about catching up with my reading objectives for 2017, a book a week, currently 6 books behind schedule. But I got 3/4 on the go. Utilising my walks to work and back for audio book listening, and my lunch breaks for the biography. Will be starting the new russell brand book on recovery (all about addictions) should be an interesting and funny read (if its anything like his last one) with my workouts (which by the way are going well!).

What else? Oh, it’s my birthday tomorrow. Probably reason for a renewal of motivation!

Drain unclogged!

 

 

 

Reps conference 2 “Yearning “

So, the first meeting just happened and now it’s bed. 

For anyone who prayed, the worship went well! It took me a few lines of the first song before I felt properly engaged and like my eyes were on Him rather than the “performance” and technicalities.

The talk was on Psalm 84 and was about “yearning” for God together.If I had to sum it up in 3 points: (1) abiding in His presence comes before contribution. (2) it is only through abiding in His presence and drawing upon His power that we can produce lasting fruit. (3) we abide in Him together. 

I really liked the talk and it is great to see so many people from so many different age groups together worshipping the same God and seeking His will!  God may I be humble and teachable. Amen.

Also I started a new book today: The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb. Apart from sounding like the title of a Chinese kung fu film. I think it will be a good good read. Looking at the world’s approach to power and Christ’s.

A Culture of Participation

This has been a difficult post to put together…

Recently I just finished reading a great book called: Everyday Theology. It’s a book about looking at Culture and the things we produce and the trends we have and learning what they say about the human condition. Not just to criticise it, but also to 9780801031670affirm it! It was such a good read, I don’t think I’m going to sell it effectively in my own words. Each chapter is written by a different guy looking at a different cultural text or trend…

Anyway there was a chapter on Blogging which I found very interesting and wanted to try and capture the rabbit-trail it began in my mind. The author shared that Blogs have become a place of surprising vulnerability and openness. Surprising in that people are effectively sharing things so personal that they might not even share them with their family and friends. (I know this isn’t always the case) But he gave the example of members of his youth group who’d share posts and speak in ways (on their  blogs) they wouldn’t share with their parents but with strangers…

Anyway, that wasn’t what grabbed me! He talked about the rise of “christian blogs”, (the book was published in 2007), and how more and more people were posting faith related articles to their websites. Teaching, preaching, sharing their opinions etc. In looking at affirming this the author said that this was relating to the participation we should see in the church.

I don’t quite know how I feel about this. On one had I’m excited that writing has become a pathway for many people to contribute and build up the Church without having to write a book. I think writing isn’t used much in Sunday services so having blogs as an outlet seems really good. However I am also sad, that people resort to blogs in order to share their walk with God or write devotionals because there isn’t space for it at Sunday services. Maybe I don’t explain this well…

But the model for Church that I see often is a small team of people giving lots and lots to their church. And everyone else going to receive. I shared from my BRT post this week that Paul says: “Whenever you come together, let everyone be ready with a psalm or a teaching or a revelation, or ready to use his gift of tongues or give an interpretation; but let everything be for edification” – 1 Cor 14:26. I also see this need in the Navs group that I run, which tells you I’m not sorted in this either.

Here are a few of my thoughts on this:

Some people to step back – If there are people in the Church who are willing and able to contribute, but there is no room for it. Because the “core team” are able to manage it by themselves. Maybe they can consider stepping back. This will allow other people to grow and develop their skills/gifting and take more responsibility for the Church’s growth. In doing this those stepping back, learn the importance of inter-dependence and the value of the different members of the body. I think it is wrong to assume a leader, is the one person who shouldn’t/doesn’t need to be dependent.

Some people to step forward -If there are people who are happy just coming to the services and listening or “receiving”, but make no effort to build up the church. Then maybe they need to step up. I appreciate the Church isn’t just sunday services, so this might take other forms. E.g leading a community group, praying for the believers, blogging.

Acknowledgement of other gifts – I also think we need to value other people’s gifts. I think there is a place for saying some gifts are more important than others in regards to building up the church, Paul himself says this! However, this doesn’t mean that we take away value from the other gifts. For example I remember hearing that Bethel are using dance in their services. Is there the space for this at your church, are there people who want to express themselves in this way. Maybe it is painting or writing. At the youth camp I served at last year, we gave the kids the chance to draw pictures during the sung worship times. Perhaps someone is naturally gifted in mathematics or graphics, are we thinking how to incorporate these things.

I know this post sounds like a rant and it probably is. I’m speaking just as much to myself in it. I haven’t got this one sorted yet, and I want to improve in this area.

How can more members of the Body participate in it’s growth and transformation towards Christ-likeness? How can I, as a “leader”, help encourage and build a culture of participation?