An Overview of the Bible

In case you haven’t heard, I’m studying the Bible!

If you’ve got yourself an ESV study Bible, you’ll notice there’s about 50 odd pages of introductions before you actually get to Genesis 1:1. Being an enthusiastic person, who struggles to do things half-heartedly. I’m reading through the introductions and studying them too (a slight distraction).

But whilst this may seem like a slight distraction, it is actually a rewarding activity. The introductions are filled with Bible passages and quotes and are providing a good overview of what to expect, how to use the beefy-book, and some fun facts along the way.

For example, did you know that whenever the Old Testament uses the word ‘LORD’, all capitals, it’s because it’s representing the four letter word ‘YHWH’ (which is called the ‘tetragrammaton’) and is read ‘Adonay’?! What fun?! #slowlybecominganerd!

But that’s because God is so Holy the Old Testament writers wanted to honour Him and distance themselves from His holiness out of respect. Awesome! I think that alone will spice up my studying. Maybe I’ll pause when I read that word and think about God’s holiness, every now and then.

Anyway, another introduction was called an overview of the Bible, and I wanted to share my notes from that here:

I highlighted my three favourite things…apologies for any zooming you’ll have to do to make anything out of the picture.

Essentially my three top things about this article are:

1) The Bible shows us that God has an ultimate and unified plan for all of history. And that plan is: to unite all things to Christ (Eph 1:10) and to do so for His glory (Eph 1:12). I love that. It’s all about Jesus.

2) It talked about how the Old Testament uses shadows, prefigures and types to demonstrate Christ. I loved this, but I knew it already. What I’d not really considered though, was that if we are in Christ, we part of this as well. For example, Jesus preeminently fulfil’s the OT symbol of the temple, by become God’s dwelling place, but we also become God’s dwelling place!!!!!! Likewise, Jesus fulfil’s the OT’s mediator-role of Priest, and become the True High Priest, but we too become a kingdom of priests!!!! Wow, what an honour! He truly is the Firstborn among many brother’s and sisters!

3) The Old Testament saints reaped the benefits of Christ’s work, before He had done it, for their benefit. This is an awesome thought! Moses was able to receive the 10 commandments because of the same grace extended to him as we received. It’s concepts like this that make me awe filled at an awesome God. I see it Hebrews 11, when it talks about how the OT characters looked forward in faith to our age when Christ fulfils the promised salvation. Mind blowing thoughts!

Looks like studying the Bible will be fun.

To Him alone be the glory!

Dismantle Your Glory

Strange title for a blog post right?

There is a well known story in the Bible of a “sinful woman” who breaks a jar of perfume (probably a years wages), and wet’s Jesus’ feet with it, using her hair! It’s found in Luke 7:36-50. In the story there are onlookers who are judgemental. They criticise both Jesus and the woman for this extravagant act of affection.

However, the Son of God responds with gratitude towards the lady, and rebuke towards the onlooker.

This story has been on my mind and filling up my prayers for over a week. (I’ll probably spread it all over two blog posts.)

Firstly though, I had never made the connection between this story and the odd verse in 1 Corinthians 11:15 which talks about a woman’s hair being for her glory. Clearly, in this time and culture hair was important to a woman’s reputation, value and dignity.

So it is even more astonishing that we have a woman, not just extravagantly worshipping Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume, but also dismantling her own glory to do so. How humbling!

I can’t honestly say that I’ve worshipped Jesus with such abandon, such cost: material or reputational. (Thanks T. Tenney for pointing out this link between two passages!)

But we can also pick up a few points (and questions) about what this moment in Jesus’ life teaches us about worship.

  1. When we worship, we ought to be giving God our best. The woman in this story clearly does this, she breaks the most precious item in honour of Jesus, and surrenders her hair (her glory) for the glory of Another.
  2. In our Churches, do we elevate the anointed or the anointer? What do I mean? Well, it seems that in most churches we put on a pedestal those who have amazing gifts, confidence and charisma or even good looks(!), those we consider “anointed”. I think this story teaches us, that it is not the gifted – or the “anointed” – we need to look at, but rather those who are anointing Jesus with their everything. These are the people who should set the pace, the standard for our worship – not necessarily the most gifted with the guitar.
  3. Can we cope with such worship in our midst? The onlookers in this story, certainly couldn’t! When we are around people with such reckless abandon, we can feel uncomfortable. We might even label those people as “too passionate”, “too heavenly minded”, “too emotional” etc. Oh, that we would be convicted by our lukewarm attitude to worship. Jesus deserves our best. And worship is a sacrifice (see also Romans 12:1-2).

In the gospel of Matthew (26:12) it says that the true worshipper did this in preparation for Jesus’ burial. I wonder, if Jesus recalled this moment of honour and worship while He hung on Calvary’s cross? Did it strengthen His resolve, to know the love and freedom and forgiveness He would be purchasing for ever-thankful souls?

How Can I Improve?

Occasionally God interrupts my morning quiet time routine. These are exciting times and more often than not, I love to engage with Him in this. Today He presented a near-forgotten memory to my mind and asked me to ‘wrestle’ with Him over it. Bible down and prayer begins.

When I was a teenager and up till the age of 21, I used to ask this question very frequently: “How can I improve?”. I’d ask it after I’d lead a youth group session for my Church. I’d ask it after leading worship or preaching. I’d ask  it of my mentor whenever I’d lead a Bible study for the student group. I loved asking the question, and the feedback was so helpful and usually gave me insight for things I could actually improve.

Then one day, after a weekend away with new people, I asked it of my travel companions on the journey home…. I can remember what happened next, and it still makes me squirm!

There was a pretty long awkward silence, and one of my new-friends said ‘Paul, no offence, but that sounds like a pretty insecure question.’

I was mortified and backpaddled and defended and “clarified” myself and said lots of things to cover-up and refine the question I had asked so that it meant something different. But it was too late. I was exposed.

At the very least I was exposed to myself.

So I stopped asking the question. Completely. I stopped asking, because obviously I’m not an insecure person, I don’t need to ask this anymore. 

Four and half years later, God interrupts my Bible reading to flash this all in my mind again and asks me to deal with it with Him. My good Father reaches out to teach me and conform me even more into the Man after His heart who walks with His character and likeness.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. There were (at least) two motives behind my asking that question. I wanted to learn, I wanted to improve and I wanted to grow. I knew that it was right to give God my best and I wanted to, I wanted to be teachable and wanted to improve. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around mentors and leaders who invested in me, and could offer wisdom, insights and expertise and I was eager to extract as much as possible from them. But there was another motive at work: I wanted approval,  I wanted acceptance, I wanted to be seen a certain way. Obviously, I wanted the person I was asking to turn round and say “Improve?! Impossible, you did a fantastic job, better than me in fact, you are an amazing speaker/worship-leader/group discussion facilitator etc etc…” . I wanted this kind of approval. But not only this type… – In some twisted and “insecure” way I wanted the approval of being seen as a “self-aware” guy, who could take criticism (who even asked for it!), who was seeking to learn and grow.
  2.  There is an appropriate way to react when your motives are exposed, and I didn’t cotton on. My reaction was to stop asking the question “how can I improve?”, obviously with muddy-motives let’s stop all-together. Instead I think there is an alternative way to respond.
      • Thank God for using other people to expose hidden motives and areas of growth. Don’t lash out or, what I did, hide away. But thank God that He was using other people to sharpen.
      • Then face and evaluate the motives exposed. (They are probably there if you’re tempted to lash out or deny it strongly!) It might be that you need to repent from them. It might be that God wants to work on that area in your life right then and there, let Him speak truth into your life.
      • Then strive to move forward. This may look different depending on what the motives were. I once heard someone say “Your motives will never be completely pure, so don’t necessarily let them make the final decision” (take that with a pinch of salt). Striving to move forward will either look like:
        1.  Ditch the activity
        2.  Continue with the activity, but ask God to challenge and refine you so that the motive is cleared.

In my situation, I’ve decided that I will start asking the question again at appropriate times when I actually want to learn. But ask God to keep checking my heart and asking Him to bring healing to the insecurities.

 

 

Appreciate the left hand as well?

Here’s a nagging question I have.

Has the Western Church, the evangelical-reformed bubble of it anyway, made Church leadership a position held only by the educated elite? It’s not just the evangelical-reformed group either, to become a priest in the Church of England requires a degree, and if not in theology will need further training.

I remember hearing Andy Stanley, speaking on the importance of having theologically-trained leaders in Churches: “compare the work of Paul to the work of all the other “untrained” disciples. How much more did Paul achieve?”

But I feel deeply uncomfortable about this, because when I read the Bible. I see over and over again the glory God gets when He uses unqualified men and women, “unschooled” fishermen, shepherd boys. Even Paul himself, argued that he did not use fine sounding arguments and eloquent words.

I wonder what we’ve lost by only allowing the degree educated people to lead our churches, to earn a living from it. I wonder if, we had kept degree educated people in their clever jobs earning money and supporting the Church with their teaching and let the uneducated man with a Pastoral heart and a passion for God’s word, lead. What would happen. Would we have less books? Maybe more Bible-reading? Would we have less clever-programs? Maybe more prayer? Would we have less eloquent preaching? Maybe more worship?

I reckon, if the western church deems the uneducated to be too “weak” for church leadership roles, God will display His glory through the weak, foolish and “things that are not”.

Speaking as someone who has a degree. I think we’ve set the wrong qualifications for church leadership.

Yes, we need to add to our faith, knowledge etc. But surely this is an instruction for every follower of Jesus, not just leaders. Yes, we need sound doctrine, yes, yes, yes. But we also need to appreciate what every member of the Body has to offer, not just an elite few.

Reversing it totally is probably not the solution, we’re not to divide the Body any further. But we probably need to balance it out. Appreciate the left hand as well as the right?

Why so serious?

Ha! There should be some kind of ban on me writing blog series’. It really seems to put me off writing.

Question: Out of 10 how important is it to not take yourself too seriously?

Good question. (- even if it feels a little clunky worded). I asked it to my colleagues. There was a general consensus that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Question: Out of 10 how seriously do you take yourself?

Again, good question. And again, we reached a consensus – much more seriously than we think we should. 

It’s a pretty grim fact that we’re all prone to take ourselves much more seriously than we likely deserve. It’s also true that we probably owe ourselves a lot more respect than we dish out for ourselves. So there’s a balance – I guess. On the one hand we want to be able to laugh at ourselves and “enjoy life”. On the other, we want to be able to stand for something. Otherwise: “we’ll fall for anything” (Someone wise like Churchill can get the credit for that one).

And if we don’t take ourselves seriously, people probably won’t take our passion seriously.

How seriously did Jesus take Himself? Good question, didn’t ask my colleagues that.

Ho hummm.

The reason’s for this seriousness dilemma is probably self-explanatory. A concoction of pride and insecurity, a mix of self-confidence and self-doubt. Sin. Society, Circumstances, etc etc.

But I confess I think about it a bit. I can’t decide if I’ve reached the “sweet spot” on the spectrum or if I’ve just got it mixed up. Doubtless different occasions call for different ‘self-seriousness’ gauges. A solemn prayer meeting, might not be the right time to start giggling cause you’ve just thought about a joke. But I did:

“Lord, I was just thinking, earlier today, as I walked towards the sheep and they ran away from me…” It just had me set off like I was at a Peter Kay gig. We Christian’s are so weird. Of course the sheep is going to run from you. And the image of my friend wandering out, arms wide, chasing sheep for a hug – really did keep me laughing.

I’ve also started applauding in Church. (Like a Pentecostal congregant.) Whenever someone in the audience gets the slightest bit of rowdy. I like to add to whatever commotion is going on. The other day, I applauded when the speaker talked about wanting to ‘knock Zaccheus to the ground for being so sinful’….Before realising he was referring to the pharisees’ mindset – Not Jesus’. Safe to say I was the only one clapping.

Anyway. I’m a big believer in happy Christians. Why have we got to be so serious? I know the Gospel is weighty business and Souls are at stake and woe and woe to all who speak well of you. But I think it’s also good news. And I wonder sometimes, if people come into Church and we’re all serious about the worship and all serious about the talk, and all serious about the prayers, people might look elsewhere for fun.

Can the Gospel be fun? Can it liberate people from the stiff-necked pride which stifles laughter? Can it? Can the Gospel allow for accepting someone who gets the giggles in a prayer meeting? Can a relationship with God be made up of fun times?

Tension is key. I know. Like thingers and fumbs. But maybe we need to exercise our pinkies a bit more.

 

 

 

The White Flag: Called and Equipped to do much.

One of the significant activities God has been leading me into over the last 5 months is the process of ‘stepping out of ministry’. This has been an interesting time and I’ve learnt a lot. I wanted to share a bit of that journey and what it’s all been like.

Since October 2017, I have been doing what I called ‘bi-vocational’ ministry. I was working 9-5 for Cancer Research UK in their clinical trials unit, and at the same time running a student ministry with Navigators UK. It was great fun, it was a great challenge, it had it’s ups and downs like any ministry endeavour – but it was incredibly rewarding.

My average day started around 4.30-5am with all the regular routines and disciplines I needed to sustain me through the day (quiet times, exercise, reading and study), then I’d be out to meet with a small group of students on campus at around 8. We’d often simply read our Bibles and pray together. A fantastic way to start a working day, a fantastic way to approach discipleship, a fantastic way to grow friendships. Meeting daily in the mornings, you really do get to see each other on good and bad days – weaknesses exposed, yet together meeting to encourage each other and bring our days before God.

Then I’d be at work. I might meet someone at lunch (the trials unit was based at the university!). Then, depending on the weekday – I’d either be meeting a student 1-on-1, attending/leading/hosting a Bible study. It was busy. But being in my early twenties I have/had a lot of energy and time to spare for these good endeavours.

After a year at this pace, I added to my life FFM (Foundations For Ministry – a 3 year training course with Navs) and my wife and I took up our Church’s youth group’s mid-week gathering. Wow. Oh, and on top of all that, I was being allowed to preach once a month at Church (something I deeply cherish, and feel so honoured by!)…. Looking back on all this, it sounds like too much. But honestly, God sustained me.

I held firmly onto two verses which inspired and motivated and kept us both going…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me!” – Col 1.28-29 (which continues beautifully and relevantly into chapter 2!)

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;” – Ecc 11:2 (I felt God give me this verse one morning in my quiet time, it also came with the word: there is a difference between investing and managing)

With these verses, which I genuinely believe God gave me, I was encouraged to do all the many works I felt He was asking me to do. He put the work before me, and then enabled me to do it. I would say to myself, and to anyone else, that they really shouldn’t do as much as I was doing, unless God has specifically called them to it – and to remember – He probably won’t call you to it permanently.

…And then at Christmas 2018, we felt very clearly God was telling us to start drawing back…

 

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!

 

Agenda Item #2  See the Value

So then, Jesus heals the woman. Whoopie! Everyone is delighted. The woman is praising God. The disciples are probably hi-fiving. “Here comes Revival!”. …Hang on a minute, the synagogue leader is not smiling…

“There are 6 days to work, come on one of those days to be healed” – he declares. Interestingly his accusation isn’t at Jesus, this time, it’s directed at the woman. I wonder if she had come on the other 6 days, I wonder if she had come and not been seen. I wonder if she’d been coming all her life and not been noticed. We don’t know. All we know, is that she came this Sabbath and Jesus saw her. Jesus saw her, He spoke to her, He touched her and healed her. And when the Synagogue leader accused her, He defended her.

“This woman, a daughter of Abraham, was bound…” He begins. Jesus doesn’t just see her, beyond (and above) His agenda, He sees her value. He sees her importance to God. A daughter of Abraham. As a daughter of Abraham, she was part of the fulfilment of God’s promise in Gen 12 to Abraham.

It’s not enough for us to just see the people in the way of our agendas, we need to see their value. We need to recognize their significance before God. As Christians, we believe that each human being is important to God. And that He gave His Son to save them (and us!)…

What values do we need to see

  • This Woman – Identity, personhood, characteristics…Who is the person before you, are they male or female, are the rich or poor. Are they loud and outgoing, or quiet and reserved. When we respect their differences, preferences, strengths and weaknesses – we will find it easier to value them. This will usually mean going beyond the stereotyping level.
  • A Daughter of Abraham – Their part in God’s story, their potential, their relationship to others…This isn’t always easy to see, but everyone is part of a larger tapestry. We should try to take into account their relationship to others, to God’s story and purposes. The most significant mentors in my life, didn’t just see where I was at currently, they saw my potential. They saw what God could do through me and encouraged me in it. This isn’t always possible with the stranger on the bus, or the lady at the checkout…not to know the inns and outs, but we don’t need to and it wouldn’t be right if we did without their permission. But to at least acknowledge, this is a person in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made.
  • Was bound – the battles that they face, the obstacles in their way…These may things God will urge us to intercede and help with, on the other hand they may be things which we need to factor into our relationship/relating to them. Someone once said, he wouldn’t judge someone until he had walked a few miles in their shoes. How much capacity for compassion, love, mercy and value we would have for someone if we were to recognize their struggle/s.

In order to discover value, we may have to ask questions. Ask questions and listen to responses. We will have to be tentative to what’s being said and why it’s being said. We probably will need to spend time getting beyond a first impression.

One thing is for sure, Jesus saw her value immediately. The more time we spend in the Fathers presence, the closer our intimacy is with Him, the greater the love which has been sown into our eyes – the easier it will be to perceive value.

LOVE-BY-THE-PALETTE

 

Agenda Item #1 See the person

2016-07-Agenda-Papier-2

We all have agendas, some of them are big and important, some a small and silly.

We set ourselves an agenda each week when we go shopping. We look at our watches, outside the doors of aldi, and we see if we can make it round the shop, past the checkouts and back out the door in less than 20mins. Shopping shouldn’t take that long should it? So we set our self the target of getting it done quick.

The thing with agenda’s is that people often get in the way of them. There’s that family with kids running around the aisles blocking your path. There’s the old lady with a walking stick – whose left her basket in between you and your goal (Why is she using a basket if she’s got a walking stick!?) Then there’s that lady at the checkout who is nattering away, like she’s the most sociable woman in the world – totally distracting the customer who is in my way, and also seeming to enjoy a superficial conversation with a stranger!

It’s silly when you put it like this but we all have them – agendas. Whether they’re work related: closing the deal, finishing the project, getting the promotion. Family related? Having dinner together, date nights, movie nights, playing a game of monopoly (and winning it!) Or maybe even “spiritual agendas”: getting to church on time, reading my bible each day or leading the music worship on Sunday…writing a blog etc.

The thing about agenda’s is that they can often make us blind, blind to people.

There is a story in the Bible (Luke 13:10-17) about Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, – anyone who is a teacher or has done teaching will know that you teach with an agenda. They’re called “learning objectives”/L.Os – we had to write them out as school kids, so that we knew what the teacher wanted us to learn. Jesus had an agenda this Sabbath, He wanted people to learn something. But despite His agenda, he saw a woman in the crowd who was suffering. He called her out and healed her. This messed with the agenda of the synagogue leader – who’s agenda it was to make people feel guilty and bad about themselves (joke!) – his agenda was keeping the Sabbath sacred.

Both these agendas are important. Teaching is important (hence the effort that goes into schools in this country: maintaining them, training teachers, inspecting them etc). Keeping the Sabbath is important (it’s the 4th 10 commandment)! But the difference between Jesus and the Synagogue Leader in this story, is that Jesus wasn’t blinded by His agenda. He could see the woman in need.

Who is the person, who are the people – God wants you to see? They may be the very people in the way of your agenda.