Agenda Item #1 See the person

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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.

 

Plank?

There is a famous story Jesus gives us in the gospels, well, it’s not really a story, it’s more of a word picture that I think we all know but that we all tend to forget. Either we forget it, or we assume, it doesn’t apply to us. On the other hand, ironically, we’re all really good at spotting the specific person who needs to remember the lesson. We can easily spot planks in each other’s eyes – it’s obvious – it’s a plank – and they’ve got it in their eye. Let me just point it out to them. Or maybe if we’re not so bold, we won’t point it out to them, we’ll point it out to ourselves: hey look, we don’t need to listen to what that guy/girls saying because they’ve got a plank in their eye.

We all go round happily plank-hunting. Who’s got the biggest plank in their eye. It’s like where’s wally, but with planks. Wait, I see another one right over there. Yep, you’ve got one two. Hey, look, I think you need to hear the story about the guy with the plank in his eye – that’s you that is. We even plank hunt, plank hunters….Hey, you, yes you, you’re clearly looking for planks in people’s eyes!

Of course, we don’t see the plank in our own eye. That’s why it’s easy and fun for me to write a blog about you-all to get the planks out of your eyes. But me…

Maybe, if we spot the planks in our eye, we’d find the instruction in James: to be slow to speak and quick to listen, a lot easier.

Maybe, we’d have a lot less ‘how to’ videos, books, blogs and podcasts and a lot more humility?

Maybe, we’d be able to hear Jesus’ word to us and not just for our friends, family, colleagues and the-people-we-don’t-like-so-much-or-agree with.

Maybe…we’d have a more united church?

Maybe…I would be more merciful, loving, caring and honoring.

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Systematic Theology 10: The Knowability of God

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Forcing myself to get this up and posted. Thanks to everyone who ‘liked’ the previous post – not that I’m doing this for the approval. Because that would be vain of me 😉 and we all know that is not a pitfall battle for me! ;P But, seriously, it is actually encouraging to get the likes, especially on such a mammoth task as this.

Chapter 10, part 2 of 11 chapters on the Doctrine of God. And I am feeling pretty motivated to get it finished by end of February. That, is a tall order. But it’s worth setting targets.

So, if the previous post/chapter was trying to explain how we can know that God exists. This chapter seems to be building on it, can we really know God and how much of Him can we know. In short, we can know a lot about God, but not all there is (because He’s infinite!). We can know specific things about Him, but not the complete depths of those specific things. Not only can we know things about Him, but we can also know Him as a Person.

What did I like about this chapter?

  1. We can never fully understand God! He is so big, so infinite, so deep and wide we’ll never know too much or know completely. Even in Heaven when sin isn’t affecting us. The Bible is clear: God’s vastness is not fully comprehensible, partly because of sin, but also partly because of His greatness! (Grudem acknowledges an argument against this rooted in 1 Cor 13.12 “now I know in part, than I shall understand fully“….But he says the phrase “know fully” is simply an attempt to translate the word epiginosko, which suggest deeper or more accurate knowledge. Simply looking at Psalm 145.3 and other verses like this should clear up confusion. ‘the passages…attribute God’s incomprehensibility not to our sinfulness but to His infinite greatness p.151)… This makes it fantastic for someone who has a intellectual spiritual pathway to God, like me (!), to know that I can keep studying God’s word and meeting with Him and never get bored! Furthermore, it means that there will very likely be things about God that every other Christian will be able to teach me. This keeps me humble and reminds me to be teachable!
  2. I get excited that not only can we know about Him, like a superhero and famous leader, but we can also get to know Him. Real personally, He is our Abba. In fact, we’re told we should boast that we know Him. We are encourage in Scripture to boast that we know God. How awesome is that! God is my Father, I speak to Him on a daily basis! He knows me, and I know Him! This is amazing! It is also a challenging reminder, whenever my study is invested more in knowing about Him than actually knowing Him personally. May my study always be centered and rooted in prayer!
  3. Finally, even though I can’t know God fully, I can know Him truly. I know that He is love (1 John 4.8), light (1 John 1:5), Spirit (John 4.24) and Righteous (Rom 3.26). I know that He loves the world and has made me. I know that He works all things together for my good. I may not know everything, but I do know that He does. He reveals Himself to me through scripture, nature and His Spirit and I get to respond.

 

 

 

Systematic Theology 8: Sufficiency of Scripture (Freedom and Challenge)

For those counting – 11 days since my last post. My excuse, training. I was away last week on training and my usual morning routine got scuppered. But we’re back at it now, so for those following along, we’re at the final characteristic of Scripture: Sufficiency. And this is the last chapter on the Doctrine of the Word of God! 1 down 6 to go and with that level of maths, provided I finish a ‘Part’ every two months, this monster of a book will count towards my 52 target (Ooorah!)

The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly. 

I’ve  underlined the second part of this definition because I think that this is where it really matters for Christians today. The first bit has to do with the construction of the Old Testament, which is great for people who lived in those days (and those engaged in study of those days) – but not super relevant for us.

So what three things stood out to me after reading?

  1. Surprisingly, it was what Grudem discussed about the role of the Church – given this doctrine. A natural question to follow the SoS is, what is the point of the Church (it’s teaching, sermons, people, books etc)? Grudem explains that the Church’s role should be to help apply and understand Scripture, NOT to add to it’s teaching. This is where – Grudem explained – there lies a big distinction between the Catholic Church and the Protestant.
  2. Along these lines, the sufficiency of Scripture, means that nothing is sin that is not forbidden by scripture either explicitly or by implication. Therefore we don’t need to add rules and prohibitions for Christians everywhere to follow. There are times when drinking coffee, going to the movies, dancing  etc. are wrong for certain believer(s) at certain times/places, because of the principles provided in Scripture (1 Cor 8, Rom 14) but these prohibitions should not be enforced on other believers universally. Grudem explains that doing this – can lead to severe harm to the Church (unnecessary feelings of guilt/shame, frustrated prayer life – because believers are praying to be “set free” from sins that aren’t sins and division in the Body.)
  3. However the opposite is also true, if we believe that Scripture has all we need to equip us to know God’s will, to trust Him perfectly and come to Salvation, we should be reading it and eagerly searching it. Everything we need to live a godly life has been provided, the Scriptures will equip us for every good work and will sharpen and teach us the way forward.

In addition to reading the book, I am also working through Wayne Grudem’s lecture series on these topics, they seem to finish with a Q&A at the end where his students ask the tough questions. I would recommend it. They can be found in the form of an Itunes podcast but also on the same page where I find the lecture notes: http://www.christianessentialssbc.com/messages/

Next time we start Part 2: Doctrine of God!

Systematic Theology 7.b: Necessity of Scripture (what about “Jesus-dreams”)

Forgive the 2nd post on this topic, but I went away and did some more learning about this doctrine, as you probably noticed – avid, loyal readers of this marvelous blog that you are – the Necessity of Scripture raised an issue for me.

One component of the Necessity of Scripture says that Scripture – whether read or heard – is necessary for knowledge of the Gospel. In other words, we are able to know some things about God apart from Scripture (e.g. that He is loving and He is just), but we aren’t able to know that He sent His Son to die for us (so that His loving-ness and justice could actually function together) without Scripture.

In short, I wanted to answer the question: “How do we make sense of the Necessity of Scripture (for knowledge of the Gospel) when people seem to have dreams/visions about Jesus and become Christians without the Bible”.

After a bit of research, I found 3 answers which I found helpful:

  1. The Bible never encourages us to expect/rely on these things (Gospel-explaining-dreams) to happen, they may happen and that is wonderful, but we can’t use that as an excuse to not do mission. In fact it is this very doctrine, the necessity of scripture, that has motivated missionary efforts for centuries!
  2. Often people who have these visions are soon led to Christians (who have Bibles) – or Christians are led to them – and they’re faith grows. In this way the dreams and visions seem to function as if God is preparing the way for missionaries.
  3. If someone did have a vision, a valid question would be, ‘would it be compelling enough for them to base their complete faith upon without any confirmation from God’s Word?’ Grudem admits, he doesn’t know, but again Scripture never encourages us to settle with this. In fact, it encourages us to go, to go and preach the word! (Roman 10:13-17)! This brings me back to the earlier chapters, it is as we read the Bible the Holy Spirit confirms that what we read is true.

All this to say, not only has it been useful to follow up on my questions (because they’ve been answered!), but also that there is great advantage to theological training –with others. A healthy reminder, that theology shouldn’t be studied alone – but as part of His body. I will be looking for ways – aside from this blog – to involve others in my study processes.

Systematic Theology 7: Necessity of Scripture

So far we’ve looked at CA of SCAN, this post is about N. The next one will be S, I know, I know, we’ve followed a logical sequence.

The Necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the Gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but it is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing about God’s character and moral law.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably want to read that sentence over again. It basically says that we need the Bible in order to do 3 specific things, but we don’t need it to do 2 other  specific things. Grudem, in the chapter, basically runs through these 5 activities providing Bible passages to support each one.

Truthfully (and personally), this chapter was a little difficult to digest. Let me try and explain… On a spectrum of unhealthy relationships to the Bible (with one side being Bible-idolatry and the other being Bible-apathy) – I definitely fall on the side of Bible-idolatry. I love the Bible! Love reading it, and using it. I think Christians everywhere should be making every effort to read it and submerge themselves in it and live it! (All good right? – Yes!) Most of my discipleship efforts involve getting people into the Word and reading it and letting it speak to them and challenge them and encouraging them to live by it.

apathy

However, I was recently reminded of the fact that the early church didn’t have Bibles – certainly not what we would recognise as “Bibles”. They had letters from Paul and probably segments of Gospels to read, but most people couldn’t read! So it had to be read to them. Therefore, the idea of carrying your own personal Bible around, was a completely foreign concept to the Christian. So how did they manage? Good question. Hence why my difficulty with this doctrine…

All this to say, my understanding of the Necessity of Scripture was on questionable ground. Especially when you add into the mix, if these stories are to be believed, that people come to know about the Gospel through dreams and Jesus visiting them in their sleep.

One of the helpful things Grudem does in this chapter, is outline two types of revelation:

  • General Revelation: Which is revelation from God, that comes to all humanity through creation.
  • Special revelation: Which is all the words of Scripture, but is not limited to the Words of Scripture (e.g Prophecies and Visions).

Through General Revelation we can know that God exists (The heavens declare His glory), and we can know something of His Character and Moral Law (Romans 2.14-15). However we need Special Revelation (which usually comes to us, here in the Western 21st century, through the Scriptures), in order to know the Gospel. The Gospel which reconciles God’s Justice and Mercy, which tells of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

I’m still a little stuck on working this all out, luckily I’m part of a Church with others who can help me in this area. But, something that does come to mind is the concept of stewardship which Jesus introduces. Can we be trusted to use and make the most of what we have received? From those who are entrusted with much, much will be expected. The early Church didn’t have “Bibles” as we know them today. But we do. Therefore we are expected to be faithful stewards of them: reading, studying, learning, obeying, praying, meditating on Scripture.

One other thing that encouraged me from this chapter, is that the Bible is necessary for maintaining our Spiritual life. Jesus said in Matthew 4, that Man does not live on bread alone. Deut 32:47 says that His words are our life! May we daily come before God’s word, knowing that it sustains us. That it will give us God’s will.

Let me finish with the Romans passage that most strongly supports this doctrine:

…For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:13-17

Sorry for a slightly messy post. I’m still learning.

Systematic Theology 6: Clarity of Scripture

This is the second part in the 4 characteristics of Scripture (SCAN). We’ve done Authority, now Clarity. After this we’ve got 2 more and we’re finished with the Doctrine of the Word of God.

What does the Clarity of Scripture mean?:

The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it

Things that I like:

  1. This characteristic means that even Children and “Simple” people can come to know God by reading/listening to God’s word. Grudem gives a couple of verses where the Bible says teach this to Children (Duet 6:6-7) and that it makes the “simple” wise (Ps 19.7 and 119:130). I think this is a really beautiful thing, because it means that anyone can come to know God through His word. You don’t need a degree or qualification to understand.
  2. This definition also emphasises that our attitude to reading God’s word is more important than our intellectual ability. What is the posture of your heart when you reads God word? Is it so that you know more, so that you can check a box, or win an argument. Or is it coming humbly to learn from God, asking Him for help to understand what He is saying and sincerely intending to follow through on His commands. God looks on the inside when it comes to Bible reading. Earlier today I read Jesus praising God… Luke 10:21: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”. I like this, because it reminds me that I need a humble and willing heart to read fruitfully the Word of God. So prayer is vital.
  3. Grudem writes a good explanation for the role of Scholars, given that the Bible is clear enough to be understood by children. I like it. We do need scholars. But before he goes into this explanation he writes a compelling case for our study of Scripture:

[The Clarity of Scripture] should give great encouragement to all Christians to read their Bibles daily and with great eagerness…Christians must never give up to the scholarly “experts” the task of interpreting Scripture: they must keep doing it everyday for themselves.

My prayer is that after reading this section you are encouraged to read and understand your Bible on a daily basis. It’s near the beginning of the year, commit to prayerful reading of the Bible. Buy yourself a new one, give the old one away, do whatever will motivate you to read it daily. It can be understood. Even if there are places that seem difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16), if we ask God to help us and sincerely approach to learn and do His will – He will give us understanding.

 

 

Choose Worship

aston-webb-landscapeI want to praise my God. Publicly, not for my benefit, but because He has blessed me richly. I am married to a beautiful woman, who loves God and is actively pursuing His calling on her life, who writes fantastic music and spurs me on in my faith. We live in a fantastic apartment, and have never failed to pay bills – even when I was supported by God’s people as an income, even when I was unemployed… I have an amazing day-job, working alongside amazing people. Every morning I walk across a beautiful campus, with buildings, fields and sights that are quite literally: stunning. I get to preach at least once a month. I lead a ministry focused on discipleship and meet with amazing people who are willing to let God invade their lives in increasing doses. I am receiving training that will be useful whatever career I end up pursuing. We have a vicar who cares for us, not just as volunteers, but as a couple, as individuals with individual callings and gifts. We are part of a growing home group, full of honest and exciting people.

I often forget this, because I have ambitions, hopes and dreams that are never satisfied – that always want more. Whilst some might glamorize these emotions, (“hope and dreams – they help us strive for excellence and to express who we were made to be”) I recognize them as coming from ingratitude and jealousy. I want more. I want to have achieved more. I want my name to be greater than it is. I want more recognition, more status. So many countless – selfish ambitions. The symptoms – frustration, bitterness, dissatisfaction…AKA: SIN… The antidote? PRAISE!!! Gratitude. Humbly admitting that I deserve death. And I have life. Everything else is a blessing.

So I might not have the networks others have, the status and platforms I’d want. But God has given me what I can handle, I will be faithful, grateful and worshipful with this.

Systematic Theology: An “evolved” approach!

Human – business evolution

..and BOOM! I’m a clever chap, it occurred to me, that I might not be the first guy to blog notes on Systematic Theology. I know – I know, how modest of me. Maybe I’m not inventing the wheel! ..So I searched and I found, what seems to be, a website with Wayne Grudem’s lectures on these topics with PDFs(!), PDFs of his notes and outlines. Duh, Duh Daaa! So what now? Do I stop. No.

(Here’s a link to this highly useful and resourceful site: Just scroll to the bottom page and you’ll start with the beginning.)

So what will become of this blog series. Well 3 things. 1) My posts can stop being so exhaustive. I’m no longer reinventing the wheel OR creating a resource for people – because someone’s already done those things before – very well! I’m also not recording my own notes from studying. Massive sigh of relief*….2) I can now record my three favourite things from each chapter. and finally 3) We can go with a bit more pace! Whoopie!

I warned you, I did. This approach would evolve. First we had the removal of the memory verses (Because I’m doing Romans 8, FYI 30 verses so far!). Now we’re moving away from exhaustive approach, and mimicking the BRT approach to study.  Streamline…

Oh by the way, happy New year everyone!