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!

Life Purpose

A few years ago, I sat down with Robert Clinton’s book: Strategic Concepts – strategies that clarify a focused life. And worked slowly through it, day-by-day, doing the activities and journaling through many of the questions. The end result was, among many other things, a statement which I have defined as my life purpose.

Over the years I have tweaked it and modified it. Here it is as it stands in July 2020:

‘To be a man after God’s own heart, then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same”

Each phrase and word in this sentence is packed with meaning for me, but together it provides itself as a helpful tool I have repeatedly used to make decisions and determine the habits and relationships I have engaged with.

I endeavour to be a man after God’s own heart, through a:

  • Dynamic relationship with Him (Gal 5:25)
  • Lifestyle and attitude of unconditional obedience and worship (Rom 12:1)
  • Posture of receptivity and learning (1 Peter 5:5)

I endeavour to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same, through:

  • My life’s example (1 Cor 11:1)
  • The various offices of my life (e.g. disciple, husband, mentor, member of St. Christophers, Trial Coordinator for CRUK, friend etc)
  • A wise stewardship of the gifts I have received (including teaching, preaching, encouraging, serving and energy) 1 Tim 4:14, Rom 12:6-9, Col 1:28-29
  • The various postures of encouragement (vulnerability 2 Cor 12, servanthood John 13, Phil 2, and prayer 2 Tim 1:3)
  • A resolved and deliberate attitude towards the Church
  • An enjoyment of friendship and love

This is my life’s purpose. What’s yours?

Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

Who is this Man?
Jesus is the Miracle-Worker, healing those that come to Him with faith, multiplying food for those who eagerly listen without concern for their rumbling-stomachs, walking on water in order to be present with those whom He loved.

Jesus is the Masterful-Teacher, instructing the crowds, challenging the religious experts and nurturing His own disciples. Using a diverse range of tools from cleverly crafted parables to razor-sharp pointed questions. From the examples of a poor widow’s generosity, to a rich young ruler’s disappointment.

Jesus is the Spiritually-Orientated Leader, who sees what is hidden in hearts and chooses prayer rather than might, submission instead of pride and love instead of judgment. He understands the dynamic between the physical and immaterial, embracing both and using it for His Father’s purposes.

Jesus gladly embraces and honors the least.

May I ever seek to desperately approach Him, in humility and awe. May I never lose the wonder, that God became like us in order to love us and restore us. May I never forget to be grateful for this.

What did He do?
Jesus taught truth, in many ways to many different people. He was sought out by the crowds, the religious experts and the desperate citizens from both Jewish and Gentile communities, because of His teaching and insights. Three noteworthy themes of His were: 1) The Kingdom of God, revealed through parables and one-liners, and ultimately through His death (13:39). This is a Kingdom that seems in many ways to mock the kingdom of this world by raising up and honoring the least (10:14-15), by promoting servants (9:35) and it does not pay homage to material wealth (10.21). 2) The importance of Faith, Jesus is repeatedly responding to faith (or lack of) and using it as a springboard from which to teach. Jesus sees the faith of the good friends who have gone to great lengths to present their companion to Jesus, He accepts the trying faith of the frightened father and leaves Bartimaeus named, healed and following all because of faith. Jesus is disappointed and left astonished by the absence of faith in others; following the panic incited by a storm and those offended by His familiarity. 3) His own death and the suffering awaiting His disciples. Three times in this Gospel Jesus teaches about His death and each time follows it with a caution that those who follow Him will also be asked to lose, be it their desires and life, their status and pride or their freedom and position. Jesus taught difficult truths.

Jesus provided numerous people with significant direction and purpose for their lives. Not only did He provide direction for a miracle-hungry and easily impressed crowd who eagerly waited for another mass feeding. But He also touched individual lives, sparking generation upon generation of changed futures as He went. Levi was ushered away from his booth and hosted a party for other tax collectors before leaving everything and following Jesus. Legion was delivered and sent home to proclaim truth to the Decapolis. Peter was invited away from his trade to fish for men and become the head of the Church to come. Bartimaeus was healed and decided to follow Jesus. Barabbas freed on account of Jesus’ sacrifice and given a second chance. The Centurion sees Jesus’ death and receives saving faith in order to enter eternal life. The eleven disciples were commissioned to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to all of creation’. Jesus provided purpose.

On two accounts Jesus sees’ what the world might have missed and loves where someone else in his position might have scoffed. Firstly, as a widow discreetly offers all she has amid a crowd donating large sums of money. Jesus sees deep what others would have missed and honors the lady’s sacrifice. Secondly, when the rich young ruler approaches and is disappointed with the prospect of selling what he has – Jesus doesn’t gloat in his intellectual joust instead He sees and loves the man who could not surrender. Jesus sees and He loves, even the those who were despised.

Jesus lived by Scripture in close communion with His Father. He knew Scripture profoundly and completely, using it not only to teach but to defend His own actions and life choices. His knowledge and approach to Scripture purchases for Him a freedom from human tradition and regulation, a freedom He compassionately offers to those in chains. This Scripture wrought freedom allows Jesus to bless, to heal, to rest and to eat without entertaining the expectations and fear of men (for a poignant example of this read Mark 7:1-23). Jesus also lived in close communion with His Father, frequently withdrawing to quiet places and allowing His disciples to do the same. This communion undoubtedly informed many of His most crucial decisions, significant teachings and insights into His own calling as well as the hearts of those around Him. The most stark and important decision which He made was directly in the context of extended prayer (14:35-36).

How do I tell others about Him?

He commands me, and His decree makes possible. He accompanies me, with Him by my side whom shall I fear. He protects me, and yet, He demands that I surrender all I hold as precious. He rewards me with Himself. This is my hope and faith.

I find that the best way to tell my colleagues about Jesus, is to tell them a story from a gospel and ask for their thoughts. I feel like Jesus did this to tell people about the Kingdom of God. I don’t need to explain the story, just telling it is powerful. Most recently I asked my colleagues about the three people who wanted to follow Jesus but had things to do first (Luke 9), Jesus gave them an uncomfortable ultimatum.

I find that people are often happy to express their opinions on a story. Maybe in the story they encounter Jesus.

Hopefully they encounter Him in me.

A reason for Journaling

Here’s a warning, you know how people talk about having a love-hate relationship with things? Like Marmite, work, exercise or [[something humorous], well that’s not the case for me with Journaling (apparently a new verb to the English language!).. No, Journaling has had a love-like relationship with me for many years.

I started when I was a kid, pretty much as soon as I had my first encounter with God at a Christian summer camp. I started writing down things, like the day’s events, and prayers, and any “prophecies” I’d received that day. My summer camps were cool like that. I try not to take my “charismatic” upbringing for granted – but that’s another story for another post – don’t hold your breath.

My youth leader said, a journal, didn’t have to be anything fancy or the like – just a place where I could record what God might be saying to me. Click, I was hooked. Add to that my nerdish obsession with notebooks and… Worrlah!

Over the years my approach to Journaling has changed, (at one point, I had 3 different note books for 3 different purposes!) but for the last few years I’ve had a model which seems to have stuck.

But why? Why Journal? If Simon Sinek says ‘Start with Why’ , then why do I journal?

I don’t think I could put together a comprehensive list of my reasons. Firstly, because that’d require a lot more thinking and remembering than I’m prepared to give to a mid-week post. And secondly, it’d be quite a long list! And we all know, how important punchyness as a virtue to this site.

So instead, I want to mention the reason that it’s been on my mind lately. The one that caused a bit of a revival in my love-to-like-to-love relationship with Journaling.

Reason why I journal: It slows me down.

I am a fast pace kinda guy, at least that’s what I tell myself. I like getting through to the end of activities. More of a cross the finish line, than appreciate the flowers along the way. Results > process, in my mind. (Not that the process is bad, or useless, it’s not.) But I like moving onto the next thing. I like ticking boxes. Point made?

Well, fortunately I serve a God who has been able to use this trait of mine to build up His church, encourage His people and as a tool in discipling others. Huzzah! (as a side note, there’s a “wise-sounding” way of thinking that says “results don’t matter, all the matters is the process”. That’s nonsense too, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t talk about judging by fruit!) Nevertheless, there are still areas where this trait negatively works itself out. And one of which is in my personal devotional life, my quiet times, my walk with God in the mornings.

If I go about my quiet times without Journaling, I often simply focus on getting through my readings, and presenting my prayers. But Journaling slows me down. I won’t belabour the importance of slowing down. (I’m running out of time – ironically!)

But it is important to enjoy God’s presence, and savour it. Not just to tick it off a morning activity. This is not how I approach marriage or any meaningful friendship. Why would I subject the greatest relationship, the most character forming communion, the spiritually maturing, fruit producing, life exploding moment of my day to that!

When I simply gaze upon Jesus – I trust that I am being transformed. Journaling helps me  to do this. It helps me to slow down.

I would encourage you to try it for a week, see how  it affects your walk with God.

What would change?

What if Christ actually compelled us? What if we were completely enamoured with Him so that everything else in our lives looked like utter rubbish? What if He alone stood in the ‘vision statement’ for your life, marriage, career and ministry?

What would change?

Would you end up sleeping more than you do, or less? Would you exercise more, or less? Would you even think about it – or would it be according to the ‘felt need’ on the day? What about your diet, would you eat more, or less? I’m guessing it’d be healthy, but to what extent? How much would you spend on vitamins and fruit and veg – would you only get organic? How much would you care?

What about money? Would you end up buying the things you buy? Would you save, if so how much, percentage wise? How might you budget? Would you be more inclined to stick with a budget, or to abandon it in a moment? How much would you give? To who or to what cause?

What would your mornings look like? The first thing you’d do, what about second? Would it be the same each day, or different? What about your evenings?

Or how about your conduct at work? Would you work harder, how much? Would you talk to more to people – how much? How much interest would you show the homeless person you pass each day.  How much attention would you give to each member of your Church family, who would you prioritise?

Would you have principles – would you stick to them more? Or would you feel freer to abandon them for the right thing in the moment? How would you work it out?

What would your prayer life look like? Kneel more? Journal less? Dancing? Singing? Silence? Bible first or after? Alternating? What you ‘feel’ like, what you’d planned?

There are so many questions, and I intended for them to feel overwhelming. Because the truth is, they are. The Christian life, even with the desire to live it well, is impossible.

The Good News, is that God gives us

  1. His Word – to teach us.
  2. His Spirit – to lead us
  3. His Grace – to forgive us, and keep us going when we fail.

My prayer is that I would lean into His word for instruction, receive from His Spirit the power and guidance that I need for each day. And remember His Grace, each and every time I stumble and  get lost.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Phil 3.12-14

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. – Psalm 119.9

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. – John 16.13

 

 

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 #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.

 

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.