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.

Fix your eyes on Jesus (2): Perfecter of Faith

Meta-blog intro: I’m beginning to see a real danger in this “series” approach. The danger being that, what you start you need to finish. So if you start a series: “Series (1): X and y, and z”. You at least need to follow up with a “Series (2): X^2 and Y/Z” and to be honest when you’ve originally set out to write a part 3, you’re really stuck – and don’t want to do anything else until you’ve finished the series. Proper. Who know’s why I decided to interrupt my Systematic Theology series with a Fix your eyes on Jesus series. But I have, and that’s that.

Once youve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it

So, this part was about growing in faith. Moving past the things which entangle it. Because the truth is, our faith gets entangled. It gets entangled by lots of things:

Pride – thinking we can make it on our own, because of our achievements, appearances, reputation etc…Why do I need this faith thing? Entangled faith.

Sin – This causes all kinds of guilt and shame which cause us to doubt God’s love and forgiveness. Entangled faith.

Cynicism – probably an obvious one. Just looking at everything sceptically – this’ll have a result: entangled faith.

Etc etc etc.

So what’s the answer? Fix eyes on Jesus:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

As we fix our eyes on Jesus, He perfects our faith. Makes us more mature. Grows us. Too often we think other things will perfect our faith better than This. Whether it’s activity (see Mary and Martha), books, qualifications, the “right” job, education, relationship, hardship, experience, knowledge…. No, the number 1 resource for perfecting faith is Jesus.

You want you faith to grow, be matured? Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.

How?

Stillness – Be still and know.

Yes the Bible helps too – faith comes from hearing and all.

Prayer – when we pray we are talking to God & Jesus!

Church – Paul writes that God’s power was made perfect/complete in his weaknesses. As we gather together, vulnerably and weak, we offer each other the chance to see Jesus through us. We are, communally, His hands and feet after all.

Witnessing – Jesus promised in the great commission to be with us to the very end. This promise of His presence was made in the context of mission. You want to see Jesus more, do mission. Share the good news.

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.

BRT – Ecclesiastes & a bit of 2 Cor

My BRT is coming to an end for a while, not that I’ve been posting at all or keeping anyone updated. It’s been a fantastic way I have enjoyed God’s word for the last 3-4 years. (I will/have done a proper homage to the benefits of BRT elsewhere). But I just wanted to briefly say my BRT is now a slightly slower pace Bible in a Year. And I’m following the reading plan of Word for You, which is the young peoples (FREE) devotional magazine from UCB.

 

Here are my 3 points from last week. Ending Sun 2nd.

  • Eccl 11.2 – ‘Invest in 7 ventures, yes, 8…’ This is the biggest one for me, we’re taking on a lot this year, with the student ministry, our churches youth group, preaching once a month at various churches, worship leading all on top of our 9-5 jobs and 1:1s. And a big part of me has felt like “this.is.madness”, and must be wrong, however when I read this verse. I felt God saying, ‘no – for this season – for you – for now this is right. I will supply’. Along with it is the discerning what is the difference between investing in all these things and managing all these things (probably a post to follow on that).
  • Ecc 1.18 – ‘For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief’. I was challenged by this verse because it seems to disagree with the words of Peter which says add to faith goodness and to goodness knowledge. How do these two verses work together? Well, I began thinking about the foundation of knowledge. If we build our knowledge up on a foundation of experience and expertise it will finally lead to grief. But to build it upon faith as Peter says is very beneficial.
  • 2 Cor 9.6+ God rewards our generosity, and He will honor us when we give generously of our time, money, energy. Etc, this was important for me to be reminded of. I am not working as a slave. But as a someone who will receive a promised reward. I must not lose sight of this, because otherwise I am tempted to resentment.

Hope that’s encouraging.

 

Reflection

Today I’m visiting the coffee shop I used to hang out at when I was at college (16-18). There are lots of college age students around and I feel a sense of nostalgia. I think about what God has taught me these last few years over half a decade. How He has changed me. Who He has brought alongside me. Where He has led me and where He is leading me now. I didn’t even like coffee back then! 

Last night I went out on a date with my wife and we talked about plans and visions for the future. What we want to see happen, and why we want it. 

One of my core belief’s is that God deserves my unreserved wholehearted worship. Therefore, I really want to worship God with abandon, worship meaning the whole of life, and I want to inspire and draw people to do the same. I know it sounds rather daft, but I get very excited when I see a person respond to God in a way that is reckless. So I want to help people do that more. 

I seem to be gifted with an ability to teach and communicate effectively. I also have a desire to learn and read as much as possible to grow my understanding and skills. Therefore, to my mind, it has always made sense that a church leadership role where I frequently teach would be a good career option.

However, lately I have been feeling as though this option isn’t yet open. So, if I feel this sense of calling but don’t yet see an avenue. What do I do? 

Well, I will be a good steward of the gifts I feel God has given me. Making every effort to practise, develop and nurture them. I will serve God, faithfully and worshipfully with another job. I will probably continue to serve the Navigator ministry at Birmingham. I will probably find a job in teaching, catering, business, customer service – this will be my tent making. And I will do it to the glory of God, with excellence and with a high sense of purpose. And when and if God opens a door to preaching and teaching. I will be ready.

To glorify God with my everything (my work, my relationships, my marriage, my gifts – natural, spiritual & acquired – my attitude, my strengths & my weaknesses) and to influence others to do the same. 

This makes sense.

God deserves this living sacrifice. 

“The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delight in Him, though he may stumble he will not fall, because the Lord upholds Him”

Psalm 37.

Foundational truth

No blog posts in a very long time…so where am I at?  Where is God calling me vocationally for the next season? What are my plans for next year? Answer: I still don’t know, although I have been leaning towards one option for a long time. It seems that a clear sense of purpose and vision is a very attractive quality. So to have been in a position of uncertainty for so long doesn’t bode well for appearances’ sake.

I am convinced of these truths though.

1) God wants me to delight in His presence, to trust Him and abide in His Son. Ps 37, J 15

2) God has good plans for me, He has prepared good works for me in advance. Eph, Jez, R8.

3) Whatever I end up doing I will do as if it were for God, I recognize that God is using me to bring light into this workplace. Mt, Col

4) He will provide all I need, even if it is Grace sufficient to cope with hardship. Phil, 2 C 12

Therefore I look at the unknown with excitement and expectancy. Holding onto the precious promises I have been given.

Reps conference 4 the wall


So far we’ve had 2 sessions (where we all get together, worship and have a talk), 2 seminars (more focussed times in smaller groups, looking at more personalized issues. And a big business meeting which mostly went over my head – where the “Board” talked us through some changes and finances stuff.

I wanted to share briefly, while sitting in a corridor on babysitting duty – apparently a 1st year tradition, about one of the seminars.

The topic was about what to do when it seems you hit a wall/obstacle in life or ministry. The couple walked us through 5 common (and at different times – appropriate responses). 

  1. Fight against it, resist the barrier & attempt to push through.
  2. Give up, this kind of response usually results in blaming others, feeling inadequate, worrying, envy. But can also just look like admitting a mistake or accepting this journey isn’t thee right one.
  3. Change route, so maybe go the “long way round” instead.
  4. Wait, simply wait for the right time when the barrier may be lifted.
  5. Change destination. Instead of France go to Scotland for example.

I found this list really helpful. As I think about my personal calling into Church leadership and the using of my felt gifts. And the obstacles I am up against now. This list seems to spell out my options.

As it hopefully obvious all these responses can be appropriate depending on the situation. And each response can be carried out from godly secure motives or selfish, sinful and insecure motives. 

Am I willing to admit I misunderstood God’s will? Am I able to accept that a calling I thought was for life might have only been for a season? Am I prepared to wait doormant but faithfully until God opens the way? Am I secure enough to face the critiscm of others in my decisions when I hear God’s leading? Am I resiliant enough to weather harsh resistance in the face of the calling? Where is my confidence and sense of identity in all this.

God bring me to maturity, nurture my character, increase my love, faith and hope, develop my competency and tabernacle in me while I remain in You. Amen!

Anchor: Firm and Secure

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This week I have started meeting with students early in the morning at a Uni coffee shop, to simply make space for a shared Bible Study. We started doing this because, some people find it really difficult to have quiet times alone especially if they are going through the stress of revision. I also think it can be so encouraging to meet with people and let the Bible challenge us and keep us anchored in God through the storms.

I recently heard a talk on Hebrews 6.19:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure

I love the picture of a weighty anchor holding a ship in place while the storms go on around us. The speaker asked what was our anchor, and was it working. Was it strong enough to hold us in place. If not the Bible offers a hope which is a strong anchor…

So building on this I got the students to read through a portion of Romans 8. And we looked at this hope, the hope that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. This is a strong anchor for us. Because there are so many things, which set themselves up to try and separate us from this. But nothing can. The Anchor holds firm.

Jesus explains it another way, that He is the anchor. He uses the picture of builders, one building on a Rock foundation and the other on a foundation of sand. When the storm came it was obvious which would still be standing. Building our lives on the Rock looks like hearing His Word/Teaching (the Bible) and doing it! Jesus is our Rock, He is our anchor. He is firm and secure. We can lean upon Him and trust Him to take our weight!

BRT – Philippians

One thing that is really useful about coming back and writing, or meeting with a friend and talking, about your three favourite things is that it really helps it stick in your mind. When I’m  coming back to these verses that spoke to me, I’m reminded that the Word of God is living and actually speaking to me!

  1. 1.9-10 “And this is my prayer: that your love may more and more overflow in fullness of knowledge and depth of discernment, so that you will be able to determine what is best..” I love how this verse joins love and knowledge. 1 Cor 8 also does it. But here its knowledge in terms of discernment and working out what to do. So often in my head, I separate the two. I think decisions need to be logical and sensible and so maybe shut off the “love” side of the process. But here Paul and Timothy are saying that ‘no! Love needs to increase in knowledge and discernment SO THAT you will be able to determine what’s best.” This is such a helpful verse for me at the moment as the need to decide what to do next approaches! So I pray that my love may more and more overflow!
  2. 2.19-24 This is too long really to quote the whole bit, but in these verses Paul is writing really positively about Timothy. He’s telling the church about his character and even says that he has “no one who compares with him”! I loved this because it teaches me that one of my roles, in discipleship, is to speak well of those I disciple and meet up with. Since starting connect I’ve realised how much Scott has done this for me. In a world where gossip is normal and putting people down is so common, to be a light who speaks well of others and encourages them publicly. Jesus in my limited way, with the small influence I have, may I speak well of people and lift them up to others!
  3. 3,10 “Yes, I gave it all up in order to know him, that is, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings as I am being conformed to his death”. This  verse presented me with some great questions: Where have I fellowshipped, participated, shared in His sufferings this last week. Where have I known being conformed to his death this last week? Where have I known the power of His resurrection this last week? And what have I given up, was it everything, in order to know these things?

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