Priority Matrix and Mission

I’ve read my fair amount of productivity, motivation, self help, self-organisation books. I’ve listened to a fair amount of training. And one of the things that comes up frequently is the Priority Matrix:

I think it’s self explanatory, it’s a tool that helps you prioritise a busy schedule.

Well, yesterday I had a bit of a yahoo moment – as I made a connection in my mind: The Gospel Mission is both “urgent” and “important” .

The great commission, to make disciples of all nations, is urgent. We don’t know when Christ will return. We don’t know when our lives will end. But we do know that the time we have is short and so we need to make the most of every opportunity.

But the great commission, is also important. Souls are at stake. God’s Kingdom is so significant, requests for its eminence are top of list in the Lord’s Prayer. The fact that it comes post-resurrection, when all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Jesus, demonstrates it’s importance!

Why is it then that our whole lives do not orientate around the mission of God? Is it because we don’t think it is urgent, we don’t think it is important?

In my job, when I have a task that is both urgent and important, I tend to drop everything. My mind is filled with problem solving the job, I’m talking about it with others, brainstorming solutions. I’m even praying about it.

I understand there is a caveat. We don’t want to “burn out” by “over working”, and not stopping. His burden is light and His yoke is easy. We also shouldn’t worry about anything…etc. But on the other hand, why is it we are so okay to “burn out” and “over work” on other tasks, but not this one?

I wonder what it would look like if a group of five Christians took the Great Commission as the most urgent and most important task in their lives, for even a week? I have a feeling, with five Christians praying, brainstorming, dropping everything, and “doing it now” much ground would be advanced for the Kingdom of God.

A few questions to reflect:

  • What do I need to drop right now, to focus on the Mission of God
  • Who can I partner with in this Mission
  • What specific areas can I be praying for
  • What are my next steps

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out you own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good please.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fail in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Holding fast to the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Chirst that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain.

Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

Finally, for those who would like more understanding about what the Mission of God entails, I would highly recommend the textbook: The Mission of God’s People by Wright. To summarise in one sentence: the mission is: to be a blessing to the nations.

Systematic Theology 6: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (2) Clarity

One of the reasons we are studying Systematic Theology is because it helps to equip us to carry out the Great Commission; it helps us to make disciples. When Jesus says ‘make disciples’ there are three aspects to this: going, baptising and teaching. This is relevant because in order to teach a subject, it is important to have a good overview of the topic. But not just an overview, but an understanding of how all the parts fit together. Studying Systematic Theology is great at helping us with this!

In this week’s post we’re continuing our appreciation of the four characteristics of Scripture by looking at The Bible’s – Clarity.

‘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 will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it’.

Notice how carefully crafted this sentence is. We are able to understand the teaching of the Bible IF we read it seeking God’s help and with a willingness to follow.

This is something the Bible claims for itself. When it says that even children (Deut 6:6-7) and the ‘simple’ (Ps 19:7) will be able to understand it. Furthermore when Jesus is criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, He never blames the Old Testament for being unclear, instead He simply says: “have you not read”?

It is true however, that the Bible can have complicated and confusing parts. Even Peter says as much about the letters written by Paul (2 Peter 1:20). But this verse also reminds us that we should attempt to carry out interpretation in the context of the Church.

The Doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture is significant for believers because it encourages us that: we are not too foolish or stupid to read scripture and understand it sufficiently. I think this is so important. As I know many Christians who would not feel entirely confident opening the Bible, reading it, and expecting to understand it. The Clarity of Scripture tells us, that if we are genuine in our desire to obey Scripture, and we truly seek God’s help, it is very possible!

Notice that the qualities for understanding scripture are not, educational/intellectual but rather moral and spiritual (1 Cor 2:14).

So then, if Scripture is so easy to understand why does it get misunderstood so much. Why are there still disagreements? Wayne Grudem gives three reasons:

  1. We are still waiting for further events in Salvation History, this is why many Bible-believing Christians today have different views on the end times as an example.) Whilst we have all that we need to know in order to be saved and have eternal life in the Bible, there are events that will need to happen before we ‘know in full’ (1 Cor 13:12).
  2. We have a lack of faith or hardness of heart, the problem may be with us, we are refusing to believe difficult or uncomfortable truths, or to submit to God’s law in our heart.
  3. Church Disagreements produce greater unity in the end, I’d not thought about this before. But Grudem’s optimistic view is actually faith filled in the Clarity of Scripture. When Christians disagree, and can manage the disagreement in a community of love, it produces thought and reasoning and understanding that would not be possible without the disagreement in the first place. As we wrestle with ideas, teachings and commands, and humbly ask each other questions, and present alternative ways of understanding we can discover the truth. In this sense it is so important we read the Scriptures within the context of the Church.

Finally, as a preacher there were two keywords that I learnt from studying this doctrine, a little trivia for myself. #nerdlife 1) Hermeneutics – the study of correct methods of interpretation. 2) Exegesis – the process of interpreting a text of scripture.

‘if you cross Her, then you cross Me’

I was walking to work the other day, listening to my music and on came a familiar song by Ed Sheeran – Cross Me. There were a few lines that jumped out to me and just made me think of God’s love for His people – the Church. So I put the song on repeat and started listening out for all the parallels I could find.

In an odd way – I think I heard God’s voice of comfort, encouragement and belief through Ed Sheeran’s music.

God’s Confidence in Us

There’s a few lines where Ed talks about his wife’s faithfulness and how much he can trust her. ‘She ain’t messing with no other man’. Did you know, that God has confidence in us – His Bride?

If He didn’t there would be no way He’d leave the great commission up to us (Mt 28:16-20). To make disciples of all nations?

I listened to a talk the other day and the speaker shared that in Jesus’ culture a Rabbi would only take a Disciple if he truly believed that the disciple had the potential to ‘be like him’. When Jesus approaches fishermen and unschooled people, He is effectively saying – “look, I know the world doesn’t believe in you, or think that you have much potential, but I see that you have the potential to be like me”.

God has confidence in us!

God’s Provision for Us

Ed Sheeran boasted that ‘anything she needs, she can call me’. He then goes on to tell other people they don’t need to meet her needs ‘don’t worry about her…thats all me’. God is so able and powerful, He can boast that all our needs are met in Him.

This is why Jesus says, ‘don’t worry, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?”. For the pagans run after such things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:31-33).

In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand pleasures forevermore! (Psalm 16).

God Will Fight for Us

Probably most obvious in this song, is Ed Sheeran’s willingness to step into the ring with anyone who attempts to hurt, insult or intimidate his wife. It’s in the title… ‘if you cross her, you cross me’.

Isn’t this true of our God too? Not only does He identify with us in our strength and ability, but also in our weaknesses. Jesus declares, ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me’ (Matthew 25:40).

This is how the prophet Zephaniah described God: ‘The Mighty Warrior who saves’ (Zeph 3:17). Our God is mighty to save. This is what Jehosphat learnt: ‘do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s’ (2 Chron 20:15).

Our God will and has fought for us!

God is Close to Us

One of the reason’s I’ve shared the video at the top of this post is because I love the imagery twist at the end. Maybe it was obvious to everyone who watched it. But the first time I saw the video, I honestly thought it was another guy in the green-screen costume. At the end of the video, it’s revealed to be a woman. It added a wow factor, that they were “together” through the whole video.

In the same way, our God promises to be close to us. His presence is with us. The New Testament writers knew this when they claimed, it is not longer I who live – but Christ who lives in me. Let me finish with three encouraging verses in the Bible which emphasise this truth:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4)

“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15:4)

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20).

Thanks Ed for making great music! Thanks God for having confidence in us, for providing for us, for fighting on our behalf and for being close.

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 1: An Anatomy of Temptation – Isolation

A couple of years ago, I watched this dystopian film with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson – I would highly recommend it. Very thought provoking. Without giving any spoilers away, this film is based on the idea that ‘human beings behave better when they are being observed’.

And whilst this isn’t exactly the message of Genesis 3, it is related. What we learn about temptation in this chapter of Genesis, and what is later reinforced throughout scripture, is that temptation often occurs in the midst of isolation. When we are alone.

There was a little disagreement in the commentaries about whether Adam was there & present in the moment Eve was talking to the snake (see v6) or if he was at a distance hence the dialogue between two not three. Either way, it is clear the enemy is talking his lies to Eve alone. It is a 2 “person” conversation.

A common theme of temptation is isolation.

Perhaps this is why: Cain, Moses, Saul, David and Peter all experienced significant moral failures when they were on their own! Even Jesus was tempted severely when He was in the wilderness (Matthew 4).

We’ve all been there, it is easier to sin when no one is watching. And it is easier to opt for righteousness when others are around. (Maybe Tom Hanks had a point?!)

So, what is the solution?

Is the solution, then, to always be around people?! Or as Emma Watson decides, to have 24/7 surveillance present in our lives? Do we need 100% accountability with everyone we meet? No. Obviously not.

Whilst isolation is often the battle ground for temptation, it is also the crucible in which God develops and grows us. It is the place that He meets us. This is why Jesus withdrew to quiet places, this is why Joshua would stay behind in the tent of meeting when Moses had finished with God, and this is where David learned to trust God’s hand to deliver him as a youth. In the secret, hidden, quiet and lonely places. The Psalmist encourages us to ‘be still and know’ that He is God.

So, what is the solution?

Introducing: the Church. The body of Christ. Regularly meeting, to consider ways in which spur one another on to love and good deeds. To encourage one another, support one another, comforting, rejoicing and mourning with one another. To model a pursuit after God’s heart, declaring to each other ‘follow me as I follow Christ’.

Over and over again the New Testament invites us to live out our faith in the context of community. To fight our temptations together and to strive to obey God’s commands together.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” – Ephesians 5:18-20.

If we want to see significant breakthrough in our addictions, ongoing battles with private sin, let us disarm the enemy early and bring others alongside us.

Do not let the enemy isolate you further with lies that you are alone. See how 1 John 1:7 connects walking in the light, fellowship with other Christians and being purified from all sin.

Caveat: Church Community does not make you immune to Sin

It is obvious from history, that just because we are in a collective does not make us immune to sin. The letters to the Churches, in Revelation, remind us of this. Sometimes we can be collectively “lukewarm”. Oftentimes, it is because everyone else is sinning, that we feel justified. “It’s okay, everyone else does it”, is not a good enough excuse to disobey God.

Finally, on Discipleship

The Greek nerds among us, will know that when Jesus delivers the Great Commission in Matthew 28 He is speaking to a group of disciples. When He promises that ‘I will be with you’ , He is using ‘you’ in a plural form.

If we want to be able to resist temptation it helps to be part of community. Likewise, if we want to obey Jesus’ commands, (specifically, to make disciples of all nations) we should likewise go as a Church together.

Yellow-Brick Road Christianity

The Bible says that the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27)

I once read a book about this: thinking, loving, doing. A call to holistic Christianity. A challenge to be thinkers, engaged and serious about knowing God. And to be feelers, pulsing with passion for Jesus and His gospel. And to be doers, endeavouring great acts of love for others!

And I agree, it is no good just loving God with our heart, or just our mind, or just our strength – we need all three. I know this and I agree. In fact, growing up I once heard a talk that compared the types of Christians who love God with only some of these ingredients as the people Dorothy encounters on the yellow brick road towards the Wizard of Oz.

The straw man who doesn’t have a brain, the tin man without a heart and the lion without courage. The various pitfalls for Christians loving God like this are obvious!

However, the part that I need to focus on now is not using all three – but using ALL of all three!

You see, as important it as it is that we love God with our heart, mind, strength and soul. As important as all these three components are. It is just as important that we are wholeheartedly loving God.

There isn’t room for lukewarm discipleship, halfhearted obedience or ‘one hand to the plough, one eye back’.

In studying Genesis 3, I came across this quote from one of the commentators:

“The serpent touches us at the one thing in our lives where we would rather God did not trouble us. We will give Him everything else, but we will hold this one part of life to ourselves”.

This may be our ambition, our refusal to forgive, our determination to exercise, eat whatever we want, watch whatever we want. An area of sin we refuse to confess. A possession we refuse to give away. Be aware, this is where satan will aim his temptation.

What do we withhold from God?

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=holding+nothing+back+tim+hughes

Reflections: A New Bible and a New Season

This week I got myself a new Bible.

Christmas 2011, my Nan gave me an NIV leatherbound Bible. It was the last Christmas gift she would ever give me, passing away the following summer. It would replace the tattered Youth Bible I’d taken to many a Christian camp.

Since then, I have read that Bible through so many times I’ve actually lost count. I’ve even had to tape back in Romans 8 from when I memorised it. Most pages contain, notes in the margins, highlights, emphatic underlines, messy circles and various squiggly shapes. On one read through I even tried to highlight with blue every time there was a lesson on integrity. Another time, I put a red dot every time ‘blood’ was mentioned in Leviticus. These pages are littered with nuggets of gold gleamed from the hundreds of sermons that I listened to. Clever cross references that I’ve come across in books and talks and in my own quiet times.

This book has a weight of history and intimacy, and not just because it contains the very words of God. I have held this book in prayer, in preaching, in worship, in study. I have held this book and prayed my heart out, this book has seen me through my whole time at university and into the first five years of marriage.

Since my “old” Bible had scribbles everywhere, it is interesting that the cover page had not been touched at all. So when I got the new Bible, I decided I wanted to fill it up

Old and New

In the top left, I’ve listed all the people who I’ve befriended and ended up studying God’s word alongside. At the bottom left I have listed the 6 significant mentors I’ve had the honour of meeting over the last 9 years. These people taught me to pray, to read, to study. They inspired me to pursue God’s heart and to encourage others.

Then below these are an extensive list of everyone (I can remember) who has taught me important truths about God. It is a combination of people who I know personally and closely, as well as far off preachers whose sermons I have listened to over and over again, or whose books I have treasured.

In the bottom right corner are all the places that I have been allowed to preach. All the Churches, groups, camps and conferences. Truly humbled to think through this list. I was actually taken a back. How many pastors, vicars, leaders, youth workers, trusted me to speak and teach. Even at the young age of 16/17…How God has grown this gift in me over the last few years. I am especially grateful to St. Christopher’s who’ve undoubtedly had to bear with the good, the bad and the ugly – when it comes to my preaching. And yet, they steadfastly sought to encourage God’s Spirit at work in me.

All these lists fill my heart with gratitude! Surely I have not walked this path alone. God has truly surrounded me with a great cloud of witnesses, of fellow travellers, teachers, guides, mentors, friends. He has given me such fantastic opportunities and experiences.

So I would lastly like to thank the Author of this fantastic book. The author and perfecter of my faith. Who has not only spoken to me, but also connected me with the right people at the right time, and spoken through them.

A New Season

So why a new Bible?

Back in December 2019, I felt God leading me into a time of Isolation, an extended period away from Church ministry. No longer preaching on a monthly basis, not helping with youth group, worship ministry, community groups, Navigators, 1-on-1 discipleship…It’s a long story, but now 8 months into this (for want of a better word): Sabbatical, I feel like I might be being nudged slowly back towards public ministry. I think there is still more hidden work to do, and I’m in no rush, but it does feel ‘just around the corner’.

Nevertheless, I wanted a new Bible to represent the new work that God has done in me and has prepared me for in this next season.

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 3: The Canon of Scripture. This chapter gives a historical account of the formation of the Bible.

It starts with the story of how the Old Testament was constructed, who came up with the idea to write God’s words down. Why it didn’t stop with the 10 commandments and has been expanded into the Law, Prophets, Songs and History books.

It then goes on to explain how the New Testament was compiled, that each author was essentially an apostle (or had close association with one of the apostles), they claim to have been written with the authority of God and remain consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Finally this chapter then examined the various candidates for addition or removal of other books.

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.

Sunday Summary – 9th August: “First time since March…”

It’s time for a weekly review and highlight reel. This last week has been an altogether good week, if slightly uneventful.

1. Yesterday I went to my parents house for a BBQ. It’s the first time I’d been round since March and it was so good to see flesh and blood family, rather digital versions on them over skype. (Brother was on skype the whole time with us, laptop on a table in the garden). Dad cooked a phenomenal BBQ meat feast and I stuffed my face. So so good. It almost felt like back to normal, almost.

2. This week also saw me visiting my office for the first time since March. It was great taking the 30 minute walk into work. I’m sure the novelty will wear off in a couple of weeks, but for now it was nice to be heading somewhere with purpose. There had been a lot of safety training before going in, so I was well prepared to deal with all the “COVID-Juice” dangers.

3. This week I watched We Were Soldiers, a Mel Gibson war film, that blew me away. It’s made by the same people who did Hacksaw Ridge and so comes with a lot of intense war scenes. I would highly recommend it (if you haven’t got a weak stomach). The film is filled with moments where soldiers are repeatedly making split second decisions to sacrifice themselves for someone else, an amazing leadership speech by Braveheart man and such human courage in the face of overwhelming fear. Incredible. One moment that stood out to me is in the midst of chaos and battle, Gibson stands in the middle and just looks around at the battle. He takes a good 20 seconds to evaluate the entire situation, the camera rotates all around him, and then with the perspective of stillness he makes a crucial decision. Incredible.

4. Online prayer meeting for a couple planning to go to Yemen next year as missionaries. One of the things I like about these online prayer meetings is the spontaneous calls to prayer. For forty minutes the couple set us individual prayer points and ask three people randomly to pray into it. It really does keep me on my toes. I often find myself urgently listening to God’s Spirit to give me words. This couple are dear friends, and the guy, is my partner in reading through the Bible. We call most Sundays to share our top three points from whatever book we’re reading that week.

(A side thought I have is the relative apathy with which we tend to have towards Christians starting “normal jobs”. How rarely do we pray months in advance for them, to prepare them for the workplace. Surely this is a mission field too?!) I think as Churches we need to practice sending people into new jobs, new seasons of life, with the same vigor and prayer as we send missionaries. For every Christian is called to make disciples, to represent Christ and be Salt and Light to the world.

5. Finally, I made an expensive purchase decision this week towards my Bible Study project. For those who don’t know: I’ve decided that I want to prayerfully study the Bible, all of it, taking my time to examine closely every passage. You can read more about it here, and my first Genesis post will be tomorrow. Just click the ‘Bible’ button at the top of this page to view all my posts.

When I first started this study project, I was using an ESV study Bible, alongside a commentary series ‘The message of…’. But after two weeks and only covering Genesis 1-2:3, I had already been significantly impacted by the Word of God. I decided that the reward of reading other books, paled in comparison. So I also got my hands on a Matthew Henry Commentary and an NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. And wow! I have been flawed! I know this project is going to take a while, and I am so happy to be doing this thoroughly. Fortunately the Word of God is active and so I feel like God has been speaking to me new things with every passing. It has been so exciting.

My Bible Study Set is evolving now.