Relinquishing Omniscience

Warning – this is an uncomfortable post.

I have journaled very consistently for the last 8 years. I have two journals on the go at any one point. One to record my prayers and the other to record all my notes (from books, talks or 1-on-1s with people, even my sets and reps from weightlifting). The black books pictured above are the latter.

For some time now I have wanted to digitalise these notebooks and categorise the years and years worth of notes into a digital resource. It’s an ambitious task. I want everything I have ever studied to be easily accessible.

Why? Well firstly, I’ve argued that it was part of being a good steward. Secondly, it will make for helpful teaching of others. Thirdly, I feel very good about my walk with God when I consider all the things God has taught me, and looking on a photo like this. I see 8 years of walking with God all documented, tangible and real. Didn’t the Israelites set up stones to remind themselves of God’s goodness?

However there is a fourth reason, and one more deadly than the third. A desire for omniscience, a desire to know all, and in so doing a subtle desire to be like God. Because my human brain is fragile, I forget things and can’t always remember. So I wanted to protect against that by outsourcing my memory to a computer. I want to have a digital database at hand by which I could answer any question thrown at me.

And so, I read books, I study the Bible, I listen to sermons and all the while I take notes. And over the years, over the months, I build an altar to knowledge, an altar to experience and memory…and then God speaks.

You see, God isn’t happy when anything comes between Him and me. He doesn’t appreciate when I start making an idol out of something else, even something good. Even if I’m only heading in that direction, God wants to address it.

When God asked me, how I felt about throwing those journals away. My response was, “yeah right!”. My journals, my notebooks, my ambition to ‘remember’ everything I had ever learnt was placed above my obedience to God.

Red flag.

Long story short, I’ve been praying and realising that God is way more important than books and journals, and vast databases of knowledge. (Obvious I know, but difficult to come to terms with when you are asked to throw it away.) I’ve been realising that everything else is rubbish compared to knowing Christ and obeying Him!

1) ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people’. Jeremiah 31:33

2) ‘Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth of wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict of resist’ Luke 21:14

3) Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ’ Phil 3:8

And so I am offering these books back to God, by “burning” them (putting them in the kitchen bin)…Because they are garbage, compared to knowing Christ and I should not forget that.

Be aware, of setting idols in your heart. Be aware, of clinging to anything in this world rather than Christ. His Spirit is a sharp sword, His Word is a sharp sword, He will reveal the hidden treasures of your heart. And ask you to surrender them.

Be like the good kings of old, who tore down the high places, who broke the altars to false gods. Whether it be your tv addiction, your physic accomplishments, medals, and trophies, certificates or awards. Your blog following. Your job. Your reputation, ego or pride. Put it to death. Gain Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Genesis 4:1-26 Part 2: Faith is Demonstrated

Genesis 4 includes the story of Cain and Abel, the man who killed his brother. But there is a lot more going on in this passage than meets the eye. For starters, it is where we first start to really see the beginnings of faith in the human race.

Yes, Adam and Eve were supposed to have faith in God’s commands and goodness back in the garden. But they didn’t. We also saw a little of Adam’s faith in the previous chapter when he named his wife Eve, in response to the Promise of God [See: Where do we go from here?].

But in chapter 4, faith is beginning to spring up all over the place:

Eve’s Faith

It is so encouraging to see that Adam and Eve were not “lost causes”. They had learnt, over time, to turn back to God. In fact, they raised their children to follow God, even though they themselves had disobeyed Him.

As Chapter 4 opens, and closes, the faith of Eve is very much on display in the birth of her sons.

“With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man…God has granted me another child in the place of Abel” (vv 1 & 25)

I believe that one of the reasons she thanks God for both Cain and Seth, is because she believes that through one of these children God will provide the Promised One (3:15).

Abel’s Faith

There are many explanations for why Abel’s offering was accepted whilst Cain’s wasn’t. One of the most convincing ones is rooted in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.”

His offering was accepted because of his faith. A faith that still speaks today! (Heb 11:4b)

Cain’s Lack of Faith

Another reason to explain why Cain’s offering was not accepted was because of his lack of faith. We assume this because of the despair that emerges when his offering isn’t accepted.

When we fall short of God’s standards, It is faith that moves us to turn back to God. If however, we don’t live by faith, falling short will result in despair. We will groan that we are not good enough and not valuable to God. (In fact we are not good enough). But faith allows us to put our trust in God and receive His righteousness.

Cain’s lack of faith is seen his response to having his sacrifice rejected. But it is also seen in what happens next. When God punishes him for murdering his brother, Cain again falls into despair. “My punishment is more than I can bear”.

Even despite this, God continues to lavish grace and protection on Cain.

Then later on, we see Cain trying to make a name for himself by building a city (v17). One commentator noted the continuous verb, “Cain was then building a city”. And said that this mirrors the life of someone trying to earn salvation, rather than receiving it by faith.

Faith passed on: Adam and Eve to Abel, to Seth, to society

And yet Adam and Eve continue to have faith in God. And once they give birth to Seth they teach him too to lean on God. And so chapter 4 ends with the hope-filled phrase: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD” (v26)

One of the mysterious things about faith is that we can pass it on. This is how commands like the Great Commission are possible. We can go and make disciples of all nations because of our example and teaching of faith.

This is why Paul urges Timothy, ‘do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example to all the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity’.

Yes, God does distribute a measure of faith to each of us (Rom 12:3), but we can go and model and encourage others to walk in faith. This is what we see Adam and Eve doing, and later Seth.

May we too seek to model faith well.

Identification with Christ

One of the things I feel being lead into at the moment, in my walking with God, is the theme of identification with Christ. I feel I have only scratched the surface and so this post won’t do justice to the work I think God wants to do in me.

It was a couple of weeks back when I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. In it he talks about ‘contemplation’ as this mysterious state where it is no longer ‘I’ who live but Christ who lives in me.

My heart throbbed upon reading that.

I’m only a couple of chapters into Merton’s book and still have a lot to learn (it’s one of my slow reflective reads).

And then I was on a walk recently, listening to an audiobook by Watchman Nee ‘The Spiritual Man’. Which had been recommended by a man whose walk with God captivated me in my teenage years. He’d recommended this book to me years back, and I’ve tried on multiple occasions to read the book. And I never made it through the first third.

Not finishing a book is really really weird for me! I usually read over 52 books each year. Most books I start, even if they’re really bad, I finish! And yet, it’s been at least five years since I was recommended the ‘Spiritual Man’. I’d bought myself the paperback, and failed to finish several times, got the audiobook and failed to finish.

But here I am, in a season of my life where I feel God is nudging me towards praying about this theme. To experience and know-deeply, the truth that my ‘self’ is hidden in Christ. And I (almost) randomly put this audiobook on, to accompany my walk one day. It ‘picks up where I left off’ and… BAM!

He’s talking about it too! Living by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Living by the regenerated, new nature and not by the ‘soulish’ intellect, emotions and volition.

It makes me think that God’s been preparing me for this season to teach me something new. Maybe it will sink in this time.

I’m a little nervous, it feels like I’ve got some ‘dying to self’ to do. And I’m scared. What will I have to give up. What will I have to lose. Can I really go on without looking back?

My hope is that God who has started this work in me will lead me through it. I remind myself that my God is good, He cares for me and loves me. Where He asks me to die, I must trust that He will raise renewed.

Anyway, here’s a slightly less coherent blog post than usual. Just what’s going on in my walk with God.

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.

Genesis 2:4-25 Part 4 The Gift of Work

My work from home set-up

The theme of Work is closely linked and intertwined in my Personal life purpose. (So please excuse me if I get carried away!) To be a man after God’s own heart, then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same. I desperately, wholeheartedly, and unashamedly want to labour for others to know my God.

Paul, the apostle, puts it in language that my heart thrums to hear: “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me’ (Colossians 1:29)

I know that salvation isn’t a work I can muster for others, or even myself, nevertheless it is a work God has invited me to co-labour with Him in (see Matthew 28:20). This is why I seek to ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’ – souls are at stake!

Anyway, I digress! We’re looking at Genesis 2:4-25, not my life purpose or even the various quotes from the New Testament. In this story God is seen giving man work to do (working the ground and naming the animals – manual labour and mental labour). From this passage we can see the beautiful intention for work, before it is corrupted by sin in Chapter 3!

Firstly, this passage calls us to check our attitude towards work.

Do we idolise it? Do we sacrifice everything else to our work, our time, money, relationships, energy, our praise and worship? Does it define us? Do we give our work authority to value us, determine our worth, to rule over us?

Or do we avoid it? Do we seek to shrug off our duty, hand it over to someone else, negate our responsibilities?

God has given work to us, as a gift, something to thank Him for, something to appreciate His creation with, to bring form to the formless. It is a gift to be stewarded wisely and faithfully. Elsewhere the Bible writers remind us ‘to remember God who has given you the ability to make wealth’ (Deut 8:18). Surely our work is a gift and our attitude & response to it should be such!

Secondly, this passage defines what work and creativity are intended to be.

There was quite a bit that came up regarding the Protestant work ethic, and the western world’s unhealthy obsession with work. In my own reading I’ve encountered several voices that talk about the dangers of overworking, and seeing work as a means to power, prestige, possessions, wealth, freedom, happiness or life.

So how does this passage define work and creativity? Interestingly, our work and creativity is to be modelled on the work and creativity of God. This means that creativity is less about “innovation”, self-expression or making economic value (although these are good things). It is not about tirelessly, endlessly, striving in a chaotic, grab-as-much-as-you-can manner. No, the creativity of God is about:

  • Bringing form to the formless, order to the chaos
  • Transforming and making new
  • Defining, naming and creating boundaries
  • Filling and enabling to flourish
  • Blessing
  • Sharing and appreciating

This is the defined work and creativity we are called to.

Thirdly, this passage allows us to see work as an invitation for us to come alongside God!

We see that nothing had grown because 1) God had not sent rain and 2) no one had worked the ground. Both God and man are to work the garden, it is a joint assignment. We may be tempted to think our work is all our responsibility and worry and fret whenever something goes wrong or is difficult. On the other hand we may be tempted to think that work is all God’s responsibility and we can take a back seat and put our feet up. Neither view is correct. Work is a joint project. Embrace it.

Invite God to help you, ask God how you can help Him. (Not because God needs our help, but because He delights to work alongside us!)

After studying this passage I invited God to help me work, both in my full time job at Cancer Research, and in the other ‘work’ God has given me. The work of discipleship, marriage, friendship, family, church, using my gifts….even my blog. God please help me, give me wisdom!

This is why Paul writes: that he strenuously contends with all the energy that Christ works in Him (Col 1:29). He declares that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is the Lord who works in you! (Phil 2:12-13). This is why Paul says that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ to do good works prepared by Him in advance. (Eph 2:10)

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

Tuesday Tools: Stretching

One of the tools I use to keep going in my daily habits, routines and disciplines is a concept I call: “Stretching”.

As most people who have tried implementing daily habits have noticed – consistency is a struggle. What starts out as a fun and rewarding activity (such as exercise, studying, writing, reading etc) can soon become an activity we resent, get bored of, forget to do, skip and ultimately quit doing. So how can we keep going? How can we keep engaging in these rewarding projects, routines and lifestyle decisions?

Habit is, after all, the means by which we can implement steady change and growth in our lives over time. They are encouraged in the Bible (see Psalm 1:2 habits of meditating on scripture, Luke 22:39 habits of prayer and Hebrews 10:25 habits of fellowship). They are also endorsed by most popular “self-help” authors (see The Power of Habit, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Atomic Habits)

So how do we fight against this “habit-fatigue”?

One solution is what I call “Stretching”. If we find ourselves doing the same activity over and over again we will undoubtedly get bored. So it is important to stretch ourselves in these areas. The following three ideas can help us stretch:

1) We can regularly set outselves higher goals. Often the reason we stop engaging in useful habits is because of a feeling of success, of having already “made it”. This is why it is argued that telling other people about our resolves isn’t always useful – it produces a feeling of success just by telling people what you intend to do. It’s a feeling that satisfies so much that we feel we have already “made it” and stop. When we reach the goal of being able to run 5K, we can give up. Instead we ought to stretch ourselves by setting new and harder goals, for example running 10K, running 5K in 30minutes, etc.

2) Some habits are implemented in order to achieve a specific target and so setting new goals is important. However, for other habits the goal is “infinite” and we will never get there. For example “closer relationship with God”, or “maintain healthy body”, in these cases our stretching may look different. We may instead need to stretch by switching it up. In exercise this is often called Muscle Confusion. Our muscles quickly get used to the routine we’ve set ourselves and so it is time for a switch – this is why workouts stop aching after a few weeks. We need to switch it up. For our prayer life, this may mean trying to write your prayers down in a journal, going for a prayer walk, inviting friends to pray with you or using pre-written prayers such as Lectio-365. By switching it up we can motivate ourselves to keep going in a specific direction, without necessarily having habits that have the same form.

3) A third way to stretch yourself in the habits you engage with is to teach it to others, or at least bring others alongside. Helping others to adopt the disciplines and habits of a live well-lived. This is often intimidating, especially if we don’t feel like an “expert”, but it is a crucial part of apprenticeship, discipleship and continuing in habits. It is why the last step in the Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 Step Program, is to carry the message to other alcoholics.

John Maxwell calls the concept of stretching: The Law of the Rubber Band. Just as a rubber band must be stretched in order to function properly, we too must continually seek to stretch ourselves in order to grow. Habits, naturally, are a great way to consolidate knowledge, skills and patterns in our lives. But our habits must not be static – seek to stretch your daily disciplines on a weekly/fortnightly basis in order to find the motivation to keep going.

Theology of the Old Testament

The introductions in the ESV study Bible seem a little like the trailers before a film at the cinema! Anticipation is building and I find I’m almost halfway through my popcorn! (Will definitely need another Pepsi from the counter before the actual film starts)

“The following trailers have been specially selected for this film”

My summary of this introduction, as usual my three favourite things are highlighted

This introduction gave less of an overview of the Old Testament, and more of an overview of it’s themes and style. Rather that trying to identify a single over-arching theme for the whole Old Testament and in so doing over-simplify and miss other themes! It suggested a better approach would be to see it as an ‘Unfolding Story’, with the various parts (law, prophets, history etc) all contributing to this story in different ways.

I think my notes above, are comprehensive enough to grasp without my spelling it all out again. So I wanted to share the three things that stood out to me.

1) Monotheism doesn’t just mean there is One God. Monotheism in the Old Testament means that as followers of God, we need to have an exclusive loyalty and devotion to One God. This is a move from comprehension towards application. It’s not enough to know that there is One God, we must also follow One God. This is easier than it sounds, especially when you consider Keller’s list of “counterfeit gods” (dreams, relationships, money, success, power and glory). Jesus reiterates this in the gospel when He says that you cannot serve two masters! And so the Old Testament reminds us that there is only One God who is worthy of our worship and devotion.

2) One of the ways the OT communicates this Grand Unfolding Story, is through the repeated Eschatology (which I understand to mean something to do with the future). Over and over again, the OT story is pointing towards a glorious future for God’s people, one that is brought about by a Messiah – aka Jesus! This was important to me because, it reminds me that Scripture is all about Jesus. And likewise, my life, as I read Scripture and immerse myself in the Bible, should also mirror this pattern. My prayer after reading this introduction was that I could say like John ‘He must increase, I must decrease’. Let everything I do point towards Him.

Even my social media presence should point towards Jesus, Tony Reinke said: “my social media feed must glorify someone because my life must glorify someone. So who is getting glorified in my feed? That’s the humongous questions we all face as image bearers in the digital age”.

3) God wants to restore humanity to it’s original purpose, He wants to rescue us from sin, and this is what He will do (has done) in Jesus.

As a heads up, we’ve got two more introductions before Genesis 1:1. One an introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), and the other is an introduction to Genesis. Then we begin. So far I’ve not got to use the commentary on Genesis, but will start that when I start reading. Thanks for reading this, and I would appreciate any feedback via ‘comments’ as to what works well and what doesn’t about these posts.

Finally, I want to end by Returning to the Question (as my History teacher would say)…why am I studying the Bible? Why am a I taking hours out of my morning, that could be given to sleep, reading, exercise or writing? It is because I want to have a dynamic relationship with God, I want to grow into a posture of receptivity and learning. And I want the number one teacher – in my life – to be God’s word (Not Piper, Keller, Willard, Ferris or twitter). May His true, perfect, good and transformational Word transform me. I want my life to be all about Jesus, and so I am going to devote my time to sitting at His feet and listening!

To Him be the Glory!

Emulation

Emulate: match or surpass (a person or achievement) typically by imitation…

Something I remember hearing a few times is that we become like the 5 people we spend the most amount of time with. I reckon this saying has more than a grain of truth to it. The Bible talks about how bad company can corrupt good character.

Last week I went for a walk on my own, and ended up thinking a bit about this sort of stuff. Believing that God is sovereign over the rabbit-trails in my mind, I’m inclined to believe that He wants me to be thinking about who I spend a lot of time with.

I don’t think there is much point naming names here, seeming as no-one reads this blog who really knows me. But after I thought about who I  actually spend the most amount of time with, and what things I probably imitate from them. I pondered about who are the people in my life who I most wanted to be spend time with (it goes without saying that Jesus was on the list!) and what they all had in common.

Some of the common traits of all the people on my top 5 list had:

  1. Devotional life: everyone one of them had a great devotional life, not that they necessarily bragged about it to me. But through spending nights together and living together for weekends or weeks away I saw them practice it. One guy would be reading his bible as I was waking up and as I was dropping of to sleep. For me this really fulfilled the advice of Psalm 1: ‘to meditate on His word day and night’.
  2. Gentle-humility: oddly enough this is something I really struggle with (and that’s not me trying to be humble), but pride and ego are really quick to come about in me. Especially when I’m doing a lot of “good” things, and maintaining a disciplined life. None of the guys on my top 5, we particularly forceful or overbearing, but great listeners looking to hear my voice not just assert theirs.
  3. Open with their hearts: through spending time and talking with these guys I’ve heard about their weaknesses, fears and hopes. The things I make a lot of effort to hide.

I guess there were lots more things about them which I admired, but they stick out a fair amount. Particularly their devotional life.

I guess where I’m at now, is asking and working out ‘how I can get to spend more time with them?’, ‘who am I influencing by spending time with – are they picking up good traits or bad ones as a result?’, ‘in what ways does my marriage spur each of us towards Jesus-likeness and then the flip-side of that?’