Systematic Theology 8: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (4): Sufficiency

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

Throughout the Bible we see that the Scriptures provide everything we need to hear in order to bring us to Salvation. There is nothing more, no secret knowledge we need to stumble upon, than that is provided in the Bible (see 2 Timothy 3:15, James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23).

The Bible also contains everything we need to hear to equip us for living the Christian life (see 2 Timothy 3:16 and Psalm 119:1).

In these senses the Bible is sufficient.

There is an interesting discussion about the amount of scripture slowly increasing at each stage of redemptive history. Wayne Grudem argues that at each stage the amount of scripture available was sufficient.

This is why commands such as “you shall not add to these words” were able to be said by God as early as Deuteronomy 4:2). Of course, God has added to it as He has seen fit.

The sufficiency of Scripture also can encourage us to know that God has not spoken anything more that we need to believe, think or do, that is not already in the Bible.

Interestingly, our tendency to create additional rules for ourselves are met with failure and a lack of follow through, because the Holy Spirit does not empower us to fulfils our man-made rules. This was a problem Jesus addressed with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:3-7), but it is an issue we also must address in our own lives. The tendency to put ourselves under additional laws is very great.

Paul writes: “why…do you submit to it’s [additional] rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules…are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Col 2:20-23).

In my notes below I have also listed seven additional practical applications from this doctrine:

Ti-Yong: Blog or Book?

When China began copying alternative models for industrialisation in the 19th Century, they adopted a policy of ‘Ti-Yong’. Which means ’Essence’ and ’Form’. They intended to keep the Chinese Essence – their identity and character. But change their Form to match the approach to development used by the foreign countries.

In the same way, I think my blog is going to undergo a Ti-Yong transformation.

I have really enjoyed blogging these last couple of months! (Like a lot!) It’s been helpful way to reflect on my week in the Sunday Summaries. To consolidate my Personal Bible Studies with the Monday, Wednesday and Friday posts. As well as regurgitate the various tips, tricks and hints I’ve learnt that week about productivity and motivation etc.

However

As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m also writing a book at the moment. I finished my first draft back in July and gave it to a friend to read over and feedback.

In that time since, I’ve taken up blogging to fill the writing void. It’s been so encouraging.

When you work on a book, it’s very private, there is no immediate feedback and there are few (if any) people who encourage you along the way. With blogs you can change topic to match whatever you feel like writing about that day/week, whereas a book involves sticking with the same theme for a long time. Plus, you can’t make money (albeit pennies) with every chapter, like you can with blog posts.

So thank you to everyone who has read, commented, liked, any post I’ve written. I have been so encouraged!

I got the feedback, on my first draft a few weeks ago and have since really struggled to make much progress with the editing/re-draft because my morning slot for writing is filled with blogging.

So I’ve done a pros and cons…and here’s my decision:

My decision,

I will continue to blog, however, I will no longer be aiming for daily posting.

Since I’ve benefitted from the Sunday summaries, I’m going to keep doing that. I hope you will want to stick around at least for the weekly catch ups.

I’ve also decided that my Bible Study posts are going to change. Instead I’m going to post a picture of my final draft notes. See tomorrow’s post. Which means, I’m going back to Genesis 1:1-2-3. Hopefully, this model will be more sustainable in the long term.

I regards to Tuesday Tools and Thursday thoughts…I think this will be more sporadic and low priority.

Finally I will continue to post notes on Systematic Theology.

In short…

The blog will remain active. But the style of several of the posts will change. I hope you will still be interested to read and visit, follow my story etc.

But I have decided I will focus my writing attention on the book as a priority.

I’d appreciate your prayers. Editing has turned out to be way more challenging than writing, and I have so much to work through. Please pray that I can think clearly, write brilliantly and persevere in the hidden/secret place.

Best wishes, Paul

Sunday Summary – 6th September “Rest Week”

Overall a pretty great week, although I haven’t done any exercise or running, so I’m feeling a little out of shape. I’m telling myself it’s important to have a “rest week”.

Getting my First Draft Back – This week I met with my friend who had agreed to read through my first draft (all 80,000 words) and give me feedback. It was so so helpful. I was asked by someone else what the most useful comments were. A) I write gender biased to men (e.g. ‘to be a man after God’s heart’ rather than ‘to be a person…’). B) There were several times when I’d said something too bluntly and needed to be a bit more sensitive/nuanced. Thankfully he’s highlighted these occasions C) Probably most significant to me was the encouragement that it wasn’t bad. In 180 pages of writing, my friend had found about 20 problematic sentences/phrases – all of which are simple enough to fix. My writing didn’t come across as judgemental or patronising, which was a huge relief.

Yes, I’ve got a long way to go, yes, there are a fair amount of corrections to make before I start cleaning up the grammar and style. But, more than anything else, I feel like I’m working on a worthwhile project again. And apparently from a “conservative charismatic” standpoint it fitted theologically as well.

Outdoor Costa with a Friend – Two days later I met with another friend for coffee at a new, nearby Costa. It was the first time we’d met since lockdown began and it was really good to meet up. He is a very clever guy, doing his PhD in mathematics at the university at which I work. We became good friends through our time at University when we read through the Bible together, and met once a week to share our three favourite things. It’s difficult fitting 6 months-worth of life in two hours, before the shop closed, but we did a pretty good job! I also learnt about a drink I’d never heard of: Frostino?

Systematic Theology – Yesterday, I finally finished Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. (I want to do a post about this book separately, it feels a significant milestone!)

The Office US//Half Life 2 – After work most days this week, I’ve been being lazy and watching The US Office and playing xbox, Half Life 2. I’ve never really watched the US Office before, only the UK one, it is incredibly funny and such easy watching. Half Life 2, is also amazing with a great story. Last night I got through Ravenholm and I’m very glad to see the back of that place!

Work – Into the office again this week. I also hosted a videoconference for the Trial I work on and had to present a report. I’ve decided I prefer doing these sort of meetings at the beginning of the day, rather than the end. Overall though, meeting was a success. Decisions made, next steps clarified. And now I’m on holiday until next Monday!!! Oooorah!

Cooked Breakfast – First morning of my 9 day holiday, and I decided I was past due a cooked breakfast. Since lockdown started I’ve not been going to the pub once a month with friends for a “men’s breakfast”….which means I’ve not had bacon and sausages for breakfast in over 6 months!!! That changed on Saturday. Beautiful, some left over to cook this morning.

Definitely need to remember to take more pictures for the blog each week!

Thanks everyone for reading and following this blog. So much support and encouragement this week. It’s all been really appreciated.

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.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 4 An Ongoing Call to Worship

Truly, the Bible is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve done about 8-9 passes on these few verses and I keep getting to hear God’s voice! It’s just as well I’m not a time limit to finish this. I have a feeling a study like this is going to take a while.

It’s probably worth noting that I think going through the Bible at a fast pace is still important. Not only does it make it easier to appreciate each story in context, it also enables to see the Big Picture of God’s plan. That is why I’m still continuing my Bible Read Through approach with a friend. Saying all that, I can’t tell you how good it feels to soak this much in Scripture. It feels like a bath.

In this post I want to explore the Ongoing Call to Worship found in Genesis chapter 1-2:3. Because I’m a sermon writer, I can’t help myself, and have divided the post into three…

1) Creation still hums and buzzes with God’s word all these years later. It is amazing enough that when God spoke things happened, He said “let there be light” and there was! Boom! Cause for worship. But did you know that creation is still obeying His voice today – I know it’s obvious. But look at all the calls to reproduction we see in this passage. The plants are commanded to bring forth seed, fruit and more plants. The animals, fish and birds also. Whenever we see creatures, moving, living, growing, we have an opportunity to see the reverberation of God’s voice still at work today!

This means that when we go outside, listen to the birds singing, see the plants in all their vibrant beauty, right there, we can see God’s voice still working. Boom! Let us worship a God who’s voice echos these thousands, if not millions, of years later.

2) Every day the sun rises, every night the moon shines, we are given a rhythm to worship. Not only is the call to worship present in the ongoing obedience of creation to God’s ordinances. But we as human beings are given daily and weekly rhythms by which to worship. Every day the sun governs the light, every night the moon and stars rule the darkness, we can respond and worship in sync with that which is obediently, steadfastly proclaiming God’s power. Yes, His mercies are new every morning, praise Him, yes the sun rises every day, praise Him. Praise Him in the morning, and the evening.

3) We have been invited to enjoy His creation, especially on the Sabbath! The fact that God finishes what He starts, and rests, and enjoys His creation. Is a model for us, that we should do the same. May it be part of our weekly schedule, routine and rhythm, to pause on the Sabbath and appreciate all the work that God has done.

Creation calls us to worship it’s Creator. Look and see, hear and listen. It echos God’s power!

Not losing the Intimacy

It’s been an interesting transition the last few weeks, I’ve made a move to combine blogging with my walk with God. And there have been some great benefits to doing this:

  1. Consolidating my thoughts
  2. A mild form of accountability
  3. Future Benefits – I’m creating a resource to look back on and use later.
  4. Encouraging others – at least I hope so!

However one main concern has surfaced fairly quickly. I do not want to sacrifice the intimacy I have with God during my quiet times because my mind is elsewhere, thinking about how every thought and idea could be transposed into blog format!

It was an issue I found, as a teenager, when I decided to start a weekly gathering for other young guys at my Church. I would be churning through Bible readings, sermon podcasts and books to glean material for the next meeting.

This is not the point of reading the Bible, prayer or listening to sermons. I don’t read the Bible to become a “man of the word”, I don’t pray to become a “man of prayer”, I don’t listen to talks to regurgitate the latest insights. I engage in these activities to nurture my relationship with God, to become more like Jesus and to better equip myself to serve, encourage and love others.

So how do I fight for intimacy whilst at the same time seek to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others? How do I fight to keep my relationship with God from becoming a transactional encounter? What have I learned over the last couple of weeks?

  1. I journal my prayers – a few years ago I was having coffee with a mentor and he pulled out of his bag a proper looking leather bound journal. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings! He opened it up and told me to read one of his prayers, while he went to order another coffee. Just holding that journal was precious, and I could see later as he flicked through it that the pages were filled with numerous prayers. A few weeks later and I’d ordered my own. So what with note-taking, blogging and journaling, there is a lot of writing in my times with God. But this is helpful for me, it helps me to remember, to process and to express myself. It also helps my mind to focus when I’m talking to God, it’s difficult to write and think about breakfast (or fall asleep!) It also slows down my thinking, so that I can invite God to interrupt the chaos in my mind.

Journaling allows me to keep the intimacy in the midst of blogging, because it keeps a part of my relationship with God hidden and secretive.

  1. I take my time. Before I started seriously studying God’s word, my morning routine was packed with 4 main activities. Exercise, Time with God, Writing, and reading. I’d give about 45-60 minutes to each all before work started. Now, I’ve reduced my morning routine down to two items. 1) Running and Weightlifting, 2) Time with God. And so each morning I’m getting a solid chunk of time uninterrupted to study, to pray and to process God’s word. It has been so refreshing, and I think one of the most helpful things towards this is: that I have set aside the space so that I can take my time.

You’ll have also noticed I’m only publishing 3x study blogs a week. This means there is very little pressure to post every day what God’s teaching me. There is room, and time, to wrestle with God through private issues. And scope for me to spend mornings simply being with God. It’s so good! And I would highly recommend it.

  1. I listen to God’s Spirit. I believe it was He, who made me aware of the dangers of losing the Intimacy in the first place. He, who bought it to my attention so that I could counterbalance the dangers, and protect myself. It will be Him, who will guard my heart and mind and bring me to maturity.

May I continue to choose what is better, like Mary, and sit at Jesus’ feet. Rather than being distracted by all the “preparations”, the work, the ministry.

“really supportive”

We had some friends round for tea last night, a couple we have recently got to know and are trying to build a deeper friendship with. Their a mature couple, who are almost retiring and have served in “christian ministry” most of their lives. They asked us a few questions about our coming to faith, and about personal stories. At one point in the evening the wife, of this couple, stopped me mid-sentence.

“You keep saying “really supportive” about a lot of your friends.”

When I get nervous, or have to speak in front of people, I often get stuck using frequent phrases like: “fantastic”, “okay-then”, “so” and “perfect”. Over the years since I’ve become aware of this I have really made an effort to try and stop it. There is a possibility that last night I was slightly nervous about hosting this couple, however I don’t think my returning to this phrase was accidental.

Over the years I have known, and been encouraged and built up by some “really supportive” people. I don’t think it would be fair to mention their names, but here some of the ways that I have experienced support from people:

  • Financial – This has been in vastly different measures from money towards our wedding, to fare to pay for the train home from a meeting. It didn’t seem to be a “super spiritual” kind of support at the time. But this really did help open doors for great experiences.
  • Prayerful – just read this post, to see how prayer has helped.
  • Words of affirmation – if you’ve ever come across the book about Love Languages, you’ll know that this is one of them. And for me I really really appreciate this! When people are encouraging me with words, not flattery, but genuinely encouraging me I find that supportive. There have been a fair few who have given me encouragement about my gifts, my potential, my past performances etc, that have nurtured a confidence.
  •  Opportunities – as a young christian with crazy ideas, I was so grateful for leaders who took those ideas seriously enough to give me opportunities. Some let me preach at their church, lead worship, start my own young lads small group, one guy even let me use the building to host prayer meetings. What confidence that inspired in 16 year-old Paul!
  • Time/hospitality – one missionary couple let me come round to their house twice a week, (for at least 2 hours a go!). I would ask them questions, listen to their stories and be so so inspired by their love for God. They were supposed to be back in England for a Sabbatical! Another guy committed to meeting with me one-on-one for my first two years at uni, teaching me what it meant to be a disciple!

Like a previous post, writing this list out not only makes me more grateful for all of the “really supportive” people who have invested in me. But it also makes me want to apply that to relationships I have now. I want to be generous; be praying for others; encouraging and building them up with my words; using my positions (limited though they are) to open doors and to invite people into my life. God help me! 

Final thought: I got an e-mail from wordpress, recommending that I put pictures in my posts. As someone who isn’t very creative I usually type in the title of the post and pick something from what displays. However, I chose this one, because it is a support frame (get it, support) for a shelf. The thing is usually support frames (or whatever their technical name is) don’t get noticed, at least not in my mind. I think being a “really supportive” person is like this, your not trying to be noticed. Its about lifting someone else up…maybe the Holy Spirit is now using google to prompt me to grow.

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Questions I love!

During normal term-time, I get to meet with a few other Christian-students. This is a great opportunity to get know how they are finding their studies, what God is teaching them and provide a mutual support base for encouraging each other in our faith. Exam time comes and the meetings still happen but less frequently and more sporadically. Once every two months I also try to make an effort to meet with a church leader, 1-on-1, I really appreciate these times, because I get to ask questions (and get honest answers!), I also get ideas and better understanding as to how God is leading me in my life’s calling.

One thing I really like about both these types of meetings, is the questions. At first it can seem a bit formal, but as we both begin to realize that there is a genuine interest in the answers we each give, conversations can get deep and personal very quickly.

Below are some of my favorite questions that I really love being asked, wish people would ask me more, and why I think I like answering them.

  • How did you become a Christian? I love answering this, because I grew up in a Christian home. (A blessing in itself!) But this question gets me thinking about those events which pushed me to make a decision for mysely. It makes me grateful for God’s hand in my life even as a young teenager.
  • What has God done with you since then? With most questions, a lot of the reason I love being asked them is because the answer usually includes something about me (my opinion, my thoughts, my life, my story). It is super encouraging to share some of the highlights of my story (even if they came through low-points) and connect those parts of “my” story to God’s hand at work! Also knowing someone is listening is encouraging, especially when they ask more questions getting me to see perspectives I didn’t see before.
  • What is God teaching you lately? I got asked this at Church on Sunday! I trusted the person, and was able to enter a deep conversation about my struggles straight away! It was brilliant, to hear his thoughts from his experiences of similar lessons, and again connect them to God’s role in teaching me.
  • Where would you like to be in 1/5/10 years? What would be your dream job? This question gets me thinking outside of the moment. Otherwise I can live so absorbed in the moment, the stress and the worries of this life. All the while losing sight, that God has a plan that reaches beyond this circumstance which I am in now. It reminds me of promises and hopes I received as a young Christian.
  • What are you reading? This is a question which people seem to ask me often. Last year I undertook a challenge to read a book a week (which I completed! 😉 ), as a result I picked up the habits of reading several books at once and also getting through them relatively quickly – although I have slowed significantly from my 2015 pace.Through reading I believe that I open up avenues for God to challenge me and speak to me.
  • How can I pray with/for you? A lot of Christians ask this question, and from being one of them, I reckon very few act on it. One of the things I’ve started doing is writing other people’s answers down in one of my journals, so it comes back to mind throughout the week. I love this question because it reminds me, that in my struggles with sin, money, worries, pressure (and life in general) I am not alone!

As I wrote this post, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I need to be asking people these questions more as well.

Lord thank you for friendship, and the way in which God-centered friendship can be so fantastic! Please help me to love my friends and brothers in Christ more and more. Help me to care more about their lives. Protect me from seeing my friendships as “transactional relationships”. Please make me more sensitive to others’ needs and gifts. Amen

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Kneeling on Campus

All my recent talk about how good Sainsbury’s has been for me, has been part of what God’s been teaching me lately. Because my exams are finishing soon, and I am starting my work with Navigators next year, I have applied for various summer jobs. The plan is to work full time and earn money to help support myself. I have had very little success to be honest!

But a couple of weeks back I got an interview, for an audit administrator/receptionist role and got really excited (by the possibility of dressing in a shirt and tie, being payed more, working in an office again!). It seemed one of those “respectable” jobs that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. But due to different things, mainly my impatience in waiting for a reply, I didn’t get the job… This was highly frustrating and depressing. Primarily because it meant I was back to square 1, AKA: working full-time over the summer at Sainsbury’s.

Sorry if this seems all over the place.

I was on campus the day after I got rejected from this job, just sitting on a bench listening to music, having one of those peaceful times with God. I was mulling over my unsuccessful application and watching people walk past, some hurrying on their own, some enjoying the sun and good friendly company. I see a lady walk past. I think, from her uniform she is a cleaner, and I see from the cross around her neck she is probably a Christian (a big assumption these days). She is walking down the path, when suddenly – without warning – she bends down. It looked like she’d dropped something, knees bent (but not quite on the floor) for about 10 seconds.

She got up, took about 6 steps and went down again. I wondered if she was praying. Got up, 3 steps this time, and down again. At this point, I noticed I wasn’t the only one staring. Others were looking over their shoulders quizzically. What is going on? I’ve made up my mind she’s praying.

There was something very attractive about this act, something like what I think the Bible means when it talks about Stephen’s face shining (Acts 6:15). Seeing someone not give any care for what people are thinking, (warning: another assumption) deciding that: on my way out from work I am going to be praying. I will pray for my colleagues, for the success of the Uni, I will praise God in an environment that rarely acknowledges His power. For some reason this scene – combined with the music I was listening to and my attempting to hear God’s voice in this situation – restored a lot of peace about my work at Sainsbury’s.

Praise God for these special moments! Thanks for sending that lady along that path at that time, while I was thinking those thoughts and listening to that specific song. I thank you that even when I do things that might seem really weird, You could be at work in them to encourage someone else. Help me to remember this and obey.