Road Trip: The GPS Version!

GPSWe have recently returned home from one of our extended teaching trips across the US having driven our usual 4000+ miles, and I gotta tell you, I just love my GPS. (That’s Sat-Nav to my English readers!) The vehicle we keep over there is pretty cool too, but if our Ford Explorer (we call her Dora…get it? Dora the Explorer!) keeps us comfortable then it’s the GPS keeps us sane. It makes the odd mistake, of course, but nothing like the ones I used to make when it was just me (Belinda doesn’t do maps) going at 70mph with the steering wheel in one hand, my proprietary Walmart US map in the other, Belinda screaming in my right ear in abject terror and Bethany laughing her head off in the back enjoying the show! But all that aside, I don’t think Christians are as aware as they should be of the sheer symbolic and biblical significance of these little GPS mini-TV screens that can talk you through just about anywhere from anywhere at anytime.

It Must Be Alright, the Holy Spirit Led Me!

As I am often at pains to point out, there are two equal and opposite errors concerning the relationship between the authority of scripture and the personal subjective, supernatural leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first (as mentioned in my last post) is the completely  false idea that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads people contrary to scripture. He doesn’t! Full stop! Finito! End of story! The fat lady has definitely sung as far as that one is concerned! When that happens you may know assuredly, and for a complete fact, that it is either you deceiving yourself, or the work of an actual deceiving demonic spirit. If the Holy Spirit were to ever lead but one believer to go against scripture in but one way, then that could only mean that He might lead any believer against scripture in any way at any time. And if that were the case then you would simply have no basis on which to judge anything at all, or any way whatsoever to establish whether any given action or behaviour was ultimately right or wrong. Someone leaving their wife to find a different one who fulfils them better might be the result of the Holy Spirit leading them so to do, as might also be the case for unmarried folk who are in a sexual relationship with each other.

ExplorerIf the Holy Spirit sometimes leads believers in ways contrary to what scripture clearly teaches, then why not regarding sexual morality too? After all, if the Holy Spirit has told a believer something, then who is anyone else to argue? It’s all very well trying to say that some ways of going against scripture are permissible whereas others aren’t, but again, on what possible basis could such be decided?  It the Holy Spirit can lead a believer to marry an unbeliever, or a woman to teach and conduct church leadership, then why could He not lead some believers to live together outside of marriage, or even to conduct a homosexual or lesbian relationship? I marvel that Christians are so slow to understand what a nonsensical, and deeply sinful, thing it is when they try to pit the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit against the clear teaching of scripture.

Bye Bye Lord! See you in Heaven!

But of course you can fall off a log both ends, so there are other believers who, though clear on the authority of scripture, have little or no understanding that the Holy Spirit does want to actually communicate directly with us outside of us just reading scripture. It’s as if they think that when they got saved Jesus said to them, “Great! Glad you made it! Anyway, gotta get back to Heaven now and I’ll see you there later. I’ve given you the Bible and a brain, so you can go ahead and start figuring out what following me should look like for you. I’ve given you lots of experts to read as well, and to listen to, (they’re called Ministers, or Priests, or Pastors…or whatever!) and they’ll help you figure it out too. I know they all have completely different opinions about just about everything the Bible says, but hey, you’ll get the idea. So look after yourself, keep reading, and I’ll see you when you die, or when I come back. Happy Bible-studying! Oh yes, and don’t forget to be good!”

They’re a bit like Marxists (or Leninists or the like)  who have the appropriate authoritative writings that contain the relevant teachings they need, and who then have to spend a lifetime working out how to best apply those teachings to their own situations. “Man, wouldn’t it be great,” they must think sometimes, “if Marx (or Lenin) were still around to help us out a bit and to explain things to us?” So likewise, many believers seem to live their Christian lives as if it’s just a matter of getting to know the Bible better so they can implement it’s teachings as best they can. In other words, they too have gotten it wrong, just as have those who play off the Holy Spirit against scripture!

The Answer to the Dilemma

So what’s the balance then? What’s the correct way to think about the relationship between the authority of scripture and the reality of the subjective leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s actually my trusty little GPS. Let me explain!

The Scripture Only Brigade

The trouble with the ‘Scripture, and that’s all!’ folk (I call them doctrinalists) is that they have a map and a compass and that’s just about it. It is entirely down to them to figure out where they are, where they need to get to, and the best way to do it. It’s certainly better than not having a map, or having a map that is in some way incomplete or inaccurate, but it’s nevertheless not the best way of doing things. But when you have a GPS (oh, how I love my GPS) you have something much better. You still have the map – the map never changes because it is simply what is – but now you have a means of interaction with the map via a device that is actually tied in, real time, with some satellites. And these satellites enable the device to know not only exactly where you are relative to the map (which never changes), but the very best way for you to get to where you have programmed in that you need to go, all as a result of the software installed in the GPS. Moreover, not only does the GPS display the map as you travel on it’s screen, thus visually providing all the information you need, it actually talks you through the necessary directions as you proceed. In other words, it’s a modern miracle!

Such is the best illustration I have ever come up with concerning the age old miracle of the relationship between the authority of scripture and the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. The Lord hasn’t just left us to our own intellectual devices when it comes to knowing and applying His written Word. No, He actually lives within us and is with us in person the whole time, and the Holy Spirit, amongst other things, is the means by which He shows us how to apply and obey the truth and teachings in that Word. That our intellects have an important part to play in this is not in dispute, but oh, what damage has been done by the sheer dryness and irrelevance of a Christianity that has come across to the world as mere morality to be pursued rather than an actual personal relationship with the Almighty God.

The Mapless Mystics

But of course those believers who fall off the other end of the log need to be addressed too. And their problem is not the absence of a GPS – they have had one all along! No, their problem is that they have been so reliant on the GPS they never properly consult the actual map in order to check whether or not the GPS programming they trust so much is actually accurate. Indeed, they have completely missed the fact that Satan specialises in uploading virus’ into spiritual GPS systems, thereby corrupting the software in unbelievably subtle and significant ways. Only the continuous syncing of the GPS with the ‘master programme’ can protect against this. Or, to put it another way, scripture – the actual map that never changes – remains the final authority, and never the directions of the GPS unit itself.

In other words, it is only safe to look to the Lord for subjective guidance, leading and revelation to the extent that we understand, and actually practise, that conformity to scripture is the final authority and arbiter in all matters. If something conforms to scripture, then it can be said to be of the Lord; but if something does not conform to scripture then it can never be said to be of the Lord, by very definition! Further, it is a foolish man indeed who thinks that he can access whatever biblical truth he needs to know merely on his own as an individual. That we know the Lord both personally and individually goes without saying, but in the abundance of counsellors is still safety, and anyone who just pursues growth in truth and the Lord on their own, without the accountability of significant personal and open accountable fellowship with others is just kidding themselves. They are virtually guaranteed to end up being deceived.

I have met so many Christians over the years who, if one were to compare their supposed guidance and revelation with our GPS analogy, are, so to speak, trying to get to New York from South Carolina by going via Oregon; or thinking that the way to Norwich from London is by first heading south to Hastings. In other words, their map is corrupted and their reliance on their GPS, without the safety of all the time referring to the actual objective map, has them literally all over the place. They are deceived, unstable and heading totally in the wrong direction! Why? Because they have failed to realise that, irrespective of the genuine reality of the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, scripture remains the only final authority!

Fortunately, our choice need never be between Spirit-less and dry doctrinalism on the one hand, or spiritual deception on the other. If we seek to walk in the safety of what our GPS analogy teaches us, then we are free to hear the Lord’s voice directly whilst minimising the risk of falling into either error. Can we guarantee we will never get it wrong? Of course not! We are deception-prone sinners still! But by sticking as closely as we can to the Lord, scripture and other godly believers, we are given the best chance of increasing in holiness and maturity in the Lord, as we live by His every Word to us as individuals, as we’ll ever have.

 

 

 

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Deformed Theology

Bible

Fundamental to following Jesus is the understanding that He is our final authority in all matters. However, because scripture is the only ultimate way we can know what He wants, then scripture also becomes our final authority in all matters. Because subjective revelation/personal conviction can be Satan deceiving us, or us deceiving ourselves, conformity to scripture is the only test we have in order to establish whether or not something could be the Holy Spirit leading us. Any attempt to separate the authority of the Lord personally from His written Word is therefore pure deception. The senior officer of a battalion of soldiers who receives his written orders from Headquarters and then, instead of just getting on with obeying what they say, gets into a debate with himself as to whether the Commanding Officer back at HQ is his authority or the written orders he has sent out, and whether he might therefore be able to in some way go against those orders whilst still claiming that he is acting under the Commanding Officer’s authority, is not worth the uniform he’s wearing. The authority of the Commanding Officer and the authority of the written orders he sends out are, quite simply, one and the same thing.

Our Authority…

Therefore, if the Lord is our ultimate and final authority, which He is, and if He has given us His written Word in the scriptures, which He has, then anyone who thinks they can be truly under His authority whilst being in any kind of non-conformity to those same scriptures is kidding themselves. The scriptures are our written orders sent us by our Commanding Officer, and His authority and their authority are one and the same thing. Indeed, any attempt to make a distinction between them could only ever be for the reason of smuggling something into our belief system or practise that is contrary to scripture, but to which we want to give place.

…Not Our Authority…

Here’s the point: If scripture, being the written orders of our divine Commander-In-Chief, is our final authority…then absolutely nothing else is!!! Not theologians, not established doctrine, not statements of faith, not Christian books, not Pastors, Priests or Ministers, not John Calvin, not Jacob Arminius, not traditional evangelical cultural practise, not me (Aw, shucks!!! That’s too bad!!!), not anyone or anything, except the scripture itself.

…and Systematic Theology…

So let me make absolutely clear what this means regarding so-called systematic theologies: unless such are deemed to be merely a teaching aid, and nothing more, systematic theologies, of whatever doctrinal bent, are actually deceptive. And of course the reason is that it’s just so darned easy to end up reading scripture through the lens of a doctrinal system rather than the other way round. Or to put it another way, instead of judging one’s thoughts, understandings and doctrinal belief system (which is what a systematic theology is) by scripture, one actually ends up judging scripture according to one’s own doctrinal presuppositions and dogma. And of course one’s final authority then is not the Lord Jesus through His Word, but rather whatever systematic theology/doctrinal system one happens to subscribe to, and therefore merely the teachings and reasonings of whichever theologians came up with it.

The Big Change…

I reached a point many years ago when I realised that in order to explain what i thought certain verses in the Bible meant I was having to explain away certain other verses. I concluded that this had to be wrong, and so decided to stop doing it and to have a comprehensive biblical re-think. As a result I embraced the wonderful freedom of no longer needing to think that I ought to understand everything in the Bible, or that I could have the Lord God and His truth nicely wrapped up in in a little box of some pre-digested systematic theology. (Not that I had ever subscribed to any particular one!) Indeed, I actually found rest and security in the Lord in even the most inscrutable biblical mysteries and paradoxes. (It is not, for example, in any way irrational to believe, at one and the same time, in election and predestination as well as human responsibility. Neither is it to embrace the utterly perplexing mystery and paradox that there is but one God, yet Who exists in three separate Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Man, go figure that one!!!)

The Resolution…

As long as we are truly willing to surrender, and to be in obedience to, that which can be truly apprehended and understood in scripture, then we needn’t be under any compulsion to kid ourselves into pretending that we have unfathomable mysteries in God’s Word that are completely beyond us all figured out and nicely sown up. If, in your thinking, the Lord God Almighty is not exponentially and massively bigger and more mysterious and inscrutable than any doctrinal statement you may subscribe to concerning Him, then there is something profoundly wrong with your understanding of the concept of both the Divine and the Infinite.

The trouble, sadly, with systematic theology is its enduring tendency to not let what the Bible teaches stand in the way of a good doctrine.

May the Lord preserve us from the 21st Century Deformers!

 

 

 

 

A Belated Mother’s Day Thought!

MotherhoodMy American readers might be wondering how I could have let Mother’s Day go by yesterday without comment whilst posting an entry on it which had nothing to do with it. Well, that’s because in England we have already had Mother’s day a few weeks ago and therefore already ‘done’ it! (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) But I’m going to get the best of both world’s now and say some stuff anyway.

It’s a bit of a cliche, and even a bit on the glib side, to say that motherhood is the most important job in the world, but I wish to make clear that I for one actually believe it to be the case. Indeed, I have held for many years that the reason the Lord’s design is that the man who goes out to work is precisely so he is able to provide what his wife needs in order for her to be doing the really important work; that is, being the children’s constantly available mother! Not that I for one moment think the husband has only a minor role in raising his children, of course not, but it’s nevertheless the case that it is the mother, and not the father (and definitely not anyone else), whom the Lord calls to the task of being available for her children morning, noon and night.

Family life under attack…

The whole push behind modern western culture is a relentless, and carefully co-ordinated, Satanic attack against both Christianity and Christian values, and at the heart of this is the targeting of family life as it is taught in scripture. Hence the current obsession with the promotion of the homosexual life-style and the redefinition of marriage, plus the whole trans-gender agenda. The fact that this is taking place on the heels of two generations of the increasing laxness regarding normal heterosexual sexual morality reveals what the so-called sexual revolution was really about, the destruction of family life as instituted by the Lord. Though on the surface sexual immorality is primarily about unbridled personal pleasure, the underlying dynamic now is the evil one systematically dismantling God’s design and order for society in preparation for the last ditch stand he is going to take against the Lord before He returns.

…and especially Motherhood

In order to destroy the family Satan has to target both men and women, and the way he has targeted women is through the now monolithically present idea that for a woman to be at home and fully available for her children is beneath her. Wherever you go in the west women whose daily ongoing occupation is that of caring for their children and managing the family home face the unrelenting response, “Oh, so you don’t work then!” And this, along with the temptation of the extra money that can be earned, makes even Christian mothers want to have a career or, if they are faithful to God’s design and do stay at home, become frustrated at the creeping feeling of inadequacy Satan throws at them as they yearn for the children to grow up so they can get a job and become somehow fulfilled. It is a deception that strikes at the heart of a mothers very discipleship , and that causes her to become discontent, and to feel undervalued, and her gifts and talents underused for doing what is the single most important job in the world, being a mother!

Stay at home moms, what you are doing is more important and of greater significance than being the President of the United States, or the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Your time is being spent in something that is accomplishing more than all your husbands occupations combined. You have greater street-cred in your occupation in the Lords eyes than do all the kings, queens, famous film or pop stars around you put together. When you feel you are drowning in your motherhood then realise that it is only in the same way that Barack Obama or David Cameron sometimes feel overwhelmed by their work schedule and responsibilities. But when you feel that what you are doing is in some way less productive, and less respected and honoured than the career women who are not available for their children, and who have to give them away daily to the care of others, then know that the enemy is telling you a complete pack of lies in order to undermine your femininity and motherhood, thereby making you less effective at doing what is quite undeniably the most important job in the world.

Mothers of the world unite

Mothers of the world do right

Mothers of the world, stand strong

You’re the best, the world is wrong!!!!!

 

 

 

A Special Anniversary

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It absolutely amazes me, and of course I realise I look far too young for it to be the case, but today is the 40th anniversary of me conducting a full-time itinerant Bible teaching and pastoral ministry. On May 8th 1976, instead of turning up at the insurance company I was then working for, having previously handed in my notice, I embarked on what has thus far been 40 years of helping to both start, and nurture, churches. Four decades of excitement, disappointment, ups, downs, elation, despair, fun, sorrow, laughter and tears in functioning as what I tend to refer to as an Ephesians 4 pastor/teacher. Throw in as well  that I have been an elder in the church I am part of for 30 years and it kind of makes clear the sort of my time has been primarily given to all these years.

Fundamental to what I do though is ensuring that people realise that being occupied in the way that I am is not more innately spiritual or special than whatever occupation they are engaged in. Being a bank manager or a construction worker, or a train driver (my personal favourite) or an engineer, or a toilet cleaner or a brain surgeon or, and this is the most important and honourable occupation of them all, a housewife and mother, is as much the ‘ministry’ one is called to as is mine. None, with the exception of motherhood are, of themselves, more important than any other. It’s what the old divine’s referred to as the sacred-secular divide; the idea that praying, or evangelising, or reading the Bible, or speaking in tongues, or going to church (or whatever) is somehow more spiritual than stuff like doing the dishes, eating dinner or playing with your kids. It is, of course, a perfectly nonsensical and utterly unbiblical notion, and if a definition of spirituality can be said to be that which the living God is doing through His people in whom He lives, then washing the dishes and playing with our kids is definitely as much on His ‘to do’ list as is enabling us to pray, witness to unbelievers, speak in tongues and all that sort of thing.

So hey, in that regard I am actually far less spiritual than I used to be, the Lord having significantly freed me over the years from the pharisaical religiosity and self-righteousness that, ironically, being born again can actually bring very much to the forefront in our lives. Not that such sin is actually caused by being born again, of course not, but simply because when we become believers our sinfulness changes shape and adapts itself to a more ‘spiritual’ expression. Thus folk who were once blasphemers, drunks and immoral can end up instead being legalistic and religiously proud carnal and hypocritical Christians.

40 years! Man, I’m tired just thinking about it! 40 years of making just about every mistake it was possible for me to make, and four decades of learning my ‘craft’ through pretty much constantly getting things wrong and having to put them right. But then, isn’t that what the Lord’s grace is all about? Isn’t that true pretty much of all of us? I suppose if one’s occupation is fixing peoples cars, or installing heating and cooling systems, or driving trains (still my personal favourite) then I guess you can get pretty good at it. But when part of one’s ‘job description’ is, for instance, being an example to those around of godliness, then I rather have to hang my head in shame, admit that I’m not very good at it, and just point folk to Jesus. I guess it’s really just another way of saying that you are probably a lot better at your occupation than I am at mine, but as long as we are doing what our hands have been put to with all our might, and genuinely hungering and thirsting after righteousness, then the grace of the Lord will take care of the rest.

Happy anniversary to me,

Happy anniversary to me,

Happy anniversary dear Beresford…………….!!!