In The Mail – Fall Term 1

I’ll be taking Systematic Theology parts 1 and 2 through the fall terms, and the third portion sometime later. Fall Term 1 starts August 1, so I had to order my textbooks. Today was the day they arrived! I do love getting books in the mail (hint, hint)!

textbooks for systematic theology
About to go down a systematic theology rabbit hole!

Actually, From the Mouth of God had arrived weeks back, as I ordered it well in advance. But the others all arrived boxed up together. Quick run through of what we have:

Wayne Grudem’s is the primary/required text. The others are all “supplementary”, which in this case means “required if you want to get a good grade.” I’ll just add these to my current pastoral reading, devotional reading, and my church’s residency reading lists. May be some thin times in the near future for recreational reading…

-G

Complete Patience

Speaking on pastoral caution when dealing with change, and recounting advice given to him by a trusted and “seasoned” pastor, H. B. Charles Jr. points the reader at 2 Timothy 4:2. Rather than focus on the “preach the Word” part, these men instead point us to the closing words, “…with complete patience and teaching.” Some great comments flow out of this:

“Complete patience” is long-suffering. It is patience with difficult people, not just difficult circumstances. This is not an easy thing to do. Remember, Moses stood courageous before Pharaoh and demanded that he let the people of God go free. But when those same people started complaining, Moses sinned against God and was disqualified from leading the children of Israel into Canaan. As pastors, we must not play the Jonah…I’m talking the Jonah at the end of the story, who carried out his ministry assignment with a hateful attitude towards the very people he was called to serve. We must patiently love the people the Lord has called us to lead and teach.

How do you learn to practice complete patience with the people you pastor? I believe it happens through a commitment to biblical teaching. Teaching explains and exhorts biblical truth…Our willingness to teach the Word with complete patience demonstrates our confidence in Scripture. It reveals that you believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word to do its work in the life of the church. At the end of the day, true spiritual change does not happen by “casting vision.” It happens by faithfully teaching doctrinal truth. This is an essential but neglected key to faithful and effective pastoral ministry.

On Pastoring, pp.89-90

All this goes towards making a great point. Sometimes, it is best to be slow. Our culture’s quest for speed and results doesn’t always line up with God’s timing. Teach, and teach again. Or as he comments, “Teach it. Then wait. Teach it again. Then wait. Teach. And wait.” If our aim is more than numbers, more than just a big reputation – whether good or bad – then we must be about the long haul. Commit to patiently and lovingly teach God’s word. A healthy church does not just materialize over night. It is the fruit of patient work. More than that, it is a work of God’s Spirit through that consistent and patiently preached and taught Word.

The All-Sufficient Savior: He is risen!

Concise Theology

While in the Old Testament the mediating roles of prophet, priest, and king were fulfilled by separate individuals, all three offices now coalesce in the one person of Jesus. It is his glory, given him by the Father, to be in this way the all-sufficient Savior. We who believe are called to understand this and to show ourselves his people by obeying him as our king, trusting him as our priest, and learning from him as our prophet and teacher. To center on Jesus Christ in this way is the hallmark of authentic Christianity.

Concise Theology, p. 133

What an awesome way to end the brief look at the concept of mediation, and a great reflection for an Easter morning. Doesn’t hurt that my local church has been in John 5-6 for the last month, seeing Jesus proclaim his all-sufficiency in salvation, fleshing out the glory given him by the Father.

Packer’s Concise Theology is a fairly easy read so far. As the name declares, each topic is covered only briefly. It’s a good addition to our pastoral residency reading list.

May your day be blessed through a growing knowledge of the grace offered to you by the one and only savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace and love, fellow servants!

-redbeard

Back From The Mountains – Ezekiel Edition

Coming back from Banner Elk, NC this evening, I found the textbooks for my next class on my doorstep. Starting in April I am taking Hebrew Exegesis of Ezekiel at SBTS. It will be a continuation of the study in Hebrew I have done since last fall.

Texts for studying Ezekiel

Unfortunately, “on my doorstep” means it encountered some of today’s rain. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia was unscathed, wrapped in a layer of thin but protective plastic. Ezekiel was not so fortunate, and has a number of splotches of water damage, mostly confined to the back cover.

This post has been rather difficult, as my computer is giving me issues, stemming from a battery failure I think. So while I might write more, I think this is it for now, except for to post the following from Ezekiel, which we translated earlier this semester in Hebrew Syntax and Exegesis:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

Ezekiel 36:22-32 (ESV)

– redbeard

In The Mail – First Books of 2022

My church is soon to begin a residency program with a pretty awesome reading list. While I may have had a hand in selecting titles, that doesn’t mean I have read and/or possess all of said titles. Never one to shirk from book-acquisition, these came in the mail today:

Looking forward to getting into “Only a Prayer Meeting” first!

Sabbatical Progress – Week 2

Continuing what I began last week, I wanted to give you a little taste of what sabbatical has involved this week. Still a bunch of reading, but other stuff, too! God has been speaking through it all, answering prayers for wisdom and understanding, while at the same time challenging me in areas that I haven’t fully considered or in some ways hadn’t dared to consider.

  • I’ve continued to keep ahead with my Hebrew work. I’m really enjoying Hebrew! The approach taken by the author (the professor) is quite engaging. The workbook is really helpful for cementing ideas after doing the memory work.
  • I continue to make daily progress on 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. The readings on the voice of prophesy were great. Today, I started in on “The Voice of Wisdom”. The way the author sets Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes in contrast to one another was insightful, to say the least. Looking forward to seeing it fleshed out this week (and maybe just a little more from Song of Solomon)! This has been a great resource in daily engaging with Scripture.
  • As well, I am progressing through The Path to Being a Pastor. This is a really good book. It has been convicting, encouraging, and altogether challenging so far, and I am only a third of the way in.
  • Today, in coordination with our church’s week of missional focus, I began Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. I’m only through the introduction, but J. Mack Stiles is already challenging and winsomely engaging the reader. As a side-note, I will say that John Power, who gave the sermon this morning, did a really good job. Also, all those who read Scripture came prepared and did an awesome job of doing more than reading – but really helping the congregation engage the Word.
  • On a more restful note, I have also taken some time for some fiction, with Asimov’s The End of Eternity and Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings. Both authors do a great job at building worlds and capturing people.
  • And, as a final note on “rest”, after some grueling work getting the room clean and the puzzle table in place, I started a puzzle for the first time in a while. It’s going to be beautiful, although for now, I must say it is maddening. The pieces are not very firmly connected, so they shift really easily. Also, the distinction between pieces can be quite unclear. It will be slower-going than intended!

So, onward to week 3. And thinking on a number of themes that God brought together this week, I’ll leave you with this from Deuteronomy 6:

Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 ESV

Sabbatical Progress – Week 1

So, today was the first Sunday of my September sabbatical. It’s been a restful time so far, and that time has also been put to some good use! Thought I’d stop a moment each Sunday and consider the week. Primarily, this is a help to me, helping me remember what God is doing.

  • So, for starters, there has been a bunch of prayer. Prayer for my local church, prayer for my wife and kids, prayer for direction. Especially, I’ve been in prayer asking God to raise up leaders and servants, and to provide opportunities for purposeful discipleship.
  • I actually jump-started my sabbatical finishing one of my first reading goals. The book in question was Leeman’s Church Membership. I shared a couple quotes and thoughts here and here. Great book, if you are looking for something to help you think through meaningful membership.
  • I followed that up with another book in the same series, Dever’s Discipling. You can find some thoughts I posted here. Also a good read, with some great motivation for discipling with purpose, especially as it approached the final chapters.
  • I’m keeping up daily with 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. Last week, I commented on how he addressed worship. Today, I began the next “voice”, the voice of prophecy. I’m excited to get into the daily “devotional” portion, as last week bible readings were great reminders of how God calls us into worship.
  • I sprinted ahead in my Hebrew textbook, finally stopping at chapter 12. That basically got me through the Qal-stem forms (qatal, yiqtol, weqatal, and wayyiqtol, plus the infinitive construct). Now to go back and do some more systematic review. I’m still much further back in the workbook. I’ve also been busy loading up my Anki deck. Anki has really helped with memorization of vocabulary. Debating if I should put time into using SIL’s FLEx to begin capturing nominal/verbal system rules…debating if it is worth the time/effort. I haven’t done much with infixing in the tool, which would be critical.
  • I helped my father-in-law find a Bible translation that was good for reading. He specifically was looking for one that would be good for reading more for the fuller story, the flow. A nice, cheap HCSB arrived more quickly than I could have imagined.
  • The family spent the long weekend up in the North Carolina mountains visiting Kim’s parents, “camping” out in the front yard. Also a lot of hikes with the dogs. It’s been a blast, but tomorrow we will head back home.

Well, that is a lot! But it honestly has been quite restful. Getting some time set aside for determined reading means books are no longer building dust on the shelf, which is a weight off the shoulders! If you find the right moment, pray for me, that I might continue to use my time wisely.

Old Testament Wanderings: Worship, Personal Choice, and Vanity

In my last class, I picked up 6 Ways The Old Testament Speaks Today by Alec Motyer. It was meant as a book the student could read and review for extra credit. I fully intended, though I had no need ultimately, to do the extra credit. But, my failure to plan my time then means I have a great book now that I can use devotionally for a much more leisurely paced venture.

Each of the main chapters addresses a particular “voice” in the Old Testament. They begin with a summary of the idea, then 6 days of bible readings and discussion, plus more readings in the back of the book for deeper digging. I had already completed the first two chapters, “The Voice of History” and “The Voice of Religion”, so now I’m tackling chapter 3, “The Voice of Worship”.

I’ve loved Motyer’s manner so far, but the first day’s Bible reading for “worship” really captured my attention. Motyer sends the reader to Genesis 4:1-15, the account of Cain and Able. I must admit that when I think of dwelling on worship in the Old Testament, my mind doesn’t (or didn’t) race to this story in Genesis 4. As Motyer notes, this story “is one of the many places where we really wish the Bible gave us more information.” (p.67)

Motyer briefly walks the reader through some options for understanding the naming of Cain and the implications of God’s words to Cain in verses 6 and 7. There is a brief consideration of the type of Cain’s offering, finally turning to the “disposition of the offerer”, the fact that unlike Cain, Abel appears to go out of his way to offer the best portions.

Which brings me to the following:

If we are at all moving along the right lines (and at least it all concurs with what we learn throughout the Bible), then as a basic rule, worship must rest on, and be obedient to, a previously revealed will of God. We are not free to be self-pleasing. Worship is not an area in which personal choice and what we might find “helpful” are in order. As Calvin remarks on Matthew 15:9, “True religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard.” Jesus was, if anything, sharper: worship that is no more than a human device is “vain” (Matt. 15:9). This was the pit into which Cain fell, where arrogance, pride, and sinful animosity bound him and turned him into a brother-hating murderer (1 John 3:11-15). And indeed, we need to keep our traditions of worship constantly under review, with ceaseless reformation and adjustment according to the Word of God, lest our coming together be condemnation rather than a blessing.

6 Ways the Old Testamant Speaks Today, pp.67-68

This hit me pretty hard this morning. In what ways might I turn away from proper worship? Is it devotion to a particular style? The demand for a certain level of performance or execution? A desire to cling to tried-and-true patterns, or the warmth of nostalgia? Or maybe a persistent search for the new, different or unique. It brings up a lot of questions!

Is worship about what “works”? It was for Cain. He gave what he had, without thought for God’s former provision. Is worship simply a filler in our services, or potentially worse, clever religious marketing? Is it there to please a certain crowd, draw a certain audience, to create the right image, to check a box? Or is it there to set the mood, to create an emotional response, to cover up the transition from one part of our corporate gathering to another?

Does worship say more about us than about God? Are we focused on Him or are we looking for an outlet for our religious fervor? Is our worship aimed at humbling ourselves before God? Paul deals with this as he addresses the Corinthians. Rather than proper worship in loving community, they have perverted the Lord’s supper by their selfish carousing, taking on the role of Cain in this murderous drama. Paul does not mince words.

Finally, how do I – how do we – respond to distractions? Is a child in service – our own or another’s – a distraction that “ruins” worship? If worship doesn’t measure up to our expectations, do we respond with frustration, irritability or hurt feelings? What if the band or singers makes a mistake, or a couple mistakes, or can’t seem to get it together? How is our worship affected? Where is our focus?

Motyer has got right to the point in this first offering. Worship starts by asking what God wants, how to best please him. And our efforts to make worship in our own image stink of the grave.

How Flawed and Insufficient Your Love Is

I’ve now started into my next book, as I had mentioned in the last post. Chapter 2 of Discipling is titled “Oriented Towards Others”. A number of passages are addressed as Dever talks about the biblical pattern we experience in Jesus through the gospels, as well as the example Paul provides. But the one that stood out for me was Colossians 1:28-29. He looks at it through the lens of two different word pairs.

The first pair is “toil” and “struggling”, reflecting on the need to engage, to work hard to see the gospel take root. Discipleship doesn’t just happen. It takes conscious effort, fueled by the work God is doing in us. The second pair was “proclaim” and “present”. Here, while he is usually not making any pastoral-specific points, he does make a detour, and I am glad he did:

A Brief Word to Pastors

If you are a pastor or are considering the pastoral ministry, you should think long and hard about this passage [Col 1:28-29]. Notice that the ministry involves both fully proclaiming the Word of God and working to present the people of God mature before him.

This requires utter selflessness on our part. There is much that is good about being a pastor, but, given the sinfulness in both church members and pastors, there is also much that’s tough. Pastor, you will toil and struggle out of love for the members of your congregation, and they sometimes will respond by explaining how flawed and insufficient your love is.

Ultimately therefore, your toil and labor cannot root in your love for them or their love for you. It must root in your love for Christ, his love for you, and his love for them. He has purchased them with his blood. And you mean to present them to him. It is for him that you do it all.

Discipling, pp.32-33

He ends the chapter returning to the need for all Christians to be disciplers, each of us one who “proclaims now so that he might present later.”

Beyond what I found to be a well-aimed reminder, I thought this chapter was well timed, as well. The overlap between Colossians 1:28-29 and Ephesians 1:1-14, which our men’s group studied this morning, made me pause for a moment. God be praised for seeing fit to shower us with his grace at the right time, to call us into the work of developing biblical maturity in those we have been connected with through the Spirit.

The First Step – Reflecting on Nehemiah 2:17-18

I’m finished reading Nehemiah: A Pastoral and Exegetical Commentary, but am behind in sharing the few quotes that stood out to me. Many of the quotes that did so are longer, but this one, not so much:

God often uses his messengers and his word to shine a light on matters in our lives that are unacceptable to God and yet have become accepted by us. Jerusalem is “desolate.” Perhaps they have grown accustomed to the disgrace. The first step in changing a situation is to honestly assess the situation. Only then will one recognize the need for the change.

Nehemiah: A Pastoral and Exegetical Commentary, p.43

What in your life have you gotten used to and stopping resisting? What sin seems a losing battle? What conversation, situation or relationship do you avoid messing with, settling instead for the status quo? Sometimes all it takes is for fresh eyes to point out our precarious position, to point us back to God, to help us reflect on his love and care for his people. In this case, it was the perspective of a leader committed to bringing God glory, removing the reproach that had become “the new normal”.

In chapter 2, Nehemiah helps the people see their condition. It’s not that they didn’t already know what Jerusalem was like, the desperate state it had fallen into. But they needed someone to point the way forward. They needed encouragement, even exhortation, that was grounded in God’s glory and promises. They needed to be confronted with how their ambivalence and acceptance of the situation dishonored God and prolonged the situation.

I’m coming to realize, more and more, when the day-to-day looms so large that it begins to choke out our vision of God, we need the Spirit’s voice spoken through brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot and must not walk this life alone, separate from other believers. We need the gospel applied in our lives daily, and we need all the different gifts, voices and perspectives that come from God’s covenant community.