Dropping The Book For A Moment

So, this morning, I just need to put the textbook down for a moment and write. My hope is to give you a brief, inside look into what it feels like to be in non-vocational pastoral ministry. And I’d say vocational pastoral ministry, too, though I don’t have that exact experience. I don’t often write like this, because often it is hard to know what I should share. Other times, it is a chore to determine whether sharing something will be received as a targeted rebuke, rather than a general encouragement, etc.

The thing I most want to say is that, in my experience, if you are a member of a local body of believers, you are being prayed for. You’re likely being prayed for either way, but as a member of a local body, I can say it with much greater certainty.

You may be a faithful servant, teaching kids, or serving in behind-the-scenes ministry, or highly visible, singing or playing an instrument. You are being prayed for. Your spouse (if you have one) is being prayed for. Your marriage is being brought before the throne. Your kids (if you have them), their goals, their longings, their futures, are all being lifted up. We are praying for God to lead you – to direct your words with friends, to forgive when necessary, to show and receive mercy as you become more like Christ. We are praying you will be rescued from temptation, that you will be a humble and wise witness of the love of Christ in a fallen world.

Or you may be struggling to find connection. You may be having a hard time relating to a leader or another member. You may want things about worship, or children’s ministry, or church direction, that just aren’t happening though you wish they would. You may be absent because of Covid, or present, but feeling invisible. You are being prayed for. Your spouse is being prayed for. Your marriage is being brought before the throne. Your kids, their goals, their longings, their futures, are all being lifted up. We are praying for deeper connection with the local body. We are praying for friendships to be built, for the Spirit to bring unity. We are praying for the church to be what Scripture calls it to be. And we are encouraging other servants in the body to pray, too. To reach out with a meal, with a conversation, with an open home.

I’m not looking for applause or even kudos – I am not always (or often) the best at this. But if you sometimes wonder whether your service is worth it, or if you are even noticed, the answer is, “Yes!” You are loved and cared for. Frequently I am at a loss for how to serve hurting people well. How to reignite the flames of a marriage, how to rekindle a passion for ministry, how to encourage involvement in the body. I need the local body, and the wisdom of the Spirit, too. But we are praying. We are watching to see hearts who are willing to step into those difficult spaces and build connections. We are looking for those who are willing to sacrifice to serve others well.

Non-vocational pastoral/elder ministry looks like unanswered texts and calls, trying to reach out to people and wondering if you’ve done something wrong. It can be discouraging, honestly. It looks like sleepless nights (or waking up unintentionally sometime around 3AM) and praying for the body because you long to see it thrive, to glow with the person of Jesus. It looks like trying to bring Scripture to bear on real issues that people are dealing with, and it looks like holding out heady truths about who God is, what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, and what the Spirit is doing in and through the local body of Christ. Often these two threads are more related than we know or believe.

Thankfully, it is also watching worship come alive on the faces of people God has changed. Discouragement is met by the Spirit speaking and the knowledge that others are praying for me. I get to watch people serve in so many different ways, all according to the way God has gifted them. It is seeing people grow more patient towards their children, more forgiving with their spouses, more aware of their sin and more passionate about Christ’s people.

But overwhelmingly it looks like prayer. Prayer for laborers in the field. Prayers for unity in the body. Prayers for God’s will to empower and guide everything we do. Prayers for wisdom and forgiveness when we fail to be what God calls us to be. It is prayer for the church to be the church and you to be an active and integral part of that local assembly. Not some ethereal entity, nor just a location to meet on a particular day of the week, but a vital people called out by God to love one another. The reign of God in the present, and the new people he has created, really do matter!

And with that said, time to get back to a book review on “Killing a Messiah” (good book, by the way) and studying for a final exam. But I’ll still be praying.

Out with the New, In with the Old

Week 6 of 8 is almost complete for spring term 2 (Introduction to New Testament I). I’ve enjoyed Dr. Pennington quite a lot. Nevertheless, time to start planning and registering for summer and fall. To that end, I signed up to take Introduction to Old Testament I over the summer with Dr. Betts, and then in the fall, consuming both terms, will be Elementary Hebrew with Dr. Garrett.

I think they usually suggest Greek first, then Hebrew – and I can understand it at least on the fact that Greek is closer to English than Hebrew is. If it is a first or even second time doing another language, it pays to do one similar I suppose. Having studied a few languages at this point (my current, daily study is Spanish, German and Japanese) and having some Greek already under my belt (and maybe I can study on the side to eventually test out of it?) I thought I would jump to Hebrew. I’ve studied just a smidgen of Biblical Hebrew already. I’m prepared for it to be a doozy…

And my books for Old Testament I have arrived already, even!

Back to Luke and John!

The Gospel and The Gospels

This week’s reading lays the framework for a deeper study of the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in coming weeks. So far, that reading includes Who Chose the Gospels?, by C.E. Hill, Reading the Gospels Wisely, by Jonathan T. Pennington, and Four Portraits, One Jesus (2nd Edition) by Mark L. Strauss. The reading for this week surveys the gospels themselves (what they are), the gospel message (what the gospels are for), and how the gospels have been (and are) used and studied. Great stuff, really – healthy does of history and hermeneutics.

Two passages in the reading stand out to me, both from Pennington. And why not, since he is the prof, after all!

Bringing our discussion of the first two chapters to a close we may ask again, what are the Gospels? After our exploration of the origin and usage of the euangelion word group, I proposed that for the New Testament authors the “gospel” is the proclamation of Jesus’ fulfillment of the promised return of the reign or kingdom of God. We have seen that this oral apostolic proclamation naturally and understandably is eventually written down, and the result is our canonical Gospel, given to us in its fourfold narrative form, or as we say today, the Gospels.

Reading the Gospels Wisely, pp.34-35

That acts as a powerful conclusion that allows him to move into the next chapter on why we need the Gospels, and not just the Pauline (Petrine, Johannine, etc. – the “letters”) corpus. The “modern”, scientific mindset, with its predisposition for analysis in abstract, for atomizing, isolating principles, can easily miss the big picture with all its messy interactions, a “forest for the trees” view of the world and our relationship with its creator. Narrative provides a unique way of teaching that looks more holistically at life, and thus can approach the complexity of faith in interaction with a real, fallen world in need of God. And with that, the other quote (and a reference to Tolkien!):

We are story people. In the very fabric of our beings we are spring-loaded for story. Story is how we make sense of our world and our own lives. Story powerfully creates life and hope, the lack of which is depression. Hope is imagination, and imagination is central for human flourishing and life. When we hope, we are using God’s image-bearing gift to envision a reality that does not yet exist. Creating story (including the writing of history) is at the height of or abilities as those made in God’s image or, to use Tolkien’s language, as “subcreators” modeling after the Creator. Story is created by and creates imagination. Abstract reflection and doctrine are necessary and good, but they do not have the the same kind of effect and transformative power that a story does. (italics mine)

Reading the Gospels Wisely, p.46

In my last class, an author quipped that we are interpreters of life and our circumstances. We don’t view reality objectively, but always interpretively, connecting what we see and giving it meaning. It’s been percolating in my mind, and with all this talk of hermeneutics and meaning, of teaching and life, reminds me also of Douglas Hofstadter’s Surfaces and Essences, where he makes a powerful case for understanding consciousness and thought as essentially a thorough-going development of analogy.

I have to just sit back in awe, and consider how looking at the Gospels connects math (yep), consciousness, artificial intelligence, history, philosophy, language, revelation and the heart, just to name a few things. It reminds me that God does not always give us what we might want (a single, comprehensive, written Gospel, among other things), but he knows what we need. We see glimpses of the grandeur, but he created it, and invites us to partake of his nature (1 Peter 1:4). The Gospels take our costly faith and turn it to the goals of increasing virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and finally love. They give us both the living example and effective work of Jesus. They don’t just give us information to bolster theological arguments, they call on us to follow him and be changed by him.

Blessings to my fellow followers of Jesus, as we look toward our times of local worship tomorrow: May you together experience the blessings of the body of Christ and the power of the Spirit!

Learning Through Fiction

The final “textbook” for NT1 came in the mail today. It is interesting to be assigned a fictional work, Killing a Messiah by Adam Winn. I find the idea behind it reasonable though…sometimes we get caught up in our assumptions about the backdrop, the context, of historical (and in this case religious) events. Fiction can be a way of looking at things from a slightly different angle.

Probably be a bit before I get started n this one, but looking forward to it. Already neck deep in Who Chose The Gospels, by Hill. Chapter one got right down to business countering arguments that non-canonical gospels were on an equal footing in the early centuries of the church.

“The Long Awaited Return of God”

Books are arriving for my next class, “Intro to the New Testament 1”, with Dr. Pennington. This class surveys the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Intro to NT2, which I took earlier, covered Acts through Revelation. I’ve already been through this week’s lectures, and am really looking forward to the class!

Time to get reading!

A prudent, zealous, and laborious Minister

Not to read or study at all is to tempt God: to do nothing but study, is to forget the Ministry: to study, only to glory in one’s knowledge, is a shameful vanity: to study, in search of the means to flatter sinners, a deplorable prevarication: but to store one’s mind with knowledge proper to the saints by study and by prayer, and to diffuse that knowledge in solid instructions and practical exhortations, – this is to be a prudent, zealous, and laborious Minister.

Quesnel, quoted by Charles Bridges in “The Christian Ministry”
The Christian Ministry book cover

Next!

Currently mid-way on Intro to New Testament 2 with Tom Schreiner, but in the mail came some of the texts for my next class. I’ll be taking Personal Spiritual Disciplines with Don Whitney over the winter term.

Two of those are extra credit, but look really promising (both the Whitney books). I already had the other texts required for the course, Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Pilgrim’s Progress.

In The Mail: CSB

So, class number two started yesterday: Intro to New Testament 2, taught by Tom Schreiner (woohoo!). Noted from the syllabus that we have to read Acts through Revelation (the scope of the class) in either the NIV or CSB. I usually read in the ESV these days, so decided to send out for a copy of the CSB. I got the study version, and not the single column version, though I was tempted. Been a while since I’ve used a study bible and not certain this was the best version to choose for a study bible, but thought it was worth trying out.

Looks nice, anyway!

Smells good, too!

Pastries

In his discussion on “Qualifications of Inerrancy” in 40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible, Robert Plummer encourages pastry-making informed by appropriate sources:

7. Inerrancy does not mean that the Bible provides definitive or exhaustive information on every topic. No author in the Bible, for example, attempts a classification of mollusks or lessons in subatomic physics. The Bible tangentially touches on these subjects in asserting that God is the creator of all things, marine or subatomic, but one must not press the Scriptures to say more than they offer. If you want to learn how to bake French pastries, for example, there is no biblical text that I can suggest. I can, however, exhort you to do all things diligently for God’s glory (Col. 3:17) and not to engage in gluttony (Prov. 23:20). And I would be happy to sample any of the pastries you make.

40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible, p. 43, Robert L. Plummer (italics his)

All jesting aside, the book so far has been a very crisp read, and I am enjoying it quite a bit. This last question/chapter was on the presence (or lack thereof) of error in Scripture. It immediately put me in mind of Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, which sits nearby. Alas, it will remain undisturbed on my desk for another occasion. I must be through question seven this coming week, as my Biblical Hermeneutics class begins in earnest.

From the same question (#4), the following “Reflection Question” is posed, which I offer as an exercise to you, the reader:

What is the most puzzling text in the Bible to you?

Now, onward to transmission accuracy.

-G

Do you know who you’re talking to?

Reading in Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes The Church, by John Onwuchekwa, I came across the following that reminds me of Matthew 11:25-26. I preached (we need to make praught a thing) from Matthew 11:25-30 last week. The connection between adoring God the Father for both his revealing and hiding has a lot in common with praising him for his love and his just-ness that comes out clearly in this excerpt:

Delving into God’s attributes means we must pay attention to the attributes of God we sometimes feel tempted to apologize for. It shows us we should adore them. Think of God’s anger and wrath. When we praise him for those things during corporate worship, we’re reminded that God is committed to justice. Wrath isn’t a liability. It’s proof of his protection. God’s anger, directed at sin, reminds us that he is a protector of the weak. His inability to ignore sin and the relentless way he punishes evil is scary because we fear we could easily find ourselves as the objects of his wrath. But for those who take shelter under the protection he has offered through his Son, we realize God’s holiness is for our protection, not our punishment.

Do you know who you’re talking to? I’m not convinced everyone who comes to corporate worship does. Even if we do know, we forget. Thankfully, prayers of adoration remind us.

Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes The Church