Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Reading Ramblings – July 12, 2020

July 5, 2020

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020 – COVID-19; Euthanasia

Texts: Genesis 9:5-6; Psalm 139:1-16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Matthew 5:21-26

Context: I offered my congregation the opportunity to request sermons on particular topics, Biblical passages, doctrinal stances, etc. I do this every few years. Generally I’m fascinated by the lack of response. Either the request is too unusual or people just aren’t used to thinking about what they’d like to hear a bit more about from the Bible or how to apply the Scripture to current issues and events. However, I did get one request this time around on the topic of euthanasia. So I am not using the Revised Common Lectionary Cycle A texts for this Sunday but rather a series of verses that address the foundational Biblical understanding about the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 9:5-6 – Most people think of the Fifth Commandment in regards to the sanctity of human life. And certainly that’s not a bad choice as an injunction against murder. But I prefer God’s words to Noah after the flood to provide a deeper context. In case we’re tempted to think of the Flood as a failed effort by God to restart things on a better footing, God clarifies just how holy human life is. There are many ways we can kill without violating the Fifth commandment – self-defense and capital punishment are just two Scriptural examples. But regardless of why we take a human life we need to know we will answer to God for it, and the implication here is that even in permitted circumstances we must never take human life for granted. We bear the imago dei, the image of God, and this makes human life valuable in a way incomparable in the rest of Scripture. To make ending a person’s life a matter of public policy or convenience or out of fear of suffering or the costs associated with care will one day be judged by no lower standard than God the Father himself.

Psalm 139:1-16 – Modern understandings of the human being as more or less a machine are dangerously superficial. Whether it is assumptions that medicines affect and work in all people equally or the lie that life begins at some arbitrary point after conception or that life ceases to have value and dignity once it is old or beleaguered with disease is to miss the relational aspect of human beings to our Creator. We are known, through and through. Not simply the byproduct of psychological pressures or genetic tweaking we are custom creations to such a degree that it is not without exaggeration but with too little serious pondering that we are unique in all of creation history. Never another person like us. Created and placed into history. That we might dismiss such a creation as no longer worth preserving based on arbitrarily and shifting criteria is terrifying. Likewise to the one who faces severe challenges in disease or health, the knowledge that they are created and never abandoned should be a light of hope in the darkest of conditions or diagnoses.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – What is the thorn of which Paul speaks? Nobody is certain as Paul never defines it himself. Theories emerge and recede based on issues prevalent at the time. Whether a physical injury or disorder or an emotional or psychological trauma, the important thing is that Paul is well aware of the thorn’s presence and desires it gone and prays for it to be removed. Yet he also accepts God’s good and gracious will, unpleasant as it is. Some argue there is no sense or purpose in suffering, and that if suffering is all someone has to look forward to, they should have the option available to them (or to their physicians or family) to end their life prematurely. While we are not required to take every conceivable step to save or preserve life, never should we aim at death as our goal. The God who created us is always present and able to work in and through even our suffering to his glory and our sanctification.

Matthew 5:21-26 – Murder is not so simple as the taking of another life, or our own. Rather, murder is committed when we dismiss any other person, when we reduce them to an inconvenience or an irritation and see them as anything less than a creature of God the Father’s who God the Son died to save so that God the Holy Spirit might establish them in faith and trust of this reality for God’s eternal praise and their eternal blessing. I have seen no accounts where authorizing or legalizing euthanasia leads to a higher view of human life. Rather, once the door opens more and more people in more and more circumstances are deemed eligible for termination, even if they do not want it for themselves. The best of alleged intentions – reduction of human suffering – opens the door to all manner of other sinful motivations. The notion that existence should be without suffering of any kind is a curious one, given the prevalence of suffering in one form or another through almost the entire span of a human lifetime. Sources of suffering might change, but so also do coping mechanisms and the experience of our God’s presence with us in powerful ways. To determine that no such coping and no such divine revelation can (or even should) occur is to destroy hope at a practical level and deny the hope clearly promised in the empty grave of Jesus the Christ.

Covering the Bases

July 2, 2020

As I continue to work slowly through a book on improving my preaching, the next chapter deals with different ways a speaker/preacher connects with the people they are speaking to.

Ethos listeners prioritize the relationship between the speaker and the hearer. If there is a strong connection with the speaker the message will be heard better. Likewise (though not explicitly stated in the book) if the relationship is strained or not good between the speaker and the listener, the listener is going to have a harder time connecting with what is being said. Sometimes this is referred to as an issue of integrity or character on the part of the speaker or the hearer’s perception of their integrity or character. Reaching people who react well based on ethos involves reminding them of this shared relationship. Speaking about we and us as opposed to them or you. Referencing personal stories or the impact of the sermon topic or verses on you personally.

Logos listeners focus on the cerebral or intellectual content of a sermon. They want to be presented with ideas to chew on and mull over or be challenged by. They’re most engaged when learning something new, and sermons that include a focus on information sit well with this group.

Pathos listeners react on the emotional level. They love real-life stories or anecdotes, but they also are most attentive when they are part of the sermon, and can connect what is being preached to their lives.

Ideally every sermon should have some of each aspect in it to best reach as many of your hearers as possible. And that seems reasonable. I can certainly confirm that people who are not in a good relationship with me have a harder time hearing what I say in the sermon, and are more apt to take things the wrong way (or at least in a way I wasn’t intending). Likewise I believe a good preacher should be teaching in a sermon. Not like I would teach a Bible study class, but there should be elements where I’m sharing what I’ve learned rather than just rehashing what I’ve heard all my life from others. The familiar can be comforting but if that’s all I give, people get bored. Or at least I get bored! And I’ve seen firsthand how a good story can really draw people into the sermon.

I like to think my sermons involve all three of these ways of preaching, though certainly the balance will vary from week to week. I also find myself hearing St. Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth emphasizing how we should also be careful not to be too calculated in how we speak the Word of God. Ultimately the power in a sermon is God’s Word and the Holy Spirit at work in that Word. While I want to be a good and effective preacher I also realize I can only control this to a certain extent, and there are limitations to my abilities so that I shouldn’t rely on them.

At the end of the day (Sunday?) I hope people have heard the Word of God applied to their lives in a concrete way. I’m experienced enough to know this can happen when I personally think my sermon stunk. And it can not happen when I think my sermon was a home run. I resonate well with those masters of the preaching craft who insist that if the sermon stinks, it’s my fault. But if the sermon is really good, then God gets the praise and glory. That’s how it should be, not as an excuse for me to neglect my duties or be shoddy in my preparation, but as a means of keeping my humbled and my community focused on what is important – Christ crucified.

Preaching Progress

June 30, 2020

About ten years ago – oh wait, it was really just this past February! – I began a book on improving my preaching.

Then the world fell apart.

But the book remains on my desk open to the chapter I have been working on sporadically for several months. Chapter 2. I did say sporadically, didn’t I? Intermittently? More not than often? Anyways.

Chapter 2 has me go through past sermons over the last several years to determine when parts of the Bible I primarily preach out of. He divides Scripture into different sections –

  • Genesis-Deuteronomy (Pentateuch)
  • Joshua – Esther (History)
  • Job – Song of Solomon (Wisdom Literature)
  • Isaiah – Malachi (Prophets)
  • Matthew – Acts (Gospels/Acts)
  • Romans – Philippians (Pauline Epistles)
  • Hebrews – Revelation (General Epistles & Revelation)

What I learned in this is my system of saving my sermons does not lend itself to an easy examination of what texts I primarily preached from. So I had to open every single individual sermon to determine what I preached from. Which is incredibly time-consuming, and so I didn’t go through five years of back sermons. I made it through about a year and a half and I’m going to call that good.

I preach primarily on the Gospel texts. This makes good sense as I believe the Gospel should predominate in worship. However I often incorporate the Old Testament lesson or the Epistle reading or even the psalm into the sermon as well, so that even while I’m preaching mostly on the Gospel readings it isn’t exclusive to the other readings. I guess this is good. The author’s idea is that you should have a balanced use of Scripture in your sermons over time, an idea I agree with in principle so long as the Gospel predominates.

Ready for Chapter 3, I guess!

Reading Ramblings – July 5, 2020

June 28, 2020

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:1-13; Romans 7:14-25a; Matthew 11:25-30

Context: God gives his good gifts to his creation. Even now, in the midst of our sinfulness, God continues to pour out upon his creation more than enough to satisfy everyone. God is not stingy, but we are not very good at sharing his gifts. But we look forward to a time when God himself ensures perfectly that his gifts are enjoyed perfectly. A time when we are freed from the limitations of sinful powers of varying sorts in our world. A time when thanks and praise to God flows from all lips because all equally receive and perceive his goodness as the giver. We his people here and now are not only to be about the business of sharing his goodness throughout creation but also telling of his blessings in our lives. On this weekend when Americans celebrate our freedom, we as American Christians remember our true and lasting freedom is in Christ.

Zechariah 9:9-12 – God is coming to his creation! The true and rightful King is coming to demonstrate his rule and power over all creation. This is cause for rejoicing! Not much is known about the prophet Zechariah. He is mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 along with Haggai, evidently with an important role in the rebuilding of the Temple after the return from the Babylonian exile (circa 530 BC). Nehemiah 12:16 lists him as the son of the priest Iddo who returned from the Exile with Zerubbabel. Some see this as conflicting with Zechariah 1:1, 7 that indicate Zechariah is Iddo’s grandson rathher than son. We presume Nehemiah 12:16 simply omits the intervening generation, a practice not uncommon with Biblical genealogies. Zechariah is also evidence that the roles of priest and prophet were at some point combined

Psalm 145:1-13 – I lopped off verse 14 from the assigned reading, as it seems to be out of synch with the previous section, introducing a new line of thought. The dominant theme in the first 13 verses is giving testimony, witnessing to the power of God. The speaker begins in the first person in verses 1-3, but then expands the scope of this praise, indicating that one generation should witness to the Lord’s goodness to the next generation. How easy it is to forget this as part of our Christian life and witness, sharing with children and grandchildren how God has blessed our lives! Certainly in times like these COVID-19 days, we have much to give thanks for and much to share with others about how God continues to bless us and watch over us. This care is summarized best in vs.8-9, making it clear that God does not limit his goodness just to his faithful, but extends his blessings to all of his creation. The net result of this should be his blessed creation giving thanks to God and acknowledging him as the source of these blessings (vs.10-13).

Romans 7:14-25a – It’s helpful to reread verse 13 that was included in last week’s reading as the opening thought for these verses that follow. If the Law was the means by which sin was made known and defined in creation and in me personally (vs.7-12), it might be wondered whether we would have been better off the Law. Doesn’t the Law bring death where otherwise there would be no death because we would have no concept of sin? Hardly! Sin is to blame for death. Sin that worked initially in the flesh and blood of Adam and Eve and all their offspring, and that was only later codified and clarified to the people of God under Moses. The Law has always existed and therefore sin is always a violation of the Law woven into creation. The Law serves to rightfully condemn the sin I find within me. And I need both that clarification and condemnation of my sin because I would otherwise often be conflicted and confused regarding my sin. Sin isn’t simply what I want or don’t want. Now, in Christ, I’m very aware that while I may want what Christ wants, I act oppositely. So good and bad are not simply a matter of what I do or don’t do, or want to do or don’t want to do. I am in fact enslaved to my sin still at a certain level, acting it out in thought, word and deed even when I know better and want better. So the Law is necessary to clarify this for me so I know what sin really is and can condemn it within me, trusting in the deliverance that doesn’t come from knowing the Law or somehow learning to perfectly keep the Law but only in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, on my behalf.

Matthew 11:25-30 – Oftentimes I’ve heard it said, If only Jesus were here today, doing what He did 2000 years ago, it would be so easy to believe! Yes Jesus says otherwise. It is not as simple as seeing is believing, as Jesus has just finished condemning Capernaum for unbelief in spite of Jesus’ preaching and teaching and healing and driving out demons there. They had all the evidence they could want of who Jesus was, but still rejected him. We can’t trust our own senses or our own reasoning skills! As such, we cannot reason ourselves to faith nor deduce faith logically, but faith must be revealed to us, shown to us and presented to us either to receive in gratefulness or spurn in arrogance or idiocy. The greatest gift in all of creation history isn’t received by everyone because not everyone will allow themselves to receive it as a child, unable to contribute anything of their own, and discarding whatever they thought was good and valuable in their lives as of no consequence to their salvation.


June 22, 2020

Thanks to Ken for sharing an article with me from the Wall Street Journal about Amazon’s discriminatory advertising practices. The article highlights something everyone should know but is easily forgotten – Internet companies like Amazon and Facebook and Google are just that, companies. They are not required to provide equal access to everyone. They are not required to sell every possible product that is available. And each one answers to shareholders and is very responsive to market forces.

Which means if you publish something that might be considered politically incorrect, you may not find your product listed or highlighted or advertised on these sites. Which means of course you’ll have a harder time making people aware of your work.

This brief reminder also highlights another level of censorship from some of these same companies – which materials are made available in electronic format for e-readers, and whether titles available today will be available in the future.

Both of which are reasons I love me a good used bookstore, and I’m fortunate to have several not too far away that can help me get my hands on all sorts of things that may increasingly become difficult to find through Amazon. And it’s why I prefer actual books to e-readers (I’ve never owned an e-reader, even though I love the convenience factor they provide). You never know when your copy of something may end up being one of the last copies in existence because of censorship.

Reading Ramblings – June 28, 2020

June 21, 2020

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42

Context: It is the erroneous assumption of some (many?) Christians that there can be a happy medium, an accommodation of sorts between the world and Christ. That the world will accept Christ if He is presented in the right way and right conditions, and that we can in turn continue to enjoy the world on our terms. But middle ground is tenuous at best and always fleeting. The prince of this world will not permit compromise unless he believes it will lead to his advantage. And likewise, God the Father has no intention of sharing his creation with any pretenders to the throne. Whatever middle ground we may appear to occupy will not last long, nor should we ultimately desire it to as it’s an expensive and dangerously misleading place to stand.

Jeremiah 28:5-9 – We don’t lack for conflicting messages in this world, and that has always been the case. Those who claim to speak on behalf of God appear to have an easy job. But the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Jeremiah echoes the sentiments of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:14-22 – those who claim to speak in God’s name should be held to their word, and judged by that word. Jeremiah faces the additional difficulty of reminding not just Hananiah but those inclined to listen to him that it’s easy to prophesy good things, as that’s what people want to hear. God’s Word often calls his people to the reality of how difficult things are in this world and how desperately Satan would like to see God’s people crushed and broken away from the loving hand of God the Father. Preaching peace and security has always been easy but rarely been accurate!

Psalm 119:153-160 – This portion of the acrosstic psalm uses the Hebrew letter resh. Speaking God’s truth to a world insistent on lies (Romans 1:18-32) will result in suffering for those who proclaim that truth. This psalm is spoken by the one who is faithful to the Word of God and is being punished for it. The speaker requests deliverance (v.153) from a potentially life-threatening (v.154) persecution (v.157). While the source of this persecution is not specified, it seems to have to do with the speaker’s refusal to compromise or violate God’s law (v.153) or statutes (v.157). It is reasonable for the faithful to pray to God for sustenance and vindication against the lies of the world. Such vindication ultimately is to the glory of God rather than just a personal blessing. Whether our preservation in the moment will best accomplish God’s purposes or not is not knowledge we’re usually privy to, calling us to trust that even an ignoble death can be used by God towards his ends, and we remain both in life and in death firmly in his care and love.

Romans 7:1-13 – The Christian’s relationship with the law is a matter of considerable confusion. The Law remains, but in Christ our relationship to the Law has changed. In Galatians 3 Paul will explain the Law as the means by which God protected creation until the coming of the Messiah. Paul uses the metaphor of marriage here to demonstrate the substantive change we have undergone in relationship to the Law. We were born sinfully bound to the Law and under it’s power to condemn us, but as we join ourselves to the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism, we spiritually die and are reborn. So we are no longer bound to the Law as before, and we are free for Christ to claim us as his own. The Law in some ways stirred us to greater sinfulness once we understood what was prohibited to us. Our sinful nature found in the Law a guide as to what further and deeper sin we should be pushed towards. However the Law was not to blame for this, but our slavery to our sinful nature. The Law is good because it defines good and evil for us and saves us from the error and confusion of trying to define these things for ourselves, something we are always having to relearn. We can in no way transfer blame or guilt to the Law, but must always acknowledge it as the good gift of God, the righteousness of God spoken into a creation broken and unable to know that righteousness directly as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 1-2. So the Christian is not free and separate from the Law, but only from the condemnation of the Law. Sin remains sin, but the penalty of our sin is now satisfied not in our condemnation but in the forgiveness afforded by the incarnate suffering and death of the Son of God on our behalf.

Matthew 10:34-42 – Having prophesied the opposition his disciples will eventually face in fulfilling their duties as messengers, Jesus clarifies what will result from his work among us, the division it will create as the prince of this world fights against it, seeking to keep God’s creatures blinded and enslaved. God does not seek such division, but is committed to standing firm against the plots and plans of Satan. To imagine a God that shrinks from confrontation is to misunderstand both God and the nature of our depravity and sinfulness. There is no such thing as a little bit of salvation, or a partial victory or negotiated peace with evil. There is only victory. And while amnesty is extended in grace to those who repent of their former disobedience and rebellion, those who refuse such amnesty place themselves under eternal judgment. It is quite literally all or nothing and this should not surprise us as we live in the confusion and shifting ground of a creation constantly trying to mistakenly assert such compromise is not only possible but desirable. As though good could ever co-mingle with evil, purity with impurity, holiness with desecration, righteousness with outlaws.

Against attempts to hold such a middle ground Jesus speaks starkly. If you love the things and people of this world more than God you ultimately lose both eternally. Only by loving the things and people of this world in their proper place as fellow creations and creatures rather than gods and goddesses can we hope and pray both for their salvation and our own. It is not that we are to neglect or abandon the Fourth Commandment or our marriage vows. But for those in Christ all these relationships are derivative from and therefore only possible when kept in their proper relationship to our relationship with Christ.

Reading Ramblings – June 21, 2020

June 14, 2020

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:16-33

Context: Faithfulness to God will sometimes put us at odds with a world around us still enslaved to Satan and sin.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – The prophet Jeremiah is appointed by God the Holy Spirit to speak a hard word to the people of Judah, a warning of destruction, of exile to Babylon. It is not a popular message, nor one that makes any sense to those who comfort themselves as the people of God. Surely God would never allow his chosen people to be humiliated! Jeremiah is publicly beaten and humiliated for the message he brings (vs. 1-3). How difficult it must be for Jeremiah to suffer only for speaking the true Word of God! How frustrating it must be to have his words fall not just on deaf ears but actively hostile ears! Jeremiah deals with this pain vocally in the verses for this morning (vs.7-10), stating his situation to God before, no doubt by the power of the Holy Spirit, he also speaks his consolation (vs.11-13), reminders of the God he serves and who cannot be overcome by the machinations of men. So you and I are called to faithful trust in our God who lives and reigns regardless of how the nations or our neighbors may rail against his Word.

Psalm 91 – God is our mighty fortress. He is the rock to which we cling, and also the rock upon which we build our lives. He is there for us always and in all things, not simply in those moments of terror or panic or uncertainty. He was present before the Coronavirus, He is with us now, and He will continue to be with his creation until our Lord’s return and the renewing or recreation of all things in unity under God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit once again. What is there we have to fear in this life? Those blessed with old age talk aboiut how quickly life goes, and it’s true. Yet we look forward to eternity! If our lives here and now are not all we hoped or expected them to be, all is not lost! If we are subjected to turbulence and uncertainty despite all our careful plannings and preparations, all is not lost! If we fall prey to sickness or disease, to war or any number of other dangers, all is not lost! We do not live in fear of the tragedies in life nor do we allow the blessings in life to eclipse our identity in Christ and our eternal destination.

Romans 6:12-23 – Having laid out faith in Jesus Christ as the means of salvation apart from adherence to the Law, Paul now has to clarify what he’s talking about. Does that mean the person in Christ ignores the law? Does it mean – if God’s grace increases to account for or sin – that we should sin more in order to give God greater glory in being even more gracious and merciful to us? It sounds funny, but it’s a logical conclusion people in Paul’s day and our own have come to – usually in rejecting the Bible and Christ as illogical.

Obviously, this is not the point Paul is getting at in any way. Christians are not exempt from the Law, but the Law wields a different power in the life of a Christian – a power to guide and lead but not a power to condemn and damn. Our baptism into Christ is not simply a photo opportunity and an excuse for everyone to get dressed up for church. Our baptism is actually a spiritual killing and raising to life again. But that death and rebirth doesn’t just affect our relationship with the law, to a certain extent it affects the sin in our lives as well, which is where we pick up Paul’s line of thought in verses 11-12. We have a newfound power – the power of God the Holy Spirit within us – to resist sin. Not that we can do so perfectly, but we can do so much better than we could before receiving faith in Jesus Christ! Just as if we had the opportunity to travel back in time to relive our lives and avoid the errors we regret now, our rebirth in Jesus Christ provides us the opportunity to live the rest of our lives out with decidedly different standards and possibilities guided not just by blind, sinful selfishness but the indwelling power and presence of the God who created, redeemed and now leads us towards holiness.

We have a true freedom and power to do this – albeit imperfectly as Paul will clarify in Chapter 7. Paul will continue to develop a line of thought that the Christian now lives and breathes in a different atmosphere, as it were, in Christ than before Christ while under the authority of Satan. But this change in environment and atmosphere does not set us free for a life of forgiven licentiousness. Rather, we are now slaves to Christ. Willing, grateful, blessed slaves. We are creatures and creatures have masters. Christ freed us from our slavery to sin and Satan which leads only to death, that we might be slaves of the God who created us, destined not for eternal misery but eternal life because of Christ.

Matthew 10:16-33 – We continue in Matthew 10 with Jesus preparing to send the disciples out for mission work. The reading does not exactly match the lectionary because I thought the lectionary divided up the text imprecisely. Last week Jesus laid out the reason for sending them out and the ground rules for how they would conduct their mission work. This week He begins to warn them not to assume their work will be universally received and appreciated. Here Jesus begins to speak prophetically. We have no textual evidence of the disciples being arrested or forced to defend themselves before “governors and kings” on this particular mission journey. Though certainly, the majority of them apparently did have to do so eventually – after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension. Jesus here speaks as the Old Testament prophets did, sometimes mixing prophetic visions of nearer and more distant events without distinction. His words might have sounded very strange and a bit over-dramatic at the time, but later in their lives I’m sure his Word sustained them in the midst of trials and challenges both literal and figurative.

Likewise you and I are called to take Jesus’ words to heart. Not everyone will be happy to hear the news of a God who loves us enough to die for us and calls us into a life of obedient gratitude for saving us from ourselves and sin and Satan and death. There may be times when our message whether carefully crafted or mentioned off-handedly results in a furious rebuttal. And certainly some of God’s people throughout history and still today find themselves on trial or even at the mercy of an angry mob demanding their death.

At one level, while we don’t seek such responses, we are not to fear them or live our lives trying to hide from them. We are called to bear witness to our faith in lives of obedience to God the Father’s two guiding mandates in creation – love for him and love for neighbor, where love is defined not by us or the other person but by the God who created both. There may be times when we have to lovingly refuse the definitions and expressions of love our neighbor or culture demands from us because we know that, according to the Word of God, such definitions and expressions aren’t actually love.

When we have to reject the world’s definitions and ways of doing things and remind the world there is a Creator and his rules are to guide us, the response is oftentimes far less than grateful. But even if rejection of our witness of word and deed seems unanimous, we need to trust the Holy Spirit’s power, that He can move hearts and minds to faith using our imperfect obedience. It may not necessarily spare us the wrath of the mob or the penalty of the improper human law, but it should always remind us that we are never outside the love and care of our heavenly Father who is capable of turning Satan’s cruelest acts of inhumanity into opportunities to welcome new brothers and sisters in Christ into eternal life.

Peloponnesus & Bible Study

June 13, 2020

I start all my Biblical book studies with a section on isogogics – the study of things around or surrounding the text like who the author is, when it was written and by and to whom, and other information. When we can better understand these sorts of things we potentially gain better ears to hear what the author was saying and why. Not all studies include this sort of information but I find it very helpful.

One such example? Prior to starting preparations for this study on 1 Corinthians I didn’t realize there was an isthmus separating Greece into two main sections. I didn’t realize that Corinth’s location near this isthmus led to a very old and storied history of commercial vitality as the city had access not just to a western port leading towards Italy and Europe but an eastern port leading towards Turkey and the Orient. And because my geography knowledge is so sparse (I’m American), I didn’t know that the region where Corinth is situated separated by this isthmus from the rest of Greece is known as the Peloponnesus.

Just another reason I prefer to research and prepare my own Bible studies rather than rely on something someone else has prepared. I may never need to know some of these details, but I feel like they’re helpful in some small way to my larger appreciation not just of the Word of God as it impacts actual people and places, but the Creation of God as a whole.

Bible Study

June 12, 2020

After three months it’s time to start leading a new Bible study as our congregation continues the slow process of restarting our community after months of self-quarantining and self-isolation.

Someone asked me if it would be difficult to restart such a study in an age of Coronavirus and masks and social distancing and fear. But I’ve never not enjoyed studying Scripture. It’s perhaps the most personally fulfilling aspect of making the work of God my vocation. It is never unrewarding to go to the Word of God. To grapple with it, to dissect it for meaning, to understand it contextually and to see how contexts thousands of years old are as pertinent and necessary today as they were then.

For me, putting together a Bible study is not a simple process. Since I first started leading Bible studies in my early college years, I’ve never been content with off-the-shelf studies. Never content to follow along what somebody else created, to be guided by their questions and interpretations. I’ve always preferred to wrestle with the text personally and to access the thoughts and ideas of other men and women throughout history who also sought to understand and apply these same texts.

So for me, preparing a Bible study is a lengthy process that requires many resources and a process of learning the texts better myself, which should in turn assist not just the Bible study but preaching and counseling and applying the Word of God in all manner of unanticipated ways. As another portion of his Word becomes a greater portion of me, the effect is always good, always rewarding, always exhilarating.

I’m starting a book study of 1 Corinthians, a letter written by St. Paul to a congregation he started in the Greek city of Corinth. And for this study, I’ll be utilizing not just the English and to lesser extent Greek texts, but also the following resources to varying degrees:

  • The New International Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians by F.W. Grosheide, Eerdman’s 1980
  • Concordia Commentary: 1 Corinthians by Gregory J. Lockwood, CPH 2000
  • The New International Greek Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians by Anthony C. Thiselton, Eerdman’s 2000
  • Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 4 by John Lightfoot, Hendrickson Publishers 1853
  • Africa Bible Commentary edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo, Zondervan 2006
  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans 1979

I’m looking forward to getting to know this letter much better. It has a lot to say about the life of faith both individually and communally, and I trust we’re going to have some interesting discussions along the way!

Book Review: Small Church Essentials

June 8, 2020

Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters

This was lent to me by a member along with the previously reviewed The Grasshopper Myth. Both of these books cover a lot of similar material, and spend the bulk of their time pushing the basic point that size is not the sole determinant of a congregation’s health or success. While the last several decades have seen large congregations and mega-churches held up as the pinnacle of faithful pastor leadership (if you’re doing a good job, obviously you’re going to get bigger, right?) this is not only not necessarily true, it is overwhelmingly true less often than not.

A lot of pastors need to hear this because both implicitly and explicitly the goal of being a large congregation is out there in pastoral ministry. And when you’re struggling to care for a small flock on a small budget it’s easy to look longingly at the lush grass of a mega-church where money isn’t a problem and there are enough programs and staff to utilize a massive campus every day of the week.

Vaters makes the much-needed point that while large congregations are all well and good it is fallacious reasoning to presume that all congregations should become large or that small congregations are somehow deficient. Different sizes provide different dynamics that appeal to different people, Vaters argues, and properly so.

Vaters than gives advice for building on the strengths a small congregation likely possesses in terms of friendliness and intimacy, both good suggestions. He warns about the dangers of allowing a building to dictate what a ministry can and can’t do – a problem I’ve witnessed in multiple congregations and always to unfortunate results.

This is a handy book for both lay people and pastors to help alleviate the shame or disappointment that can come in comparing a small ministry to a large one. Better to focus on what small congregations can do well (and there are several things) rather than on what they can’t do.