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Among Christians today, especially from what I can tell in the United States, we love to play the bully. The target, however, is not anyone or any group. The target is a word: religion. We say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. We have websites such as notreligion.org. We even enlist God’s help in our bullying: “God hates religion.” Poor guy! Is this poor word really worthy our derision?

For the most part Christian hate toward religion is justified by a sort of pigeon-holing religion into a set of categories that the Bible does explicitly hate: non-reverent, works-based, going-through-the-motion spiritual activities. In that sense, surely God hates religion, but I think we have more problems with religion than that.

We hate religion. Our non-conformist culture hates anything that seems traditional. Aside from the typical Christian rites of baptism and the eucharist, we target traditional music services, traditional preaching, traditional church programs. Some of these (most of these in some cases), cry out for reformation. They have become expressions of dead, false religion. We should not be quick to exorcise from the church all forms of traditionalism, especially if people exercise true religion in the form of traditional worship. 

Granted, most Christians would agree with the prior statement, such agreement doesn’t eliminate the issues I have with the formula “God hates religion, but loves relationships.” Relationship is a not a direct antonym of religion. Relationship between two people does stress that God wants authenticity, but our comparison may have too steep a price. I wonder if our constant comparison of religion to relationship tickles our individualistic, non-conformist attitudes to the point where we reduce Christianity to a two way “relationship” between a person and God. How easy is it to say, “I don’t need the church or all that ceremony, I don’t need relationships with other believers, I don’t need Bible studies,  I just need God?”

The truth is, God kind of loves religion. He did,after all, set up the ceremonial rites of law for the Israelites and constantly call for obedience to that law saying that it is a wonderful thing that they have the law in the first place (Deut 4:5-8). The prophet Joel calls for repentance through the ceremonial rite of lament. Jesus often attended, participated, and encouraged following religious  ceremony (John 7, Luke 22, Matt 26, Luke 11:42).

Maybe I’m taking too much offense at this point. I know Christians who say, “It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship” don’t really mean all that. In our communicating the truth of Christianity, however, it sends the wrong message. We need to find a better way of communicating the essential nature of a vibrant relationship with God vis-a-vis the dead practice of religion.

Might a suggest another emphasis? Maybe we should say God hates falsehood but loves truth, or, if we want to be hipster about it, God hates fake but loves authentic. I suppose those words could come across as judgmental. I think, however, putting Christianity in those terms gives us the opportunity to say, “I’m the worst of the fakers. God alone is authentic, and if it weren’t for his actions in history, we have no hope of being authentic people.” 

We should be wise to consider the prophet Joel’s command to the people of Israel. Yes, he commands people to observe the ceremony of lament in response to a past tragedy and future judgment, but he also says to the people, “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (2:13) God desires authentic people to follow true religion (that is, according how he has defined true religion, not according to how we define it). Above all, love God with all your heart and do what he says to do. That is what this faker is trying to do by the grace of God alone.

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When Life Throws You Lemons…

Today was the first day in a long time that I dropped a class. Adding and dropping classes aren’t normally a big deal. I did adds and drops on a regular basis in college; albeit, I rarely dropped after the semester started. At about 2:40pm yesterday after already sitting in the class for 2 hours, I already knew I had to drop it. Still, I went through several different emotions as I was driving home. The feel of inadequacy hit me hardest. Am I not tough enough to continue in this class? Do I lack the intellectual capacity to continue in this class? Am I just a lazy student? I still wanted to continue and prove my imaginary doubters wrong. I can get through this.  I’m not weak. The thought of continuing, however, was overbearing still. I had no excitement of enduring 4 1/2 months of these feelings. After talking over the situation with friends and family (thank you Grace, Jacob, and Doug for your advice!), I understood that, for a variety of reasons, I needed this class less than I thought I did. What’s more is that there was another class that I needed more. My new textbook is in the mail, and I will be studying with my father-in-law (yes, he’s in my program too) tomorrow night.

I’m still upset over my experience. I really was looking forward to taking this class. I put a bit of mental prep into getting ready for the semester. Dropping the course altered my study plans. I’m not going to be studying a subject I thought I would be studying since October. I’m now going to be studying a subject I wasn’t expecting study until today. What seems so small was actually pretty big. But it all worked out for the better, and I’m glad to come to this realization before it was too late. Goodbye Greek 4. Hello Hebrew Poetry.

Here’s to lemonade.

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This is another resolution motivated by a book that I would like to be able to read: this work by Helmut Ziefle. I’m really keen on achieving this resolution because it will help in researching for my thesis/PhD. I love learning languages, so I’m sure this will be fun.

I’m using German Made Simple. There are about 45 lessons in this book, I think I can do at least 2 a week. So that puts me close to the middle of the year when I finish this. Hopefully, I will be able to do some basic reading and vocabulary building exercises after that and maybe even struggle through Modern Theological German Reader.

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It will really be a push to get through both books in a year especially with the amount reading I do in class and for Sunday School. But the reading for 1 Samuel should allow me to engage with several works I would like to read over the summer.

I would like to read Mark because I’ve never read through a gospel in the Greek before. Last year, I read through Malbon’s Mark’s Jesus. Her work has piqued my interested in Mark, so I’m excited about reading through it.

I’m still working on a reading schedule. I would like to aim on being done with both by September at the latest. I’m also debating whether or not I should read through both at the same time or just tackle them both individually. Finally, I’m going to try to read them side-by-side with a commentary. I have some ideas for Samuel, but for Mark, the jury’s still out. Let me know if you have any advice!

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Here are two mysteries for the price of one – the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

This quote from J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is one of the most appropriate quotes for Christmas that I can think of. I love Christmas for this reason: it gives me a special reason to think on one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. That God became man and lived among us as man is the greatest demonstration of humility this world has ever witnessed. It fills me with wonder to think of how it could even be possible. It fills me with praise to think that it did happen.

He came to be humbled even more than becoming a helpless child. He lived as human for the sake of his wayward people. He came to rescue them. He succeeded where they failed. He died in their place  – a very shameful death. He took their sins upon himself. And it began with the Incarnation. 

The Incarnation is cause for rejoicing; God has fulfilled his promise to those humbled by sin by humbling himself. May we properly reflect  upon the greatest gift ever given this Christmas.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11

Merry Christmas!

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Quick hits

I already have one foot out of the semester, but I have one more exam that I’m studying for. It’s funny how it takes discipline to keep studying the material, but at the same it takes discipline to know when to quit studying for the evening. For right now, I’m continuing my trek from one sky-scraper to the other on this precariously thin wire. I know Grace will be happy when I’m done. Thank you for your patience, my love!

I love the gym. I love lifting and swimming. It’s been nice to start my routine again. I haven’t been to the pool yet, but I’m starting to get back into the swing of things. I need to too. Way too many sweets this time of year. I’m grateful to be doing back and biceps tomorrow with my gym buddy, Matt Manley.

Grace and I picked up a Christmas tree last night.  This is the third year that we’ve done this. I think my favorite part is when we hang the ornaments from the places we’ve been in the past two years and the ornaments that we gave each other at Christmas. By the looks of it, we might need a bigger tree. Here are a few pictures (Grace, the professional that she is, took these pictures):

A couple of my favorites. We got these on our trips to Charleston and Asheville

A couple of my favorites. We got these on our trips to Charleston and Asheville

Here's Grace's current favorite. She got this for me on our first Christmas.

Here’s Grace’s current favorite. She got this for me on our first Christmas.

Here's this year's tree.

Here’s this year’s tree.

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I have been reading this book by Gordon Wenham with a group of guys from my church. The last chapter I read was particularly convicting especially after we discussed it last Wednesday night.

The chapter’s subject was “The Psalter As An Anthology To Be Memorized.” The idea of memorizing a large of amount of something turns me off. I remember disliking my high school physics class because of the large amount of memorization involved (I loved my college physics class because I wasn’t required to memorize much of anything). The reason for my dislike of memorization is that (at least for me) memorization never lead to an  in-depth understanding of that subject. One could memorize equations in physics and use them to solve problems but never understand why that equation was necessary or where it came from. The knowledge that the person gained from memorization is trivial. 

I held memorization of Scripture in similar esteem. I hope that this attitude is not sacrilegious.  I have a pretty good memory. I can usually remember Scripture enough to know what book and approximately what chapter a verse came from. If I misremember, I can check google or use my excellent search algorithm in my bible software. Memorizing Scripture in and of itself does not necessarily lead to a greater depth of understanding either. Why spend that time memorizing verses when I can usually find what I’m looking for in 5 to 10 minutes?

In the light of this past chapter, I have adjusted my mindset about memorization of Scripture. Wenham says:

Works that are read again and again tend to be committed to  memory. Indeed, Griffiths argues that memorization is highly valued by religious readers. He goes further, maintaining that religious texts are often constructed in a way that aids memorization. For religious readers “the ideally read work is the memorized work, and the ideal mode of rereading is by memorial recall.” And as a reader memorizes a text, he becomes textualized; that is, he embodies the work that he has committed to memory.

I memorized Psalm 1 yesterday and plan on memorizing more as time goes on. I plan to do so because I want to be transformed by God’s Word. So memorization leads to the spiritual exercise of meditation and reformation. The act of memorization allows me to read and think without a text in front of me (I do not plan on substituting my memorized text for my written text). Memorization is not trivial if treated in this way; it fosters a love for Scripture and gives greater opportunity for reformation of the reader.

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SBL Reflections

I could say many things about my experience at SBL. For one, Chicago was an excellent “host” city. This trip was my first time in Chicago. I’ve driven around the city many times as a kid as my family would make the trip up to Minnesota every year or two. Being in Chicago is much better than driving around it. The slight change in culture (from the South to the North), the big city feel, the food (I still long for another Kuma Burger and another slice of Lou’s pizza) and the lodging was all invigorating and helped me to take a slight break from the fast pace of school and work.

Having Jacob Cerone, who lived in Chicago for a while, as my trip companion made the trip much more enjoyable. Jacob’s conversation about different sessions we attended, school, and life uplifted me in a way that going by myself couldn’t have.

The sessions I went to were challenging and informative. I attended sessions on textual criticism on Samuel, translation theory, reading Law (Torah), LXX, and Composition of the OT. Not all sessions are created equal. I did a lot of jumping around because I didn’t go with a focused objective (I will heed Jacob’s advice on attending sessions next time). I went to be refreshed. I just needed to hear something different, so I went eclectic. More often than not, these sessions raised the bar for me. I saw good scholarship at work. I became eager to do more research in my field and explore the world of the Bible.

I also had the opportunity to eat dinner with professors and students from different places of the world. This experience probably made the trip for me. One professor encouraged us not to let the fear of making mistakes paralyze us.  We do our work for Jesus. We must honor him with the gifts he has given us. We must rely on him to give us the ability to do the work has given us to do. When we do make mistakes, his grace overcomes our mistakes.

At the beginning of the trip, another professor, as she walked out of the train advised me not to generalize SBL. Not all conferences are equal. I am thankful that this one gave me a new outlook on my studies. I look forward to the next one – not to relive old memories but hopefully to make new memories as God continues to widen my understanding of him and his Word.

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I realize I have been absent for the last few months. To be honest, I have written several posts that I still feel are unworthy of public eyes. As focused as I have been on finishing school and the business at my job, I have not had a chance to fix them. So now, I write to you to give an update and several goals I have for the last few weeks of the year.

This semester has had its ups and downs. Dr. Thomas’s Pre-Reformation Interpretation of the Old Testament was very good. The reading was challenging, the lectures were often stimulating, and the end of semester project was enlightening. That project probably made the semester for me. We had to choose an interpreter or period and cover early influences, distinctiveness, methodology, and later impact of that interpreter or period. I chose Nicholas of Lyra and spent the next 2 months pouring over material related to the points mentioned above. I learned two things. First, studying earlier interpreters guides introspection and circumspection. This study has impacted the way I think through my own interpretive practices and caused me to ask the question of why I do what I do. Second, studying earlier interpreters has underscored the importance of learning other languages. Since Nicholas wrote in Latin, I would have had access to so much more material if I had only been strong enough in my Latin.

I also took Syriac this semester. I feel like the language has opened new doors for textual criticism. I’m excited about reading the Book of Joshua in the Peshitta.

Finally, as to goals, I would like to give some reflections on my recent trip to Chicago for the SBL meeting one month removed from the trip. Also, I have been reading several books that I purchased from SBL and would also like to give you a taste of them. Finally, I would like to finish an ever-evolving post on how I study for Sunday School lessons. This last post is more of a reflection (then again, I suppose all of my posts are reflections on something) on my method of study.

I know I said finally in the last paragraph, so let’s call this P.S. If you are looking for something to do, feel free to read my paper. Here’s the thesis:

In terms of his contribution to the interpretation of the Old Testament, Nicholas developed a more robust view of the literal sense, which he established by utilizing Jewish interpretation while standing upon the philosophical advances of earlier Christian interpreters.

 

And here is the paper: NicholasOfLyra

Until next time!

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I had a good conversation with my friend, Jacob, about our goals with the academic training we are receiving at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and (hopefully) beyond. Here’s my confession: I didn’t go to school because I wanted to be a pastor. I went to school because I love to study. I got hooked on the Biblical languages and theology and never looked back. I never intended to be a minister. Anytime someone asks me why I’m in school, I always tell them that I want to research the world the Bible and teach hopefully in a university and especially in the church.

I’m in a place right now where I get to use my teaching gifts. I will be preaching this Sunday night, and I have been teaching through the book of Joshua in Sunday School. I love it.

I’m in school because I love scholarship. I’m not seeking glory. I have too many doubts about my own abilities to even begin to dream of making a Wellhausian-impact in the realm of Old Testament studies. I simply want to contribute. I want to widen my own knowledge of the field, contribute to scholarship in some way, and transfer what I’ve learned to the church (which is one of my favorite things to do).

I still battle some sense of shame when I say that I’m not in school to be a pastor. I love and respect my pastors. I consider the office of pastor a noble one. We lay all these burdens we lay on our pastors – administration, counselling, preaching, teaching, etc. I think we’ve professionalized office. I have two (personal)  problems with that. First, I don’t want “pastor” to be my job. I don’t want to be “Pastor” Nathaniel. I’m fine with just Nathaniel. I’ll do what I’m gifted at doing. I’m more than willing to preach and teach. I’m willing to grow in areas I’m not strong in as well. I, however, don’t want all the expectations we lay on our pastors, and I definitely don’t want it to be a job in the same way that programming is a job. Second, I enjoy being a “lay person;” although, I really don’t think “lay person” is the right word. An unfortunate side effect of the professionalization of the ministry is that we have “pastors” and “lay-people.” Two groups of people, one church. I just want to be a part of the community of believers. I don’t want a title.

At the end of this reflection, I don’t know if my lack of desire to be a pastor is to my shame and reflects a lack of courage on my part. I hope not. I really do love serving in the capacity that I do. I’m willing to grow where ever I’m planted. I just don’t want to be a professional minister.

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