My wife has been reviewing her blog entries for the last several years. Here is one from a few years ago.

#1 is soooo much like his father. I heard this conversation the other day: #2: It’s like being put in Juvey! #3: What’s Juvey? #2: Juvenile Hall. #3: What’s Juvenile Hall? #1: It’s like prison for kids, only worse. They don’t have any libraries! I thought to myself, that is probably what Hubby thinks Hell is…life with no libraries.

I do like my books.

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What Biblical Scholars Do

I liked this post from Pete Enns. Not everyone understands what it means to be a biblical scholar. Pete makes the analogy of putting together a puzzle. Some think they have all the pieces already. Some believe they know in advance what the picture is. Making sense out of the Bible is not always easy. We would like it do be. We even look for simplicity in our answers. “That’s what it says, that’s what I believe.” But, does the Bible really say that?

This past semester was particularly rough. I started offering my class, Introduction to the New Testament, as a hybrid. This took additional time formatting the new website for the course, creating additional content, and monitoring the usage by students. This took a lot more time than I expected. I still have more work to do on the Old Testament course. I have a better idea of how things work, but I’ve still got a lot to learn.

I’m also working on a new sermon series. I asked the congregation if they had any questions they would like answered. These questions can be about God, the church, spiritual growth, spiritual disciplines. Any questions they had about theology or religion are encouraged. I’ll answer these questions in sermons in July and maybe August.

If you have any questions, let me know. I’ll do my best to answer them.

“I was really dreading this class. No, really. I only signed up for it because nothing else was open. I was not looking forward to it at all.” 

Tonight I finished my class teaching New Testament at the local community college; at least this was the last face-to-face contact I would have with the students. The rest of the material will be completed online. After we finished up, one student hung back. He opened with the initial paragraph. And then he finished: 

“But you made this subject really interesting. You held my attention. I learned so much.”

And then he asked where I preached. Many students have said they’d come visit the church where I preach. I’ve yet to have a student actually show up. Many have promised. I remain hopefully.

Still, I believe that seeds were planted. God and Jesus were introduced to those who had never known him before. These are the students for whom I teach.

This is probably why I don’t do more counseling.

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.'” (Luke 14:16-20, NRSV).

I have been teaching Bible classes at the local community college for several years now. The students like to make excuses. “I’m working with a youth group. I can’t be there tonight.” “My father is sick. I can’t be there tonight.” “I just got a new guitar in the mail. I can’t stay tonight.” It amazes me sometimes. 

“Do we have to stay the whole time?” “It’s so nice out, can’t you let us go early?” “The doors aren’t locked,” I tell them. “Leave if you think you must. But understand that your choices have consequences.” If you can pass the tests without the information I’m giving you (I’ve yet to meet anyone who has been able to.), I’ll not waste your time. If you don’t care about your grades or the content of the class (a more likely scenario), don’t waste my time. It’s worse when they attend and don’t want to be there. They read (other material, usually magazines), surf the internet, talk to their neighbors. I’d rather you just left. Don’t disrespect me or your classmates.

“I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet” (Luke 14:24, NRSV).

I took my home school high school team to the district Odyssey of the Mind competition this weekend. Odyssey of the Mind is an extra curricular activity that promotes creative thinking and problem solving. It was our first year competing. They’ve worked hard at the competition. I wasn’t able to be with them all the way, but part of the requirement is that they do their own work. They can’t receive “outside assistance.” There are penalties assessed for receiving help from anyone who  is not on the team. 

The Team placed first in the district. We now have to decide if we’re going on to the state competition. I hadn’t actually planned for us to make it that far. I assumed we were competing against teams that had done OM for years; knew what they were doing and how to compete. I told one mother that my goal for the team is that they not embarrass themselves. They certainly didn’t. 

I’m very proud of this group of young people. They performed admirably. 

On Friday evening I began teaching Introduction to the New Testament at the local community college. I believe this is the seventh year I’ve taught this class. This is the first time I’m teaching it as a hybrid; half the class will be physically in class and the rest online. I’ve never taught an online class. I’ve never taken an online class.

It’s taken a while to convert my two classes to this new format. After all that work, the first class, Introduction to the Old Testament, didn’t make. Not enough students registered to make it worthwhile for the college to offer it. The college had some problems registering students at the beginning of the semester. They were using new software and it crashed the system the first week. I’m hoping this is the reason the first course didn’t make. The second class is full. I didn’t have all of the students who registered show up the first weekend, but I did have my largest class yet. Evidently, this mixed format of in person and online is popular. I think I’m going to like it. It gives some new possibilities for interaction with students, and everyone has to participate.

I wake up early on Sunday mornings. Usually around 4:00, 4:30 I get up, get a cup of tea, and sit down with the sermon for that day. I spend some time going over it in my mind. Checking notes. Adding comments. I’ll look over the Bible lesson, too. If I have time I’ll turn on the TV and watch some other preachers. We don’t have cable, so this is about the only day I find them on.

I’m troubled by what I often hear. There are some I can listen to longer than others, but there is a good bit that I don’t find biblical. Sure, they quote Scripture in their sermons, but they’re not reading it the way I’m reading it. They’re finding things there that don’t match my understanding or my experience.

In his book, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

Well-meaning people tell us that the Christian gospel will put us in charge of life, will bring us happiness and bounty. So we go out and buy a Bible. We adapt, edit, sift, summarize. We then use whatever seems useful and apply it in our circumstances however we see fit. We take charge of the Christian gospel, using it as a toolbox to repair our lives, or as a guidebook for getting what we want, or as an inspirational handbook to enliven a dull day. But we aren’t smart enough to do that; nor can we be trusted to do that. The Holy Spirit is writing us into the revelation, the story of salvation. We find ourselves in the story as followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him and we obey–or we do not. This is an immense world of God’s salvation that we are entering; we don’t know enough to use or apply anything. Our task is to obey–believingly, trustingly obey. Simply obey in a ‘long obedience.’

Not all of life is ‘fixed’ by becoming a Christian. In fact, some of it is a good deal harder. That “love your enemies” part sometimes gives me fits. And yet, we are called to obedience. We go where we’re sent. We do what we’re told. We follow the one who lived life to the fullest and died on a cross.

2011 was a really hard year. Almost one year ago this week I was offered a severance package and invited to leave the congregation where I currently minister. We have been here seven years. This is the first indication I had that anyone was dissatisfied. I was shocked.

I politely declined the offer and kept going. I worked on some areas of ministry the leadership felt were deficient and kept going. We looked into other ministry opportunities, but kept going. We’ve had some leadership changes and we’ve kept going. 

We felt that God had called us to Greenville and had not yet indicated that it was time to leave. My wife and I have usually known when God was signaling us to move on. That time hadn’t arrived yet. I just didn’t know if the eldership here would come to the same conclusion.

I was encouraged by this quote from Henri Nouwen,

Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.

 
Much of the turmoil of the past year has now passed. I am more secure and confident in my ministry. I shouldn’t have been surprised. God has always been faithful in the past. God has always provided for our needs. It’s just so hard to remember that in the midst of crisis. 
 
Somehow, God has given me the gift of tenacity. This is not the first time ministry has been difficult. I hold on. When others would give up, I hold on. When others would give in, I hold on. I believe that’s a valuable gift in the ministry. We need thick skin. We need to worry more about what God thinks of us than others. We need to trust in God more than we trust in ourselves or others. God is faithful.