Adjusting to Being a Student Again

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I’ve turned in my research paper and finished my final exam – my first seminary class is done!  Thank you to all of you who have supported me (to the ladies at The River who paid for my books!) and encouraged me not to lose sight of the end (you who take my phone calls when I need to vent, you know who you are!).  A special thank you to Lynn Haven UMC who has been flexible with me studying, travelling for class, and given me a quiet office space.

For Introduction to the New Testament I read 6 books (about 1400 pages) this fall, and listened to some 40 hours of lectures online or in person, wrote a research paper on interpretations of Luke 16 (the Parable of the Dishonest Steward), and took two exams.  I have no idea how people in full-time ministry with families can take more than one class at a time!  (Be nice to pastors you know who are still in school!)

I discovered that I procrastinate by cleaning and doing laundry, so my house is still looking pretty good.  Ha ha.  I really enjoyed the academic work, but that is my nature.  I was overjoyed to discover that my background in sociopolitical systems and other cultures is very relevant to modern Biblical studies.  I found time management challenging – it was difficult to evaluate how much time to give to various projects, since they always expand to fill whatever time is allotted.  I was annoyed to have to give up other activities to make time for studying… (I am coming back to tennis, I promise!)  I struggled to keep things in perspective – when I had 100 pages of reading to do and it was 10pm, but my teenager wants to talk… then I would choose to set the book down and talk.  In the end I keep reminding myself – I have a family, a job, a ministry, and friends – seminary is extra.  Stay with it for the long haul, but keep it in its proper place.

Thanks to all who have asked how I am surviving.  Now, time to celebrate!

5x5x5 Bible Reading – Revelation

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Dear 5x5x5 readers,

We have come at last to the end, The Book of Revelation is the last book in the Bible and the last we will read on our journey through the New Testament in a year.  Congratulations to all who are still reading with us!

Revelation is clearly one of the most complicated and neglected books in the Bible.  We know that it is important, but we cannot figure out what to do with all the symbolism and strange events, and we end up ignoring it completely.  Consider whom it was written to and why, and perhaps that will give us a start.  The consensus is that the Apostle John wrote Revelation while in exile on the island of Patmos (a Mediterranean Alcatraz of sorts!)  He wrote it around 90 AD, some 60 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the birth of the church at Pentecost.  Churches across the Roman empire remained small, scattered, and persecuted.  Jerusalem had been destroyed.  It was undoubtedly difficult for Christians to persevere, there was doubt, conflict, and disappointment that Christ had not yet returned and set things right in the world.

To these little, persecuted, frustrated church communities John writes the letter of Revelation.  The book is firmly rooted in the historical context of the Roman Empire.  As you read, work to identify broad themes.  Who is God?  How is He working in human history?  Who is Jesus Christ?  What happens to evil in the world?  Is there any hope?  Where does real power lie?  What is the end of the story?  Try not too get too caught up in figuring out the sequence of events, or what various symbols mean – much of it remains a mystery and many commentaries have been written on such things with no agreement.  Remember that Revelation was not written to give us a precise timeline of history, but rather to offer hope and encouragement.

(update) For those who asked for a commentary recommendation – I am reading and loving Revelation by Leon Morris, 2009, part of the Tyndale New Testament commentary series.  It is written for a pastoral/ministry audience (not an academic one) and is very balanced.  It is also firmly rooted in the historical context of the original audience, so many of the symbols they would have understood are explained.  Dispensationalists would not like it.

“To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power forever.” – Revelation 5:13

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Thessalonians

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Dear 5x5x5 Bible Readers,

The last few chapters of the Gospel of John told the story of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after His resurrection.  It’s interesting that our reading plan then moves to the letters to the Thessalonians, a church that was afraid perhaps they had missed the second coming of Jesus.

When Paul visited Thessalonica (in modern Greece) in about 49AD many came to faith in Jesus, but there was also a riot and he had to escape in the night.  (Read about it in Acts 17.)  Paul’s first letter to Thessalonians is one of the earliest letters he wrote, just a year or two after his visit that launched the church.  In the letters we see Paul’s warm pastoral heart for this young church.  He is excited for their genuine faith, and he longs to see them again.  Paul writes less about doctrine in these letters, and much more about what faith looks like, how to live, enduring persecution, and having hope.  These themes continue into 2 Thessalonians, though Paul is not quite as warm in tone.

“Never tire of doing what is right.” 2 Thess. 3:13

The end of the year is quickly approaching, and we have only 2 Peter and Revelation left to read!  Congratulations, and hang in there!

5x5x5 Bible Reading – Gospel of John

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Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

Today we started reading in the Gospel of John.  John’s gospel is entirely different in vocabulary, style, and purpose than Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  Remember this, the gospels were not intended as biographies.  Each Gospel writer selected from a much larger pool of information the material which would serve his purpose.  John was not primarily interested in relating the events of Jesus’ life, and he leaves out a great many details that are covered in the other gospels.  He presumes his readers are already familiar with Jesus.

John introduces Jesus as the adult Son of God.  John is focused on explaining the profound meaning of Jesus’ teachings and actions.  John selected stories from approximately twenty days in Jesus’ life, and arranged them to reveal to us a Messiah with a mission.  As you read watch for:
– The “Seven Signs” or miracles John shares and consider what they reveal about the identity of Jesus.
– The “I am” statements of Jesus and consider what they reveal about His identity.
John is telling each story for a reason – he is explaining who Jesus is and what His mission was.

Enjoy!

5x5x5 Bible Reading – 1 Peter

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Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers,  Welcome to 1st Peter this week!  You know Peter – a fisherman, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples, the one who walked on water, also the one who denied knowing Jesus – Peter, the rock, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Pentecost.  Peter writes this letter from Rome, late in his life, to Christians who are enduring hardships and persecution across the Roman empire.

1st Peter is a letter of encouragement, speaking into the lives of those who are suffering.  Important themes in 1 Peter are:
– the identity of a believer (reborn into a new family, exiles and sojourners, a royal priesthood, and a chosen people),
– a call to holiness and good character in keeping with the standards of their new family,
– persevering through suffering,
– a living and eternal hope,
– submission and humility, and
– the coming judgment.

I’m actually teaching 1st Peter this fall at The River, and it is such a rich text – full of encouragement in suffering, and reminders of our identity and our future.  As the world seems a bit crazy these days, and many are suffering, the words of Peter are timely.  Be encouraged.

5x5x5 Bible Reading – 1, 2 & 3 John

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Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers,

After our short stay in the pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy (in Ephesus) and Titus (in Crete), we turn now to the letters of 1, 2 & 3 John.  The John that is writing is an apostle, one of the “sons of thunder” who knew Jesus personally.  He wrote the gospel according to John earlier, to introduce Jesus to those who did not know Him.  Now, much later in life, he is writing to those who are already Christians.

These letters address the behavior of those who claim to be Christians.  You will see repeatedly the phrase, “If we claim…” which is followed by clear expectations of the behavior of a Christian.  John’s themes are simple and straightforward on topics of light/darkness, truth, love, sin, and obedience.  John was probably the last surviving apostle when he wrote these letters, and he fights vigorously against the corruption of a true faith.  It’s refreshing to see such clarity!

5x5x5 Reading Plan – 2 Timothy

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Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

I have just a few words as we started reading 2 Timothy today.  You already know the relationship between Paul and the young pastor Timothy who was laboring in Ephesus.  This letter is Paul’s farewell address, his last known correspondence.  Paul is “passing on the torch” to the next generation as he knows his death is near.  As a result, Paul writes on themes of staying strong, holding fast to the truth, preaching the Word in and out of season, training others who will carry on the kingdom work, and finishing the race well.  He gives warnings regarding quarreling and the dangers of self-seeking godlessness.  Paul finished well, but he certainly felt rather alone and abandoned – he had perhaps no idea that his labor would still be bearing fruit two thousand years later.  Praise God for a life lived in surrender to Christ!