Giving of our _ _ _ _, our treasure, and our talents.

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As a full-time seminary student (ATS represent!), part-time pastor (no such thing if you’re doing it right), husband (guy who mows the yard, remembers birthdays and anniversaries, and honors his wife), father (provides spiritual guidance as well as embarrass his children in front of their friends), and a guy holding down a full-time secular career (amazed that he hasn’t gotten fired yet for missing work due to the previously listed items), to say I have demands on my time is an understatement! I list all of that not to brag or attempt to gain sympathy, but to illustrate a point…

I’m kind of busy.

I am not alone in this busyness; it is all around us. You’re probably sitting reading this there at your desk, kitchen counter, or in the drive-thru line at school right at this very moment… taking a breather between the next thing that requires your time. There are constant demands on our time, and each new request requires giving up time that can be spent on other needs. As I’m writing this blog post, I should be authoring a 10-page final paper for a class, but I’m taking the time to share a confession instead…

I don’t take enough time to spend with God.

There, I said it. It’s out in the open now. Whew!

Am I alone in this? I’m going to take a wild guess and say, “that’s a big NO there Jas-a-roon-oh.” (Sorry… I really shouldn’t do accents, especially in the written word.)

Here is where things get a little sad (but also exposes a glimmer of hope)…

We do this to ourselves.

I didn’t have to accept God’s call and take on the workload of graduate school (though I could not imagine all of the blessings that have come from it already). I didn’t have to accept God’s blessing and marry my wife (though I can’t imagine accomplishing all that I have without her). We don’t have to tell our children “yes” when they want to join a sports team. We don’t have to tell our pastor “yes” when he asks you to help lead a ministry (as much as he may want you to!). There are so many “good” things to which we could say no. Unfortunately, we don’t say it because we tell ourselves, “that will be good for me” or “it would be good for Bobby Sue to play on that travel team (name changed, my apologies if your child is named Bobby Sue).”

“If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”

Now we know that Satan can’t actually make us do anything, he, after all, was conquered by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He does, however, retain the power to tempt us to do all sorts of bad things. The crux being, as I’ve pointed out above, we can get busy doing many good things as well as bad. The point is, all of the things we do are distractions. They are distractions from being in a personal relationship with God.

Now here’s the hook… here’s the rub… here’s the application (as my preaching textbooks say)…

We can choose to take more time to be with God… wait… not take… give more time to God. Wait (again), how can I give God time, he’s God?! Spend time with God? Ehhh… forget it…

Whatever word or term you use, there must be more of it set aside for growing in our relationship with our creator. He, after all, has created all of this thing we call time.

I recently gave the most hypocritical sermon I have ever given. I stood in front of the congregation describing all of the important reasons we should be spending more time with God, knowing that I was not doing an adequate job of it myself. As I said the words, I could feel the Holy Spirit convicting me of the plank in my eye, and I may have even said something along the lines of, “your pastor needs to learn this message as much as anyone in the room.”

This convicting illuminated the hope that I alluded to earlier. I had the power to make my own decisions. I chose right then to grow and mature in my spiritual formation and set upon asking God for his help in this quest. You see, while you may have the blessing of free will, nothing is possible without God. With his help, I have embarked upon a series of practices that include; getting up at 5:00 am for an hour spent in the Word and intercessory prayer, meeting with and absorbing spiritual formation practices from other pastors, devotional readings from the saints that came before us, and I regularly pray throughout my day with a small leather notebook filled with the names of those for whom I pray (You’ll not find me without this important journal of praises and concerns). This list is not all-inclusive, nor is it an attempt on my part to “earn grace,” but merely tools to recognize the grace that is already being poured out in my life.

You’re probably thinking, “But Jason, you just listed all kinds of new demands on your time!” and you’d be half right. With the insight and strength gained during these times of devotion, I am better equipped to face my day and the challenges that it will present. I’m also more willing to say, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to decline” to new requests and more accepting of less than perfect scores on coursework.

While I did add spiritual practices to my schedule, I now do not consider this a demand at all, but an invitation… an invitation to grow in my relationship with Christ.

This is an invitation that is open to all.

Every good relationship we have, or have had in the past, requires time spent with the other person. Real time. Real sharing. Real emotions. Real… love.

Please don’t neglect the most important relationship of your life.

God is love.

-Amen

 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.  – James 1:22-25

 

 

 

 

Obedience.

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Do a Google search for images using the word “Obedience” and you’ll be greeted by an assortment of images falling into one of two categories… religion or dogs. Go on. Try it. I’ll wait a moment for you to click back to this page.

Times up!

Why are the top images for the word obedience related to God and doG? Is there a correlation due to the spelling, as I’ve highlighted by my use of the capital “G”? Is there something else at play here?

When we give a dog a command, do we have its best interest in mind? (Other than the quick answer of, “Ha! Not when I tell him to get me a beer!”) Let’s look at some of the commands we may give a dog. (And in full disclosure here, I do not have, nor have ever had, a dog.)

When we yell, “STOP!” at our dog that’s about to run out into the street, aren’t we looking out for his best interest? Can you think of other commands that are for his good? What about when we talk him for a walk? Is that in his best interest or ours? Granted we also benefit from the exercise, not to mention the lack of poop on the floor.

What about when God gives us a command? Is he looking out for our best interest, or just wanting us to do cheap parlor tricks?

God gives us commands because it’s in our best interests as well. But due to our lack of obedience we tend to mess up things in our lives, as well as the lives of others.

What follows is a highlight from my experiences over the past week as I seek to come more fully into obedience with the path he is leading me on my walk of faith with him.

Last week one of my assignments posed the following question:

What are the most significant insights into the nature of the life of faith that church needs to hear? Why?

I present to you my answer that I would go on to develop into a 30-minute sermon on the example of obedience that Jesus provides to us with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem given yesterday as my first Palm Sunday Service.

“The single most significant insight into the nature of the life of faith can be précised with just a single word…

“Obedience.”

If forced to give more than one word, it would be…

“Absolute unfailing obedience to our Lord.”

Every downfall of man, every… single… one… can be traced back to our failing to follow the commands of our God. Adam and Eve broke the one rule they had to follow! The people of Israel… golden calf… one rule again.

Jump forward to our times and us “moderns” living under the New Covenant.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NRSV)

Cheat on your spouse? Broke the one rule. Murder your brother? Broke the one rule. Get drunk and wrap your car around a telephone pole? Broke the one rule. Become arrogant and bring destruction down upon your head? Broke the one rule. Sit on your hands afraid to step out in faith and accept your calling into full-time ministry for six years? Broke. The. One. Rule. (Only one of those was me by the way!)

We must as Christians be obedient to our Lord and Savior. Why? We’ve already established that we cannot earn our salvation, that it is an utterly free gift received by grace through faith, then why must we be obedient?

God has shown in his glory since before he brought order to the chaos that he has our complete and total best interests at the very core of his being. When we are not obedient we are doing something that is going to result in harm to us. In return, he only desires for us to be faithful and trust in him through our worship. And worship in its true obedient form is love. Holy. Complete. Love.

Amen?”

Deitrich Bonhoeffer said this about obedience and faith…

“For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Obedience is following a command when everything in us wants to do the opposite. Obedience is wanting to run out into that street to chase the spinning tires of the speeding car.

May we all seek greater clarity and discernment of that voice in our ear telling us not to poop on the floor.

Amen?

 

“Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.” – (Romans 16:25-26 NIV) 

 

 

Grace Chapel

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The sign modestly reads “Grace Chapel.”

This sign, and the picture of it, encapsulate everything one needs to know about the ministry of our brothers and sisters in Christ at the Korean United Methodist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. This congregation, nestled on a small parcel of land directly across the street from Indiana University, isn’t about flashy services, grand architecture, or giant pipe organs. This church, under the leadership and vision of Pastor Daeki Kim, is all about reaching an age group that most of us are ill-equipped to serve or even relate to… those going to college.

Here is the unassuming Pastor Daeki now!

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If the challenges of reaching these young men and women were not enough, they have the added focus of reaching international students. As you probably surmised from the sign, their specialty is reaching those from South Korea. But Pastor Daeki has dreams of having multi-national outreach and services involving students from all over the world!

Currently, the “year-round” members of this church (numbering less than 50) provide services to hundreds of students. The services offered are not just worship oriented, they include many educational, devotional, youth, and outreach programs. On Sunday many regular members attend an early service then move to their kitchen, where they prepare a traditional Korean meal for the students attending worship services later in the day. Think back to how appreciative you were of free food when you were in college, now imagine being in a country where you can’t easily find your version of “home-cooking.”

As you can guess, ministry, of this type is filled with difficulties. Please allow me to share some of their unique challenges:

  • A very limited number of “giving units” support hundreds of temporary visitors (i.e. students).
  • Pastor Daeki needs to teach his message in a very short amount of time.Existing students are graduating and new students are arriving each semester.
  • Being that Pastor Daeki and a large number of his congregation are Korean, our language differences can present challenges.
  • Greater than the language barrier; our cultural differences can be very pronounced.
    • We Americans can be like “bulls in a china shop” (quite unintentionally) while the Korean people tend to be reserved and humble. (I’ll never forget the look on the Pastor’s face as I neglected to take off my shoes when entering his home. He was quick to hide it, and would never call attention to my rude behavior, but I quickly realized my error).
  • And finally, did I mention these were college kids they’re ministering to?!

Here are some of their talented students now!

 

Pretty big list of challenges isn’t it? Would that be enough to discourage and scare you away from even attempting a ministry such as this? Most of us if being honest with ourselves would say, “No way, this isn’t for me!” But not Pastor Daeki, their church leadership teams, and their lay leaders. They stood up and said, “Here I am Lord!”

Here’s the wrinkle; here’s the need. This is the parsonage… the home… that Pastor Daeki, his beautiful wife, and their children live in…

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Looks quaint from this recent Google street-view doesn’t it?

Well here is a shot of the conditions within…

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Let that sink in a moment.

Here’s another…

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Out of respect for Pastor Daeki and his family, I’ll not show interior shots of the “livable” spaces. I’ll not show the evidence of rats and mice in the home. I’ll not show the cracking walls and the falling plaster. I’ll not show the single bedroom that the pastor, his wife, and his two very young children shared last winter because there wasn’t enough heat to warm the home.

What you do see in these pictures is mold, visible presence of standing water, and a foundation that you can quite literally see through.

These aren’t pictures from a third world country. These aren’t pictures from far off missionaries. This is Bloomington Indiana, USA… directly across the street from one of the most prestigious music schools in the world.

Thankfully before the cold weather arrived this year this came to our attention via the South East District’s amazing Superintendent, Beverley Perry. A team of volunteers descended upon this basement, killed the mold, painted every surface, fixed the furnace and heating ducts, and installed a new sump pit with a new pump.

These volunteers also stood up and said, “Here I am Lord!”

The repairs, while taking care of the immediate needs of health and warmth for the family, are just temporary in nature… they are a bandage. What this parsonage needs, and what this congregation cannot do on their own, is to be demolished and a new one put back in its place.

I can already see an argument forming in the minds of some to this idea (I say this because I myself thought it initially). Are you saying like I did, “Why not tear it down, fill in the hole, and pay the pastor a housing allowance?” or, “Why not just sell the property?” Or are you even thinking, “How did they let the home get in such disrepair?” This parsonage is not in this condition due to the competency level of their trustees, their leaders, or anyone else. The parsonage is in this condition because they were too busy doing the real ministry of Christ to worry about themselves.

Oh… did I forget to mention that Pastor Daeki awakes every morning… very early in the morning… walks across the alley, and leads a bible study? Did I mention that the family opens their home up to others? I probably don’t have to point out that most college students do not have a car on campus and this is particularly true for foreign students.

Pastor Daeki is not going anywhere.

Will you stand up and say, “Here I am Lord!”?

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Hey look, they’re silly just like us!!!

 

Like them on Facebook!

 

 

Deep Breath

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Ahhhhhhhhh. Deep breath… relax.

That’s the feeling I have right now though that is not me in this photograph. It’s surprisingly hard to find a picture of a man taking a deep breath. (I wonder if that’s because we so rarely do it.)

I’ve just finished with my January term class, TH601 – The Theology of John Wesley taught by Dr. Kenneth Collins. For those of you who do not know, John Wesley was an ordained Anglican Priest, who is credited with founding “Methodism.” Though you should also know that he was vehemently opposed to the Methodists splitting apart from the Church of England to form their denomination (the Methodists would wait until a few days after his death to make that jump).

This class was a new breed of learning for me; it is aptly named “intensive.” The format is one week of lectures on campus, one week of prep for the mid-term exam, and then one week of prep for the final exam. The mid-term was just two questions while the final was only one. My mid-term answers were seven pages long, and my final was four (still waiting for grades to be posted for the final). Interspersed through all of the lectures and exam questions was the required reading. This required reading consisted of four books all written by Dr. Collins, as well as 49 Wesley sermons.

Oh, and did I mention the class assignment? It was outlining 16 of Wesley’s sermons. Sounds easy right? Yeah…about that. John Wesley lived for most of the 1700’s. His writings are appropriately 18th century English. Our assignment was to summarize each paragraph of each sermon and put it into our words, in modern English, naturally. I finished my assignment with just a few hours to spare, and it was 11,000 words covering 43 pages (single spaced).

I am seriously considering not taking an intensive next January!

The good news is that this class, while an incredible experience, is now behind me. I have the next eleven days to take a few deep breaths and relax. I’m already getting antsy, though. I keep eyeing my syllabi of the three classes I’m taking for the Spring semester that starts February 8th. I can’t help but think I’m missing a great opportunity to work ahead on those class assignments…

Reflections from the class:

Wesley was a wreck in his early life. Theologically his beliefs were all over the place. He would get started down a particular path of thought, following in the teachings of Luther, a’ Kempis, the Moravians, and many others, only to reverse course after discovering the truths as he saw them contained in Scripture. In his early life he was a Christian in word and deed, but not in his heart, and not from a place of love.

That all changed for him one evening at Aldersgate in England. That night Wesley would experience his profound conversion experience and set off down a path that led to his theological ordo salutis… his order of salvation. This doctrine of salvation would serve as the basis and framework for the group called “Methodist.” In this order is spelled out; how to seek one’s salvation from sin, how to seek one’s freedom from the bondage of sin, how to become liberated in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and how to become entirely sanctified (holy).

We Methodist don’t hear much about John Wesley’s theology in our churches now. We’ve drifted far from where he wanted us to be. That being said, we do some of the things he wanted us to be doing well… we feed the hungry, help the poor, and clothe the naked. But despite the politics, despite the press, despite the views of some of our leaders, we must get back to Wesley’s message… correction… the Gospel’s message… of the reconciling power of Jesus Christ.

In his early years, John Wesley was thrown out of nearly every church, he preached in. He was thrown out because he questioned the direction of his church. He was thrown out for confronting the hypocrisy he saw coming from the pulpit and the people. He faced those people he regarded as marginal Christians, those Christians that went to church every Sunday out of habit than out of an act of love and worship. He did this not to be a jerk, or because he thought he was better than others. He did this out of love. He didn’t want people to be content where they were, with the little they were doing. He called others to grow in their holiness to glorify God.

And when he was thrown out, when he was persecuted, God blessed him. He noted in his memoirs of those early days that when he started preaching on the atoning blood of Christ, and that Christ was the only way to salvation, the Spirit blessed, and the people came. The very first time he stepped up on a tree stump, the very first time he did “field preaching”, three thousand people showed up.

What do we do to revitalize and bring people to our churches of any denomination?

We preach about Jesus Christ. With every breath, we sing his praises. With every word we push people to be more than they are at this moment, but more humble than they were yesterday.

Jesus Christ is the source of this power. Jesus Christ is the source of this love.

Following Wesley’s conversion, he never waivered from his overriding theme of Holy Love and Sola Fide (Faith Alone)… that being it is only through the utterly free grace of God, and our faith in him, that we are saved. It is God’s love for us, and not our works that will provide our salvation, our “new birth” as a child of God, freed from the Spirit of bondage and liberated in the Spirit of adoption.

God is Love.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NKJV)

 

 

 

First Semester Complete!

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Wow, what a whirlwind the last 13 weeks have been. Final grades were posted last night, so I guess that means this first semester is in the books, and there is no going back. Let’s take some time to reflect on the lessons learned from this, my first semester in higher education.

First the stats:

  • 200+ = Pages written
  • 17 = Books read
  • 100’s = # of hours spent on assignments
  • 1000’s = # of hours of sleep lost
  • 3.9 = GPA

The statistics, while doing an excellent job of illuminating the challenges of the seminary (and I’d dare say any graduate school) experience, do not adequately portray the transformation that takes place in one’s mind. They certainly do not expose the deep personal lessons that were learned of one’s own “growth edges.” The numbers also don’t reveal the strengths one didn’t know they possessed, made known through the constructive feedback of learned professors.

I went off to seminary thinking I was going to be learning about God and wound up learning about myself. I expected I would go off to seminary and struggle to pass my classes, merely hoping to achieve minimum scores, and wound up thriving. I went off to seminary fearing my weaknesses only to have God turn them into strengths. I went off to seminary expecting to learn complicated theological and doctrinal concepts and wound up learning the proverbial “meaning of life”.

What lessons did I learn this first semester?

  • I learned a panoply of vocabulary words (panoply being one of them).
  • I learned that 6th-century Benedictine monks argued about silly things.
  • I learned that I have a love of writing and that my works are appreciated by others.
  • I learned that God loves me so immensely that he gave his Son to repair my relationship with him (and your’s as well).
  • I learned of evil.
  • I learned of righteousness.
  • I learned that God keeps his every promise.
  • I learned that I have a support network made up of friends, family, and partners that sacrifice for me, but more importantly, for God.
  • I learned that when God calls, you follow.
  • I learned that I do not have to think of the words, God will provide them.
  • I learned humility.
  • I learned to get out of the way and let God work through me.
  • I learned to recognize when I don’t do this.
  • I learned I needed accountability partners for the times when I’m not being humble when I’m not getting out of the way, and when I’m not recognizing this behavior.

I could go on and on with the list of revelations experienced within the classroom of my mind, but so many of the lessons are between God and I. Besides, it’s time for me to get back to my homework for the class that starts in just a few days.

In summary, I went to seminary expecting to learn complicated ideas about God and religion but instead learned the most basic of lessons…

God is Love.

 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:7-21, NRSV)

Finals week is quickly approaching…

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Wow.

It’s hard to believe that my first Finals Week is almost upon me. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago I was tackling my first assignments. For the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on the astonishing new revelations I’ve experienced over the last twelve weeks. I’ve learned many concepts and details about the love of Christ that were unfamiliar to me. But along with this new knowledge about God, I’ve also had manifestations of self-examination that reveal my strengths and weaknesses, or as we call them in seminary… growth edges.

I know I’ve spoken of this in the past, but if I was forced to use one word to describe seminary it would be “transformational.” Everyone I had spoken to who has attended used this word in describing the experience, now I see what they meant. The first twelve weeks have fundamentally transformed my relationships with God and the people I call friends and family. Because I am more fully coming to understand how freely God loves me, I can more effectively embody that in my love for others.

Preparations for finals week at the graduate level, from what I can see so far, differs from that of the undergrad system that my daughter Isabel is experiencing. I don’t have facts to memorize; I have papers to write. Long papers… very long papers. I’m finding that the length of the papers is the biggest challenge, but probably not in the way you imagine. If I have a paper that is required to be 9-12 pages my difficulty is not getting at least nine pages, it’s keeping the paper under 12 pages. I have so much that I want to say about God that I find it difficult to be bound by maximum page lengths. I remarked to one of my professors that I needed to write a book.

None of this transformation has been easy. When is radical change ever easy? There are two things that have lessened the difficulty found in this process. First and foremost is my God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has given me intelligence I do not possess. He has given me wisdom I have never had. Jesus has provided to me patience and a work ethic for my classwork that has not been demonstrated in my life to this point (though I have preached it to my children for years).

The other “thing” that has assisted me is the love and support of my friends and family. The biggest earthly support I have received is from my wife, Jennifer. She has carried the brunt of our daily activities on her shoulders. She has patiently accepted my late night study sessions. She has cooked the food, cleaned the house, completed the grocery shopping, helped with homework, and kept me in clean clothes mostly on her own. In the past, we have shared these responsibilities more equitably. She has even tolerated my reading to her passages from both my textbooks and additional research I do “on the side” for fun (who could have imagined that?). This is what she had to put up with last night:

“To be sure, though postmodernism claims to offer an imporvement over modernistic readings of humanity, it nevertheless continues with the same kind of reductionism and methodological hegemony that marked the logical positivists of the early twentieth century (Schlick and Carnap among them) and the radical scientific empiricists later on who, like B.F. Skinner, maintained that a human being is merely a repertoire of behavior and is, therefore, utterly explicable in terms of science in general and the environment in particular.” (from The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace by Dr. Kenneth J. Collins)

Catch all that? Now you see why I have a quickly expanding list of new vocabulary words contained within a notebook in my pocket!

My daughters Isabel and Emma have been a huge help as well. Isabel is kind enough to proofread her dad’s papers, though not so kind that she doesn’t end up putting red ink all over them! I suspect she’s enjoying repaying my years of editing her work. Emma is always quick to provide a hug and words of encouragement to me. At random times, she will just walk up and wrap her arms around me, and it just makes me melt.

To expand on the second “thing,” I’d like to add that my friends and supporters have been phenomenal in their inquiries about my well-being. Your questions and concern about my workload and life are very humbling to me as well as uplifting in my spiritual growth.

Classes officially end on December 18th, but preparations have already begun. Some of the multi-part finals that are required have already been completed. This weekend I will be working on the remainder of the assignments with the goal of having them submitted early while also completing the normal weekly assignments.

It may all sound overwhelming, but it isn’t. I am more relaxed now than I have been throughout this entire endeavor. I know that I am loved by God, by my wife, my children, my family, and my friends.

With God, all things are possible. Without Jesus, I would still be wandering in the wilderness of the world.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV)

Dreaming of Parables…

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I’ve heard that people who are learning a foreign language sometimes dream in that language. I’d love to claim that last night I dreamed (dreamt?) in the language of parables, but sadly my three hours of fitful sleep were spent dreaming of the process of interpreting parables. Just in case, you weren’t aware, there is a rather lengthy procedure one uses in seminary to interpret the teachings of Jesus. At Asbury Theological Seminary we call this scholarly process Inductive Bible Study.

So what is a parable anyway? A parable is…

noun

1.

a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

2.

a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.

So to dig a bit deeper an allegory is…

1.
a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.
So here is why I spent 30 hours staring at scripture, notes, handouts, and other resources, to try and interpret 7 parables that appear in Matthew 13… I had to figure out what is being compared…and what that means.
If we look at the parable of the mustard seed found in Matthew 13:31-32…

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (NRSV)

Seems pretty simple, right? Obviously, the mustard seed is small, and the tree is big. Jesus is saying the kingdom of heaven will start small and end up big. Correct? Well only partially correct! That answer isn’t good enough for us Biblical Scholars (Ha! Never thought I would say that about myself). You see I have to show evidence proving that is what Jesus meant, and that is where you quickly go down the rabbit hole. This is like when you were back in school and had a math problem, you couldn’t just write the answer, you had to show your work.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Depending on which version of the Bible you are reviewing these two lines of text are written in different ways. Some translations call that shrub a “garden plant,” some call it a “herb.” Then we have to look at the historical background. Did you know that people of the time might have viewed Jesus’s illustration of the mustard seed becoming a tree as a joke? Turns out the tallest one’s mustard plants only get to about 6 feet. Then we have to look at where different items contained in these two lines are used elsewhere in the Bible. Did you know that the “birds of the air” was most likely a reference to a dream that a king named Nebuchadnezzer had hundreds of years earlier, and that dream was detailed in the Old Testament in Daniel Chapter 4? Here’s the text…

The tree grew great and strong,
    its top reached to heaven,
    and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
12 Its foliage was beautiful,
    its fruit abundant,
    and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
    the birds of the air nested in its branches,
    and from it all living beings were fed.

Have I put you to sleep or made your brain hurt?

Well, interpreting those seven assigned parables is what I attempted to do for the past week. The assignment is due this evening at 11:55 pm, so far I’ve spent at least 30 hours on it and only have 3 of the seven complete. Supposedly we should only need to spend 12-15 hours a week on our assignment.

Oh did I forget to mention that we should also be creating a diagram for the parable that details our findings? Here… have a look at one of them I created (though all seven look very different)…

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Well, I’ve probably spent long enough whining about how long it takes to interpret parables… time I should have spent…interpreting parables. It’s really kind of shocking to think that as complicated as all of this sounds, it’s just an introductory class to Inductive Bible Study.

I hope my comments don’t come across as being ungrateful for this incredible opportunity. Despite this class’s challenges, it is proving to be one of my favorites. While it is amazing how the Bible read just as it  is communicates God’s teachings effectively, it is even more amazing how deep and rich those teachings are if you start delving into the full measure of what (and how) he is communicating them.

The message is overwhelmingly simple.

God loves you.

17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV)

-Amen

Week 4/5 Update.

Update Concept. Button on Modern Computer Keyboard with Word Partners on It.

Just wanted to take a moment and give a small update. I’ve been super busy with class work, family, friends, church, and work. Things are going very well. We’ve all settled into a balance that is working for everyone. My grades are much better than I ever would have expected. I’m not so much focused on getting A’s for the sake of getting A’s, but more to be an indicator that I am learning the materials that are presented.

The classes I’m currently taking are pretty amazing. I’m learning concepts that I didn’t even know existed. I’m debating theological doctrine that is way above my pay grade. I’m learning to study the Bible as theologians do. It’s all pretty heady stuff, and I never thought it would be possible for me.

This week Jennifer and I met one of my professors. We had a wonderful conversation about life and God and also found out he was on the committee that approved my exemption to attend the seminary without a bachelors degree.

Which leads me to why I’m here…why I’m doing the impossible. I’m here because of you, my partners. You saw a need, you gave willingly, cheerfully, and immediately. God took what you were giving and multiplied it. He used you as the spark to do a miracle in my life. Just as Jesus took the lunch of a small childtwo small fish and five rollsand fed 5,000, he has performed what I could never hope to attempt.

You accepted the call to give your lunch (money) to Asbury Theological Seminary in my name. You have created waves that will reach the distant shores of God’s kingdom in ways that neither your nor I can possibly imagine. I am forever grateful.

May God bless you and your generosity.

End of Week 2: Getting in the groove…

Bass-lesson-4

Okay, first off this post will have little to nothing to do with playing bass guitar. While I do in fact play bass guitar, I do not possess any of the skills that should be passed on to others. This image was the most appropriate out of all the ones I found when Googling “getting in the groove” so it appears here. I’m not sure why I’m telling you all of this other than I was up until 3 am, and I have drunk way too much coffee this morning.

Good morning! The end of Week Two has arrived, and I just submitted my last assignment for the week (15 hours early). It has been a challenging week, but it wasn’t filled with being overwhelmed like the previous week. Jennifer and I are starting to find a balance between work, life, and study. This balance means that I get to stay up late doing schoolwork, but it is going very well.

Each class has its challenging aspects, but each is proving to be fascinating and rewarding.

My Vocation of Ministry class had quite a bit of required reading, but I was able to get most of it done over the summer before classes started. Thankfully I highlighted the important bits so I’m able to find quick quotes that can be cited in my papers. This class also has a component of forming a “Christian Formation Group” and also an ethnically oriented service project. I’m blessed with a fabulous small group, so I get to kill two birds with one stone for this requirement (received approval from the professor, don’t worry).

My Basic Christian Doctrine class is very heavily online forum discussion based. There are brief assigned reading requirements, a few questions to be answered on those questions, and then 4-5 days of class discussion around the answers generated to the questions. This has been a great class so far. We have had some deep theological discussions about our belief systems and how we have come to those beliefs.

My Inductive Bible Study class will easily monopolize the most of my time. This week I started the process of studying the Book of Matthew. I spent at least 30 hours on writing a paper that was just three pages long. All of the concepts of this technique of study are completely foreign to me, so it has been a real challenge. This lack of knowledge affects all of us in the class (hence, why we’re in the class), so we are all in the same boat. I will say that I have already discovered so many things I didn’t know about this book, and about Jesus than I knew before. And I found these things on my own, using these techniques. That is very encouraging!

It looks like Mondays are going to be my slower days as it relates to school. I might even get a chance to do some of the readings that are due the next week. Tuesdays, on the other hand, are terrible. I have four online classes and three of those four have assignments due Wednesday at 5 pm after just being given the assignment on Tuesday at 7 am.

No matter the workload. No matter the long hours. No matter the lack of sleep. This is just such a HUGE blessing. So many people have been a part of making this blessing happen in my life. I want them all to know how much I love and appreciate them for what they are doing to support my family and I.

Many thanks to each and every one of you.

And of course, my thanks to God for giving me the strength and energy to do this. You give me answers to questions that I cannot fathom. You give me the wisdom I did not have. And you give me maturity I do not possess.

You all humble me beyond measure.

Amen!

     Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

First week’s assignments are complete!

lets-do-this-meme

Started classes on Tuesday morning and just submitted my final assignment for the week. For those keeping track, that is one day early!!! But what that more than likely means is that I have completely missed something I was supposed to do! I’ve poured over the syllabuses…er… syllabi(?), but don’t see anything jumping out at me.

This week I learned several important lessons about studying. I present them to you here as a top 10 list (ala David Letterman style):

10 – Every professor wants papers in different formats…good luck keeping them straight.

9 – Count on assignments taking you longer because you have to look up and learn what those formats even are.

8 – Make your wife drive everywhere so you can get reading done.

7 – Do not get behind… there is no time to make it up.

6 – There should only be one space after a period before the next word starts. Go figure.

5 –  Read assignment instructions carefully. Save yourself 9 HOURS of reading, highlighting, and tabbing, that you did not have to do.

4 – Sleep is overrated.

3 – Internet memes have no place in a class forum. (Thankfully I learned this before posting a meme, but it was close!)

2 – Coffee = Fuel

And the number one thing learned this week (as it relates to studying)…….. <drum roll>

You can have a life and go to Seminary, but that life must fit between 5:00-5:15 pm or 6:45-7:00 am!!!

All kidding aside, this has been a fantastic week. I have been blessed and humbled every step of the way. God has exposed my naivety, my ignorance, and my limited time as a Christian. But what he has also done is lift me up and given me energy when I was exhausted, given me words and knowledge I did not possess and surrounded me with friends and family that supports this endeavor.

Each day I have experienced and learned new and amazing things. Each day I was immersed in reading material that drew me in and expanded my view of God’s grace and love for all of us. This just shows God’s almighty power…trust me… I can show you how dry some of these textbooks appear. Not once did I ever become bored. Not once did I ever lose interest. The Holy Spirit was present and guiding.

Not only was this week of studying rewarding beyond measure, but it was also rewarding in service to God. This weekend was the annual Feed My Starving Children Mobilepack Event (https://fmsc.org/) at Asbury United Methodist Church (no affiliation with the seminary). This year I was blessed to take part in their efforts in organizing and raising money to purchase meals. Myself, my wife, and my youngest daughter all were able to work many shifts over the weekend. We were tired at the end, but it was the good kind of tired. The initial goal for the packing event was to pack 200,000 meals…then it grew to 225,000…and by the end of today’s last shift we had bought and packed 233,280 meals!!! This was enough meals to feed 639 children for a year. What a rewarding experience.

Well, that’s all I have time to write for now… time to read the entire book of Matthew twice before tomorrow night.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. — James 1:5-8