Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What They Don't Teach You in Bible College/Seminary...

I officiated my first funeral this past weekend.  I'll be honest with you - I was nervous, like to the point of hyperventilating in the car ride to the funeral home... twice.

The week prior several things struck me, mostly while I was sitting in a local Starbucks preparing the funeral message.  You see, while I was sitting there figuring out how to write a sermon that doesn't sound like a sermon, that will both comfort those who are mourning and challenge those who are lost, I found myself staring off into the distance having a lot of those "thinking dazes."

While I was "thinking," I saw someone that attends the local seminary up the road working away on some sort of exegetical paper.  This person was digging hard into their word study, making sure that all their lexical ducks are in a row as they attempt to fill out 20-30 pages worth of substance on what I am sure is less than 5 Greek or Hebrew words.

So, I sat there staring at them (hopefully not for too long) remembering fondly how I used to do that.  I used to dig deep into the meanings of words and the placement order of a passage.  I used to chart out my word studies lining up the prepositions, pointing back and forward and highlighting all of the different nuances.  What grammatical Greek fun was had!

But not on Friday afternoon.  No, on Friday afternoon, I sat there staring at a Seminary student who was learning how to rightly divide the Word of God, which is so very important; while I was sitting there attempting to write something I never learned how to do in all of my years of schooling.  Because of this, I have thought through several things now that I believe you will never be taught (at least not unless you seek it out) in Bible College/Seminary that I have now discovered in my short time as an associate pastor.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. How to listen and not debate.
2. How to listen and then respond in prayer.
3. How to offer compassion, not sympathy.
4. How to learn from people who have far less educational experience and knowledge than you do.
5. How to write a funeral message.
6. How to write a wedding message.
7. How to treat people as souls and not things to fill with knowledge.

I'm sure there is more that I will find out along the way, but man, what an interesting journey it has been so far!

Monday, January 23, 2012

For your enjoyment...

In my day job, I get to talk to people about how they read their Bible, helping them along with their journey/walk/trek with Christ.  Trust me, I know that I am incredibly blessed.  I actually get to sit down with people and talk to them about the Bible.  It's fascinating, and I am still amazed almost every single day when I sit down at my desk to tackle another day.

Reading has never been a problem for me.  I was always an avid card carrying member of my local library and devoured the Summer Reading Program list every year by June since the age of 5.  Remember the Pizza Hut Book It program?  You know, where you read so many books and then you get a free personal pan pizza of your own choice?  No?  Well, let's just say, I had a free pizza there every month.  It rocked!

So, when it comes to reading, I have no problem with reading the Word.  I love to read.  God has designed something in me that enjoys that enjoyment of holding a book, reading a line or verse, letting it soak, thinking over it, and then continuing on with the rest of the story.

What then, do you do when you really do not enjoy reading?  I hear this a lot, from people of all ages, sizes and genders - "Yeah, I don't like to read."

The first few times I heard someone say this to me, I felt like a bit of my soul was being stepped on.  Don't like to read?  What does that mean?  What about poetry?  What about prose?  What about fantasy, adventure, and story?  For the love of all that is good, WHAT ABOUT STORY?????

Time has moved on though, and I have had more conversations where this has been said that now besides that statement doing actual damage to my reader soul, I have learned to soak it in and move on rather quickly to an answer for the problem of the willful illiterate.

The answer is this - you don't have to like to read to be a student of the Word of God.  Don't misunderstand me, you do have to actually read the Word of God to be a student of it.  A dislike of reading does not mean that you do not read it.  It means that you learn to read the Bible, you study it, and you let the living, active part of Its Being take care of the rest.  And just because one that does not like to read learns to read the Bible (and actual comes to enjoy reading it), does not mean that they will then like to read other things.

Here is the difference - the variable, if you will - the Bible is different than any other thing you will ever read.  Yes, it has story; yes, there is beautiful poetry; yes, there are fantastical chapters filled with language of things that our minds have a hard time comprehending (I'm looking at you 7-headed dragon sweeping stars down with your tail) - but it is the very Word of God.  It is not inspired by any writer in this world, it inspires the world of writers.

The Bible is so incredibly different than any other book.  You see, you don't have to read it cover to cover in that order.  You can start somewhere in the middle.  And you actually don't have to race through it to discover the plot as it thickens page after page, you can read it slowly, meditatively - letting what you have read be digested by your mind and soul.  Reading the Bible should not be an exercise in training your eyes to read, but it actually should be an exercise in awakening your soul to what it has missed for so long.  Each page, each sentence, each word is there for you.  Imagine that?  Things that were written thousands of years ago, with a purpose for someone thousands of years ago is still purposeful to you now today.  Fascinating.

Let me leave you then with a few tips I give to new readers of the Word, or to those who simply "don't like to read."

1. Read the whole Bible, but don't start with Leviticus.

Meaning, the entire Bible is inspired and relevant for you.  Don't cut out something because you may think it is boring or don't understand it.  We have heretics for that.  But, at the same time, let's be honest about your level of reading and understanding.  Maybe it's time to start with a short book like Philippians.

2. Read the entire book at a time.

If you are going to begin with Philippians, then read all of Philippians.  Don't read a chapter of it, and then start on another chapter in another book.  All of Philippians was written and recorded all together, so read it all and then move on.

3. Don't be afraid to read something again.

If you are enjoying something a lot, then read it again.  You would be surprised how re-reading something will help with the whole "meditating" aspect of reading your Bible.

4. Be smart about the chronology.

If you are completely new, then you may not want to read the Bible backwards.  You may be a little confused if you read the book of 2 Kings and then 1 Kings, or Exodus and then Genesis.  However, you don't need to read Genesis then Exodus then Leviticus.  You could read Genesis and then Matthew and then go back to Exodus.  This brings us to our last point.

5. Read it to remember it.

This is not a beach novel or something that you are reading to check off on your list, which will then "fall off the shelf."  The entire Bible has a theme and a continuous story of God's revelation.  It all fits together.  So, if you read Genesis, know that parts of it are continuous to Exodus, and realistically to the rest of the Scriptures.  Read the parts in light of the whole.

6. Yeah, I know I said #5 was the last point, but this one is hopefully a gimme.  Enjoy your time with God!  Think of it as a love letter, think of it as your instruction, think of it as whatever you will, but for goodness sakes - Enjoy it!  Let your soul resound with Psalm 119:111 which says, "Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart."  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Once again, I give you...

Well, here we are again - the second day of a New Year.  Last year, I attempted to set out some resolutions, and of course succeeded in some and failed miserably in others.  But that is life!  We can plan to attempt to do something, but the course that is laid out for us will not set us up to do those things, or we are simply lazy.  I like to look at it as choice #1.  : )

This year, I am determined to do a few things, once again.  So, here we go... again:

1. I will NOT eat at McDonald's this year.  Lately, anytime that I succumb to eating there quickly as I am out and about it leaves me anything but satisfied - actually feeling mostly greasy and a little heartache-ey.  So, McDonald's, you are out.  It's been real, but something changed.  Whether it was me or you, who can say?  I can't really say, "It's not you, it's me," because I am pretty sure it is you - it has always been you!

2. I am going to read more.  I don't think I want to put a number on this, because that is not what I am getting at.  I read a lot, mostly for my day job.  Mostly things that are interesting, but not typically something I would just love to sit down and read.  So, aside from what I have to do, I want to read more.  I want to read more stories, read more books on theology, read that Bonhoeffer bio that has been sitting on my shelf since it came out to print.  You know?  I want to read more!  And for those of you who are like me, feel free to check this amazing site out to keep track of what you read.

3. I am going to lose weight.  It has to be done.  I am the ripe age of 29, which means that if the world is still kicking on my doomsday birthday, I will be turning 30 this year.  Apparently things shift and change and all sorts of stuff, so I need to lose weight and get some sort of stability in this area before the great shift happens.  In order to achieve this goal, I am using livestrong to log my calorie intake and accountability to keep me working out!  Yep, I am actually being held accountable to make sure that my butt is moving!

I think that is it.  As always, there is the general niceties like write more often, stay on budget, be more friendly to people (I am told that I have a wall), and the like - but I want to keep things simple this year.  So, there you have it.  What's yours?