Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving Day, and I am sitting at Starbucks reading and studying as I wait for my wife to get off of work for the day. This Sunday marks one of the greatest periods of time within the Christian calendar: the beginning of Advent. However, before we arrive at the readings and anticipation of the next four weeks, we pause to give thanks to God. Believe it or not (Protestants) there are separate readings that are given for this day specifically; and it is those readings that I am focused on today.

The first reading is from Deuteronomy 8:7-18. It is here that the author describes the land that YHWH's people will enter into. It is a good land that has potential for great prosperity (water, wheat and barley, fruits and other food, bread in great abundance, raw materials, etc.) This is the land that YHWH is giving to his people. On this day, Thanksgiving, it is easy to see that the American land is similar, at least in potential, to that of the "land flowing with milk and honey." I am trying to be careful as to not make too many parallels that are dangerous (Americans as YHWH's chosen people, settlers serving under the hand of God at the expense of the natives, etc.), but I believe that the American land itself is a geographic place blessed with potential. However, the description of the land constitutes only the first four verses of the reading for the day.

The next eight verses command those who are the benefactors of such great blessing to "Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today." Take joy in the land, eat to your full. Multiply the silver and the gold. Build houses and live in them! But DO NOT forget that it was YHWH who brought you out of Egypt and out of slavery. Do not be so childish and ignorant as to believe that YOU, by your own might, deeds, or mind have created this good life. "But remember the Lord your God…"

The act of remembering the deeds and promises of the Lord constitute the central acts of his people throughout the story of Scripture. It requires a constant 'looking back' and remembrance to interpret ones' contemporary situation. The reality is that the Israelites never did figure this out and constantly faced the temptation to believe in their own works and abilities.

On this Thanksgiving, we need to pause and give thanks to our God for the blessings that are in abundance in the land of America. We are blessed (or cursed) with wealth and power. We are, according to law, free to practice our faith and do good works. There are great strides being made towards reconciliation between races, ethnicities, and nationalities. We are learning to value more greatly values such as equality and freedom.

But we have also constantly make the grave mistake of neglecting the plea that Deuteronomy makes. We have aligned the prosperity and blessings in the country with the works that have been done at the expense of our own energy. The thought runs rampantly that, "we deserve it." The perception of the American Dream is a great example of this: I had nothing, I worked hard, and now I have. It is by my own will power and effort. The prophetic voice of the church is that all belongs to God, and if one has been given much, it is God who deserves the glory and honor.

But those who are blessed with much are also created and required to be good stewards. In fact, this is our basic identity and job description: to be good stewards of creation in obedience to God. May we, on this great day of Thanksgiving, remember the hand of God throughout history and give thanks to him for the blessings that we have received. May we reject the temptation to applaud our own works. May we, with great humility, take joy in this land and time. But may we also, out of loving obedience, be good stewards of the blessings.


 

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving Day, and I am sitting at Starbucks reading and studying as I wait for my wife to get off of work for the day. This Sunday marks one of the greatest periods of time within the Christian calendar: the beginning of Advent. However, before we arrive at the readings and anticipation of the next four weeks, we pause to give thanks to God. Believe it or not (Protestants) there are separate readings that are given for this day specifically; and it is those readings that I am focused on today.

The first reading is from Deuteronomy 8:7-18. It is here that the author describes the land that YHWH's people will enter into. It is a good land that has potential for great prosperity (water, wheat and barley, fruits and other food, bread in great abundance, raw materials, etc.) This is the land that YHWH is giving to his people. On this day, Thanksgiving, it is easy to see that the American land is similar, at least in potential, to that of the "land flowing with milk and honey." I am trying to be careful as to not make too many parallels that are dangerous (Americans as YHWH's chosen people, settlers serving under the hand of God at the expense of the natives, etc.), but I believe that the American land itself is a geographic place blessed with potential. However, the description of the land constitutes only the first four verses of the reading for the day.

The next eight verses command those who are the benefactors of such great blessing to "Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today." Take joy in the land, eat to your full. Multiply the silver and the gold. Build houses and live in them! But DO NOT forget that it was YHWH who brought you out of Egypt and out of slavery. Do not be so childish and ignorant as to believe that YOU, by your own might, deeds, or mind have created this good life. "But remember the Lord your God…"

The act of remembering the deeds and promises of the Lord constitute the central acts of his people throughout the story of Scripture. It requires a constant 'looking back' and remembrance to interpret ones' contemporary situation. The reality is that the Israelites never did figure this out and constantly faced the temptation to believe in their own works and abilities.

On this Thanksgiving, we need to pause and give thanks to our God for the blessings that are in abundance in the land of America. We are blessed (or cursed) with wealth and power. We are, according to law, free to practice our faith and do good works. There are great strides being made towards reconciliation between races, ethnicities, and nationalities. We are learning to value more greatly values such as equality and freedom.

But we have also constantly make the grave mistake of neglecting the plea that Deuteronomy makes. We have aligned the prosperity and blessings in the country with the works that have been done at the expense of our own energy. The thought runs rampantly that, "we deserve it." The perception of the American Dream is a great example of this: I had nothing, I worked hard, and now I have. It is by my own will power and effort. The prophetic voice of the church is that all belongs to God, and if one has been given much, it is God who deserves the glory and honor.

But those who are blessed with much are also created and required to be good stewards. In fact, this is our basic identity and job description: to be good stewards of creation in obedience to God. May we, on this great day of Thanksgiving, remember the hand of God throughout history and give thanks to him for the blessings that we have received. May we reject the temptation to applaud our own works. May we, with great humility, take joy in this land and time. But may we also, out of loving obedience, be good stewards of the blessings.


 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Analysis of First Time Preaching

Well, it is now five days after my first preaching engagement ever. I have sat down to write about the experience on numerous occasions, but have not been able to fully digest those thoughts. I am making another attempt now.

It would be a great lie if I said that it didn't go well. There were, of course, a myriad of things that I wish I had said differently, structure that I wished I had followed more closely, illustrations that I wish I had included, and moments when I wish that I would have paused longer or spoken with more passion and emotion. But there will always be these types of things to work on. That is the nature of being human. That is the result of wanting to challenge oneselve to do better each time.

The greatest fears that I had leading up to the morning were not about content or information, but about the act of preaching themselves. Clarity of voice, speed, pronunciation, structure, flow, etc. And to those great fears I claim with confidence that God was with me. There may be many who disagree, but I was happy with the job that I did in those areas.

It was also encouraging, immediately following the service, when two different people approached me and said that the message really spoke to them. I realize that this may sound small, but when it is your first time, there is a craving to know that someone was impacted by the things you said and the time it took for you to put them together.

It was an important message I believe, and one that we need to continue to not only preach, but live out. The message of the Kingdom of God being for all people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, race, social, or economic status. We are people, and that unites us.

Since Sunday, I have had a shocking and surprising emotion, and that is a desire to preach again. I enjoyed the process of it, even through the stress. I enjoyed being committed to being in and studying the Scritpures. I enjoyed research for the sake of if benefiting others, not just for writing academic papers. I enjoyed discussing the themes and concepts with others. I believe that I was impacted greatly through the process of preparation.

But I also have a desire to preach again; as in the, the actual act of it. I not only felt energy, but I felt that I had/have something to offer. I have a heart for the people in this congregation, and I believe there are many struggles and questions that need to be addressed. I am so thankful for having a pastor and shepherd who is willing to "go alongside" his flock and be a gentle yet confident leader. It is something that I want to be and I want to strive towards. This is such a beautiful church, with beautiful people, and a beautiful example of sanctification at work.

Analysis of First Time Preaching

Well, it is now five days after my first preaching engagement ever. I have sat down to write about the experience on numerous occasions, but have not been able to fully digest those thoughts. I am making another attempt now.
It would be a great lie if I said that it didn't go well. There were, of course, a myriad of things that I wish I had said differently, structure that I wished I had followed more closely, illustrations that I wish I had included, and moments when I wish that I would have paused longer or spoken with more passion and emotion. But there will always be these types of things to work on. That is the nature of being human. That is the result of wanting to challenge oneselve to do better each time.
The greatest fears that I had leading up to the morning were not about content or information, but about the act of preaching themselves. Clarity of voice, speed, pronunciation, structure, flow, etc. And to those great fears I claim with confidence that God was with me. There may be many who disagree, but I was happy with the job that I did in those areas.
It was also encouraging, immediately following the service, when two different people approached me and said that the message really spoke to them. I realize that this may sound small, but when it is your first time, there is a craving to know that someone was impacted by the things you said and the time it took for you to put them together.
It was an important message I believe, and one that we need to continue to not only preach, but live out. The message of the Kingdom of God being for all people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, race, social, or economic status. We are people, and that unites us.
Since Sunday, I have had a shocking and surprising emotion, and that is a desire to preach again. I enjoyed the process of it, even through the stress. I enjoyed being committed to being in and studying the Scritpures. I enjoyed research for the sake of if benefiting others, not just for writing academic papers. I enjoyed discussing the themes and concepts with others. I believe that I was impacted greatly through the process of preparation.
But I also have a desire to preach again; as in the, the actual act of it. I not only felt energy, but I felt that I had/have something to offer. I have a heart for the people in this congregation, and I believe there are many struggles and questions that need to be addressed. I am so thankful for having a pastor and shepherd who is willing to "go alongside" his flock and be a gentle yet confident leader. It is something that I want to be and I want to strive towards. This is such a beautiful church, with beautiful people, and a beautiful example of sanctification at work.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Denominational Affiliation and Education

On the first class day of every quarter in seminary, each student is asked a set of questions to answer so that those in the class can become better acquainted with one another. These are usually:

  • Name?
  • Degree Pursuing?
  • Biographical history?
  • Plans for the future?
  • Denomination?

The answer to the denomination issue has always been blurry. I grew up Lutheran, my family switched to an Evangelical Free Church when I was in High School, and then I attended a non-denominational church during college. According to doctrine and theology, I have not assented to any one of these denominations beliefs. I have viewed this eclectic background and the experiences at the churches not only as okay, but as beneficial to a seminary degree. The thought was always, "every church has things wrong, so I might as well study the issues without bias."

I am beginning to wonder though how beneficial this stance of neutrality really is. For the fact of the matter remains that I will be leaving the liberal-academic institution within a few years, where I will be serving within the localized church. And this church (wherever it will be) will ascribe to particular doctrines. And those doctrines will be important to people.

I think it is a great privilege of the academic life to use a sifter when interpreting knowledge and information. And the creation and formation of this sifter is, in reality, one of the most significant contributions of the seminary education. It is a tool that we will use for the rest of our lives when we are ministry with real people and real issues.

I would love to do an independent study about denominations, and possibly try to find out doctrinally where I fall. I think it would be important, not to be tied down to a set of beliefs for the sake of a sense of knowing, but to have a base and framework with which to start. And then allow those base beliefs to be challenged or built up even stronger.

Denominational Affiliation and Education

On the first class day of every quarter in seminary, each student is asked a set of questions to answer so that those in the class can become better acquainted with one another. These are usually:

  • Name?
  • Degree Pursuing?
  • Biographical history?
  • Plans for the future?
  • Denomination?

The answer to the denomination issue has always been blurry. I grew up Lutheran, my family switched to an Evangelical Free Church when I was in High School, and then I attended a non-denominational church during college. According to doctrine and theology, I have not assented to any one of these denominations beliefs. I have viewed this eclectic background and the experiences at the churches not only as okay, but as beneficial to a seminary degree. The thought was always, "every church has things wrong, so I might as well study the issues without bias."

I am beginning to wonder though how beneficial this stance of neutrality really is. For the fact of the matter remains that I will be leaving the liberal-academic institution within a few years, where I will be serving within the localized church. And this church (wherever it will be) will ascribe to particular doctrines. And those doctrines will be important to people.

I think it is a great privilege of the academic life to use a sifter when interpreting knowledge and information. And the creation and formation of this sifter is, in reality, one of the most significant contributions of the seminary education. It is a tool that we will use for the rest of our lives when we are ministry with real people and real issues.

I would love to do an independent study about denominations, and possibly try to find out doctrinally where I fall. I think it would be important, not to be tied down to a set of beliefs for the sake of a sense of knowing, but to have a base and framework with which to start. And then allow those base beliefs to be challenged or built up even stronger.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Simeon Stylites

On Monday night, my Early and Medieval Christianity class began talking about monasticism and its rise. I was introduced to a monastic that I had never heard of before, and thought that his story was very interesting. Forgive me for making a grave academic failure, when I add the link to Wikipedia about him. Anyway, if you have time, enjoy reading about Simeon Stylites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites

Simeon Stylites

On Monday night, my Early and Medieval Christianity class began talking about monasticism and its rise. I was introduced to a monastic that I had never heard of before, and thought that his story was very interesting. Forgive me for making a grave academic failure, when I add the link to Wikipedia about him. Anyway, if you have time, enjoy reading about Simeon Stylites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Do Believe in Preaching

There has been a significant amount of time between this post and the previous. This is partly due to the busyness of life and the vast amount of writing being undertaken by the demands of an academic degree, but also due to the blurriness of thought and confusion. I find myself today, however, with a plethora of topics to write about.

In talking with family and friends, I described the previous week as one of the most difficult of my life. Yes, the schedule was very busy. Yes, it was midterms and I was forced to study and write. But capping off the busyness and midterms was the cloud of preaching hanging over my head. Next weekend, November 9th, I will be preaching at Elgin Community Church on the passage of Luke 4:14-30. Whereas this may be a routine experience to the veteran preacher, it just so happens that this is my first time.

And the confusion of thought and mind stem not only from rhetorical challenges, but from my own deeper questions of what it means to preach. Do I believe that preaching still plays an important role in our cultural context? Have I been called to the role of preacher? And if so, do I have a relationship with Christ that allows me the privilege of speaking into others' lives? Do I really have anything of value to share with a diverse congregation? Does my young age create a block to large for people to step over?

I have consulted numerous friends and family for wisdom in reference to these questions. And there has been one overarching Truth that I am learning to believe: it is God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that speaks through the preacher. It is an absolute reality that I am not equipped, in the proper sense of the word, to deliver the words that people need to hear on my own power and ability. It is expected and realized that I will stumble over thought and speech. It is also expected that the sermon preached will not provide everything to everyone.

But I have become utterly settled on the Truth that where God's Word is preached, souls and lives are changed. I am convinced that on November 9th, from 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M., the Holy Spirit will be present not just in our bodies in the collective sense, but specifically in our minds, hearts, thoughts, words, and ears. I am convinced that I have been called to this position, as an Intern Pastor, to obey and glorify God through humble obedience and service.

So with that said, I plead for prayer from those who will read this and care for creation. I ask for prayer first and foremost for my own time to spend in the Word and in prayer. I ask for prayer for the preparational processes of exegesis, outlining, drafting, mapping, and illustrating. But most of all I covet prayers centered on the hearers, visitors and members of the congregation, who meet together in faith. Many who come do not even know why they have come. They have not been trained in ecclesiastical studies, theology, or even social interaction theories. But they have come, as believers, as non-believers, as doubters, and possibly as those who downright reject and refuse the faith. And it is for the body of Christ at Elgin Community Church that I pray specifically for this week. And I believe, with great hope, faith, and expectation, that the Holy Spirit will be present on Sunday to convey and apply the reality of Christ Jesus.

I Do Believe in Preaching

There has been a significant amount of time between this post and the previous. This is partly due to the busyness of life and the vast amount of writing being undertaken by the demands of an academic degree, but also due to the blurriness of thought and confusion. I find myself today, however, with a plethora of topics to write about.

In talking with family and friends, I described the previous week as one of the most difficult of my life. Yes, the schedule was very busy. Yes, it was midterms and I was forced to study and write. But capping off the busyness and midterms was the cloud of preaching hanging over my head. Next weekend, November 9th, I will be preaching at Elgin Community Church on the passage of Luke 4:14-30. Whereas this may be a routine experience to the veteran preacher, it just so happens that this is my first time.

And the confusion of thought and mind stem not only from rhetorical challenges, but from my own deeper questions of what it means to preach. Do I believe that preaching still plays an important role in our cultural context? Have I been called to the role of preacher? And if so, do I have a relationship with Christ that allows me the privilege of speaking into others' lives? Do I really have anything of value to share with a diverse congregation? Does my young age create a block to large for people to step over?

I have consulted numerous friends and family for wisdom in reference to these questions. And there has been one overarching Truth that I am learning to believe: it is God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that speaks through the preacher. It is an absolute reality that I am not equipped, in the proper sense of the word, to deliver the words that people need to hear on my own power and ability. It is expected and realized that I will stumble over thought and speech. It is also expected that the sermon preached will not provide everything to everyone.

But I have become utterly settled on the Truth that where God's Word is preached, souls and lives are changed. I am convinced that on November 9th, from 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M., the Holy Spirit will be present not just in our bodies in the collective sense, but specifically in our minds, hearts, thoughts, words, and ears. I am convinced that I have been called to this position, as an Intern Pastor, to obey and glorify God through humble obedience and service.

So with that said, I plead for prayer from those who will read this and care for creation. I ask for prayer first and foremost for my own time to spend in the Word and in prayer. I ask for prayer for the preparational processes of exegesis, outlining, drafting, mapping, and illustrating. But most of all I covet prayers centered on the hearers, visitors and members of the congregation, who meet together in faith. Many who come do not even know why they have come. They have not been trained in ecclesiastical studies, theology, or even social interaction theories. But they have come, as believers, as non-believers, as doubters, and possibly as those who downright reject and refuse the faith. And it is for the body of Christ at Elgin Community Church that I pray specifically for this week. And I believe, with great hope, faith, and expectation, that the Holy Spirit will be present on Sunday to convey and apply the reality of Christ Jesus.