Learning from some pastors

Our area pastor’s group met.  We were just talking about what things were happening in our congregations. One pastor said that they have had a very positive response to a simple bible reading program they put in place this year.  The sermons, youth groups and small groups are all following this reading plan so it adds a sense of unity to a fairly large congregation.  Another spoke up and said that in most Evangelical churches about 50% of its members read the bible on a regular basis.

So, let Fresh Read state for the record, there is nothing better for you than a regular (and fresh) reading of the Scriptures.  There are many plans out there, but the one my friend mentioned is here:  http://www.blackhawkchurch.org/resources/eat-this-book/

a list of popular plans is here: http://www.esv.org/resources/reading-plans-devotions/

The back of your bible might have a plan also – the picture above is from my ESV Literary Study Bible.

Active Meditation – a personal note

When we talk of meditation, the mental picture is of quiet detachment.  Well, that does not work for me.  I am not critical of a more monastic approach, but it is not the only way to think extensively, deeply and connectedly about the word.  So here are a few ideas that I have used over the years.

Sit in church.  I used to sit in the sanctuary of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, when I was a student at the U of Washington.  Once I got in this space I would sit and let my mind go to wherever it wanted to go.  I would stay there until the ringing sound of city noise had subsided.  This is the effect of living in a city like Seattle (or Chicago, New York or Madison), where there is a sort of hum residing after you are away from the noise.  This took about 15 minutes usually. Then when I re-entered the world, I was surprised at how loud and busy it was (a state I had been part of merely 20 minutes before.)

Chop wood.  Three of us lived in Montana in an apartment heated by wood, and so we had to chop firewood.  There were times when I could not sit and think or pray, so I would “pray with my axe.”  This was a very therapeutic way to think about frustrations.  I also discovered that wood flies apart when you chop it at sub-zero temperatures – if the axe does not bounce off the surface, that is.

Carve wood.  I like to go to the “man cave” and work on a carving project, the best for this is something of my own design, which has no particular deadline attached to it.  Being active with a physical craft (maybe you paint or play guitar, knit or quilt) frees up the conscious and subconscious to have little conversations about life and the sermon text.

Take a walk – basically the same idea as above.

Take the sermon text to the gym – there is nothing more boring than exercise, so often I will print out the text and look at it while I am grinding out my 3-5 cyber miles on the exercise bike.

Write creatively.  I find a little free verse poetry, free association, brain storming on paper with words and images or telling a story is another outlet.

Listen to Jazz – I have some music on my work computer – and anything that is jazzy, and that is either without words, or is in another language, is helpful.  sometimes classical music, for me Baroque is good, or instrumental versions of hymns are also good.  In Advent, I usually give Handel’s Messiah a spin.

Here is the bottom line, what does not work is to sit and stare at a piece of paper for hours on end.  when I get to the end of the usefulness of that method, it is time to try something else.

Oh, finally, Blog.  One reason for Fresh Read is to talk about the scriptures in a non-churchy way toward a fresh view of the text.  The other is to think with the keyboard.

There you have it – a combination of advice and confession.

Lectionary – plus and minus


So as I explore using the Lectionary here are some things I have observed:

  1. You need to have or have access to an extensive library for study – early in my ministry I would buy a couple of commentaries for each sermon series – as I generally preach by biblical book.  So after all this time the gaps in my coverage is smaller.  Having access to a university library helps.  If you do not have such a library, you would be hostage to whatever lectionary resources you have.
  2. Reading  a book like Feasting on the Word, offers an interesting and varied perspective on the passages, however one has to read discerningly.  Yesterday on Romans 5, there was a quote from Paul Tillich that sounded good, however, one needs to remember that Tillich believed in re-defining theological terms.  So this book is like the top of the funnel – at the start of reading, expose your reading eye to a lot of stuff to stimulate your thinking on relevance, issues you might tend to neglect and so forth, but the sermon comes out of the narrow end, after you have studied and winnowed the wheat from the chaff.
  3. Connecting passages is kind of fun.  The complaining Israelites (Exodus 17) lacked Water, as did the Woman of Samaria (Jn 4) and God “pours out his love” (i.e. like water) in Romans 5, and Ps 95 links to the Isralites habit toward complaining.  For me this is new and kind of fun, but I feel also that this is one groups way to explore the inter-related themes of the Bible, not the only one.
  4. Some Urban Ministries are following this idea of following the lectionary, church year and related parts of our heritage.  For a conference I am reading “Sacred Roots” by Dr. Don Davis of The Urban Ministry Institute ( www.tumi.org/sacredroots ).  This is kind of surprising to me, it will be interesting to see.
  5. The concept of centering your calendar on the Life of Christ as opposed to the color scheme of the shopping season at Walgreen’s is very appealing, but when do Roots become Routine only?

Tools and Translations

Due to a recent comment on the article “Picking a Translation”, I have decided to add here a couple of useful resources:

ESV Study bible – I have come to use the ESV a lot, as it is both readable and a more literal translation.  Lots of friends are sold on the Study Bible, but I have not as yet taken the plunge.  Most often I print an english copy of the text from the ESV for the colored pencil treatment.  http://www.esv.org/

www.biblia.com is a great new website with several translations. I’d like them to have a notes free version of the ESV, but otherwise it is nicely done.

There are OT and NT bibliographies at Denver Seminary’s web site – this is excellent.  http://www.denverseminary.edu/resources/the-denver-journal/articles03/0100/0101.php/#commentaries  There is an Annotated O. T. Bibliography and a N. T. Exegesis Bibliography.

This is a Rant! – Malachi 1:11

Here is what I see very often.  An academic offers an outside the box interpretation or suggests making an emendation to the biblical text.  This is taken up by subsequent commentators, more often based on the fact that other commentators have taken the bait.  This comment then rings down through the decades and is usually dismissed or it is tagged with a category such as “conservative reading”, “anti-supernatural bias”, “not generally accepted.” etc.

This is an important exercise in the academy – you need to know who else has said what on your passage.  For the normal reader, it is often advisable to skim (so you are familiar with the outline of the issue) but avoid getting entangled.

Case in point:  Malachi 1:11 – does this word affirm that worship by gentiles in gentile temples is acceptable?  This is the view of G. A. Smith, and is discussed by Verhoff (NICOT, p. 222-232, footnote p. 222) extensively as it is by R. Smith (WBC, p. 312-316) and others.

I find this interpretation highly unlikely because 1.  It runs against the rest of the Prophetic literature which diagnoses the people’s problem as either nominalism or idolatry.  2. it is said as if it would be understood and accepted by the post-exilic audience without need for explanation, 3. and because it fits a large prophetic theme of the gospel for the nations (from Genesis 12 through such passages as Isaiah 2, 11, 55 etc) – that the Nations will come and worship the LORD, and 4. from the other “my name will be great among the nations” comments in Malachi (1:5, 1:14, 3:12)

What is produced in the academy is very useful for any student of the scriptures, but also note that the interests of the academy (analysis, original research, pushing the envelope) is not the same  for the disciple, pastor or the church (hear, reflect, keep).

So let the academy wrestle, listen to their various voices if you like, but first go to the summary paragraph of these long, arcane academic discussions.

Start at the end!

Melodic Line – Book overview

   This is a second entry from the Simeon Trust workshop that I recently attended.  One of the principles of study that the Simeon Trust presents is the concept of the Melodic Line.  Let me give you  their definition:

“Books of the Bible and the Bible as a whole have a coherent, sustained message similar to the unique melody of a song…It unites the whole book, concisely stating what the whole book is about.  The theme of any passage will be related (directly or indirectly) to this theme or melodic line.”  (from Workshop Handout)

The idea is that we should treat the Bible in a literary way, and to look for the theme or main idea(s) that are presented by each author.  This keeps us from grasping at random verses that strike our interest, while we miss the main thrust of the book.  It also is a way to keep us interpreting passages in their context.

For example, the Book of Acts is often a source book for the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit, or for church organization.  But the Melodic line would have to do with the expansion of the Gospel – summarized in

Acts 1:8
    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The melodic line of Proverbs is represented by Proverbs 1:7

Proverbs 1:7 – ESV
    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
        fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 I am currently preparing to peach on the prophetic books of Haggai and Malachi, and am reading with my printed out text and colored pencils to discern the “melodic line.”  This is very useful, and I wish I had learned this concept earlier in my studies.

 By the way, do you know  the source for the  melodic line in the graphic above?

Translations & Ephesians 1:5

If you have the bible in translation, realize that it is also a commentary on the text.  If you compare several, you can gain insight.  Here is a test case, using a rather meaningless phrase from Ephesians 1:5.

  According to the purpose of his will

This phrase is a literal translation of the original.  As is often the case in translation, a literal word for word translation does not say much of anything.  So I have looked for other translations that capture the meaning of these words.  Here are two of them.

 The New Century Version says,

“That is what he wanted and what pleased him.”     

 This shows that our adoption was something that God wanted to do.  When parents tell their adopted children the truth, they often say, “We chose you.”   God chose us.  Why?  It is not because he had to, but because he wanted to.  It was something that pleased him.

The New Living translation says:

“This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”  

 This is the translation I like best.  I get no real sense from reading “according to his purpose”.  But when I hear that God wanted to adopt me, and that it gave him pleasure to adopt me, that is meaningful.

 A good place to compare translations in English and other languages is www.biblegateway.com

Parable of the Talents – Updated

When Jesus told stories he did not have to explain the background, because he used every day objects and customs.  We who live in the 21st Century sometimes need help with understanding sheep, grapes and ancient business practices.  For this reason I re-wrote the parable in a contemporary format.  This might be something you could use for your own benefit – the process of translating the story to a current format will help you observe the original more closely. 

It is not possible to preserve everything of the original and we don’t want to replace it, or even compete with it.  The point is to create a bridge from here to there.  Once you travel the bridge, you don’t need it any longer.

Click here to read: ACME

Psalm 121 – Translation

Psalm 121 is remembered for its first verse.  It’s overall theme is the assurance we can have in the face of adversity because the Lord is our guardian.  There are a couple of interesting translation points.

Psalm 121:1-8 ESV
    A Song of Ascents.

    I lift up my eyes to the hills.
        From where does my help come?
    [2] My help comes from the Lord,
        who made heaven and earth.
    [3] He will not let your foot be moved;
        he who keeps you will not slumber.
    [4] Behold, he who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.
    [5] The Lord is your keeper;
        the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
    [6] The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.
    [7] The Lord will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.
    [8] The Lord will keep
        your going out and your coming in
        from this time forth and forevermore.

The ESV retains the 6 fold repetition in English of the Hebrew verb shamar.  The first three uses are as participles, forming a kind of title “he who keeps” and the second three uses are verbs in the imperfect, indicating actions.  The ESV retains KEEP, KEEPS or KEEPER helping the English reader see the repetition.  The NIV for contrast uses WATCHES for the first three, and KEEP and WATCH for the second three uses.

Some translations try to retain the verbal repetion, which is not natural in English (JB,NEB). Others vary the repetition, which makes it harder to notice the central theme of the psalm (NIV, TEV).

We prefer the continuity of the ESV, but this illustrates the value of having more than one translation.