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Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Tuesday, 31 January 2012 00:00

2 Corinthians is purported to be one of Paul’s most personal books and if the first few chapters are any indication, this assessment fits. As I began to read and study the book again recently, I was struck with the depth of Paul’s self-disclosure right away in the first chapter where he admits that he feels “burdened beyond our strength” to the degree that  he was  “despairing even of life” (8). Scholars vary in their interpretations all the way from claiming that Paul was suffering deep discouragement to some even wondering if he was almost suicidal. Whatever the case, I for one, am glad Paul allowed us to see his discouragement for if the apostle Paul can feel this melancholy, it normalizes these feelings for those of us.

Whatever Paul was feeling in chapter one, he seems to shift quite significantly by the beginning of chapter four where he states, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart (italics added). Paul goes on in the following chapters to write some of the most profound teaching on the topic of suffering and remaining steadfast in the midst of it. To what can we attribute this change in Paul’s demeanor? Did Paul just decide to snap himself out of it? Was he tired of feeling sad? Did he practice some kind of cognitive reframe to make himself feel better? Maybe. The topics addressed in the early chapters of the book are indeed very encouraging. Reflection on God’s power in ministry, the Holy Spirit’s work and God’s ultimate victory could surely counter feelings of hopelessness. But what brought these topics to the apostle’s mind?

Could it be the occasion for the book itself that sparked the change? Paul had written at least one (probably two) hard letters to the Corinthian church. He had even postponed visits because he did not want to show up only to have to confront them again. Finally, he had sent Titus to see and report on the situation. In the meantime Paul is run out of Ephesus because of the riot over the goddess Diana cult (Acts 20:1). He gets impatient and cannot even wait for Titus to rendezvous at Troas (2 Cor. 2:12-13).  Everything seems to be unwinding for the apostle. Finally, Titus catches up with Paul and is able to share the good news that the church at Corinth was finally turning the corner. It seems like this news perks Paul up and he is suddenly able to remember his theology.

Should Paul have been able to snap himself out of discouragement regardless of the news of Corinth?  Probably. Do we have here a formula that encouraging words are the remedy for despair? Probably not, at least not fully.  It was not the encouraging words themselves (as wonderful as they were) but it was what the encouraging words prompted Paul to reflect on that brought about the change. But the words did play a role.

So in our conversations with one another, do we spark each other to remember what we believe?  


Bryan Maier, Psy. D.  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.

 

Written by Dan LaValla Monday, 30 January 2012 00:00

After a four-year hiatus, I have had the privilege of being involved with the restart of Breakfast with Biblical (BWB). The focus of the teachings for the past two series was to expound the missional nature of God. Last spring’s theme looked at the missional aspects in “Hearing God’s Call” on the lives of individuals in the Old and New Testaments and what it means for us as Christians today. This past fall, the overarching theme, “Hearing the Gospel Again for the First Time,” emphasized the importance of breaking from the ways we have reduced the Gospel in attempts to better understand and describe it. Instead, emphasis was placed on examining the fullness of the Gospel through various aspects of Christ’s mission and contemplating it as if one was hearing the Gospel for the first time. 

Personally, each week I have been most blessed by the attendees of BWB, watching their enthusiastic reactions to the morning teachings and listening as discussions unfold amongst and with them. As they wrestle with the impact a missional perspective has on their comprehension of Jesus, His Gospel, the Church, and one’s personal call and purpose as a Christian, they have directed questions towards me that fall under two overarching questions, “What does being missional mean for you?” and “How has thinking missionally changed you?”

 At the risk of being reductionistic in answering these questions, being missional forces one to be less egocentric about the Gospel. Thinking less about the personal benefits of the Gospel and spending more effort discerning what God is expecting of me daily as His child engaged in His mission. Thinking less about what I want to ask God to give me and thinking more about relating to Him out of a desire to love and serve Him for who He is. Thinking less about the things I lack and noticing more of my neighbors’ needs and discerning what I am called to do today that enables me to actually live out the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). Finally, realizing that being missional involves thinking less about asking God to help me complete my daily plans (even those that are noble, such as ministry) and conscientiously discerning when, where, and how God wants to interrupt my plans so that I am willing and able to engage in His plan via personal acts of service and sacrifice.

 Please note that Breakfast with Biblical will be starting up again in March, more information about the upcoming series will soon be posted on our Website at http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/upcoming-events-at-biblical-seminary/breakfast-with-biblical.

 

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.

   

Written by Dr. David Lamb Thursday, 26 January 2012 00:00

John the Baptist had given him a big build up, testifying that the Spirit had descended on him and that he was the Lamb of God and the Son of God.  So two of John’s followers decided to ditch John, and follow the new guy that John kept talking about.  

They’re not following for long before he turns around, sees them, and says, “What are you looking for?” 

 Jesus’ first words in John’s gospel are a question (John 1:38).  We discussed this in class yesterday, and the students were surprised that Jesus start out by making a big announcement about his identity or his purpose.  Why start with a question? 

A question is an invitation to relationship.  And while their response isn’t profound, “Where are you staying?” it’s an acknowledgement that they want to be around Jesus some more.  Jesus invites them to “Come and see.”  They came and saw and learned what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. 

 Not suprisingly, Jesus’ final words in John’s gospel are also a question, as he asks Peter that if John the disciple were to remain until Jesus comes back, “What is that to you?” (John 21:22, 23). 

 In this final vignette in the book, both John and Peter are recorded as asking Jesus questions (John 21:20, 21).  Throughout his ministry, Jesus had modeled the importance of asking questions (e.g., John 1:50; 2:4; 3:12; 4:35; 5:6) and as Jesus’ disciples they followed his example.  Disciples of Jesus ask questions. 

 Unfortunately, in the church it seems like we’d rather give answers than ask questions.  And when people ask questions, we feel threatened.  A recent Non Sequitur comic (Jan 1, 2011) includes three prehistoric people (they are wearing animal skins).  One is in charge and he say, “OK, here’s how it works.  First you NEVER question anything I tell you…”  It’s titled “The Invention of Religion.”

What am I looking for?  Jesus definitely…and hopefully a few more questions from Christians.

How can we make asking questions more a part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus? 


David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical.  He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb. 

   

Written by Dr. Derek Cooper Wednesday, 25 January 2012 00:00

One of the recurring issues I encounter as one who teaches biblical interpretation is how to explain in simple terms what a “missional” reading of Scripture entails and how to answer a whole host of important questions that relate to a missional interpretation of the Bible: How do you define a missional hermeneutic? How do you read the Bible missionally? What are the biblical foundations for doing so? What are the implications of a missional reading of the Bible in the everyday life of the church? And how is a missional reading of Scripture different from any other reading?

Although seemingly uncomplicated, these are not necessarily easy questions to answer.  This is because the term missional carries various nuances and meanings that different people emphasize in different ways. For some, the term refers to social ministry; for others, it refers to an interest in missions. Due to the different (and competing) emphases as well as the general ambiguity of the term missional in contemporary discussions, you may reasonably ask whether it is possible to accurately describe what a missional reading of Scripture is. Although there are risks involved in defining the term so concretely, I would like to suggest the following definition: 

A missional interpretation of Scripture reads the Bible as a unified narrative that records God’s intention to reconcile the world to himself. This narrative reveals that God accomplishes this intention by commissioning the nation of Israel to reflect God’s image to the world; by sending God the Son to restore Israel and inaugurate God’s universal blessing to the Gentiles; by sending God the Spirit to form the church into a holy people who embody God’s coming kingdom; and by sending the church into the world to proclaim the gospel and engage the culture..   

This definition, though cumbersome, reflects what I believe to be the most basic features of a missional reading of Scripture, which are: 

  1. The Bible as a unified and coherent narrative
  2. God’s universal mission to reconcile the world to himself
  3. Israel as the nation chosen to bless the world by reflecting God’s image
  4. Jesus as the climax of the biblical narrative who restored Israel and inaugurated God’s blessing to the entire world
  5. The church as an incarnation of God’s coming kingdom, its proclamation of the gospel, and its engagement with the culture

 Is this definition perfect? Certainly not, but it’s a start—and hopefully not a bad one.

Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper

   

Written by Dr. Sam Logan Monday, 23 January 2012 00:00

Promises, promises, promises! 

It seems that the Lord is constantly making promises to His people.

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a young Christian, one of our most frequently-sung hymns was “Standing on the Promises.”  I loved it and I still love it, even though I occasionally wondered if the better title might have been “Standing on the Promiser!”

A little over two years ago, I heard a superb presentation on the promises God made to His people in the prophecy of Ezekiel.  The presenter was Dr. Erika Moore, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Trinity School for Ministry.  She was speaking at the annual conference “Women in the Word: A Workshop,” sponsored by the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org).

Erika went slowly through much of Ezekiel, focusing attention on the promises God made throughout that book and asking this fascinating question – “How many of Ezekiel’s original hearers or readers would ever have imagined exactly how God was going to KEEP this promise?”  Over and over again, my own thought was – not one!

Take, for example, the marvelous prophetic promise in Ezekiel 47.  This promise begins with these words: “Then, he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east . . .”  And the promise ends with these words, “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food.  Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.  Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”

Who, in Ezekiel’s day, would possibly have guessed that God would keep that promise through the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus?  “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22: 1, 2).

[If you are interested, you may listen to Erika’s full presentation here –    http://womenintheword.calvary-wg.org/2009/recordings2009.htm .]

Again I say (as Erika said) - not one of Ezekiel’s original hearers or readers would have imagined the full extent to which God would go in keeping that promise.  If anything, it seems that God UNDERpromises and OVERdelivers!

It is somewhat easy for us, living more than 2500 years after Ezekiel, to get a sense of the scope of God’s fulfillment of His promises that even Ezekiel himself couldn’t imagine.  After all, we have perspectives on the history of redemption that Ezekiel did not have.

But sometimes I wonder if we don’t “think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.”  I know that I am inclined to think that I now have a full and complete understanding of how God is going to keep His promises.  But do I?  Or am I going to be as surprised as I suspect Ezekiel will be when we both finally see what the Lord does?

The principle seems clear – God always does even more marvelously wonderful things than His people can even imagine!  He never does less.  He always does more!

If that is the principle, how then should we read the other promises in the New Testament (including those in Revelation 22)?

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical Seminary and International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan 

  

   

Written by Mrs. Pam Smith Thursday, 19 January 2012 00:00

We live in a world that needs to be redeemed for Christ, and alumni from Biblical seem to be doing a pretty good job at engaging the culture and taking risks for the gospel.

In case you need to be convinced that the world is chipping away at Christianity right under our noses, you need only look at the education that the next generations are receiving. Not only is it what they are learning (and that can be discouraging enough); it’s also about what they are not learning.  I have a great example for you.

A Biblical Seminary trained pastor (a Biblical MDiv in hand and a Biblical DMin in the works) with a missional heart for finding a way to serve the local community applied to teach a course which seemed to be in the ballpark of similar courses being offered the at the public community college. Below is his recent facebook posting on the response to his course suggestion:

“Yesterday I was told my submission for a class proposal (Christianity Explored) was denied because the community college did not want to promote any form of religious doctrine in their continued education program. This is what they are currently offering (no joke): Astrology, Buddhism for Atheists, The Mystery of Reincarnation, Healing Meditation for Body-Mind-Spirit, Understanding the Mayan Calendar, The Case for Ghosts, In Search of Atlantis, and Mysticism (actual course titles).”

Yes, my head is shaking, too.

Pam Smith is the Vice President for Student Advancement at Biblical Seminary and also instructs in our counseling program in the areas of career and coaching. Email Pam at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

   

Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Wednesday, 18 January 2012 00:00

A recent blog on this site by Dan LaValla provides an excellent reminder that forgiveness should not be conflated with reconciliation (or that the first must necessarily lead to the second).  He reminds us true repentance requires fruit of change beyond words and tears. This got me thinking again about the complex issues when a released sex offender desires to rejoin a church community.  What should a church do if they have a member with a history of sexual violence towards others?

Two Common Responses

Most people answer the last question in one of two ways.  Either, “Yes, the church is for all sinners. This person paid their dues to society in prison and now we need to treat him as if it never happened,” or, “Over my dead body! Once an offender always an offender.”

Some Initial Steps

In order to avoid a church split, the church with the opportunity to minister to both victims and sex offenders ought to follow some simple (not easy!) steps:

  1. Start talking. The community needs to have time to consider several topics that will likely make them uncomfortable: the nature of abuse, impact on victims, protection of the vulnerable as central theme of the Gospel, the differences between forgiveness, restitution, restoration to the body, reconciliation, and true repentance, etc.
  2. Learn from others. Listen to those who work with sex offenders. Listen to other churches that have had the privilege of ministering to offenders. Listen to the concerns of victims of other abuses. Don’t assume you have all the knowledge you need to minister well.
  3. Write policies. While policies won’t eliminate all problems they can give leadership and laity guidance when addressing how to minister to sex offenders. What safety protocols will the church use when an offender is in the congregation? How will the church minister to victims of abuse, offenders, family of offenders?
  4. Assessment of repentance. Every church must undertake the difficult and ongoing task of assessing repentance in those offenders seeking to be restored to the church. Time, words, and tears will not, by themselves, prove repentance. In the absence of a sure-fire test, start by asking if the offender demands his/her rights to be a part of the church body. Demanding one’s rights does comport with acceptance of natural consequences for sexual sin. Demandingness often reveals a mindset of inordinate self trust rather than submission to the wisdom of others. Further, a demanding attitude rarely concerns itself with the needs of victims nor displays sacrificial efforts to restore.
  5. Bring the church to the offender. The first 4 points take much time. But, nothing stops a church from providing immediate ministry to sex offenders. Gather a group of willing church members who want to serve the offender and his/her family. The group can meet at church if empty or at someone’s house. Provide fellowship, worship, communion, baptism, etc. Voila, you have church. It may not function with the whole community, but all the ingredients of a community of believers would be present.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe

   

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