Friday, November 20, 2009

Hebrew Name Origins: $5/Name

Came across this in my research for a Hebrew word study paper I am writing:

The name of God is Yahweh. This name is abbreviated to Yah about fifty times in the Old Testament. Many proper names are prefixed with Yah. One of them happens to be my middle name! Jehonathan which is abbreviated to Jonathan comes from 'Yah' attached to 'nathan' which in Hebrew means "he gave." Therefore, Jonathan means, "Yahweh has given." This is way better than being named just 'nathan.'

I've decided to start a business: Hebrew Name Origins. $5/name. I can print them on mugs, t-shirts, frame them, bumper stickers, etc. (Cost of novelty items extra)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Special Needs Ministry

I just returned from an evening spent with the mentally disabled. Grace Community Church has a ministry solely devoted to this group of people, primarily composed of those with Downs' Syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. The Tuesday night ministry is called Grace Club and welcomes on average 100 people each week in addition to the caregivers who bring them. They gather first in the gym for a time of exercise and games. As I walked in to the gym I was immediately and warmly greeted by a young man who could not speak, but in no way did that stop him from being the most outgoing of the group. The evening continued and so did the greetings. Hugs and handshakes. Questions about whether or not I was a police officer. If you ever feel lonely, go to this group and you will feel like a celebrity.

From the gym, they move into a large basement classroom for a time of worship and short teaching time. Plastic chairs facing the front screen with song lyrics projected by a (old fashioned) magnifying projector. The group enthusiastically engaged in the singing, often with free style hand motions and seemingly genuine praise to God, our Creator. It brought me great joy to see many of this group praising God to the capacity He has given them. Some of them in this life seem to be completely locked within themselves unable to communicate. It made me wonder at God's ways. Not in a million years would I think to design someone who is fully grown yet mentally still a child. Yet God is still sovereignly their Creator and receives their praise. He knows every detail of their lives and reigns supreme over it. It leads me to think of the Apostle Paul's response to beholding the ways of God that transcend human wisdom:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36

Demanding Greek

I want to be a Greek expert. Not a Greek scholar. Not a Greek know-it-all. But I do want to know Greek well. I want to know it well so that I can know God well and know what He has said well and be able to help others know God and know what He said well so we can together live well.

This semester has been a Greek semester. I was frustrated at first with the amount of work the class demanded, but now I see more clearly the goal. For some reason I get to have the privilege of learning Greek - the language of the New Testament. As my understanding and knowledge of the language increases, I hope that with greater precision I will comprehend those things that are important to God as recorded in His Word. Not everyone gets to learn Greek, nor does everybody need to learn it. But I hope that for some who love God and love His Word, I will be able to help them understand with greater clarity and conviction what the Almighty has said.

I was reminded of this in Greek class today as my professor exhorted us not to waste our Greek education. It got me excited again to be a student of Greek. To not take my studies lightly. I hope the Lord will give me opportunity to grow in my understanding of Him and to help others do the same through the careful use of the Greek language.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Puzzle Pieces

I just came across an analogy in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology that puts to words something I have been thinking about for the last few years. Upon a first reading, the Bible can appear so mysterious and opaque to understanding. Kings and kingdoms and sacrifices and law and churches and revelations and songs and proverbs and judgment and anger and joy and brutality and grace does this all fit together? How am I supposed to understand it all?
Well, Grudem compares studying the Bible and theology to putting together a jigsaw puzzle: "The more pieces one has in place correctly to begin with, the easier it is to fit new pieces in, and the less apt one is to make mistakes." This so clearly illustrates some of my frustrations and conclusions in studying the Bible in the past. At times it has been as though I have studied a single piece of a puzzle, knowing all its colors and shapes, but I have no idea where it goes. I have to put it to the side and keep working on the rest of the puzzle keeping in mind I have one piece on the side with certain colors and shapes. Eventually the puzzle fills in enough that I know where that piece should go. But at the start I had no idea. It took time and further work to figure it out.
So too it goes with Bible study. As I learn more of the Old Testament, ideas in the New become clearer. As I study one passage the light goes on in another. There is no way I could understand certain passages the first time I read them. But as I work through the Bible again and again, I pick up new things each time and begin to see how it all fits together. I view this as God's amazing wisdom in putting together a book that fits together so well and so precisely.
I look forward to working on this puzzle the rest of my life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Verse from a Red Hymnal

I married a girl who received a red Trinity Hymnal as an Eighth Grade Graduation present. And I couldn't be happier.
My fondness for the hymnal grows as my fondness for hymns grows. (Don't worry, my fondness for my wife whose hymnal I am fond of grows too!)
There is a verse from a hymn in that red hymnal that has captured my imagination. The verse is not one that can be sung and then buried into the pages of a closed hymnal with no lingering impact. No, it reverberates in my mind each time. After the song ends and the hymnal is tucked away on the shelf again, the image remains emblazened on my mind for it so captures the significance of what happened to me when I was rescued from my sin by Jesus Christ. It draws all the power it can from words put to music and creates a picture of the epic moment that was my salvation. These words make me rejoice! They make me rejoice for what has happened to me and they make me long that conversion would come to others.
Salvation is not described here as a salvation that saves from seemingly petty and inconsequential sins. Rather it speaks of the salvation from unescapable darkness to indescribable light. It describes a prisoner bound, chained, and trapped in a dark and rotting dungeon who has not seen a glimpse of light for ages. The cramped stone walls wrap around cold, stagnant air, sealing in the fear and guilt and shunning the light. The shackles of sin press the prisoner against the wall. Even the hope of being freed from these bonds has been ripped from the prisoner. But salvation comes suddenly and it comes powerfully and it comes invincibly. The once dark dungeon overflows with light. The shackles are loosed and slide off. The victorious one who freed the prisoner leaves the dungeon leading the freed man onward.

This verse come from Hymn #455 of that red hymnal. It was written by Charles Wesley in 1738. It is called, "And Can It Be."
Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature's night; Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell of, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Facts and Meaning

I just heard part of a very silly sermon rooted in a very silly idea being propogated by a very silly post-modern mindset. The preacher claimed that "ancient storytellers" (as he calls the human authors of the Bible) were not concerned with facts so much as meaning, and that, "People who get overly obsessed with the details of the early Genesis stories and whether it happened exactly the way the story teller says are missing the point." His point was clear: don't worry too much about the facts, just get to what the meaning is.

This is silly.

This is silly for many reasons, but most obviously because the Old Testament (where he was preaching from) is full of facts! It lists geneologies and rivers and cities and numbers and years and countries and animals and all sorts of very clear facts. Given the amount of time devoted to listing facts, I don't think the "ancient storytellers" would dismiss facts as secondary.

Of course history needs to be understood in terms of what it means. But it only means something when you have facts by which to derive meaning from! It's never only meaning and no facts. The meaning is grounded in the facts. I could say Jesus was crucified and resurrected and have that mean nothing to you. But I need those facts in order for there to be meaning. If Jesus never died, then sins were never atoned for. If Jesus was never resurrected, then death was never conquered! The meaning comes from the facts.

So when this silly preacher claims we get too obsessed in the facts, he is the one who is missing the meaning.

Fall 09 Classes

May-October = 5 months since my last post. I think that has something to do with summer school knocking down 8/10 pins of my life. I don't really know what happened to summer. More or less for me it went from spring straight to fall (with the exception of ice-cap melting heat).

Now I am half way into my first semester of my second year of seminary. A whole new load of classes and challenges. Perhaps in short overview form, I will offer a summary of the classes I am taking:

Greek Exegesis
My most time consuming class. The highest complement I can pay this class is that I am now more capable of opening the Greek New Testament and understanding what it means. Greek has not gripped my attention as Hebrew has, even though it is a wonderful language. This class has focused so far on understanding the significance of the different uses of nouns and verbs in the language. I look forward to the point when the puzzle pieces that have been separated into the edges, corners, and middle pieces are fit together to give the big picture.

Hebrew Exegesis
Besides focusing on a completely different language, this class is completely different than Greek Exegesis. That may be due to the fact that I have a stronger foundation in Hebrew than Greek which makes this class come across as more helpful and significant. One of the first classes our professor systematically taught through a few verses of Ruth. I was stunned at how much he was able to explain about the text from the grammar of the text. Most exciting was the feeling that I am being trained to be able to pull out depths from the Bible like he had just done. That is the focus of this class: to help the student exhaust the resources of grammar for understanding the books of the Old Testament.

Music and Worship Ministries
I now know how to lead a hymn by flapping my hands in the air! I hope I will never have to, but just in case, I now have an emergency toolkit for leading a hymn at church. The best part of has been a quick overview of the history of modern music, originating in the monastic chants and continuing in development to the modern day. I have become more convinced of the fact that the New Testament is silent on specifics of worship styles in church, but I have also become more convinced of the importance of worship music in church for the sake of unity, not in spite of unity.

New Testament Studies
Probably my favorite class of the semester. We have spent half of the semester studying the Gospels and Acts. I wish we could spend five years in these books. The professor addresses the author, date, purpose, themes, literary structure, and major interpretative issues of each book. After this class, I don't think I will ever read the gospels the same again.

New Testament History
Focuses on the 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. It gives the backgrounds of the culture and religions that abound during the era of the New Testament. The professor focuses on drawing spiritual lessons from the history, thereby avoiding the pitfall of rote memorization history classes.