Ministry Motivation

Ministry is too sacred to be motivated by gain and too difficult to be motivated by duty. Only love can sustain us.

– Warren Wiersbe
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Resources on Origins and Christian Faith

Do you know a student who is trying to work out how to reconcile the latest science on human origins with their Christian faith and biblical teaching? Allow me to recommend that you refer them to works by John Walton, Iain Provan, or Tremper Longman. (I’m sure there are others; but these three I have found particularly helpful.)

For example, John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve is very helpful in clarifying how the accounts of human origins in Genesis should be received in their historical and literary context and then what that means for us today. It’s available in paper, on Kindle, and as an audiobook. Walton also has many lectures available online via youtube and other sources.

For a wider scope, try Iain Provan book Seriously Dangerous Religion, which is quite a seriously good book for Jesus-followers who want to understand how to think of Christian faith in relation to the wider world.

I highly recommend both.

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Unconditional Love or Unconditional Affirmation

Unconditional affirmation and unconditional love are not the same thing. To demand the former is to actually exclude the latter.

Sam Allberry

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antichrist church

The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

Eugene Peterson
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Isaac Newton’s Great Ocean of Truth

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isacc Newton
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Design Patterns in the Bible

Tim Mackie of The Bible Project explains design patterns in the Bible in two episodes of the Bible Project podcast. You can listen to them here (part 1) and here (part 2).

The idea of design patterns is quite familiar to me as a software engineer. But the concept is widely useful and being applied in many areas of study these days. Noting patterns in their design deeply aids the study and understanding of the texts of the Bible. It is very helpful, revealing an interplay and awareness of the later texts for the earlier that may just revolutionize your understanding of what the biblical authors intended to say. The closest I’ve heard to this in the past is the concept of types – but types are sort of a really “blunt object” in the wider, more subtle space of design patterns – not that they are unimportant. I highly recommend these two Bible Project talks on design patterns. (And the Bible Project podcast in general…) There is enough in these two talks to get the careful reader started in ruminating over the deeply meaningful common patterns and repeated wordplay between Bible texts. Mackie gives a few links to resources in the show notes, too.

An obstacle, however, is reading the Bible in English translations of the Hebrew or Greek. In the original languages, patterns are more evident and artfully presented. Mackie recommends the NASB translation as being fairly accurate at reproducing “Hebrew in English”, which makes the English horribly awkward reading but nevertheless a good study resource for seeing these patterns. While it is not exactly oriented toward design patterns, I’ve also found Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses to be illuminating, particularly when read aloud. His notes are very helpful. The design pattern idea is more tuned in to Robert Alter’s literary analysis than they are tuned to Fox; but I find Fox helpful in detecting patterns – perhaps because Fox is quite gifted at translating the Hebrew of the ancient biblical texts into modern English while retaining much of the artistic and literary integrity of the Hebrew. I’ll have to think about that. Suffice it to say that there is a linguistic barrier to appreciating the fullness of the text of scripture when one reads neither Hebrew nor Greek. Detecting the design of the text and how it relates to other biblical texts is one area where we must do some extra work, at least. And pray.

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Using a form of Lectio Divina for personal meditation

This is a very brief “cheat sheet” on using lectio divina in times of personal solitude with God.

Be alone. Prepare your heart and mind. Then:

  1. Read – Out loud? Repeat.
  2. Reflect – Think it over. What stands out?
  3. Respond – Speak to God.
  4. Receive – Let go and listen.

Jesus often withdrew to be alone and pray. I find that in praying it is easy to speak but difficult to listen. Using lectio divina as a way to structure prayer time with scripture is helpful in getting started with personal times of solitude and silence in prayer that help to preserve our attachment as branches to the vine.

More details for each step are below.

Find a relatively quiet place where you can be alone and undisturbed. Make yourself comfortable, but not so comfortable that avoiding sleep is difficult. (If you fall asleep, don’t fret. Just resume where you left off.) Pick a passage of scripture that you will read, like Psalm 1. Or you could choose a parable or a natural section of the narrative in the books of Moses. Clear your thoughts. Some people find it helpful to focus on one special word, like “Jesus”. Others focus on their own breathing. The idea is to empty oneself of thoughts and concerns in order to be filled with the presence of Jesus. Ask Jesus for his presence.

Read the passage to yourself at least three times. Or listen to the passage on an audio device.

Reflect on what you read, asking God to draw your attention to the one word or phrase or idea from the passage that he wants you to focus on. What word or phrase stood out to you? Let this come easily, like air bubbling up to the top of a glass. Remember this word or phrase.

Ask God about that word or phrase. Or tell him what you are thinking about it. Bring to God whatever is on your mind or heart.

Stop praying your own words or thoughts to God in order to listen and receive. Focus for a moment on the word you chose earlier. Then, let go and listen in silence. If your mind wanders, focus on that word or phrase again. Make note of what comes to you. You may receive a clear impression of what God wants to say to you, or simply a peaceful resting time with God, or an emotion. Be open to whatever God brings to you. Close by expressing the idea to God: “Let it be with me just as you say.” If there is something specific that you believe you should do in response, be sure and follow up.

It is possible to work through these steps in just minutes. Longer, less hurried time is beneficial. Some find spending even an hour or more in preparation is very helpful. Centering prayer is a possible approach to this kind of preparation.

My purpose? To help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.

Other Resources
For a longer time or restreat, check out an approach to personal spiritual retreat.
Check check this article  on using lectio divina in groups.
Check this site for some additional resources for centering prayer and lectio divina.

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On a Shopping List, Somewhere

A commercial came on during the Winter Olympics. Johnny Weir tried to get hair gel from an empty dispenser. He said to his Google home mini, “Hey Google, put hair gel on my shopping list”. The Google home mini on TV answered him appropriately.

My Google home mini, sitting in front of the TV, spoke up and said, “I’ve added hair gel to your shopping list.”

I said, “Hey Google take hair gel off my shopping list, that was the TV.”

Google home mini said, “I can’t remove items from your shopping list. You’ll have to go to the Google home app and remove it there.”

I said, “Hey Google, you are listening to the TV. Stop it!”

Google home mini said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do that yet.”

I told Susie what happened; she had just returned to the room from somewhere. She said, I guess you’ll have to buy hair gel. I didn’t think you used hair gel…

I got my phone and looked at the Google Home app. I found my shopping list (of which I was previously unaware) to remove hair gel. There was nothing on my shopping list.

Ergo, somewhere in the cloud, Johnny Weir has a shopping list with probably about 28 million units of hair gel on it.

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Notes from the Other Side – Jane Kenyon

I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

Jane Kenyon
Notes from the Other Side

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Alan Jacobs’ “The Politics of Long Joy”

Alan Jacobs has re-cycled an excellent essay he wrote ten years ago as a column for the late lamented Books & Culture. He found what he had to say then particularly apropos to the present day. I don’t recall reading it 10 years ago, so maybe I missed that early edition of Books & Culture; but I’m very glad Jacobs decided to reprint this essay on his blog. Give it a read here.

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