5 Principles for Navigating Church in COVID-19

These five principles were developed prior to our church writing the reopening plan. I sought to develop these principles for the major teachings of the Scriptures. As such, these principles span our church’s plan to reopen and can apply to a variety of issues dealing with COVID-19 and beyond. I pray that they will be a blessing to you.

 

As we eagerly anticipate reopening, we realize this is a complicated situation. There are many reasons it is complicated. For one, there are a variety of opinions. Some feel that we should open immediately. Others, however, feel like we should remain outdoors until a vaccine is made. And there are many within these views.

It is further complicated by the variety of materials available to the public. Organizations such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Whitehouse, and even local governmental organizations (such as the Department of Health and Environmental Control for South Carolina) have kept information flowing. However, as everyone will readily admit, this information is conflicting at times. At one point, masks seemed to be the hero of this pandemic. While at other times, masks were seen as completely pointless.

A third complication we face is the issue of personal liberty. As citizens of the United States, we enjoy incredible freedoms. And, as followers of Christ, we enjoy liberties as well (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-9). We have freedoms in Christ, and these freedoms sometimes overlap others’ consciences.

As a pastor, I want to shepherd the flock of God as faithfully and lovingly as I can (1 Peter 5:1-3). I can tell you that the deacons want to do this as well. We have sought the Scriptures in prayer to do just that. I realize that our plan will not satisfy everyone. While I am saddened by this, I also know that our church is filled with believers who love the Lord and each other. As such, I am sure that your charity will make up for my own mistakes and shortcomings, that they will fill in the gaps of my plan, and that it will ultimately glorify our glorious Father.

I wanted to provide you with the guidelines that we used to determine our plan. I am providing this, first, so that you will have time to examine our hearts as based on God’s Word. I will comment on them briefly to elaborate on them to avoid any confusion.

  • Our plan to reopen has God’s glory for its ultimate aim (1 Cor. 10:31)

The very foundation of our plan, and our church, and of our lives individually, is to glorify God. We are put on this earth for that fact, and if any aspect of our lives is not lived with this purpose in mind, then we must immediately confess this as sin and seek restoration to our Father.

  • Our plan seeks to lead our congregation in the most helpful way, including spiritually, physically, and mentally (Heb. 13:8; Isa. 40:11; 42:3, cf. Matt. 12:20)

The second guiding principle is our desire to lead you in the most helpful way. I mention three parts of this: spiritual, physical, and mental. We want to lead you spiritually because as spiritual beings our souls are eternal. Jesus sees the importance of the spiritual when He tells Satan that man must not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from God (see Matthew 4:4). We also are concerned about your physical health. While the media has presented the facts of COVID-19 in an unfair light, people are indeed dying. We want our congregation to remain as healthy as possible. Further, the mental stress of COVID-19 and its byproducts are high. We want to alleviate these difficulties as much as humanly possible. Our plan seeks to balance these three aspects of our congregation while leading.

  • Our plan desires to observe, as much as possible without disobeying God, the recommendations and regulations as set forth by local and federal government (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; cf. Acts 5:29)

As Christians, we are given the command by God to submit to the government. Paul and Peter both place governmental authorities under the sovereignty of God. As Christians individually, and as a church corporately, we want to follow their lead as much as biblically possible. Thus, if the government requires us to follow an order, and if that order does not violate a clear command of Scripture, we are biblically obligated to follow that order. Our plan was developed with this in mind and will be updated as further aids are provided.

  • Our plan desires to display the preeminent characteristic of a disciple of Christ, charity, in all we do (1 Cor. 13:4-7, 13; John 13:35)

Love is the distinguishing mark of the believer (or, at least it should be!). As such, love has guided our reopening plan. We want to love our congregation the way that Christ loves His church. When you read a part of the plan or have a question about the validity of something, remember we are attempting to love you. We will also see your questions, concerns, and suggestions from a place of love.

  • Our plan desires to accommodate individuals with different liberties, always seeking “for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:1-23, cf. 19)

This one is perhaps the most difficult guidelines through which to navigate. We understand the liberties we have, both as citizens of the US and as Christians. Our reopening plan seeks to work through these nuances of liberty. One example would be facemasks. As of the time of this publication, there are no requirements in the State of South Carolina requiring the wearing of masks. There are several ramifications of this that I think will prove helpful to discuss.

There are those in our congregation who are completely against wearing masks. How should those who desire to wear masks navigate this? They should love their brothers and sisters in Christ. In loving humility, they should not mock them nor should they speak about them behind their backs. Likewise, these individuals who are against wearing masks should not look down upon those who chose to wear them.

There are those in our congregation who never leave their homes without their masks. How should those who do not wear masks navigate this? They should love their brothers and sisters in Christ. In loving humility, they should not mock them nor should they speak about them behind their backs. Likewise, these individuals who wear masks should not look down upon those who chose not to wear them.

Regardless of your preference, you should always, always seek to build each other up in love. Do you see the wonders of following Jesus Christ? It shows us that, even amid significant disagreements, we can show deference and love, and even build each other up.

These are our guiding principles for reopening our church. Would you prayerfully read through these? Would you consider praying for each other with these in mind? Would you seek to incorporate these into your daily life?

May God enable us to grow closer to Him and one another through this pandemic,

Bobby

Lessons I learned from the Birth of Our Son

It has been several weeks since I have completed a single post. My personal goal is to publish a blog at least once a week (on Thursdays) and if I am able to twice a week (on Tuesdays). However, our family recently added a fourth child to the mix, Calvin Knox. The last three weeks have been a trial and a half! From the rough labor to the unknown problems, little Calvin’s arrival has brought a great deal of stress to our family.

Now, this is not to say that we do not love him. We adore him!

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Soren holding Calvin for the first time.

He has already been such a blessing and wonderful addition to our family. Our other three children absolutely love him, and my wife and I enjoy simply staring at his cute, old-man looking face. But with his arrival came a lot of stress.

First, we think the labor was difficult for him. My wife spent over 21 hours in labor, and it seems that his head was a little crooked in the birth canal. In addition, the doctor had to use a vacuum to get Calvin out. Calvin’s head, as you can imagine, had a lot of trauma. The doctor assured us, though, that he would be fine and the swelling would go down within a few weeks.

Second, several of his toes are fused together. My wife and I find it adorable, but the doctor was concerned that there might be an underlining genetic issue.

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This is Soren’s hearing test. It was one of many tests this little guy endured.

They told us that everything looked good with his vitals and that he would probably need light surgery to correct the fusing. Again, it seemed that everything would be fine.

Third, while we were at the hospital, one of Calvin’s pediatricians requested an ultrasound of his kidneys. We were not aware of this, and my wife and I became very nervous. All three of our other children never had an ultrasound of anything on them, and so we began to worry about our little boy. The pediatrician explained that she wanted to check on his kidneys because Calvin’s tummy was extended, there may be a problem with his kidneys. Everything checked out fine, though.

Fourth, while we were at the hospital, Calvin seemed to be feeding well. He only lost a small amount of weight, and everything looked as though he were doing fine. At the first post-hospital appointment (Monday morning), however, Calvin had lost a significant amount of weight.

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My sweet wife, Hannah, holding our second son and fourth child. 

He was not getting enough milk, and the doctor was very concerned. The pediatrician found that his mouth was small, the roof of his mouth was high, and his suck was weak. He would have difficulty eating, and though she offered several suggestions to help the little fella, she suggested we talk to a pathologist.

Fifth, at the next appointment (Thursday of the same week), Calvin’s temperature was low (96). With the coronavirus, only Hannah was allowed to accompany Calvin, and when I received a call, Hannah was upset. She said the doctor was sending Calvin to the Shriner’s Hospital in Greenville for possible sepsis. At this point, my wife and I were extremely worried about Calvin. It seemed for every step forward he took three steps back. My mom drove to pick up our three older children, while Hannah and I went to Shriner’s. Again, because of the coronavirus, only one parent was allowed. My brave wife accompanied our little boy, while I waited in the parking lot.

This period was unsettling. I was away from our other children, our newborn son, and my wife. I was completely helpless. I recently completed a study through Psalm 119 of the word affliction. Two of the verses that contain that word came to mind, no doubt due to our gracious God the Spirit: Psalm 119:71 and 92.

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Our daughter, London, holding Calvin for the first time.

These two verses, along with Romans 8:28, provided a tidal wave of encouragement. I prayed and begged God for His healing of our little boy, for strength for my wife, and for His name to be glorified in everything.

While in the parking lot, I attempted to work. But it is almost impossible in such a situation to concentrate on anything else. I tried waiting in the ER waiting room, but they closed it, again due to the coronavirus. After discussing it with my wife, I headed home. I was completely alone, my mom even took our dog, Levi. It was eerily quiet. There were no children running around, singing songs or whistling, no dog barking, just silence. My wife’s thirtieth birthday was the coming Sunday, and so I wrapped her presents, not sure at this point if she would be home.

Later that evening (Thursday still) my wife called and told me all the tests that they would be running. It was a huge list, requiring at least a two-day stay at the hospital. The doctor told her that, if Calvin tested positive for sepsis, he would possibly need a 14-21 day stay. With each update, my wife received it seemed Calvin’s condition was becoming worse. Now my wife was upset, obviously, but she was trusting in the Lord in a way that she had never done before. Her faith in our sovereign God was displayed in a strong way, and I could not be more proud of her!

Friday came and with it, I went back to Shriner’s. I waited in the parking lot, once again, attempting to work and complete some assignments for school. My wife called and had me meet her. This was the first time we had seen each other in 24 hours, but it seemed like a month. Calvin was doing well, but we were still waiting for several test results. Many people all over the country were praying for our little Calvin, and it still overwhelms me at the love and care so many have shown our family.

Friday afternoon I decided to go and get our older children. With the unknown hospital stay, and with the fact that I was missing them like crazy, we decided to bring them back home. I was excited to get our children together! They asked questions about Calvin and momma, and the older two prayed for their little brother.

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Ellie loves her little brother “Cauvin”! 

Friday evening my wife said that two of the three tests came back negative for sepsis, and things started to look up. They scheduled a full-body x-ray to check for any bone defects, at which Calvin would have been referred to a genetic specialist. The X-ray came back negative for any issues, and once again we were overwhelmed by God’s graciousness.

Saturday morning came and the doctor told Hannah that if the last test came back negative, she could take Calvin home. It was better than Christmas morning! We were excited and could not wait to get our family back together.

I took the other three children and ran a couple of errands, eagerly awaiting a call from Hannah saying she and Calvin would be released. We returned home after the errands and right after I unloaded the last bag my phone rang. It was Hannah. I answered it and Hannah said, “We’re coming home!” Even typing this brings tears to my eyes. In a whirlwind of activity and concern, God answered the prayers of many of His children, graciously allowing our little Calvin to be well and return home. I loaded the kids back into the van and headed straight to the hospital where my beautiful bride and precious son were awaiting.

I cannot explain why God allowed us to go through this. But what I can do is offer a few lessons that God taught us. I hope and pray that they will help you when you go through dark waters.

BY GOING THROUGH AFFLICTION, MY WIFE AND I LEARNED TO TRUST GOD’S WORD

Psalm 119:71 states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”[1] It was good, the psalmist says. While I would never choose to go through something like that again, I can honestly say it was good. I learned that God comforts in an intimate and inconceivable way. That was good. I learned that God’s Word did not change with my dire circumstances. At a point in which everything seemed to be unraveling, God was sitting on His throne (Isaiah 6:1). None of this took Him by surprise. Everything was going according to His marvelous plan (Rom. 8:28). It was good that I was afflicted. When I was separated from my wife, knowing that she struggles with both depression and anxiety, I knew that God was with her and would never leave her (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5). It was good that we were afflicted. When we considered the fact that our little boy may not live, the treasure of our hearts was challenged (Matt. 6:19-21). Did we value our children’s lives over our God? Were we more concerned with our own desires more than God’s glory? It was good that we were afflicted.

God’s Word provided comfort during this affliction, and with this tool, we learned God’s Word better.

BY GOING THROUGH AFFLICTION, WE REALIZED THAT WITHOUT GOD, WE WOULD HAVE PERISHED

The psalmist writes, “If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.”[2] The psalmist realized that, without a loving relationship with God, affliction would have overcome him. My wife and I learned, through affliction, that God is the most important part of our lives. He was a refuge to which we would flee, whether reading His Word or praying to Him. The affliction was simply a tool that reminded us and continues to remind us, that God is the most important part of our lives.

We live great lives, enjoying our home, our church, and our family. And it is easy for us to become focused on those things rather than on God. Affliction reminded us, however, that God is the center of our lives. Our relationship with Him, given to us by His grace, is the anchor. We would have never been able to go through this trial without God.

BY GOING THROUGH AFFLICTION, WE WERE REMINDED THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD

Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”[3] Paul writes all things. This includes that wonderful times, such as the day I married the most beautiful, sweet, and amazing lady, Hannah. It included the churches in which I served, the births of our other three children, the long walks with my wife, the sweet sunrises, the laughing and singing of our children, the lovely afternoon nap, and so on. Those are all good things. But all things also include those dark times. The times when you watch your sweet, practically perfect grandmother waste away through Alzheimer’s. The times when you have bills due but not enough money. Those times when you argue with your spouse. And yes, even those times when your child could be deathly ill.

As we waited for updates and tests, while separated from each other and our children, we learned on a practical level that all things work together for good. My wife, as I mentioned earlier, has struggled with anxiety. Yet, as she is growing in her walk with our Heavenly Father, she would write on Facebook, “Please pray with us that we will find out what’s going on with our little guy and that God would be glorified through this situation!”[4] We are learning that all things work together for good, even those difficult, life-altering times.

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Thank you to all who prayed for our little boy. God has graciously answered our prayers!

This period of our life has been one of the most stressful. Yet, it has also been a season of growth. We are reminded of the preciousness of life, of the joys of being together, and of God’s sovereign rule. We are reminded that, even in the midst of this trying time, that God’s goodness has not changed one iota. We are reminded that His Word is a treasure trove of encouragement, challenge, and balance.

__________

For the study of affliction in Psalm 119, see these links:

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 1)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 2)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 3)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 4)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 5)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 6)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 7)

__________

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 119:71.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 119:92.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 8:28.

[4] https://www.facebook.com/hannah.o.howell

Helpful Resources for Longevity in Ministry

I have only been in ministry for a few years, but I am extremely blessed to have been connected with some helpful resources. Maybe you have been in ministry for many years, but you are experiencing difficult times. Or, like me, you have been in for 5-10 years. You may even be heading toward the ministry. Either way, we can all use these encouraging resources. Like piling wood for the cold months, stock pile these resources to keep your souls hot and your churches on fire.

9 Marks


9 Marks is a wonderful ministry with a variety of resources. Mark Dever has been working to help reform the church for over twenty years. His work, along with many other faithful men and women, has provided an abundance of resources (many of them free) dealing with a plethora of ministry issues.

One message, in particular, is Pray for Slow Growth, by Aaron Menikoff. In it he deals with reasons pastors and church leaders should actually pray for slow growth. If you are more of a reader, here is the article.

Desiring God


Much like 9 Marks, Desiring God, began by John Piper, is filled with many sermons, lectures, e-books, and articles. Each sermon contains a full-transcript, which allows easier consumption of more difficult concepts.

Banner of Truth


The Banner of Truth Trust is a wonderful provider of biblical books. I have yet to purchase a book from the Trust that is not worth its weight in gold (and I do mean this literally). In addition to providing excellent resources, they also host an annual conference (in the US) for the west and east coasts, respectively. I have been to two of them, and I always leave spiritually refreshed, challenged, and with an arm full of books!

 

There are numerous other resources that are available, and many of them are free. I am thankful that God provides such wisdom through gift men and women. May they be a blessing and encouragement to you.

“Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”: A Prayer

I began rereading John Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical MinistryThere are several books that I work through regularly (Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor is highest on the list). Each book stirs up a different flame of passion, a great awareness of personal sin, and a earnest desire to be the kind of pastor that truly honors the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of each chapter, Piper offers a prayer that accompanies the topic. For today’s reading, I was deeply moved by it. I hope that it provides you, pastor or not, with a greater desire to know our sovereign and holy God.

Piper prays,

God, delivery us from the professionalizers! Deliver us from the ‘low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us.’ (Bounds, 1972) God, give us tears for our sins. Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy verities, so content amid perishing neighbors, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversation. Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation. Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28). Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life. Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it. May Christ be all in all (Col. 3:11).

Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord.

Humble us, O God, under Your mighty hand, and let us rise, not as professionals, but as witnesses and partakers of the sufferings of Christ. In His awesome name. Amen. (Piper, 4)

Brother pastors, let us resolve to ever be in this prayer!

Gospel Centrality: A Vital Kingdom Mindset

In Ray Anderson’s book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, he writes,

In so many places right polity takes precedence over the gospel. Violation of polity may be our modern form of heresy.
[Ray S. Anderson, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (Downers Grove, IVP Books: 2006), 78.]

In my off day reading, I enjoy reading different theological works, biographies, practical ministry helps, and a variety of other material. But I am always drawn to theology, and in particular, theology in practice.

When I came across this thought I was struck at both its truth and the inherent danger of which us are at risk. First, the statement is true. I personally have experienced it in churches. The way a church functions, the way things have always been done, seem to be an unbreachable barrier to growth and change. We are creatures of habit, to be sure. But we must not allow the comforts of our habits to prevent us from changing and growing. And certainly we should not change simply for change’s sake. Our changes must be one of calculated research, drawing from Scripture and tradition to make positive changes in the lives of our churches.

Secondly, we must always be careful to watch our own lives for this danger. In working with other churches and denominations (which is Scripturally good and commanded) we run the risk of avoiding certain people, groups, or even whole denominations simply for the fact that they do church a little differently than us.

In our efforts to see the Kingdom of God continue to grow in our lives and communities, let us not let polity (or whatever else may come in the way) take precedence over the gospel.

“How is God present?” A Great Question for Parents and Guardians and Student Ministers

I have written a blog about the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus prior to this post. But the more I read this book, the more I am just impressed with the philosophy of Mark Yaconelli. The following is a section where he encourages student ministers (parents, guardians, etc.) to simply ask students, “How is God present?”

One way in which we can help in our discipleship is to ask questions. Jesus loved asking people questions. It is a great way to engage in conversations that are natural and reveal the actual thoughts and feelings of an individual.

The simple question, “How is God present?” is a great way to help students begin to look for and acknowledge him in their everyday lives.

Mark Yaconelli, in his book Contemplative Youth Ministry, gives four reasons why this is so helpful.

  1. “First, I’m reminding them that God is present and available.”

    This gives the students the reminder that God is actually with us (as the name Emmanuel is defined) and that He is intimately interested in our lives. Whether it is a soccer match, volunteering at the rescue mission, or simply taking a walk down the street, God is with us.

  2. “Second, the question also communicates that youth have the capacity to notice God.”

What an incredible thought! Your student has the capacity to notice God. This is the Creator we are talking about. The one that said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Sometimes adults can give off the impression that students cannot understand God and the awesome privilege we have to relate to Him. By asking that simple question we affirm our belief that they have the ability to see God at work in their lives.

  1. “Third, I am helping them reflect on their real-life theologies and religious biases.”

    I’ll use Mark’s words to describe this one. He writes, “When I ask a young person, ‘How is God present in this moment?’ she may respond, ‘I don’t think God has anything to do with my school; God is just about praying and church.’ To ask youth to notice God is to invite them to reflect on their beliefs concerning God’s relationship to the world.’

  2. “Finally, when I ask young people to notice the Holy Spirit in their midst, I’m helping them develop their sensitivity to God.”

And what better goal as those to whom God has gifted us with the training and rearing of these wonderful students, than to help them ‘develop their sensitivity to God’? This is, and should be, our heart beat, to draw the hearts of our students to a deep love of our Father.
I am praying for you, as you have the most influence, the most time, and the most potential, that God would open your eyes to the many opportunities we have to point our students to ‘the Name’, as the Jewish people call Him.

Lectio Divina: A Wonderful Experience

“Situated between life as we know it and life in its hoped-for fullness, spiritual practices are imbued with a sense of our relatedness to God, others, and the earth.” [Griffth and Groome, 2012]

That is how the editors Colleen Griffith and Thomas Groome begin their section on ‘The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Practices’. In my recent reading of the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus author Mark Yaconelli writes about “two basic, traditional forms of contemplative prayer to parents and people who minister with young people: lectio divina and centering prayer.” [Yaconelli, 2006] The practice known as lectio divina is of great spiritual value to those who can mine its wealth. Certainly there is wisdom in approaching this carefully, weighing each thought and prayer in balance with the Scriptures. Having that as an understanding, let us move into the practical benefits of lectio divina and the methods.

Yaconelli defines lectio divina as “holy reading”. [Yaconelli, 2006] There is a brief mention of this practice in Scripture (see Acts 8.26-39), and Schneiders describes it as “a rich practice of biblical spirituality of transformative engagement with the Word.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012]

Schneiders continues, “Lectio divina is a four-step process that begins with the slow, leisurely, attentive reading (lectio) and rereading of a biblical text. Often the text is committed to memory in the process. By internalizing the text in its verbal form, one passes on to a rumination or meditation on scripture bear witness to both the spiritual depth and the imaginative breadth to which the process could lead.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012] Schneiders description is brief, and unfortunately does not provide much practical advice.

This is where Yaconelli comes in handy. He provides a five-step method which I shall reproduce for you.

  • Preparation- find a passage of Scripture that can be meditated, contemplated, mined for its wealth. Set the ambiance, light a candle, place a cross or crucifix before you. Use bread and wine. breadwine-63ed983aThese are all symbols (and there are much more) that can bring to mind a thousand thoughts and accounts from Scripture.
  • Silence- Yaconelli recommends finding a quiet place in which you can communicate with God without noise or distraction. The Psalmist recommends being still (Psalm 46.10 uses a word that denotes a complete cessation of activity), so this is the first step.peaceful-place-park
  • Reading- This one seems to stand without saying, but lectio divina requires reading. This reading is different than our normal reading. Sometimes we read for information, other times for leisure. But for this we are “seeking to be with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006] So a short Psalm, a few verses in an epistle work perfectly.
  • Meditation- This step allows the truth of the Scripture to speak through the Holy Spirit about your life, your thoughts, your successes, your failures, you.
  • Oration- This is where you begin to speak to God, you thank Him, beg Him for help. “Honestly express your deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires in a dialogue with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006]
  • Contemplation- I love how Yaconelli describes this last step. “Finally, allow yourself to simply rest in God, like a child resting in her mother’s lap.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

There is a mystical beauty in this practice. Sometimes it may be hard, especially for our western, fact-based thinking. But I close with the story he offers as a magnificent description of lectio divina.

“My wife and I dated in college before the days of e-mail. During the summers, when we were apart, we would write letters to each other. I still remember the excitement of running to the mailbox after each workday, hoping to see a letter with my name written in Jill’s handwriting. Each time I received a letter from my beloved, I would run down to my room, close the door, and then slowly pore over her words. When I read a letter from Jill, it was very different from other forms of reading. I wasn’t seeking to catch up on the news as much as I was seeking to experience Jill. I was seeking to meet her in her letters, to receive her love, to feel her presence and be with her in some way.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

A Study in Details: Exact Knowledge and Sherlockian Advice for the Teachers of Scripture

Statue_of_Sherlock_Holmes_in_Edinburgh

I’ll admit, the title is lengthy. Fourteen words that could probably be summed up in three may be overkill, but it reminds me of older works written in the 18th century. However, it summarizes the main idea behind this post.

I love Sherlock Holmes. It is no secret. If someone asks me what my favorite book is I reply without hesitation, “Sherlock Holmes.” My favorite movie? Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Favorite TV show? BBC’s Sherlock. I love everything about him. But one of my favorite aspects regarding Mr. Holmes is that he has much to teach me. I have said before in passing that if I could be as studious and detailed as Sherlock my life as a teacher and student of Scripture would be much more productive. In this series of posts I want to share readings, whether long or brief, from the novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I see applications to preachers, teachers, small group leaders, and disciple makers. So, if you fall into one of these camps, please read on. “The game is afoot!” [Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange]

In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. John Watson meets Mr. Sherlock Holmes for the first time. Being an injured former military man with no friends, no work, and soon to have no home, John was looking for an affordable place to stay. During a conversation with a former acquaintance, one young Stamford. By happenstance the young dresser mentions that another gentleman was looking for a roommate. This begins the long friendship which was to ensue between Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes. In describing Mr. Holmes Stamford informs Watson that “He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge.” [Stamford, A Study in Scarlet]

The need for ‘definite and exact knowledge’ when studying, reading, and teaching the Scriptures should be evident in the most basic sense. Unfortunately, a brief look into blogs, a short ‘sermon’, or even a glance through many commentaries will yield ample proof that this truth is not so basic. Scripture is clear that study is necessary for both one’s personal growth as well as the mutual encouragement of others (Joshua 1.8, 2 Timothy 2.15 and 3.14-17 to name a few). Why would Holmes have this passion, as Stamford puts it, for ‘definite and exact knowledge’? For Holmes, it dealt with legal matters, with justice. These are, no doubt, of the utmost importance. The proper punishment for the guilty individual is vital. In the affairs of men there is not a higher calling. But students of Scripture are not to live in the affairs of men alone. Our minds are to be on heavenly things (Colossians 3.1) and as such should be filled with heavenly thoughts (or Scripture, if you will). As such we should have a passion, an all-consuming goal for ‘definite and exact knowledge’, and that of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the One Whom we teach. It is Him that we point to in our studies, in our messages, in our small groups, in our shopping trips, in our school assignments, in our friendships, in a word, our life.

Our description from Stamford seems to have an equivalent thought in the Tanakh, in the book of Nehemiah.

“He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge.” -Stamford referring to Sherlock Holmes

“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” -Nehemiah referring to the Levites

Do you see the connection? The Levites had  a passion for definite and exact knowledge of God’s Law and sought to pass that on to His people. May this be our goal, our prayer, each time we study and present God’s truth.

“Preparation for Ministry”: An Effective Little Book

  
My wife purchased several books for me for Christmas. I love books! No matter what the occasion, if one were to ask me, “What can I get you?” My reply is always, “Books!” But I also like specific books. I thoroughly enjoy theological books, church history, but also practical books. I received several books on youth ministry and communication, but along with these practical works Hannah gave me the book titled, “Preparation for Ministry”. It is written by Allan Harman, a pastor and professor. 

First Thoughts

My first thoughts regarding the work is that it would be more substantial. The actual work only covers 43 pages, but to my surprise the conciseness turned out to be a strength. More on that to come.

My second thought is that, because it is written from a Reformed tradition, that it would be incredibly strict concerning its applicational thoughts to ministry. Again, the book greatly surprised me.

The third thought I had when perusing the table of contents was that more than half the book was focused on sermon preparation and an address by B B Warfield. While I am still sightly disappointed with the length, the benefits of the appendixes are worth purchasing the book.

A Brief Breakdown of the Strengths

As I promised, the conciseness of the book turned out to be a great strength. As a minister (praise God!), a seminary graduate, and a lover of knowledge, I tend to enjoy rich and challenging theological works. If a book has a bibliography of 15-20 pages, then I get excited! So when I received the book and saw the size of it, I was disappointed. However, upon reading the work I was pleasantly shocked that the length did not impugn upon the content. Rather, it fortified it. Granted, this is not (nor does it claim to be) a work of thorough scholarship. It is a book concerned with “a call to ministry, theological training, and entry into pastoral work.” (vii) The length makes it an excellent tool to pass on to young people dealing with the question of a call to ministry. Additionally, it makes for a great tool for small groups to discuss, especially in the presence of a current minister.

Another strength that comes from this work is that is weds intellectual study with spiritual vitality. The address by Warfield entitled, “The Religious Life of Theological Students” wonderfully incorporates both the need for personal piety and the blessings and necessity of communal life. I have heard from individuals that books are not needed, we simply need the Bible. And while I do not mean to undermine the Scriptures, this is foolish thinking. Warfield’s comments are amazing: “Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. ‘What!’, is the appropriate response, ‘than ten hours over your books, on your knees?’ Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?” (95) Harman does a great job of wedding the two as well in chapter five.

And one final strength, which is also personal for me, is the emphasis Harman places on the minister’s family. In his chapter “Staying Fresh” Harman writes, “Your first priority has to be your own family, who need fatherly care and attention. Nothing can substitute for this, for if you cannot care for your family, how can you care for the church of God? (I Tim. 3:5)” (38) I know of several ministers who have ruined their families and ministries because they neglected their families. For him to include this in a work designed for young people, it is priceless advice.

Final Thoughts

I have to conlude, predominantly because I don’t want to rewrite the book, but also because it would be worth your time and money to purchase and read it yourself. I would like to, however, address one of my comments regarding the predominat Reformed overtones of the work. A brief glance at his references and it is easily seem that his Reformed background comes into play. But the surprise was that the work itself would avail to backgrounds of several persuasions, and since it is a work for the Church (notice the capital ‘c’), it can and should be applied to all within Christ’s body. So, preacher friends, get this book! Keep a couple of extra copies for those young people who may have a spark of God’s call in their lives. Church member, check it out! This book gives a brief glimpse into the life of your minister. It will enable you to pray for fervently and effectually for him, and speaking on behalf of ministers, we need your prayers.