The Beauty of the Book of Job

Ah…the beauty of the poetics of Job at last have been discovered and boiled down to the following helpful equation (courtesy of Robert Polzin, Biblical Structuralism, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977, p.75):   Fx(a) : Fy(b) ≅ Fx(b) : Fa – 1(y) 
Aren’t you overwhelmed by the clear structure of the theodicy of Job?  Does it not amaze you that the ancient writer could wrestle with the ultimate questions of justice and come to such mind-blowing formula? I figured someone else might enjoy this bit of literary humor besides myself.  At least this is not the normal for a “literary reading” (though I can’t see any way around such in structuralism). 🙂

I Love Iran

Many of you may not yet know about one of the loves of my life: Iran.  I have been passionate about its land and people since I was sixteen.  One of my greatest hopes is to someday live in Iran and live and work among her many peoples.  I’m sure many may think I’m bonkers…especially in the heated political and military climate of our day.  I’ve heard often enough from folks in our country that they would like us to just nuke Iran and be done with them.  I am quick to confront such ignorance  outright stupidity whenever I encounter it.  The Iran we caricature is not the Iran of reality.  It is a land of beauty and ruggedness, welcoming home to more refugees than nearly any other nation on the planet.  It is one of the most educated nations and has one of the largest populations.

So I thought I might share with you a little more about this great land and its people.  With my passion for all things Iranian (despite its faulty linguistic referent according to many) in mind, HERE is an AMAZING set of 51 pictures of the land of Iran.  I doubt you will think of the land the same ever again.  You can find some incredible information on the MANY people groups in Iran HERE by selecting “Iran” for the country pull-down menu. 

With this in mind, please join me in praying for the peace of God in Iran.

Future Reading Plans

While this may be a bit of a stretch, much of it will actually be read by the end of summer and into the fall season.  Many folks have asked what I’m doing now with all my “free time” since I graduated from Seminary.  Well…I’m doing lots of reading as well as will be doing some teaching at several schools in the region (colleges and seminary) over the next year.  Some of the following reading is for the courses I will be teaching, some is for my church and some is just for fun:
John E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC 1992); Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics (CC 2004); Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus (NAC 2000); Allan Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (2006); Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (NICOT 1979).
Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (AOTC 2001); Duane Christensen, Deuteronomy (WBC 2 vols. 1991, 1999); Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT 1976); J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy (AOT 2002).
Former Prophets (Joshua-2 Kings)
Robert B. Chisholm, Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook (2006); Terence E. Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (1983); Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (2008); L. Thomas Holdcroft, The Historical Books (2000); David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (2007); Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (JSOTSup 2nd ed.1991); Marvin E. Tate, From Promise to Exile: The Former Prophets (1999).
Derek Kidner, Psalms (TOTC 2vols. 1981); John Goldingay, Psalms (BECOT 3vols. 2008).
D. A. Carson, Matthew (EBC 1984); R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT 2005); Grant Osborne, Matthew (ZEC 2010); David Turner, Matthew (BECNT 2008).
Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (2000).

Of course, none of this includes the volumes of Barth and Bonhoeffer which I continually am wading through, but it gives a brief look at my reading schedule for the next few months.  I am thoroughly excited about reading these volumes and all the treasurers to be uncovered in the intensive study of Scripture and theology.

The Spirit in the World

Today is Pentecost Sunday and I was asked to cover the adult Sunday School class since our normal teacher was gone.  I, of course, knew what the content would cover and did not really prepare as I usually do.  Instead, we discussed the passages from the lesson (Acts 8, 10-11, 19) and what it means for the Spirit to be poured out on the Samaritans who had professed faith in Christ, the Gentiles who were “God-fearers” and were only afterward baptized into the name of Christ, and the Ephesian disciples of John the baptizer who received the baptism of the Spirit at the hands of the apostle Paul.

As we discussed these passages, I was struck by the presence and work of the Spirit throughout the world among all people.  We discussed that it was God’s Spirit no longer remaining with the antediluvians in the days of Noah, and God’s indwelling Spirit which sanctified David.  It was also God’s Spirit in the unborn John son of Zacharias and Elizabeth that gave testimony to Mary the mother of our Lord.  That same Spirit was present and at work even as the teachers of the Law accused Jesus of casting out unclean spirits by the power of the evil one. 

Through this conversation, I confessed to my congregation that indeed we are simply partners with the Spirit who is present and always has been.  It is about our relationship (read: yielded, obedient, etc.) with the Spirit that affects in what manner we speak of the Spirit being present.  We join the Spirit’s already ongoing work.  This is why I can affirm that any of us are ever drawn to salvation, because the Spirit is at work even while and where the Church is not.  However, at the feast of Pentecost, the Church discovers this new-found relationship to the Spirit that drives them to live as the Spirit lives…as those who carry the good news of Christ Jesus come into the world by the Father, crucified, died, buried…raised to life and ascended to the right hand of God.  It is a new day for the disciples of Jesus who have now discovered in the Spirit another “advocate” (a term notably difficult to translate from the Greek) who is like Jesus and reveals Jesus in and through them to a waiting world…a world where the Spirit is already at work to redeem and restore.  This is the Spirit in the world (to be fair…I probably should check out Karl Rahner’s book by the same name).

So I was wondering what your thoughts on the presence and activity of the Spirit in the world might be?  Or is the Spirit only present in the Church in your way of reading the Scripture?

Another Blog Is Born

With all my new-found free-time (read with sarcasm) since graduation…I have started a new blogging venture with several fellow pastors.  The blog is titled: “Blue Chip Pastors” (you’ll have to check out the blog to discover the reason for the name) and it promises to offer pastoral discussions and insight into God’s work in the pastorate being enjoined by those simple enough to believe in the mass-market mentality of the pastoral office that we must practice this holy calling with great care and faithfulness (and not seek “branding” or salesmanship).  I know I’m looking forward to the posting of my fellow bloggers and will hopefully have a lot something to contribute to this important conversation.  You can check it out HERE and don’t forget to add it to your RSS feeder. 🙂

God Is Not Safe

God is not safe!

Or so I have come more and more to confess.  It was C. S. Lewis writing of the deific character Aslan that he was not “safe,” but he was “good.”  Being honest, I have tended to meditate on Scriptures like Psalm 121 that speak of our God always keeping watch over us and never letting us falter, or Psalm 91:1 and its opening line: “You who live in the secret place of Elyon, spend your nights in the shelter of Shaddai” (NJB).  I have camped upon the promises of provision and protection (which one encounters throughout Scripture), but I have been driven from my claim to shelter by the words of Job. 

The story of “patient Job” is one that reminds me that the God we serve is not safe.  We can certainly trust Him (and must), but we cannot assume that my doing right = my receiving immediate blessing.  The LORD is God…I am not.  He can raise up and put down.  He exalts and humbles…and without mathematical precision.  We rest in His grace and depend on Him always.  We can never presume upon His grace though (or else it would not be truly grace).  God speaks in the whirlwind and declares Himself to be God and us to be his creation. 

So…I worship trembling before the God of all…who is not safe as I would have him be, but is still “my rock and my fortress” though all else fails me…though life itself seem darkened by death and despair..the light of His glory shines eternal!  I will cast myself again and again at His mercy…for He will eventually answer!

The Theological Meaning and Significance of Yom in Genesis 1

I have just uploaded my Master’s thesis to Scribd for anyone interested in reading it.  Also, I’ve got a link to it on my “Writings” tab under “Theology” which can be found HERE (along with some of my other writing).  Any feedback is appreciated as I continue to reflect on this topic that I have spent the last number of years working through. 

I have been truly fortunate to study with a fine and godly OT scholar like Dr. August Konkel over these last years.  He was invaluable to the development and direction of my thesis and I pray that my work is representative of his tremendous investment into me.  I was greatly benefited also by the careful reading of all things SBL-standards related by Joel Banman (who cannot in any way be held accountable for any remaining mistakes which I may have additionally created) and the library staff of Providence Theological Seminary (thanks to Terry Kennedy and her wonderful staff).  And also I must thank Tremper Longman for his overly kind comments on my draft of this thesis and his recommendations for several key areas.

The short of it all is that it turns out “day” means and signifies far more than I had initially anticipated when I first set upon writing this thesis.  I truly do hope at some point to contribute further in a positive way to the ongoing discussion of this crucial text of Scripture and trust my thesis might serve as a launch toward that direction.

To Write or Not To Write

I have officially finished my final edits for my Master’s thesis (unless of course I suddenly find some more mistakes).  And so…I will finally be printing off my copies this week for the LONG process of signatures, cataloging and binding.  Perhaps I’ll see it again by early Fall (Lord willing!).  Anyways, if you ever wonder, “What is the point of writing a Master’s thesis?” (which I have asked more times than I care to remember over the last several years while I worked on mine) I just happened upon a great blog post by Dr. John Stackhouse of Regent College that answers that question in a harsh, but honestly helpful manner.  So what are your thoughts on a Master’s thesis?

Another Bonhoeffer Volume Is Published

IT’S HERE!!!  The eleventh volume of the sixteen volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English: Ecumenical, Academic and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932.  I was overjoyed to find my copy on my front doorstep this afternoon.  There now remains only one more volume (number 14) to be published before the series is complete.

Volume 11 in the sixteen-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition, Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932, provides a comprehensive translation of Bonhoeffer’s important writings from 1931 to 1932, with extensive commentary about their historical context and theological significance. This volume covers the significant period of Bonhoeffer’s entry into the international ecumenical world and the final months before the beginning of the National Socialist dictatorship. It begins with Bonhoeffer’s return to Berlin in June 1931 after his year of study in the United States. In the crucial period that followed, Bonhoeffer continued his preparations for the ministry, began teaching at Berlin University, and became active at international ecumenical meetings. His letters and lectures, however, also document the economic and political turbulence on the European and world stage, and Bonhoeffer directly addresses the growing threat of the Nazi movement and what it portends not only for Germany, but for the world. Several of the documents in this volume, particularly the student notes of his university lecture on “The Nature of the Church” and his lectures on Christian ethics, give important insights into his theology at this point. His ecumenical lectures and reports are significant documents for understanding the ecumenical debates of this period. 

I did note that Fortress Press is now offering all of the published volumes as a set for only $400 (which is a STEAL).

Valedictory Address 2012

(The following was my valedictory address for the graduates of Providence Theological Seminary 2012):

Graduates, faculty, administration and friends of Providence Theological Seminary, I am humbled by the opportunity to speak to you today.  This has been a long endeavour and I appreciate the confidence to address this great gathering. 

As I consider my time at Providence, I would like to share some reflections with you which are very dear to my heart.
It was five years ago that I set upon the Master of Divinity Honours here at Providence.  This journey has offered more challenges than I had initially imagined.  No one quite knows the cost of committing to such things, even as the costs are carefully laid out prior to admission. 
During my time at Providence, my wife and I have suffered the loss of two unborn children and been blessed with the birth of our fourth child whose name fittingly means “life.”  We have attended the funerals of nearly all of our grandparents and several uncles and aunts.  But we have also welcomed nearly a dozen nephews and nieces into the world. 
I have witnessed friends graduate and move into more expansive roles of ministry where it has thrilled me to see the Lord’s leading in their lives.  I have also shared the burden of two dear seminary friends who went to be with our Lord, even while they committed themselves to training for such wider service.  This is to say that my time in seminary has not been removed from life, but fully participating in life with all of its joys and sorrows.
This is life…lived obedience to the gracious vivifying call of the Spirit of God in Christ…participation in His life in the midst of this world.  A world yet marred by sin while still reflecting (though dimly at times) the glory of its Creator and Redeemer. 
What I have discovered–and rediscovered–over the course of my studies is that such a life of faithfulness to God’s gracious call demands prayerful and careful attention to the voice of the Spirit even as it is God’s Spirit which works that call in and through us.  As our Lord Jesus declared through his servant John, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”  These words echo in my ears again and again.  These words both haunt me in my strength and enliven me in my weakness.
Am I listening?  Are we listening?  Do we hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church?  An ever attentive ear is imperative if we are ever to love the LORD our God with our whole being.
The voice of the Spirit has much to say to us that we are not yet ready to hear and at times do not seem desirous to hear.  He has words of consolation and encouragement, words of hope and joy.  He also has words of rebuke and censure, of sorrow and repentance.  It is the ‘Yes’ of God to us and for us, even as it must also be the ‘No’ of God to all that diminishes His glory.  The Spirit is speaking, the Spirit of the Lord and Saviour…our Lord and Saviour and even this world’s.  Are we listening?
He calls us from this place to a new place in the wider world where we might declare the glory of God in corners long lost and bound in darkness…places where many wait for a message of God’s radiant presence come near.  Places which beg for the light of His kingdom come.  Places where that same Spirit goes before us even now preparing the harvest just as the harvesters themselves are prepared.
Are we listening?  Are we so shining that the goodness of our God is evident to all.  Are we ready for the good works our God has prepared for us and has prepared us for?  Will we step from this place in faith-filled, Spirit-empowered obedience to follow the narrow and difficult path of God which has been laid for us…where the voice of our Lord speaks and we answer simply, “Here I am” and “Where you lead, I will follow”?
Do we hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church today and will we not be content only with what has been spoken in the past as if that word is not the living and active Word of God?  Will we follow when we do not see far ahead?  When a faithless world and a pseudo-church reject all that the Spirit is saying?  Will we still love God as at the first, when the love of most has been twisted inward or surrendered altogether?  Will we remain clean and pure in a world mired in sin?  Will we cling to the teaching of the Prophets and Apostles who have themselves traveled similar paths enduring to the end?  Will we trust in the only sufficient provision for life…the One who Himself is Life?  Will we hear what the Spirit is saying and so join the great company of those overcoming and victorious saints throughout all of the ages, as they sing, “To Him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever”?
I tell you today, “As for me and my house…” we will listen.  And listen again.