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Wednesday
Apr162014

Count it all joy

This morning at Out of the Ordinary, I am writing about the words of James to count it all joy when we have trials.

Click here to read.

Monday
Apr142014

Want to study the bible? Find those phrases!

I'm half finished Bill Mounce's book Greek For the Rest of Us. This is an excellent book, and for keen bible students, it's worth a look. I took three semesters of Koine Greek in university, but I have largely forgotten it, so this is a way to get my feet wet getting back into the language.

The subtitle of the book is "Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Greek." You won't learn about declining nouns, or translate anything, but Mounce promises a few things:

  1. You will be able to understand why translations are different.
  2. You will discover the meaning of the Greek that lies beneath the English.
  3. You will learn the basics of exegesis.
  4. You will learn to make good use of commentaries. 

The chapter where Mounce discusses why translations are different is very eye-opening and dispels some common misunderstandings about translations. If you read this chapter alone, you will be left appreciating the very difficult and complex process that is translation, and you will understand why good translation is done by committee rather than an individual. This chapter re-inforced my stubborn refusal to use The Message when I study the bible.

The chapters that discuss basics of exegesis rely on something Mounce calls "phrasing." Some people call this block diagramming, and Precept Ministries offers courses (I took them all) based on similar principles, and calls it "structuring." Bible Arcing also resembles this process, but is much more involved.

When we do phrasing we take a passage of scripture and evaluate its component parts, its thought units. When Mounce calls it "phrasing" he does not necessarily mean the grammatical term for phrase; clauses and phrases alike are thought units, and he refers to them all as phrases when he discusses this process.

The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate each phrase, and determine the main flow of thought by separating the main thoughts from the modifiers. Phrasing has been one of the most helpful tools I have used in bible study. It forces me to slow down and really engage with the text.

First, the text is broken down into sections by identifying the topics in the passage. This step is especially important when reading an epistle, because that helps us establish the context. After the sections are identified, we separate the individual pieces further.

Here is my initial breakdown of James 1:2-4. This section, obviously, is about what to do when confronting trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet with trials of various kinds
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect
that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

The bold words are the main phrases. The others are modifiers. When I do phrasing, I write it out by hand, and I put the main phrases at the left hand margin. "When you meet with various trials," is placed on a separate line, indented underneath "Count it all joy" to demonstrate that it modifies that phrase. "For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" would also have its own line, indented underneath "Count it all joy" because it provides the reason why we are to "count it all joy." Once you get started, you will find yourself asking questions of the text as you determine what modifies what. It's time consuming, but time well spent.

This book is well worth your time. It's good to recognize that we need to know how to study our bibles better, but for many, they don't know where to begin. This might be helpful for someone. I know it's helped me, and I've been studying my bible for years. We all may not have classes available, but we can certainly start ourselves with the help of some good tools.

Also check out Biblical Training for free lectures of Mounce's material.

Sunday
Apr132014

Lifting Up Our Hearts - 22

Rescued from the Darkness of Death
Malachi 1:1-6

Grant, Almighty God,
that as thou hast not only designed
to give us a life in common with this world
but hast also separated us
from the other heathen nations
and illuminated us
by the Sun of Righteousness,
Thine only begotten Son,
in order to lead us
into the inheritance of eternal salvation --

O grant that,
having been rescued from the darkness of death,
we may ever attend to that celestial light
by which Thou guidest and invitest us to Thyself.

And may we so walk as children of light,
as never to wander
from the course of our holy calling,
but to advance in it continually,
until we shall at length
reach the goal Thou has set before us,
so that having put off all the filth of the flesh,
we may be transformed
into that ineffable glory,
of which we have now the image
in Thine only begotten Son. Amen. 

Thursday
Apr102014

There is nowhere safe

Yesterday, I was listening to the radio app that I have on my computer, Rdio. I was listening to a folk/country type station and a song I remember very well came on. It was "He Thinks He'll Keep Her." It was originally recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter. The song is inspired by an old Folger's commercial where a man tastes his delicious coffee, turns to the camera and says, "My wife, I think I'll keep her," or some such phrase. The song is a rather bitter reflection about the disillusionment with domesticity.

Listening to it years ago, in 1993, I had two small children, and I didn't put too much thought into the song. But yesterday, as the song floated through the room while I did some dusting, the chorus just seemed to jump at out me:

Everything runs right on time, years of practice and design
Spit and polish till it shines. He thinks he'll keep her
Everything is so benign, safest place you'll ever find
God forbid you change your mind. He thinks he'll keep her

It is particularly the second last line of that chorus I kept hearing: "safest place you'll ever find."

In my head yesterday, I thought, "In this day and age, it is not really considered safe to forego a career and depend on a man." And it is true. When I tell people I have not worked outside the home since 1989, many are intrigued, but some react in a very telling way: "You mean you don't have your own money?"

To some women, the thought that I would put myself at the mercy of my husband to care for me is shocking. Is that what they call a "safe" place? What does "safe" place mean, anyway? 

I suspect by safe, it means that there is no risk in staying home with a family. And that's a lot of rot. There is nowhere safe if the song means safe from challenge, safe from conflict, safe from suffering. The reality is that there are women who stayed at home with their children, put themselves under the protection of their husbands, only to have their husbands leave them. Perhaps someone would respond with, "That's why a woman needs to have her own career." But even a woman with a career is not safe from risk or struggle.

There is nowhere safe. Every life confronts risk, struggle, heartache, turmoil, and frustration.

Scripture reminds us that as Christians, we are called to suffer for Christ (I Pet. 2:21, 3:13-17). James reminds us right in his opening verses that we are to expect trials (James 1:2). As Christians, we are not only to bear up under trials, but James says to find joy in them. There are no qualifying statements saying, "But as a woman if you have it all, career, home, husband, and family, you'll be fine." What we do with our lives is not the determining factor of whether or not we'll face trials. If we believe in the sovereignty and providence of God, we know God ordains them for our good. They are the means of sanctification. Some of the most trial-ridden people, walking through the darkest of waters, have the most profound and precious insights to the character of God. 

Safe? 

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the Pevensie children are visiting the Beavers, they hear about Aslan. Susan and Lucy ask about who he is. When asked if Aslan is safe, Mr. Beaver says: "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Walking with Christ is not safe, but whatever He gives us is good.

Jesus told his disciples that they would be hated for his names' sake. We here in North America sometimes forget the the world is not our oyster, and that while God promises us He will never leave us or forsake us, He does not promise us freedom from struggle. Walking with Christ is not a promise to the easy life.

Whatever we do as women, wherever we find our vocations, remember that those vocations are not what save us; they are not what keep us and preserve us. They aren't the substance of our holiness. God is. As my friend Persis wrote so well recently, we go to the one who has the words of life. The only safety we can find is dwelling in Christ, and putting our hope in Him.

Wednesday
Apr092014

It wasn't my job to be a cool parent

When my daughter was 16, she had a group of friends over. While they were there, I happened to stop in my daughter's room to ask her for one of he CD's. That was in the olden days when people actually used CD's.

One of my daughter's friends thought it was "cool" to have a mother who liked similar music. I don't even remember what the CD was. But at the time, in my vanity, it was a little fun to be considered cool. My husband and I were working in the youth group at that time, and some of our kids' friends did think we were cool. We were the parents who would take car loads of kids to see concerts, who welcomed them in our home whenever they wanted, so that worked in our favour, I guess.

It's tempting, when our kids are teenagers, to want to be considered cool. After a while, we may even adopt their unique lingo. When our kids were teens, the word "woot" was particularly enjoyable to use, and yes, I used it. I probably thought it made me sound even more cool, but actually, I suspect they were all rolling their eyes. We have to be careful that when our kids are teens, we don't use that time to re-live our own teen years, this time with the benefit of some years of wisdom. We are not teenagers, and grown people who act like them look foolish. I know I looked foolish at times, and I'm trusting in the mercy of those who witnessed it.

Recently, while at a meal with my boys, I used the word "stoked." That was a bad move on my part. I don't even know why I used it, except for that I see it used a lot, and by people who aren't teenagers. I see it used by grown up people with children, so I figured, why not? Well, my 22 year old son looked at me and said, "Did you just say 'stoked'?" I was immediately self-conscious, and I turned to my other son and asked him if that was allowed, and he said "I wasn't going to say anything, but it did sound kidnda weird."

Even as young adults, our kids seem to sense that there is a difference between themselves and their parents. 

Of all the hundreds of mistakes I made while parenting teens, the biggest mistake I made was worrying too much about being cool. It wasn't my job to be cool. It was my job to be the parent. And if it meant being unpopular, then so be it. It wasn't my job to emulate their dress or speech in order to show some kind of understanding or solidarity with them. Yes, I had been a teenager once, but to them it was in the Dark Ages.

It was my responsibility to follow Ephesians 6:4, which addresses fathers, but includes mothers:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Recently, as I was teaching what Proverbs had to say about wise parenting, we discussed the possibe ways we could provoke our kids. The contrast to provoking, introduced with the word "but," is bringing them up. The biggest way we can provoke our children is to not do our job. Sometimes, trying to be too cool means we may miss being the parent. The problem with trying to be too cool or too much of a buddy is that when we inevitably have to start being the parent and put our foot down, our child may think, "Why are you being such a drag?" 

Of course, we don't have to be combative or harsh with our children, but there does come a time when we have to be really firm, and that may generate resistance or conflict. Worrying about being too "cool" might make us a little unwilling to do the real job of parenting; you know, the discipline and instruction thing. Looking back, I wish I had shown a better balance.

Now, being a grandparent? I think that wll be the "cool" time, because all of the hard stuff will be left to the parents, and I'll get the fun. Lord, willing, anyway.