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O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel


Go deep or go home

A few years ago, I taught the book of John to my ladies' Sunday school class. We used a study guide written by Kathleen Nielson. It was a good guide, but as a teacher, I wanted to have a good commentary to use alongside. I bought D.A. Carson's Pillar Commentary. It was not light reading.

There was much I didn't entirely understand. It's not as technical as a Word Biblical Commentary, but it wasn't a Reformed Expository Commentary (which is basically a compilation of sermon type content). But I like Carson's preaching and writing, and I persisted. There were moments when I would come out from the fog and read something that was so profound, it made the slogging through technical matters worth the effort. That is what I love about Carson's writing: ultimately, he will distill it further to a place where anyone can understand. I think I would benefit from the commentary much more now. As an aside, that is yet another benefit of language studies: you are more able to benefit from some really excellent commentaries.

The books that I found challenging ten years ago don't seem so daunting anymore. And I think that is the normal progression in the Christian life; especially for someone who reads a lot. If I read a lot and never grow I am either not reading carefully enough or I'm not challenging myself. For me, I need to be challenged.

One of the most difficult books I have read in the theological gentre is Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text? It took me months. But I have not forgotten what it was about. There are phrases and principles which remain with me, and I think it's been over five years now since I read it. It was one of the most satisfying reading experiences I've had. It also changed the way I approach reading. I would rather struggle through one difficult book than breeze through four or five books. I want to study the books I read, not just read them.

This coming year as part of my personal devotions, I'm going to start reading through the Greek New Testament. My Greek prof suggested that even seven minutes a day can help us keep our Greek. In addition to reading a couple of verses a day and making sure I understand them, I'm using a commentary on the Greek NT by Martin Culy. This is a challenging exercise, and I welcome it. I think the more we challenge ourselves, the more we learn. 

It isn't just PhD's and academics who are able to read difficult material. Developing reading skills is something we can all do. But it means daring to read something more difficult. If you are looking for a place to find good commentaries which will challenge you, check out Best Commentaries. They identify commentaries according to "devotional," "pastoral," and "technical." Try moving from a devotional to a pastoral commentary.

I think many of us can read more difficult material even if we don't believe we can. But you don't know until you try.


When the uncool find each other

This past fall, through a friend on Facebook, I learned of the death of someone I went to high school with. I remembered him vividly because I had a mad crush on him. He was funny, charming, and lived large. Judging from the obituaries, he remained that way. On Facebook, through my friend, I saw that a group of his friends from high school -- all people I knew from high school -- had gathered to remember him. I was never part of that group. They were the cool kids; the pretty ones; the popular ones. Those of us who were on the outside could only observe from a distance. I never had a hope with this guy because I wasn't from his world.

I was not a cool kid. In my last year of high school, when I was in class with these people, I was going through a lot of personal and spiritual struggles. Yet I longed to be a part of their number. In high school, we believed life would be better if we were in that popular crowd. However, I was not pretty or charming enough. I was not a peppy little cheerleader or a great athlete. And I was not bold enough to try to re-make myself into someone who would fit in with them, even if I had been given the chance. I watched from a far, and like many of us who remained on the fringes, treasured those rare moments when one of the group would break free for a moment and actually have a conversation with us. I wish I could say such groups vanish entirely in adulthoot, but they don't.

In 1984, I met a fellow uncool kid, my husband. And our coming together was something only God could ordain. I met him in August of 1984, and nine months later, I was converted to Christ. How thankful I am that I was never invited into that inner circle! I am thankful that God kept me feeling on the fringes so that I would keep seeking him, and in the process, find not only him, but the man who would become my husband. My husband is an untalkative, forgetful, easily distracted introvert. Had I known him in high school, I may not have noticed him. By the time I met him, I was less impressed with the notion of "cool."

One thing I have come to understand is that those who are perceived as cool frequently have a sense of entitlement. Because they are popular, they assume others should defer to them. They assume that they are on everyone's mind. One thing about those of us who were not popular is that we did not expect others to defer to us. Sometimes, the best thing for someone's character is to be bullied and ostracized. Interestingly, both my husband and I experienced that. 

Today, my husband and I still sit among those in the ranks of the uncool. Sometimes, it bothers me, but it doesn't bother my husband at all. And I respect him enough to know that his apathy to such things is the right attitude to have.


Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding

Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
"Christ is nigh," it seems to say;
"Cast away the works of darkness
O ye children of the day!"

Wakened by the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.

Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.

So when next He comes in glory,
Wrapping all the world in fear,
May He with His mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.


Biblical Greek, exams, and other seminary-like matters

I wrote my Greek Exegesis exam. It was long, and it was not a freebie. I did not write a perfect exam, but I finished in the alotted time. The exam had two long passages from the New Testament for translation. After the translation, we had to parse verbs and then point out grammar, syntax, and semantic features of the passage. In the last fifteen minutes, I had a question that made me go back and re-consider how I translated something. I am glad for that.

I loved my Greek studies. This is the last Greek class I'll have in my MDiv. Next language to tackle is Hebrew. That will start in September. I wish there were more Greek classes. One of the things I love about it is that it makes me a better Bible reader in general. With every translation, I have to ask myself "why?" Why is the writer using this construction as opposed to something else? What is the writer trying to convey with his language? Just like writers in all languages ponder over word choice, so did the Bible writers. Greek prompts me to spend more time on the "what?" before moving on to "what about me?" 

I will be continuing on my own, starting by reading through the entire Greek New Testament, beginning in January. I'm starting with I John because it's an easy book to read. I'll work my way up to the more difficult books. I also have some other material I want to probe into. I have an entire book about prepositions that I want to read. I dread prepositions because their semantic ranges are flexible. I'm usually a little uneasy about how to translate them; I know one way over another can have a significant impact on meaning.

I have decided I don't do my best work during an exam. There is definitely a skill to writing an exam. At one point yesterday, I looked at my watch and realized it was getting down to the crunch. I also had drawn a total blank with one word. I almost felt panic, but then I just worked on something I did know. Exams are good in some ways and not so helpful in others. I am willing to bet I'm not the only one who doesn't perform the best under time constraints.

I will miss my classmates. The room was pretty evenly split between college age students and seminary students. I was the oldest person in the room. I sat with kids who are young enough to be my own children, and I enjoyed talking with those younger kids. Yes, they have room for growth, and yes, sometimes, they say things that are just plain silly (don't we all?), but it's valuable to talk to young Christians. Listen to them; find out what they are thinking and what their attitudes to the Church are. We shouldn't immediately dismiss them because they're young. 

One of the benefits of being on campus, in class, (as opposed to taking classes online) is being able to talk to other Christians. We are able to talk to people who have had different experiences than we have. It is the perfect environment for iron sharpening iron. Sometimes, the discussions we have at break time teach us as much as the ones during the class. This semester, in both classes, there were a lot of discussions about life within the Church. I learned a lot from those discussions. 

And now it's time to await Christmas.