You’d think that with a job in student ministry I should be disciplined enough to get my personal bible reading in order. Sadly, no, it’s still a struggle to spend time alone in God’s word every day. Thankfully, however, God has still been teaching me great things this year through the many other contexts where I’ve spent time considering scripture: at church, with friends, in bible studies, conferences and even (sometimes) in the quiet of my own home. There have been many recurring themes coming out in my learning throughout the year, especially as I read the same book in many contexts (at one point I was being taught from the book of James simultaneously by three different people!). I’d love to end 2013 by remembering the ways that the scriptures have challenged me during the year.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
The book of James is a really interesting book and I spent a long time in it earlier this year. There was a 15 week sermon series at church sermons (I helped edit some of Matt’s sermons!), a three week series at EU public meetings and a postgrad bible study group that spent nearly half a year going through it in detail. As I read James this year it raised lots of questions about theodicy – the question of how God is involved in the suffering and evil in the world. It also raised lots of questions, as it always does, about what it means to practically live as a disciple of Jesus. I am really thankful to many friends who sat down with me to help me nut through these two topics, although I still have no clear answers!
“’This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.’
And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
We studied this book in detail at EU public meetings over the course of the year and it was pretty revolutionary. Leviticus is normally the book that we never, ever read. It’s very controversial and Christians are constantly disagreeing about how to interpret it, so we often leave it to the side and pretend it isn’t there! Rowan’s talks are available as iTunes podcasts and some are also available on the EU website. He also has really helpful explanations of the hermeneutical tools he used over on his blog:
Overview || Reading Leviticus as a chiasmus || The big question || The three Rs
There are still many unanswered questions from Leviticus but spending lots of time in it has definitely helped me to read this part of the bible with greater confidence! Rowan’s hermeneutic framework has also been helpful for considering the relationship between the old covenant and the new – a question that has come up repeatedly in conversations with students this year.
” Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Our staff team spent extensive time in 2 Corinthians at the start of the year. As I read it with the other 25 people in the room I realised that I had no idea what was going on at all. I found 2 Corinthians to be a really confusing letter when I dug around in it. A close reading with that many other people was actually really difficult. When semester started up and we moved from detailed devotions and bible studies into week-to-week business at our staff meetings I had mixed feelings about leaving 2 Corinthians behind. But, God was obviously not content to leave it unfinished. In second semester a first year student asked to read it with me. Hah! It was good to read with just one other person, and it prompted me to read it again on my own at home. 2 Corinthians raises as many questions as it answers, and I still haven’t got to the end yet, but I’ve spent many hours searching through chapters 3 and 4. The reminder to persevere through hard times, and to trust that it is God at work, has been really important this year.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel!”
My first ‘front-line’ moments with students began with daily devotions from 2 Timothy to remind us of the power of the gospel.
In the middle of the year the student leaders I was training lead bible studies on the nature and purpose of the scriptures from 2 Timothy 3.
When my father’s friend passed away this year, 2 Timothy 4:6-8 provided great words of encouragement.
And, as helpful and wonderful as these selected passages and themes were, they were made even more helpful and wonderful by a bible study series considering the whole letter, altogether, run by a dear friend and sister in the postgrad ministry.
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”
The EU has a wonderful suite of studies from the book of Mark. One of the highlights of this year was working through them in our first year bible study groups. So many great moments! The strong man! The parable of the sower! The blind man who sees trees! The fig tree! I absolutely loved reading Mark with everyone I got to read with this year – my first year students, assistant leaders, a postgrad+staff bible study group, an academic who is not a Christian but is reading the bible with me. Mark is so great!
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?”
This Psalm rekindled my imagination after hearing it on the Welcome Wagon’s newest CD earlier this year. I have spent a lot of time in it, trying to memorise it during a staff training course on the Psalms and as I grappled with Mark’s crucifixion story with my students. I love the honest despair and the honest hopeful joy.
“…future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Psalm 110
“…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”
These are not bible complete books, but these passages came up with an encouraging regularity over the course of the year. This year I went to two large theological conferences, one on the doctrine of the trinity and one on Christology. I read these passages a lot in preparation for and during the conferences. Alongside the bible I also read some helpful theologians on these texts – 2013 was the first time I read Thomas Torrence, and it was also a year for revisiting Richard Bauckham. I am so thankful to God for their thoughts on the nature of God, the doctrine of the Trinity and (most helpfully) their treatment of 1 Corinthians 8:6!