I wrote an article, “Foundations for Bible Study” last summer for the American Lutheran Theological Journal. I laid out some key foundational issues that need to be addressed by pastors when teaching the Bible. But I have found this can also be helpful for lay people. You can download the PDF for free:
This morning, Jordan Cooper interviewed me about the article.
I don’t often write book reviews of fiction. But this is one book I enjoyed and am pleased to write a review of it.
It didn’t long for me to identify with the church, the characters, the interactions. I have been in Lutheran churches for 65 years. This felt like home in many ways.
Highlights were the author’s ability to reveal each character’s personality in a believable way. Too often authors of Christian fiction seem to idealize the hero/heroine, and then paint the really bad characters in the worst light. In this book, each character is presented honestly, warts, sins, fears, and all. For Emily and Pastor Fletcher, the two main characters, the process of revelation follows church life. With sometimes surprising and funny results.
The situations reflect real life in many ways, very accurately. Conflicts happen because of vested interests, and because of people’s dislike for others. But as Katie reveals, sometimes the conflict comes from the issues of previous churches, previous relationships, including the hurts, disappointments, etc.
While there are several examples how to handle conflict from a Biblical perspective, the author also leaves some issues unresolved, or with renewed tensions… just like in real life. Sometimes addressing fellow Christians brings about immediate reconciliation, other times the relationship becomes exacerbated, and still other times time is necessary for the words to take effect. Schuermann offers examples of each.
The book also offers insight in the funny side of church life. I knew early on that the author captured such humor, not at the expense of others, but at the exposure of truths that we often do not want to face. By smiling, we can nod our heads and say, Yes.”
As a matter of fact, Karl and every other man in the congregation had learned early on to never contradict the women of the Ladies Aid Society when it came to the subjects of food service, kitchen organization, coffee creamer brands, liquid soap scents,… (p. 29)
Also, some of the character sketches give background to more than advancing the plot. A character’s reflections inward and on other people adds considerably to understanding the insights that people have, and also observations that are accurate, and coming from surprising characters.
I’m glad I had the chance to read this book. I encourage people to get the book and read it, and re-read it. Thanks, Katie, for an insightful, humorous, and engaging story. My highest compliment to the author is this: Yes, I could move my membership to Zion Lutheran, and feel right at home.
The helpful guide should be available to all seminary students. The target is especially those in an academic institution (namely a brick and mortar institution); but it is also applicable to those receiving their theological education online. The authors address the balance of academic and spiritual growth that is so necessary in the preparation of pastors.
The authors identify the primary problem: “Unfortunately a good number of students graduate with a head full of biblical and doctrinal knowledge, but with a heart that has grown cold to God.” (p.7) In the introductory chapter they list four “Warning Signs of a Shaky Balance.” They are: “confusing your identity in Christ with your identity as a vocational pastor,” “growing isolation and privatization in your academic studies,” “lack of zeal and service for God and others,” and “lack of time for prayer and reflection.” Even this list is worth a look by every pastor who long ago left seminary.
The authors cover six chapters that provide insight and guidance to deal with underlying problem and many associated manifestations.
Christian Maturity and Higher Education
Learning about God and Living for God
Disciplining Heart and Head
Avoiding Spiritual Frostbite
Family and Friends
Each chapter covers critical topics related to the seminary student and the seminary challenges. The breadth of material means that the writing is terse and discussion is not drawn out. That actually is a very good thing in this kind of book. In other words, it is a readable book with excellent advice. But the style also permits quick reference in the future.
A couple of points regarding clarification and complementary concepts to help sustain the balance. In chapter 2 (“Learning about God and Living for God”) they include a reference to Luther’s dictum “sin boldly.” However, the authors seemed to miss what Luther was actually addressing. Luther’s advice did not have to do with Melancthon and a problem with hypocrisy in his preaching, as the authors assert.
Chapter 3 (“Discipling Heart and Head”) offers some excellent advice on discipline. However, there seems to be a gap. They write about “ancient disciples today” but then jump from the New Testament to the 21st century, as if the church throughout the ages does not offer any advice, insight, wisdom regarding disciplines. Thus, all of the types of discipline they mention are very good, but they are also basically individualistic. The church through the ages recognized that discipline is also incorporated into the community, and especially through the hours of the day (Matins, Vespers, Compline, etc.). While that may seem rustic or quaint, there is great value in such community disciplines to complement the individual practices advocated in this book (all very good).
Again, one item missing from the book is one I have mentioned in other Kregel Academic book reviews: there is no index (subjects, Scriptures, etc.). With a hard copy of the book, such a tool is essential for maximum benefit of the book.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. The only caveat is to note the missing historical church practice of community disciplines. Other resources can be found to supplement that area.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
This topic has been near to my heart for a long time. So I thought I would share some thoughts that I have had the past week. Sometimes adoptions can be difficult, much different than ours. The are many factors of the birth mother to consider, the adoptive child(ren).
Thirty six years ago today (Sep. 13, 1998) my wife and I adopted two brothers from Korean, ages 8 and 6. I have written a little about that adventure. But today I am thinking about those involved: their mother (and sister), us as adoptive parents, and the boys as the ones adopted.
Adopting: Giving to a family
One thing that came to mind after a week of reflecting is that often we hear the phrase “giving up” or “giving away” a child. After being on two of the three sides of this issue, I realize that “giving away” can be pejorative, to everyone but especially the birth mother. By using that phrase perhaps we have imposed on the birth mother something that is not there, or making her feel guilty as if she had failed.
This was troubling to me, since it seems that we (or at least I) are judging the mother by a different standard. So, on my walk yesterday morning, it dawned on me that the mother is giving the child, yes. However, not “giving away” but giving the child to a family. It makes a world of difference in perspective—for everyone.
About six years ago the birth mother of our boys wrote to them. She wanted to know how they were doing. And she wanted to ask for forgiveness for what she had done. Yet, at the same time she realized that she didn’t have any options.
The wrestling was even greater for her because she gave the two sons to a family (us), but she had kept her daughter. What a difficult decision that must have been! Truly agonizing. In the long run, she realized she had to do it for the sake everyone. The most vulnerable was her daughter. Their mother and our older son got to talk on the phone in 2008 (she was visiting her brother in LA). How important that was for both of them, saying things to each other that needed to be said (through the translating of her brother).
Their mother realized that she didn’t give away her children, but gave them to a family. For anyone facing (or already faced with) this decision, keep in mind that you are not giving the child “away,” but giving to a family. What more could a mother do for her child? It is a sacrifice to give the child to another family. Family members of the mother are also affected, as I am learning even now.
But the child will always remain in the mother’s heart. For that the hurt gives way to a sense of peace, and even joy. But let’s give mothers who give their child to a family a great big hug. They need it, and all the love that goes with it. We need it.
Adopting: Receiving the child
When we received notice that the boys would be ours, we were thrilled. But then we had to wait. In fact, we waited four months. We lived in Monterey, CA, and we would pick up the boys at LAX. However, we couldn’t leave home until we knew whether the plane they were on actually left Seoul, Korea.
On Sep. 12 we got the call that we could leave for LA; the flight was due in at Noon on the 13th.
Nervous, excited, uncertain, all the questions that every parent goes through. Yep, we did the same. We had been through the longest wait already (30 months in the process, 4 months since notification of approval) — or so we thought. The international adoption agency was supposed to have someone meet us at the airport to help us prepare and then make the transition. No one ever showed up.
The flight didn’t get into LAX until 3:15 PM. But because we weren’t officially “parents” yet, the airlines wouldn’t even tell us whether they were on the flight. And we couldn’t get access to them, or see them. So my wife stayed at the International Terminal. And I ran back and forth to the baggage claim area—not a short distance! I must have made that trip 15 times.
About 6:30 PM on one of my runs, a man was going in the opposite direction, carrying a Korean infant. He dropped his bag and said, “You’re Mr. Shields, aren’t you?” Not exactly what you would expect at LAX! After I acknowledged who I was, he said, “You have the two cutest little boys!” I said, “Really? Where are they?” He told me they were at baggage claim.
So, I made a mad dash to get my wife from the International Terminal. And we “walked quickly” to the baggage claim area. We got there and saw many people, and especially quite a few Korean children, from infants to young teens. Finally we saw a woman who was with two little boys (the 8 year old weighed 38 pounds; the 6 year old weighed 33 pounds—I could easily pick up both boys in my arms).
She greeted us and said, “We have five minutes until our connecting plane leaves. “This one is Kim Ill Hoe, this is his small [6x6x4 inches] bag. He has to take this medicine, twice a day. This is Kim Joon Hoe, here is his bag.”
And then she was gone. There we were at LAX, unable to speak Korean, and they unable to speak English. We were really on our own. No one to guide us, no one to help us, no one to communicate with these boys. The delivery was a long time coming, but then in an instant we were parents, receiving the gifts that their mother gave to us on September 13, 1998.
Now 36 years later, we realize what a sacrifice their mother made, and the strength of their mother’s love even to this day. As receiving parents, we gladly accepted her gifts to us.
Adopting: The child(ren) given
I have to write this indirectly because I am the adoptive father, not an adopted child. But I thought at the time, and even more now, about the changes they faced. Living in an orphanage with about 50 other children. Then in a matter of minutes made ready for the tip to Seoul, Korea. Then flying 24 hours, going to place that they only heard about, with a picture of us in their pockets on the plane, the only hope they had. Changes in living conditions, the food changes, the language barrier. Wow!
I took the boys to the bathroom. How long since they had a chance to go? Better to be safe. We drove to Thousand Oaks for supper. We ate at a restaurant that overlooked the interstate. Years later they both told us they couldn’t figure out what was going on with the lights outside. They were white lights on this side of the road and red lights. We explained that cars were coming toward us or going away from us.
For supper, I ordered the same for myself as the boys: hamburger and glass of milk. (Later we found out that both were allergic to milk. But how were we to know this in our first hour with the boys?) I took a bite of hamburger, they lifted the burger the same way. Then I put the burger down, and drank a little milk. They put their hamburger down and picked up the glass to drink. So it went throughout the entire meal; it was like having two little mirrors opposite me.
Finally we got to San Bernadino to stay over night. Little did we know at the time but the people in the orphanage told the boys that if they misbehaved, they would be sent back to the orphanage! Well, of all motels in Southern California, this one had a desk manager who was—guess what? Korean. The boys thought that we were taking them back to Korea!!
The next day on our drive back to Monterey, we stopped for lunch. Of all restaurants in the coastal region, we happened to stop at one and the waitress was—guess what? Korean. She came over and immediately demanded (in Korean) why the boys were with us. They didn’t belong to us. Ill Hoe grabbed my upper thigh and was squeezing in terror, thinking he was going to be taken away from us.
We made it home later in the afternoon. The boys must have sensed we were home. They immediately began running from room to room, excitedly checking out everything. What a delight! Our boys were ours and they were home!
Over the years we have talked some about their lives in Korea. I think that their the lives so dramatically changed for both, that essentially their memories are mostly of life with us. Except for glimpses that we got from our older son.
The older son had many more memories of Korean (we have been told that the difference in age is critical in terms of memory capabilities). So, as he began acting out (he couldn’t initially speak English) ideas, we gathered that there was his mother and another “woman.” But we couldn’t figure out if there was his mother and grandmother, or mother and aunt or sister.
Within 2-3 months his English was improving so much that we finally discovered that they had a sister (but she was not in the orphanage). We immediately contacted the adoption agency in Korean—if there was a sister, we would adopt her as well. But they couldn’t give us any information. In the letter the boys received in 2008, there was an 8×11 photo of their mother, sister, and her child. That child and our third grandchild could have been identical twins. We were stunned!
Obviously our boys don’t look like us. After all, I’m Irish, German and my wife is German, Norwegian, Danish! We have never referred to them as “our adoptive sons.” Rather, they are “our sons.” It is an honor for us, for them, and for their mother.
But some people over the years have made comments about adopting, some very kind, some not so kind, and some degrading to everyone. Sometimes I would be angry, sometimes really sad. But it was never a case of regret (even in the darkest days).
Adoption for us was an option because we couldn’t procreate. God opened doors for us to have these sons. Their mother in Korea sacrificed and agonized greatly over the decision. But in the end all worked well. The mother was able to raise her daughter, her sons became our sons, and we were all blessed.
Love for a child is love, whether the love of the birth mother or the love of the adoptive parents. And that love never fails. Although the reference in 1 Corinthians is to Body of Christ, it is applicable to adoption:
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish,a is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
I will be teaching Pastoral Theology and Life in our seminary starting Sep. 15. I taught it last year as well, but have been rethinking parts of the course. The following is an overview of what the course will examine.
Pastoral Theology refers to how pastoral work is done in the congregation, whereas Pastoral Life refers to how the pastor lives out his life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They each have their own sphere, but are intimately related.
Perhaps the best way to start is to examine a series of questions related to both.
- What does it mean to be a pastor?
- What does it mean to be a Churchman?
- Which is easier to talk about? Pastoral Theology or Pastoral Life
- What makes Pastoral Life difficult?
- What is the relationship between the two?
- How are you accountable? What safeguards?
- What factors can disrupt either or both of them?
- What kinds of help are available to the pastor (or pastor in training)?
- What is pastoral integrity?
- What is integrity of the disciple?
- What is pastoral mentoring?
- Why is pastoral mentoring important?
As we consider each of these questions, we also keep in mind three cores values that we seek to encourage as the basis for our work together in God’s kingdom.
Three Critical Values:
For the seminary students who are taking the class, work through these questions and any others that may arise in your reflections. As you read the books during the quarter, there will be other questions we need to address.
A Commentary on Psalms: Volume 2 (42-89) by Allen P. Ross
Content: 5 star, but…
Kregel provides a valuable resource in this commentary. The commentary follows the typical pattern that Kregel has used on the Old Testament Commentaries (see Judges and Ruth). The sections for analyzing each Psalm are:
- Introduction (Text and Textual Variants; Composition and Context; Exegetical Analysis)
- Commentary in Expository Form
- Message and Application
The strength of the commentary is the second section (Commentary in Expository Form). Ross provides sufficient detail to grasp the central ideas. As in other commentaries by Ross, this one well serves the student, pastor, teacher.
Ross carefully explores the text within its historical context (if possible). But even more, he properly understands the Christological implications and foreshadowing that often are lost sight of. For instance, in discussing Psalm 45, he writes:
“Any application to a historical figure would be idealistic, for no king ever championed only righteousness, let alone lived up to the titles and epithets give to him, try as he might. But again, these words will find their true and literal meaning in the righteous reign of the Messiah.” (p. 71)
Such an approach demonstrates scholarly yet accessibility to the Scripture texts. At the same time, Ross provides a pattern for students, pastors, and teachers in their own study and preparation.
Ross provides many helpful and critical footnotes regarding Hebrew words and phrases. Just a sampling of these notes: “help” (p. 88), “wisdom” (pp. 140-2), “atone” (pp. 146-7), “trespass” (pp. 180-2), “create” (pp. 191-2). Perhaps the best extended discussion is “sin” (pp. 185-9). The examples continue, but this short list demonstrates Ross’s understanding of the text itself, and the implications of such understanding elsewhere. The student is well served by studying each footnote in detail.
The last section of each Psalm is Message and Application. While shorter than the other sections, the author pulls together the main thoughts and relationships so that the pastor/student can be sufficiently prepared to present the Psalm in a logical faithful way.
So what is negative about the commentary? Actually for what is presented the commentary is excellent. But it is what is missing that reduces its value. Three items stand out as missing, but which could provide the final touches on this fine commentary.
I was immediately struck by no introduction to the commentary. This seemed odd. Granted it is the second volume in the Kregel Commentaries on the Psalms, but some kind of introduction to Book II of the Psalms would be appropriate. Even a 20 page introduction would have been helpful.
Another missing feature was the Bibliography. Given that this was a resource for pastors/teachers/students, a Bibliography would seem not only logical, but necessary. Yes, there are footnotes for quoted material. But sometimes a valuable resource will appear in the Bibliography and yet not be quoted directly.
The final missing feature was a reference index. I have found this lacking more and more in printed books, but to me this feature increases the value of the text initially and in further studies related to the Psalms. For instance, I often study in Isaiah. How helpful it would be to have Isaiah 33:20-21 as referenced in Psalm 65 (p. 422). Likewise for studying Psalm 19, to know that Ross has referenced it in Psalm 79 (p. 676).
The question arises: how do you add these three additional items to a book that is already 841 pages? My recommendation is that font size of the text could have been reduced. Yes, this is a readable size, but I would have preferred to have the additional items for the sake of the font size.
The only negative I have about the commentary is a rather imprecise statement;
“The motifs or this psalm  appear throughout the pages of the New Testament. Jesus promised that he would be with us till the end of the age (Matt. 28:20); but in the upper room he explained that it would be in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:17).” (p. 131)
In trying to make the connection, he leaves a slightly skewed view of this matter of Christ’s presence with his disciples.
I should also note that I do not support the Premillennial position, but great value can be gained from the commentary nevertheless.
If you are a pastor/teacher/student of the Scripture, then this commentary is well worth the investment in the book. You will learn much, be guided in tying together the themes with a Psalm, and be encouraged in developing a usable preaching/teaching presentation.
Well done to Kregel and to Allen Ross; you have the Church in an exceptional way. The Church can use many more commentaries of this caliber.
Thanks to Kregel Academic & Professional for the review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
(Note: I wrote this on a flight Monday afternoon—Aug, 12. But I didn’t have a chance to post until today. So this post actually preceded Robin Williams death. As I listened to broadcasters/announcers/commentators on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but wonder: how can they know so little and make at times so uncaring and judgmental statements….?)
How do we help those experiencing what we experienced? Should we speak to the person? Can we speak to the person? What shall we say? Do we become intrusive by even asking such questions?
In one sense, if the experience is too close to what I lived through, my tendency is to back away. Am I reliving my experience through that other person? If so, is it that person’s experience that I want to fix, or my own? And what if I have misread the signs? What if I am projecting my own battles onto someone else?
Most often, this is not my problem. Rather people seek me out because they have read about what I have experienced with depression. That really is better—for me and for the other person. That way, the person needs help and seeks something to deal with the problem. And I do not have to intrude into the person’s inner life. No, this invitation for help is far better.
Over the last four years since I began writing about depression and the Christian life, several people have contacted me about depression. They had been battling it for months or years.
For some the fear is that a Christian should not have a problem with depression. Some view it as a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Others see a continuing rerun of the same thing. For some depression seems to establish a life of its own that seems to never end, rearing its ugly head time after time.
Survival, Relief, or Cure
I know for me, the reaching out for help was survival mode. I wanted to make it through one more day, one more week. I wanted to know if there was any hope at the end of this dark tunnel.
As I lived through medication and counseling, survival gave way to needing relief. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a progression from desperation to a sense that something changed, maybe not even sure what, but it changed.
But what changed really was far greater than my own experiences, greater than the medicine, greater than counseling. These were all necessary and helpful. But something behind and greater is there..
Change behind that
All three (survival, relief, and cure) share the ultimate same change. The change was to know that the God who I thought had abandoned me during the whole tunnel of depression had not, in fact, abandoned me. In my darkest days, the only word I seemed to hear was: Why are you so weak? Why are you giving into despair. I could only agree with those (and many more) accusing questions.
The change was to hear God’s Word for God’s proper work: saving, redeeming, forgiving, restoring work for humans. For me. God’s good counsel of hope, love, mercy, favor were spoken to me, the broken, depressed, forgotten person. Not because I had conquered depression, but because I couldn’t conquer it.
That change I knew intellectually, academically, and could have taught it to others prior to the depression. But in the depths, I couldn’t know it. It was a lost word, a voice through too many other voices, my own in particular.
But God sent faithful people to me to speak his saving, redeeming, forgiving, restoring words, loving words. Repeatedly speaking to me. And in that process God worked the hearing ears to believe what he declared. As our one son repeatedly asked over the past 36 years: “How can you keep loving me?” I was saying those words to God. His answer needed to be spoken again and again. I have shown you how much I love you: look at my Son.”
And this was not “God’s Son” as I imagined him to be, how I wanted him to be. Rather, this was God’s Son revealed in his Word, in his baptism of me, in his body and blood, in his spoken word of absolution. There Jesus promised to be. There Jesus gave concrete evidence of his presence. And that was what I could cling to, the only thing I could cling to.
Psalm 122:1 “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”
What an interesting insight the psalmist gives to worship. He rejoices to go to Yahweh’s house! Is that true today? Perhaps some of us quietly admit that worship is less than thrilling, less than exciting. In fact, it might be a rare occasion when we could admit that we rejoiced about worshiping. An interesting parallel with basketball will help us better understand what happens in liturgy, and why we can join the Psalmist.
For a basketball game people gather ready for the game. They (usually!) stand for the national anthem. So at worship we gather together standing for the opening hymn in worship.
At the basketball game, the players are introduced. So, too, in worship. One side in this game is: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit = God” and the other side is: “I, a poor, miserable sinner = us sinners.” At this point, God stops the game and declares, “You can’t play in My game. I am pure, holy, and righteous. You are sinners, deserving my full punishment.”
Then comes the surprise: God says, “I forgive you all your sins for the sake of My Son, the Star of the game.” With that, we are invited to play in God’s game with God’s rules, with God’s victory already assured!In a basketball game, one team grabs the ball and rushes down the court to score points. Then the other team grabs the ball and goes the other way. In worship, since it is God’s game, He grabs the ball first and rushes down the court to tell us of His love and forgiveness. We rush down the other way, scoring with our praise. We don’t shout “Yeah, God,” but we use appropriate terms such as “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah.”
You keep track of who is active by watching the pastor. When he faces the congregation, God has the ball, speaking to the people. When the pastor faces the altar, the people have the ball speaking to God.
As in a basketball game with four quarters, in worship we have four quarters. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” that marks a quarter break. First quarter: Invocation, confession/absolution, and praise. Second quarter: Scripture readings, sermon, and creed. Third quarter: Lord’s Supper. Fourth quarter: final prayer and benediction/blessing.
In a basketball game, each player can commit five fouls before leaving the game. But in worship, five times we hear the words “your sins are forgiven.” God doesn’t want anyone to foul out of the game! Notice the focus of each: 1) Confession/Absolution (general), 2) Scripture readings (how God achieved forgiveness), 3) Sermon (application), 4) Creed (joining the Church Catholic everywhere at all times), 5) Lord’s Supper (specifically “for you”).
When the basketball game is on the line, everyone stands in anticipation of victory. So, too, in worship, when the Gospel is read, we stand, because in effect, God says, “Right here, this is My Star, and this is how He won the game.”
Years ago on Monday night football, Don Meredith had a way of signaling the essential end of the football game. He would sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…” Many people think that the benediction/blessing at the end of the service is the same: “It’s over, finally.” But not so!
Unlike a basketball game in which the thrill of victory fades, in worship God declares that the victory celebrated during worship will continue with us during the week — daily. Therefore, we leave not looking for a let down, but having been built up by playing in God’s game according God’s rules winning with Him. In other words, the benediction declares that what God has done for us continues to be with us.
Guess what? Next week the game is repeated. Basketball fans do not complain that “we have to go to the game next week!” Nor as worshipers do we complain about worshiping next week. What an exciting event! Ultimately we look forward to the greatest day — when we will be with the LORD forever, rejoicing at the final victory won and celebrated permanently in heaven. Therefore, we join the psalmist and say, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the LORD.’ ”