Now, Go and Research That

Now, Go and Research That

Although aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba before World War II, it has been refined and developed by a number of his students into various styles. The style I practice is called Tomiki Aikido after one of Ueshiba’s pre-war students, Kenji Tomiki. Tomiki Sensei studied judo under its founder Jigoro Kano before studying with Ueshiba, and after the war became a professor at Waseda University. There, he developed a curriculum that further refined Ueshiba’s aikido into something that could be taught as part of an athletic club (undo bu) at the university, believing that repetition and competition would keep the techniques and principles alive.

Tomiki Sensei passed away in 1979, so a number of his students are still alive and practicing his form of aikido. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Seiji Tanaka, who was the captain of the first aikido team at Waseda in 1958. The chief instructors of the Shodokan Aikido Federation (Tetsuro Nariyama) and the Japan Aikido Association (Fumiaki Shishida) were also students, as was Robert Dziubla who is now the head of Tomiki Aikido of the Americas.

Dziubla Sensei once recounted what Tomiki Sensei would say at the end of his training sessions: Jaa, sorede, kenkyuu shite kudasai. In English, this means “So then, please go and research that.”

Likewise, Tanaka Sensei provided me with a translation of one of Tomiki Sensei’s recitations in which Tomiki Sensei said, “The way is initiated by the Master’s achievement and subsequently will be completed by the followers’ achievements.”

Statements like this mark Tomiki Sensei as a teacher of the highest level. He was self-aware enough to understand that his understanding of aikido was not the boundary of aikido’s potential. His students would continue to research and work on what he presented; and they would exceed his own capacity, regardless how boundless it was.

This is how I think of a pastor’s job as a teacher. People sometimes ask why my title is “teaching pastor” instead of just “pastor” or “senior pastor.” The truth is that I believe in offering something people can take and “go and research that.” My role as pastor is not to limit people’s faith journey by my own understanding. Instead, I want to do my best to understand and study the Scriptures, knowing that I am not going to understand everything. Then, I release the results of that study to those who are willing to hear – with the express purpose of allowing them the space and time to “go and research that.”

No pastor should ever be laying down exacting demands on the people of his congregation, demanding that they conform. Yes, there are fundamental truths to the Christian faith which are immutable: the inspiration of Scripture, the divinity and humanity of Christ, Christ’s atonement and its sole sufficiency for salvation. There are fundamental truths to aikido as well. The teacher’s place in both fields is to instruct the fundamentals and then equip his learners to “go and research that” beyond.

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Abusing History in Bible Teaching

Abusing History in Bible Teaching

As a student of history and the Bible, I often find myself telling people to learn the background and context of things before making definitive statements.

As of late, however, I am discovering that the only thing more dangerous than ignorance of historical context is the abuse of incomplete knowledge of history. People who develop a thesis based on partial or unverifiable evidence can develop some very erroneous and even dangerous thoughts about the Bible and its message.

Be cautious about making definitive statements because you read some interesting historical anecdote or perused a website. Verifying your evidence and your conclusions is part of the responsibility of any competent Bible teacher.

By all means, learn all you can. Don’t be afraid of the backdrop of the Scriptures, but make sure you don’t go off half cocked because some idea caught your fancy. More poor doctrine has been born from incomplete context than probably any other single factor.

Writing a Sermon

Every once in awhile, someone will ask me how I prepare for a Sunday message. Over the years, I have used a lot of different approaches; but the one I prefer is to work inductively from the text. I work slowly, and it usually takes me about 25 hours per week to prepare for a Sunday message. That might sound like a lot of time to study a single passage; but it really isn’t. To properly understand a passage of the Scriptures, you need to not only look at the text but also understand the context. Right now, I am teaching through the Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3; and there is a lot of historical and linguistic context to delve into before you can present the passages.

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A lot of people are surprised to discover that I don’t write sermons on the computer. I am something of a computer geek; but I find that working long hand forces me to slow down and think. It also forces me to re-read my own notes over and over again. Things pop out at me that I might have missed before.

My schedule for preparation usually looks something like this:

  • MONDAY: Read over the text in an English translation and then write out the original language.
  • TUESDAY: Outline the English translation, highlighting important transitions.
  • WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY: Do historical and cultural research
  • FRIDAY: Talk through the message, jotting notes as I go. Begin the preaching notes page.
  • SATURDAY: Review the text again.
  • SUNDAY: Finalize the notes page and make a photocopy to take to the platform.

On Sunday afternoon, I usually listen to the message online. Since I don’t script and work from a single page of notes, there are always things to tweak and consider for the following week.

End of Sermon

There have been a couple of times over the years that I’ve ended the message on Sunday with “end of sermon.” This is as much a signal to myself as it is to the congregation. It tend to ramble on a bit, and I have to tell myself to stop talking.

We all have some kind of slightly odd behavior somewhere in our lives. This is why I think quirky things sometimes appeal to us. We find comfort in knowing that others find humor in their own idiosyncrasies.

This is a good thing. We need to celebrate the quirks that make us unique. These are the little reminders that God does not want us all to be the same. He loves diversity and originality when it comes from the inside.

The Sad State of Biblical Literacy

I was once told by a fellow pastor, “I don’t teach deep stuff. I just preach Jesus.”

That sounds great on a surface level, doesn’t it? Let’s just preach Jesus because He is after all the Savior of mankind, right? If people believe Him, then they can sort everything else out eventually, right?

Wrong.

Jesus does not exist in a vacuum. The gospels occur within a massive supranarrative (many writers would say metanarrative but they would be using that word incorrectly). The Church is born and flourishes within a greater story, a symphonic movement of harmony, dissonance, leitmotif and crescendo. To dismiss the Scriptures as secondary to “preaching Jesus” is to do a poor job of preaching Jesus.

That is not to say that the Gospel is not, at its core, Jesus Himself. The apostle Paul wrote that in Corinth he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) But before we use this as a proof text for a sort of “nothing but Jesus” philosophy, let’s not forget that this same Paul plumbed the depths of Hebrew Scripture, Greek philosophy and Roman culture. This is the same guy who wrote things that Simon Peter said were, “hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

Paul was not a simplistic preacher with a one note repertoire. He brought to bear some formidable knowledge of the Scriptures, and he was not afraid to teach it when necessary.

And here’s the thing. The Gospel is the culmination of the Hebrew Scriptures, and without them, it is not much of anything. While the Gospel of Luke certainly frames Jesus as the Messiah of all mankind and leans heavily on pagan culture, he cannot separate Jesus from the context in which He lived or the Scriptures which He fulfilled. Even Luke must place Jesus in context with the Hebrew Scriptures.

So a supposed Bible teacher who does not dive headfirst into the Hebrew Scriptures and saturate himself with the supranarrative will teach a shallow Jesus.

If you ask me for advice about pastoring, I will tell you that you must know the Bible. You must immerse yourself in it and have the intestinal fortitude and spiritual integrity to allow it to change you. The Revealed Scriptures must have your absolute, undying devotion. You must be willing to allow the Spirit of God to discipline, chasten, correct and encourage you. You must never have an opinion that cannot be altered by a deeper understanding of the Word of God.

You should bow to the ground before the authority of the Scriptures. They must be your schoolmaster and you must ever be their servant. You must be conformed by the written Word in order to be conformed to the image of the Living Word.

Acquire knowledge of history and language so you can understand the Scriptures. Read them in translation. Read them in the original languages. Read them silently and aloud. Teach them constantly and receive teaching from them. Heed the wisdom of those who have spent their lives immersed in them and reject those who handle them lightly.

The older I get the more I realize the foolishness of my youth – pursuing trends and methodologies under the mistaken belief that those things would “build” the church.  I have little patience for people who tell me they are too busy to “be deep.”

Get out of the ministry if you don’t have a passion for the beauty of the Scriptures. You are supposed to be ministering the Scriptures to people, not feel good sentiments and leadership strategies.

Preach Jesus. Yes! But preach Him from a place of deep, growing commitment to the Scriptures that reveal Him. Otherwise, you will preach a Jesus conformed to your image rather than being conformed to His.

Viciously Contend for the Faith?

My friend and brother in Christ, Eric Davis shares some thoughts on the way extreme fundamentalism often becomes exactly what it was started to oppose.

Check it out here.

Check Out the Podcast

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