Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tips for Studying the Bible

(This is a short handout I wrote for my High-School Sunday School class).

Tools for Studying the Bible

Correct Mindset, or “Calibration”-In the same way that a car needs a tuneup to run smoothly, or the scope on a rifle needs sighting in order to be usefully accurate, so also our hearts and minds should be prepared and calibrated before we begin our study. 
Recognize that this is the inspired Word of God and not an ordinary book.
Pray that God would humble us below the Word so that we don’t become its judge. Pray that God would let his Word speak to us, rather than us inserting our meaning into the Word. 
The Text Means What the Author Intended it to Mean-Emotions are important, God created us as emotional beings. However, how a certain text makes you feel or even what you happen to think about it pales in importance to what it actually means. Remember, exegesis, not eisegesis.
Never Read a Bible Verse-Chapters, verse numbers, and headings are NOT inspired and are sometimes unhelpful when interpreting the Bible because they artificially “chop up” what should be read as a continuous narrative or idea. Whatever part of the Bible you may be studying, read at least the entire paragraph, and read a little before and a little after to gain context. 
Know the Reporter Questions-Knowing the who, what, where, why, and when about the passage being studied can be very helpful when determining what the text means. Who wrote the book, when it was written, the immediate cause or occasion for its writing, or who the audience was all help determine what the author was intending to communicate to his audience. 
Scripture Interprets Scripture-See WCF 1.9. Each and every part of scripture must be read within the context of the entirety of scripture because God is the author of it all and he is consistent with himself. Let the clear passages illuminate the uncertain ones. 
Use the cross-references in your Bible. 
If a specific word is giving you trouble, see where it has been used in other passages. The internet or a Greek/Hebrew Dictionary such as Strong’s would help. 
Genre!-Remember the ridiculous picture one would get if one interpreted the description of the woman in Song of Songs literally? Although the rule of thumb is to interpret the Bible literally (i.e. naturally), we must recognize that the presence of figurative language alerts us to different meanings of the literature we are reading. Keep in mind the differences between prose, poetry, historical narrative, prophecy, epistle, etc. 
Be Aware of the Church-Studying the Bible alone or in a small group in isolation is a potentially dangerous practice because doing so alienates yourself of the rich tradition and theology found in the local church to which you belong and the larger corpus of saints throughout church history. When puzzled about the interpretation of a passage, in sync with following the previous steps:
1. Consult the Elders and teachers in your local church
2. Consult the confessions and creeds within your church tradition (for the Reformed, this includes the Westminster standards, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism 
3. Study how the Church Fathers and various Theologians in history have interpreted the text 
4. Be aware of books, commentaries, study bibles, theological dictionaries, etc. 

…And remember, CONTEXT IS KING! :-)

Practice passages: Jeremiah 29:11, Revelation 3:20, John 3:16, John 20:29, Philippians 4:13

-J.R. Snow, November 2015

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Rambling Review of "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

     I think Isaacson has done a very hard thing here, and that is to be fair in writing about a giant in the tech industry who was incredibly revered in his own lifetime and yet incredibly polarizing. To write a Biography of such a man and publish it shortly after his death is a hard thing to do because society is still swimming in the aura that was Steve Jobs. Imagine someone writing a biography of George Washington while he was alive which pointed out all of his flaws and quirks. Isaacson has faithfully consulted primary sources and people close to Jobs, interviewed Jobs himself, and then unashamedly painted what I believe (but rather have to intuitively imply after reading) a true picture of the man. For better or for worse, that picture is of a genius who was a consistent jerk. But those are the facts, and although The author does write about and concede that Jobs did much to transform the technology and personal computing industries, building one of the most innovative and successful companies in the world, he also doesn't shy away from pointing out how much of an asshole he was with people. Sometimes Isaacson even drifts into a sort of chiding tone, which I think goes too far: "The nasty edge of his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him." Thankfully, most of the time the author stays above that level of narrator–involvement.
      On a more subjective level, I was very interested to be learning about the history of Apple and the contributions it made to the computing industry. Some examples of this would be that the Apple II was hugely influential in the personal computing industry, pretty much inventing the category, and even more so with the Macintosh in 1984. Also developing the first mass-marketed version of an operating software using a GUI (Graphical User Interface, instead of lines of prompts using code, you actually visualized things like a desktop, pages, icons, etc.)
     If you are interested in Apple as a company, Steve Jobs, or technology in general, then this book would be a good read for you. It is rather long (571 pages not including the index and whatnot), but it is written clearly and coherently, so the pages go by quickly.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"No More Christian Nice Guy" Review

     A friend of mine recently loaned a book entitled "No More Christian Nice Guy" to me. He did this because he thought the book would help me...be meaner, basically. No. But yes. But...ok, more masculine. Less "nice" (see the book's title). More assertive. Thus, this review is going to be a bit more biased than usual, and I am going to have a bit more fun writing it than usual. Because HEY! *Thumps chest, grunts* I take offense to that, so I'm gonna turn over tables with my whip! Just like Jesus did!

     The Thesis of "No More Christian Nice Guy" is basically that due to the influence of modern society with encouragement from the church at large, men have been de-clawed, so to speak. Feminized. sissified. They, (or should I say, we!) have been fed a bill of goods that tells us that Christian men are gentle and kind, they don't speak up or out, they don't swear, they don't enact physical violence. They don't roughhouse. Coughlin's cry is for men to stop being passive wimps. My view is that he is right to complain about the state of men in society today and call for bolder, more passionate men who are more like Jesus and less like the worldly men around them. I think that he makes many good points in this book. However, overall, after reading it, my main critiques are these:

1. The point he is trying to make, though sometimes understandable to the reader, is often lost and mistaken for a message riddled with stereotypes and generalizations
2. His points are too often drawn from personal experience or are grounded in the author himself–opinions, basically. Too many heavy assertions without logical implications or footnotes to other sources
3. He doesn't account for the myriad of differences among men and allow for there to be different ways that men can be the best version of themselves, instead trading this out for a more "one size fits all" approach drawn from a skewed picture of Jesus

     Coughlin's intent is clear and pure, but his assertions aren't backed by solid logical inference or textual support, No More Christian Nice Guy is book I want to endorse, but sadly can't.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Experience at Papa John's

I don't know exactly what I should and shouldn't say. I do know that there are some juicy pieces of information that I know about where I work that, if revealed to the public, would get me fired and thus probably (though not automatically!) means I shouldn't divulge said information. So there is a line. But I don't quite know where it is. Well, at the risk of me posting this and then getting a call from some bigwig (to me, pretty much anyone else with a scowl and a "Papa John's" T-Shirt on) that I'm in deep yogurt for talking about the company, I thus proceed.
So, to catch the reader up on some details about my life, I am a full time student at Reformation Bible College, a part-time History tutor, and as of January 5th, a part-time delivery driver for Papa John's. A few months ago, I was only taking 9 credit hours at school and working 15 hours a week teaching, and I was desperately in need of both money and occupied time (if you haven't noticed yet I'm a bit of a workaholic).  I applied to Papa John's Pizza down the street from where I live, and only 2 MONTHS LATER I get a call from the GM asking if I would come down for an interview. I did, and got hired on the spot. I have been working here for about 6 weeks now, and in summary, enjoy it. Although my job description is "delivery driver", every employee is cross-trained quit a bit. I know how to make pizzas, answer the phones, work the POS system, clean the store, work the oven, etc. I get paid minimum wage when I'm working in the store (In florida, Minimum wage is 8.05/hr). When I'm out making deliveries, My wage becomes a "tip wage", which is around $5/hr. I get to keep all of my tips. So, when all of these variables are factored together, I will, in a typical 6 hour shift,  spend about 3.5 hours in the store, earning 8.02X3.5=$28, 2.5 hours on the road, earning 5.00X2.5=$12.50 plus around $50 in tips, so a total of around 90 bucks for 6 hours of work. Some nights its less, some its more, but I'm averaging approximately $15/hour. Tonight, for instance, I worked from 5pm to 1:45am. So, if I spent, say, about 5.5 hours on the road (27 bucks in wages) and the rest (3.3 hours) in the store (26 bucks in wages), I earned 53 dollars in wages tonight. But, I also took home $106.00 in tips (!). So, for 8.8 hours of work, I earned about 160 bucks. That's....wait for it...over $18 an hour...to deliver pizza, answer phones, and clean counters at the end of the day. Also, When I'm in my car driving, I listen to audiobooks and music. I also smoke my pipe at night while driving on occasion. I also get to take home/eat lots of free pizza. So, It's a pretty cushy job. And I've been logging around 35 hours each week (this week was 39). I've also been logging around 15 hours/week teaching, and 15 hours/week in classes, and 10 hours/week (far less than I should be) studying. So that adds up to about 80 hours of work each week. Ugh! Anyway, I intend to ramp up my hours spent prepping for my teaching job, and increase hours spent studying, while a the same time decreasing the hours I log for Papa John's. I will keep you updated, even though "you" is nobody and I'm writing all this for my own enjoyment anyway. :-)