Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ostriches and Puzzle Pieces

Subtitled: Finally, the Introduction! :-)

PC Study Bible Data

I have a confession to make: I’m an extremist. I struggle with seeing the “big picture” and instead tend to focus so intently on what’s facing me at the moment that I end up making it much bigger than it really is. Once in a while, this lends itself to bouts of deep creativity and productivity…but more often than not it just causes me to freak out, freeze up, and ultimately stick my head in the sand like some kind of human-ostrich. It’s one of the reasons I am so blessed to have Bob - he is forever reminding me to settle down, back up, and look at the situation from a broader perspective. When I’m busy focusing on one piece of the puzzle, he holds up the box and shows me what it really looks like. I love him for that.

And so, when I decided I wanted to do a Women’s Bible Study, of course I went extreme, and of course Bob came to my rescue once again. Originally, my plan was to go through a book of the Bible (if you’ve followed my life at all, you know I was focusing on 1 Peter), but that wasn’t happening…because I went into extreme-me mode. Yes, it’s only five chapters, and yes, I’m a teacher, so why would it be difficult to do that study? Hello?...Did you read the first paragraph of this post? I took one look at the opening phrase in verse one: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” and freaked out. Too much! My inner extremist shouted. You’ll never get through it! You’ll need to study for weeks just to get people to understand how Peter is an apostle! How are you going to make THAT applicable to a Women’s Study?

And, while I was wasting time fretting about studying, Bob actually was studying. (He’s back in school, for those who don’t know, picking up another Master’s - this one in Apologetics.) His first few classes are all on Systematic Theology, and he’s working his way through Chafer’s VERY LENGTHY 8-volume set on the subject. Every time he reads, he tells me about some new thing he’s learned; some interesting aspect about God that I never knew (yes, even though I was raised in church and went to a Christian college); some new insight that has strengthened his faith.

And in the Lord’s perfect timing…at exactly the same time I was about to scrap this whole study-thing and just do one of those Nav Press “LifeChange” studies (not that there’s anything wrong with that)…Bob said to me, “You know what you should do for your Women’s Study?” Please don’t say Systematic Theology, I thought to myself. But he tapped his finger on the open volume in front of him and said it anyway: “Systematic Theology!”

Obviously, I balked. If I got so freaked out over the first phrase of the first verse of 1 Peter, how in the world did he think I was going to feel about Systematic Theology? And how in the world could I make THAT pertinent to the needs of a Women’s Study? Oh, but didn’t I mention how Bob is blessed with the ability to see the big picture and the ability to show it to me? And that is just what he did. He started reminding me of our daily conversations about what he’s learning, again pointing out the ways in which his study of Systematic Theology has renewed his mind (Romans 12:2), strengthened his faith (Romans 8:31; Philippians 4:6-7), and helped him provide a ready defense for the Hope within him (1 Peter 3:15). Really, how much more relevant does it get than that? Ultimately, he reminded me, looking at the bigger picture was a much better way to go.

Of course I’m stubborn, and when my ostrich-head is in the sand it sometimes takes more than simple coaxing to get it out. So, as I prayed about it, the Lord graciously put some situations in my path that really highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the broader, deeper study of Theology. I won’t break them all down for you here (I want to use some of them for illustrations later!), but ultimately it came down to this: More and more Christians - good ol’ God-fearin’, Jesus-lovin’ folks - are more and more unable to explain WHY they believe what they believe. And while I could ramble on about whose fault that might be, it really doesn’t matter at this point (or for this study) - because regardless of how we got in this situation, we’re here now. And in this postmodern age, the truth is seen as more pliable than reliable, so if we can’t rationally and logically explain the facts behind our faith, then we are on a steep precipice. Satan would like nothing better than to see our faith be based on feelings…feelings, after all, are so fleeting. But ours is a faith based on fact…faith that may produce certain feelings, to be sure, but not faith based on feelings. Don’t mix them up.

Why Systematic Theology? As opposed to what, Unsystematic Theology? Systematic Theology is just a systematized way of studying theology, so don’t make it fancier than it is. But the real response to this question goes back to all those conversations I had (and am still having) with Bob about his studies, and the realization that the “big picture” view is a much better way to go. What is it we always hear people saying (and say ourselves): “I just don’t understand. I pray. I read the Bible. Why am I still X?” or “Why don’t I understand Z?” or “Why isn’t God making His will clear to me?” Could it be because we’re only looking at one or two pieces of the puzzle? Bob and I did a puzzle together once - it hangs over the fireplace now…because it was a feat, let me tell you! It was a photo-mosaic puzzle, so the “big picture” itself was actually a bunch of smaller pictures put together…and then broken into even more pieces as a puzzle. We’d complete one small section, and that section would seem complete in itself, but outside of the big picture it could not make complete sense. It wasn’t until we systematically completed the entire puzzle that we were able to see how all the little pictures made up one really cool picture!

Problem is, as believers, we look at the deeper study of the things of God in much the same way as we look at puzzles -- and I’m moving past the little-pieces-make-big-pictures analogy here. We look at puzzles and say, “Whoa! Too many pieces!” Or we start them, but get bored because it really takes a lot of work (and concentration) to do a big puzzle. Or we make fun of puzzle-people…wonder why they don’t get a life and all that! Or we focus on one little piece and ignore the rest -- I have a student who makes earrings out of puzzle pieces. One puzzle piece may be beautiful and useful (as jewelry), but all by itself it is inadequate for helping me see what the big picture is. But if I am unwilling to put all the pieces together - to take the time and make the effort to study the deeper things - then I am left with a whole lot of costume jewelry that looks nice, but lacks meaning.

So again, why Systematic Theology? Because too many of us lack the training to even understand what we believe, much less defend or explain it to someone else! A systematic study of these very broad and very deep things about God will help us put that puzzle together. And take it one step further - beyond defense of the faith - to everyday life (we’re always falling back on the old “how does this apply to my life” thing anyway)…Seeing the big picture leads to understanding, and that understanding shapes our Christian Walk! So rather than simply throwing up our hands and saying, “Jesus, take the wheel!” We understand - in a big picture way - WHY we can ask Him to do that, and why He can even do it to begin with!

Want a relevant study? A systematic study of the things of God is one of the most relevant things we can do! The study of systematic theology forces you to see the big picture…God’s whole plan laid out for you. Studying that whole plan forces you to truly understand your place in that plan, and once that’s done, then you can REST from so many of those things that you struggle with! For example, we say, “Yes, I know I’m saved. I know the plan of salvation, the Romans Road, etc,” but knowing that on an intellectual level, and knowing that as part of the big plan is different! You can know the words and their definitions, but can you tell what they mean for you (no touchy-feely emotionalism, please!) and how they relate to God’s big picture? You know, most of our daily life problems come from a lack of resting in Christ. Meaning what? Meaning that we aren’t resting because we spend all our time fretting and stressing and saying things like, “I’m a lousy Christian,” or “I’m supposed to be perfect,” not understanding that you’re already perfect -- in Christ! We worry about the temptations of the Devil, not truly understanding that Christ has already conquered the Devil. Sure, we know those things as small pieces of the puzzle. We wear our “perfected in Christ” and “Jesus conquered the Devil” earrings, if you will, but until we see them in connection with the big picture - with the rest of the pieces of the puzzle - we have no understanding of their relevance. And once we see the big picture, we see the relevance. And once we see the relevance, we rest. And I’ll tell you something else - when I look at that photo-mosaic puzzle over my fireplace, I have the option now of looking at the tiny pictures or at the big picture - because it ALL makes sense now. And I no longer wonder about how each little picture is going to relate. I can rest and enjoy it, because I see it for what it is.

Talk about having a REASON for the HOPE within you!

But won’t the study of Systematic Theology make us legalistic and pharisaical? Why? Because that happened to someone you know? Listen, I know someone who choked on a piece of bread, but you don’t see me blaming the bread, do you (or worse, avoiding bread all together)!? Talk about extremism!

Want to know what makes us legalistic and pharisaical? Sin.

How’s that for big picture!

So, we now embark upon a great-big-honkin-study…granted, we’ll use the abridged version of Chafer’s work, but it’s going to be big. Oooh - like our God. He’s big, too! Remember that old song, “My God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty - there’s nothing my God cannot do!” And believe me, if He can get me to write this study, He can get you to do it!

My next post will include the actual-and-official Lesson #1, along with instructions on how to do it, how to “interact online” with each other, etc. But before we begin, I want you to read and think about the following verses: 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and 2 Peter 2:2-4. After you read them, meditate on them, and pray about them. Then post your thoughts here, using the comment section. This is just to get the juices flowing; and also because I doubt you followed my instructions in my last post (about reading the whole Bible in 2 weeks). :-)

Monday, April 6, 2009

What's going on here???

There's been a change of plans...but change is a good thing! After much prayer and consideration, I've decided to switch to something MUCH broader than 1 Peter. Not that ol' Pete doesn't have good things to say (I mean, come on, who doesn't want to learn about suffering?!)...but I think I'd like to paint with a broader brush for our first study.

So...where does that leave us? Well, the book(s) I'm interested in studying just came in the mail TODAY, so once I get into them a bit I'll give you more info. In the meantime, here's a hint: it's a study that will cause you to think, but will also give you reason to be encouraged and to encourage others.

In preparation, read the whole Bible. Go on - read it. You have until Tuesday next. Ready? :-)