For today’s Sunday School lesson (for 11 and 12 year olds), I pulled out my phone so as to read. (I rarely bring my printed Bible since the letters in it keep getting smaller and smaller.) Then one of the children pulled out her phone, and then another. So three out of four of us were reading the Bible from our phones. While this is getting fairly common in Bible study groups now, I had not experienced it before at Sunday School. Naturally, all three of us were using the program that I had written to read the Bible in Italian, so my work to distribute the Bible has now been extended even towards pre-teenagers.
We have arrived at the end of year rush already, with Stefania’s gymnastic recital last night. For the next month there will be the usual round of extra activities for the three schools (of Pinuccia and the children) and church. Pinuccia and I will be particularly busy finishing up the Sunday School, helping to organise the end of year presentation and the camp in June. There is a lot to do still for both.
In the meantime, I have finished preparing the Bible studies I have to give until the summer break. This will give me a bit more time, at least for the next couple of weeks, after which I will know the autumn program and will be able to start preparing for it. Apart from working for the Sunday School, it means I hope to get more computer programming done than usual, especially on the new Macintosh and iOS programs. Last week I finally got to the stage of being able to display any Bible passage. So there will be “just” some cleaning up to do – with just in inverted commas, because often fixing up the small details take up more time than the general functioning of the program. But in any case, I hope some time this month to be ready to release the first versions of these programs.
Next weekend is another of the monthly training seminars that the young adults are organising, for themselves and for the church. This time it is more orientated towards younger people, with a couple of people from Youth for Christ coming for the training. In the morning it will be for parents and the church leaders, on how to serve them. Then in the afternoon there will be a meeting about how to run evangelistic events in schools, a training time for the teenagers, and then a meeting that the teenagers have organised for their friends. Then it all finishes with a worship time in the evening. Sounds like it will be a great and helpful time for many types of people! I’m looking forward to it, and its effects on the teenagers.
The earlier part of this week was more restful than usual, with the usual mid week Bible studies having a break so it would be easier for people to attend the monthly prayer meeting. As well as that, my in-laws staying with us, and they look after me and reduce my housework significantly. It even meant being able to go out on some ‘dates’, as I had some free evenings and we could sneak out after the children were asleep and leave them with their grandparents. So I think it was the first time we have been able to go out to celebrate the day of our anniversary (number nine this year). The end of the week became a bit more normal, with a Sunday School teachers’ meeting on Thursday (for both Pinuccia and I, so we took advantage of the grandparents’ babysitting service again), the church prayer meeting on Friday night that I led, and a visit to do the study at the Val di Non group in the mountains on Saturday afternoon.
Yesterday afternoon, for Good Friday, there was something new in the church – our first Pakistani/Indian service. This came about through the Pakistani pastor that God sent to Trento as he fled from persecution, as he has been making contacts with the immigrants not only at Trento but also in other parts of Italy. So there were about 45 Asians at the service, from Trento and elsewhere, as well a number of church members who wanted to participate. This sort of ministry was certainly not in our vision a year ago, nor how we thought that the new premises would be used when we decided to start renting it, but it is exciting to see how God leads us and uses us if we make everything – including ourselves – available to him.
There were two important meetings in the church this week, although I had to miss both of them. The first was whilst I was returning from my mission meetings in Spain, namely a public meeting on religious freedom in Pakistan. A Pakistani pastor who now lives in Italy was the main speaker, together with representatives from the Catholic Church and the Province. A few people not from the church came, including five Muslim Pakistani students who contested the stories told by the pastor, as if they were not true. They created a bit of tension and fear, as they took notes on what was said, but the pastor continued anyway. As you probably know, there was another serious case of persecution of the Christians in Pakistan a couple of days ago, which upset the pastor and his family. So there was also an opportunity to manifest our fellowship with the persecuted church through the encouragement and support of this family.
I could not go to the second meeting as I was not invited – it was for females only. It was an opportunity to witness to many of the church members’ friends, as three ladies spoke on anxiety and worry, including the wife of the Pakistani pastor. It was good to be able to use our hall for such activities, that we could not do in the past. Pray that they will help our continuing witness, both in the public sphere and towards our individual friends.
Last week, I had a message forwarded to me from someone who runs another Italian site on the Bible, who had received a message with questions he could not answer, on the parsing of a Greek word and the possibility of having Italian or Spanish commentaries on his Windows Phone. Over the next few days, after I replied to the questions, the person sent me some other messages with further questions. On Sunday afternoon I went to Madrid for some meetings with the mission, and to avoid getting hit with a backlog when I return I try to reply to as many e-mails as I can whilst away – although replying did mean I got even more messages from this person to reply to. On Wednesday evening he sent a message to thank me for my answers, and said that if I ever need help he was available at Madrid. So I mentioned that I was actually at Madrid as well at that moment, but leaving the next day. He replied that he was keen to meet me. Usually it would not have been possible, as I catch the first flight out in the morning after such meetings. But due to a strike my plane had been cancelled, and I had instead a 4pm plane. So we met at the airport to talk for a couple of hours. As always with my Internet contacts, I had no idea who he was or what he was like, just a name and an e-mail address. But he turned out to be a “kindred spirit” in many ways, with a number of common friends in the Italian evangelical church.
Why did I title this Not a coincidence, when it seems to be? Because my impression was that the meeting was too impossible to be a coincidence. I was passed Achille’s message from somebody else, just before I was due to go to Madrid. In a decade of receiving e-mail inquiries, maybe a handful of times has someone mentioned in passing where they were living. Usually when I am away for meetings, I have no free time to meet other people, but just go airport-highway-office, where I sit for three days, before going as soon as possible back to the airport. But this time the strike gave me a bit of extra time. So I am sure God had a reason for bringing us together. From talking with him, I found that there are some ways that I can help him in the way he wants to serve God. Whether this is God’s reason, I do not know yet, but I will find out as I follow the way God leads us both in this.
We are starting to warm up now, not only with the temperature but also in the life of the church, as we move into our typically most active period. March arrived, and suddenly lots of events are organised. Yesterday (Friday) we had a planning meeting for the children’s camp in June, from which I went straight to band practice. Today there was one of the monthly training days organised by the young adults, but which many from the church went to, on Biblical counselling. Tomorrow is the monthly church lunch, which I will miss because immediately after the service I will catch the train to Milan, and from there the plane to Madrid, where I will be for meetings for the mission until Thursday. Pray for the family that will have to try to juggle the various commitments without me. In the meantime, on Thursday afternoon there will be a public meeting on religious freedom, in which the main speaker will be a Pakistani pastor who fled the country 18 months ago due to various threats, ended up at Trento, where who was granted asylum and recently joined by his family. Play for a good witness by him as he shares his story! On Friday there is the monthly meeting for the whole church, where we will be praying together, and on Saturday an evangelistic meeting organised by the ladies for their friends. Pray also for this opportunity.
Abraham: Following God’s Promise (http://www.logos.com/product/20888/abraham-following-gods-promise-complete-church-curriculum-for-leaders-and-pastors) is a course published by Logos, and so available only for computer and not as printed material. I was provided with a free copy, and this is my review of it.
The product contains a lot of material: a book for group members, and a book for leaders that organizes the material in two different ways, for leading a small group and for preaching a sermon. There are also short videos that present each study (basically a person reciting what would be the first paragraph). There are also sermon handouts, teaching slideshows and small group handouts, which can be downloaded from the above web page. So there is a lot of material which can be used.
What stands out for me in the study guide is the background material, with the literary context, historical and cultural background, and how the passage is used not only in the rest of the Bible back also in other ancient texts. It would be too much to use in a study (which is a positive thing), but would be good for the group members to read beforehand.
On the other hand, I find the emphasis of the interpretation of the passages is too much on the experience of the group members, and not on God. Often the drift of the study is “Have you ever felt like Abraham did?”, and then we should be like or not like Abraham, and we see one of God’s characteristics in this way. Whereas I would have liked it the other way around: “What do we learn about God from how he revealed himself through Abraham?”, and then “How should be behave or think as a result?” This is a question of emphasis, which would only requiring changing the order of the study. More difficult is that it is missing a sense of the Biblical narrative and the progression of God’s plan. Sure, as I said it is very good at picking up the references in the rest of the OT and in the NT to Abraham, but they are still not placed in God’s story. So we do not see how Abraham’s story is leading up to Christ, except where there is the parallel of the sacrifice of Isaac. There is therefore hardly any mention made to the actual content of Genesis 12:1-3, only to the fact that Abraham showed faith in responding to the call despite not knowing what exactly he was being called to (and so, “Have you ever felt the same way what responding to God’s call?” is the question in the study). But the content of God’s promises in these three verses, not just the fact that God promised and Abraham followed, are fundamental to understand God’s response to the sin of Gen 1-11, and how he would bring blessing to all nations through Jesus Christ, which all of the rest of the OT prepares for.
I have not written many posts lately, as it has been a period of “ordinary administration” in the church and in the mission, with little special to write about, as is usual in these winter months. But things will start to hot up next month, with a number of non regular events planned. In the meantime, today there was one of the few winter activities, with an outing after church for the children of the Sunday School. This year we took them up the mountain that is next to Trento for some toboggan and sled riding down the slopes. They are had a great time, as did the teachers as we got to spend some good time with them. It was also a good opportunity to catch up with the children from the Rovereto church, who came as well. There was also one of the children from last year’s camp. Speaking of which, on Saturday the family had a scouting trip to the place we will probably use for this year’s camp in June. The preparations are going ahead for that, so keep praying for the organisation that Pinuccia and I and several other people are doing, and especially for the children who will be attending.