Listen to My Dad: Read a Bible Commentary

On Monday afternoon I took a break from work to call my parents to find out how my mom was doing after a recent dental procedure. My dad picked up the phone too, and I asked him what he was doing. Working on a short meditation for the weekly devotional time at their retirement community, he said. This week’s Scripture texts were Revelation 21:1–8 and Isaiah 65:17–25.

Anyone who knows my dad knows that he loves nothing more than to study and meditate on the Bible, dive into the work of erudite theologians and biblical scholars, and then figure out a way to bring it all together to communicate the richness and depth of Scripture to others.

As a study resource, he had open on his desk John R. Yeatts’ commentary on Revelation, one of the volumes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary (BCBC) series. Herald Press publishes this series on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA, the Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, and Mennonite Brethren Church. It is the only commentary from an Anabaptist perspective available to readers.

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The BCBC commentary on Revelation by John R. Yeatts.

My dad went on for some minutes about how helpful the Revelation commentary has been in preparing this devotional; how excellent Yeatts’ analysis is, especially with regard to the nonviolent Lamb that stands against empire; and how good it is to have informed biblical exegesis from a perspective other than the dispensationalist view with which he grew up.

He had also pulled the Isaiah commentary off his shelf, and he was just getting into author Ivan D. Friesen’s work when I called. “I am amazed at the quality of the people who write these commentaries. These authors are real scholars!” my dad said. “I mean, I just don’t think the church is making enough of these commentaries.”

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The BCBC commentary on Isaiah by Ivan D. Friesen.

Honest: I did not put my dad up to this so I’d have something to write about for this blog post. I did, however, grab a piece of paper as he was talking to take notes. Frankly, I think he would have gushed about the BCBC series no matter who had called him at that moment.

Like my father, countless pastors and Sunday school teachers and professors have reached for BCBC commentaries since 1986, when the commentary series launched with Jeremiah, to help them prepare sermons and lessons and classes. Lay readers and scholars alike praise its unique features, including two sections entitled “The Text in Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church,” which are especially helpful in connecting believers church perspectives to the biblical text.

Part of what sets this series apart is the fact that it is aimed not just at scholars and pastors but at anyone interested in serious Bible study. Even those of us who aren’t biblical scholars—and I can assure you that I am not one—can pick up a commentary in this series and not be intimidated by an author who assumes we know more than we do.

“I have noticed how other publishers are looking to build on the BCBC format,” one man in the United Kingdom wrote to Herald Press recently. “The fact that your vision is thirty years ahead is indicative of how I see the breaking down of walls between high-end academic work and the work of the church. These books have been very well thought out to help the believer/minister get to the meat of the text. It is high-end scholarship brought to a level that can provide depth to the ordinary believer.” (Case in point: the Joshua commentary by Gordon H. Matties starts with a quotation by Leonard Cohen. Now there is a Bible commentary that is breaking down walls!)

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The BCBC commentary on Joshua by Gordon H. Matties.

Another distinctive feature of this series is its commitment to community interpretation of the Word. Next week I travel to San Diego for the annual BCBC editorial council meetings, in which representatives of the cooperating denominations meet to consider manuscripts for future commentaries. These scholars and teachers sit together for two days to consider writing samples, discuss new manuscripts, and craft responses to writers to help them revise their work. While each of the commentaries is written by an individual writer, in many ways they are the product of a community of believers interpreting the Scriptures together.

We’re excited to announce that the twenty-seventh volume in the series, Lamentations, Song of Songs by Wilma Ann Bailey and Christina Bucher, will be published in February 2015. Galatians by George R. Brunk III will appear in March. This week our marketing and sales director presented these books to a team of sales representatives, who are selling them to stores even before they are published. Both volumes are already receiving high praise.

“Wilma Ann Bailey and Christina Bucher have written clear, lyrical, and academically solid studies on Lamentations and the Song of Songs,” writes Kathleen M. O’Connor, professor emerita of the Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary. “I recommend this work for believers, for those seeking for God, and for those who love biblical literature.”

And of the Galatians commentary, Eastern Mennonite Seminary Professor Emeritus Paul Zehr writes, “Brunk’s theological commentary on Galatians offers new insights that challenge the common understanding of this early Christian letter. Utilizing insights from many years of teaching, this commentary challenges traditional Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone with a more holistic understanding of Christ-centered faith and life in the Holy Spirit.”

So if you’re leading Sunday school or preparing to preach or just doing some personal Bible study, you can remedy my dad’s sense that the church is not doing enough with this distinguished and distinctive Bible commentary series. You keep your eyes open for Lamentations, Song of Songs and Galatians in the spring, and I’ll let you know what Herald Press books my dad happens to be reading when I call him next.

In addition to our Bible commentary series, check out other Herald Press books. In gratitude for our customers, we’re running a Thanksgiving sale on several titles.

headshotValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

Do You Have a Book Group? Some Book Ideas — by Mary Ann Weber

A soldier returns to the United States after the worst day of his life—a day when a fierce battle took the lives of some of his friends. A young woman finds herself working at a police precinct and is mesmerized by the recent hire of a young woman who seems to lead a much more glamorous life. An Indian Catholic sister working in Ethiopia dies while giving birth to twins, one of whom grows up to be a physician.*

These brief plots are from books I’ve read for the book group I meet with each month. Aside from the fact that I love to read, one reason to be part of such a group is that I read books that I might not have chosen on my own. We’re assured of a variety of genres and writing styles because we take turns choosing books.

Thinking about book selection led me to wonder what would happen if a book group read only MennoMedia titles? Keeping in mind a variety of books, what would I recommend?

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1. Shine On: A Story Bible. This book might not, at first glance, seem like a good book for adults. In this volume, numerous Bible stories are written and illustrated with children in mind. Yet, the stories are skillfully told and the illustrations are captivating. Each story contains ideas to help readers explore the story further and connect with it. Choosing some of them would generate excellent group discussion.

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2. Extending the Table. Cookbooks are not traditionally circulated among book groups. But what if everyone prepared their favorite recipe from the book and brought it along to the group? From Afghanistan to Zambia, Extending the Table includes recipes from all over the world. Perhaps some foods will be new, while others will remind group members of travels and of living in places outside of their own context. What a tasty meeting!

recon3. Reconcile by John Paul Lederach. Lederach has worked in conflict situations around the globe and he takes seriously that reconciliation is a central part of the Bible. Using personal stories and Scripture, Lederach illustrates how Christians work toward resolving conflicts peacefully. Practical ideas and resources are included, as well as a study guide for group discussions.

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4. Chasing the Amish Dream by Loren Beachy. Amish fiction is quite prolific these days and is written by outsiders. So how about getting the authentic voice by picking up this book? Beachy is a member of the Amish church with a gift for both writing and humor. Book groups will learn about real Amish life from someone on the inside.

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5. Making Friends with the Taliban by Jonathan P. Larson. This true story about Dan Terry, who worked as a peacemaker in Afghanistan, is both inspiring and challenging. What does it mean to work for peace in a world of conflict? How do we learn to understand cultures and people? Are we ready to give our lives for peace? This book provides many conversation topics for book groups.

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6. Radical Jesus edited by Paul Buhle. Most book groups don’t read graphic novels, and that’s too bad. Many have good things to say in the way they use both words and pictures to tell a story. This book highlights the life and teachings of Jesus, and then features those who have lived by those teachings throughout history. Many elements of the book will spark good conversations and a study guide is available at: http://www.heraldpress.com/Studygds/

What are some books you recommend to a book group?

I wish to also remind you that most books MennoMedia sells are available at a
25 % discount with the “Study Shelf” discount. See details and book ideas here.

Happy reading!

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*Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, Cutting for Stone by Abraham

 

Mary Ann Weber, Managing Editor, Curriculum

My Littlest Donors — by Steve Carpenter

I have been MennoMedia’s Director of Development and Church Relations for nearly three years. When I first came on staff I overlapped with my predecessor for one week. During that time, we did a development trip together to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, visiting donors and Mennonite churches.

One of the things Randy Miller, the prior development director said to me was, “It’s a good day when you have the opportunity to meet with a donor who is younger than you.” Randy and I were both in our late 50s when he made that remark. He was right.

Very few of the donors I’ve met in the past three years have been younger than I am. Two of MennoMedia’s faithful older donors are Russell and Gladys Alderfer, who are 90 and 88 years of age respectively. Although they are my in-laws, they have been supporting MennoMedia for many decades, long before I came on staff.

Russell and Gladys Alderfer

Russell and Gladys Alderfer

I enlisted MennoMedia’s four youngest donors last month when I visited Brent and Deirdre Alderfer in Stockton, New Jersey. Brent is my brother-in-law and is supportive of my work. However, he wouldn’t give to MennoMedia if he wasn’t convinced his donation would yield a beneficial return. He is after all, a keen businessman and CEO of Community Energy, a sustainable energy company. He, and his wife Deirdre, are also passing along business acumen and a sense of generosity to their children.

Several years ago Brent and Deirdre made a gift to MennoMedia to support development of the new Anabaptist Sunday school curriculum, Shine. I was revisiting him and his family to seek additional support for that curriculum project. Brent and Deirdre again came through with a gift but this time they invited their young children, Aiden, Andrew, Aleesia and Adeline, to give too. The kids set aside money from their allowance for savings and to give to God’s work. They keep this money in envelopes marked “savings,” “helping,” and “world.”

Aiden, Andrew, Adeline (front) & Aleesia Alderfer

Aiden, Andrew, Adeline (front) & Aleesia Alderfer

In addition to the gift their parents gave, the children gave an additional $9 for new curriculum development. With these gifts and others we have raised nearly $367,000 of the $400,000 needed to complete development of Shine, the new Anabaptist Sunday school curriculum.

As is my custom, I like to give each donor whom I visit a gift. I generally allow them to choose one of our books. In this case I gave the Alderfer family a copy of the Shine On children’s Bible storybook, which is integral to the Shine curriculum but is also a very nice standalone piece which can be used by parents and grandparents in the home. Aleesia took to it immediately!

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children's Bible Storybook

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children’s Bible Storybook

The Bible tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7 b). These four little ones radiate the joy of giving. May we learn from their example, and follow their lead in giving generously and joyfully to God’s work, as the Spirit prompts.

If you would like to give to MennoMedia click here. Once at that site you will find two buttons, one for U.S. citizens and another for Canadians. You can make a tax deductible donation using PayPal, a credit card, or by check. Thank you for your support.

Brent and Deirdre have modeled teaching stewardship to their children. MC USA’s Stewardship agency Everence  has several free downloadable resources available to use in teaching generosity to children and youth on their website. Click here to view or download three stewardship resources: Money Matters for Youth, which is designed for use in High School aged Sunday school classes, Three Key Questions and Money, written for Youth Groups, and  a three-part lesson plan for young children called Stewardship for Kids.
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Blessings in your work, worship and witness.

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

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How do you teach generosity to your children?

Are there resources you would recommend for teaching children about giving to God’s work?