This year we had our annual All Team Retreat (ATR) where over 1500 of our church members serving in various ministries across the nation gathered at the Santa Clara Convention Center to hear from God’s word, worship together, and get refreshed before the start of 2019.
A big highlight of our retreat was having Dr. Gary Burge as a guest speaker. Dr. Burge is a New Testament scholar, author, and theologian who teaches at Calvin Theological Seminary. Many of us recall having read some of his writings as commentaries to aid our devotions. Dr. Burge gave us world-class training on how to study, read, and teach the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as well as the parables. We went through some of the key themes driving the Sermon on the Mount, getting a deeper sense of Jesus’ values and what it takes to cultivate a mature soul. We also learned many features of Middle Eastern storytelling that are key for understanding the context of the parables and came away inspired to approach Scripture with both humility and scholarly curiosity.
I was personally struck by the way Dr. Burge helped us to ask questions about the cultural framework of Jesus’ time to unearth deeper insights and understand the sophisticated theology of the parables. For example, I learned about the roles of women and judges in ancient Middle Eastern culture that shed light on the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18. Dr. Burge painted a picture of scenarios in which women in their context could manipulate circumstances through outlandish behavior. This helped me to understand how the parable presents a contrast between the unrighteous judge and God, who is a good judge. If, however, it is the character of the judge that determines the answer, and we have a good judge, then there is no need to be outlandish or manipulative in our prayers.
Overall, these sessions from our retreat really brought Jesus’ storytelling to life and made me appreciate his words more deeply. I’m grateful for the chance to learn more about God’s word, and motivated to live out 2 Timothy 2:15, our key verse for 2019.