Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes–Parables of Jesus #1

38d2ea28-d0b8-4953-b962-1b9a41648f0b_1.521799f19899b1e8b6f68e4eef180b97We now move into a discussion on Jesus’ parables in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey. The main purpose of this book is to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of Middle Eastern culture. After the introduction to the section, Bailey looks at 11 of Jesus’ parables. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. This is a book I would highly recommend that you add to your library.

Bailey concludes the book with a long section on parables. He sees parables as doing more than "explaining theology." He sees them as "creating theology." Each parable was a "house" that provided "several windows to look out at the world." Our task is to figure out what Jesus wanted his original listeners to understand from the parable as we place it in the context of Jesus' life and witness.

Jesus was a metaphorical theologian. That is, his primary method of creating meaning was through metaphor, simile, parable and dramatic action rather than through logic and reasoning. He created meaning like a dramatist and a poet rather than like a philosopher. Parables Introduction, 279

The Bible for Christians is not just the Word of God. Rather, it is the Word of God spoken through people in history. Those people and that history cannot be ignored without missing the speaker or writer’s intentions and creating our own substitutes for them. Historical interpretation is the key to unlocking the vault that contains the gold of theological meaning. Parables Introduction, 281

Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. Authentic simplicity can be found the other side of complexity. Parables Introduction, 283

Bailey begins the section on parables with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is set in the middle of a dialog between Jesus and a hostile Jewish law expert. Bailey's point is that the two questions the lawyer asks are bad questions. One does not do something to inherit something. Eternal life is a gift from God to His children. Secondly the correct question is not, "who is my neighbor," but, "To whom can I be a neighbor." Jesus answers this one with, "to whoever is in need around you." Ultimately Jesus is the Good Samaritan who provided for our need, with great sacrifice, on the cross.

Love that fails to give money as charity or as alms is common in the world, but heartfelt love that is free from the seeking of praise or honor and which is willing to endure distress, suffering and loss, in the path of good works, such as is set forth in this parable, is extraordinarily rare. (Quoting Ibn al-Tayyib), Luke 10.25.37, 295

The lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” is not answered. Instead, Jesus reflects on the larger question, “To whom must I become a neighbor?” The answer being: Anyone in need. At great cost, the Samaritan became a neighbor to the wounded man. The neighbor is the Samaritan, not the wounded man. Luke 10.25.37, 296

On hearing the story the lawyer has a chance to see that he cannot justify himself (that is, earn eternal life), because what he is challenged to do is beyond his capacity. At the same time he and all readers of the parable, since its creation, are given a noble ethical model to imitate. Luke 10.25.37, 297

The Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12.13-21

In this parable Jesus shows the folly of thinking that your possessions belong to you, instead of to God. We are all accountable to God for every penny we spend. So even though the petitioners request to Jesus may have been just, Jesus rebukes him for the greedy attitude by which he sought justice. Life is not about making ourselves comfortable, but about service to God and others.

If we acknowledge the God of the Bible, we are committed to struggle for justice in society. Justice means giving to each his due. Our problem, as seen in the light of the gospel, is that each of us overestimates what is due him compared with what is due to his neighbor. If I do not acknowledge a justice which judges the justice for which I fight, I am an agent, not of justice, but of lawless tyranny. Luke 12.13-21, 301

Ambrose, the fourth-century Latin theologian, astutely observes, “The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours.… Compassion alone follows us.” Augustine, of North Africa, Ambrose’s student, writes, “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.Luke 12.13-21, 304

A naked cry for justice, unqualified by any self-criticism, is not heeded by Jesus...Jesus is concerned for needs, not simply earnings. Here a self-centered cry for justice is understood by Jesus to be a symptom of a sickness. He refuses to answer the cry but rather strives to heal the condition that produced the cry. Luke 12.13-21, 307

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Friday Chapel

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Friday21 Chapel (7)Friday21 Chapel (8)Yesterday’s chapel was another good one. I promised my fellow president Olin (she is the student council  president) that I would put her on the top of this blog post. So there she is on the left front of the picture with the nice smile and Scott backing her up. I appreciated the opportunity yesterday to talk with the students about my upcoming trip and ask for their prayers for me as I represent the school in various places. Our speaker was Hartmut Scherer who spoke about “deception” from Matthew 25.10. We need to remember that the time is always “urgent” to be prepared for what God is calling us to do.

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I especially enjoyed the music. Each song was led by a different student or group of students.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes–Jesus and Women #2

38d2ea28-d0b8-4953-b962-1b9a41648f0b_1.521799f19899b1e8b6f68e4eef180b97We continue with Bailey’s discussion on Jesus’ view of women in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey. The main purpose of this book is to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of Middle Eastern culture. Here we will look at four more passages that focus on Jesus' interaction with women.I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. This is a book I would highly recommend that you add to your library.

This Lady is Not For Stoning John 7.53-8.11

Bailey sees this story as an enacted demonstration of the meaning of the atonement. Jesus upholds the prohibition of the law, but removes its penalty. He opposes the religious leaders who care more about "turf" and power than hurting people. Jesus also serves as a model of how to deal with sinners in light of His payment for the debt of sin.  It is a wonderful story of grace and love.

Jesus accepts the sexual code of the Old Testament tradition, but removes its penalty. John 8.1-11, 236

She is the recipient of a costly demonstration of unexpected love that saves her life. Jesus demonstrates the life-changing power of costly love. This scene provides an insight into Jesus’ understanding of the significance of his own suffering. John 8.1-11, 236

Jesus lives out a core meaning of the cross. He offers the woman a costly demonstration of unexpected love. The reader is obliged to reflect on how the woman in the story may have responded, and in the process think deep thoughts regarding his or her response to the costly love of God offered on the cross to the world (Jn 3:16). John 8.1-11, 238

The Woman in the House of Simon the Pharisee Luke 7.36-50

Bailey sees the dinner of Simon the Pharisee an attempt to humiliate the young rabbi, Jesus and correct his irresponsible offerings of forgiveness of sin. The woman had heard Jesus' offer, accepted it and came to the dinner to express her love and thanks. When she saw that all the normal customary amenities were not offered to Jesus she decided to offer them herself with what she had. The Pharisees were horrified that Jesus received her ministry and allowed her to touch him. The center of the story is the parable. Jesus pointedly reminds Simon that, though, his sins are less, he is still in need of God's forgiveness. Jesus, takes the Divine right to forgive sins and the woman recognizes this of Jesus while Simon seems to reject it. The point is the love of God and compensation for sin do not precede forgiveness; they follow and result from it.

Law-keepers often condemn lawbreakers as “sinners.” Lawbreakers generally look at law-keepers and shout “hypocrites.” But not in this story. Here the woman’s total focus is on Jesus. Luke 7.36-50, 247

By the end of the parable the subtle fusion between the creditor as God and the creditor as Jesus is complete. This can be called “hermeneutical Christology.” Jesus takes a recognized symbol for God and subtly transforms it into a symbol for himself. This is of particular significance because it is Jesus himself defining his own identity. Luke 7.41-42, 254

The woman is not offering her love hoping to receive forgiveness. Rather she is responding to the fact that she has already received much forgiveness and thus has much love to offer, as Ambrose observed. In like manner, Simon, who has been forgiven little, loves little. Forgiveness is first and the offer of love is a response to it. Luke 7.36-50 257

The Parable of the Widow and the Judge Luke 18.1-8

The parable of the unrighteous judge shows that persistent prayer works because God is NOT like the judge, but instead is a loving God who cares about the needs of his children. The widow is the hero of the story as she faithfully presents her request to the judge despite her powerlessness. Jesus ends the parable by recognizing that people are not always faithful to maintain this kind of persistent faith.

Jesus makes clear that we are not in the presence of a grim judge who is taking bribes from someone else and wants nothing to do with us. On the contrary, in prayer believers are in the presence of a loving father who cares for his children. Luke 18.1-8, 266

Too easily those who suffer injustice assume that the injustice they suffer automatically renders them righteous. Their opponents are evil. Because of the oppression they endure, God will most certainly be angry at their oppressors, but never at them! Such is not the case. Only if God is able to “put his anger far away” is he able to come and hear them. Luke 18.1-8, 266

The hero of this parable is a woman, a woman with persistence and courage—the very virtues that his female disciples so nobly exhibited all through Holy Week. To them and to him, the church remains forever in debt. Luke 18.1-8, 267

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Young Women Matthew 25.1-13

Bailey closes his section on Jesus and women with this parable about being ready for the arrival of the kingdom of God. The key point is that it is the personal responsibility of  each person to be prepared to welcome the kingdom when it arrives. This is true whether we are talking about daily opportunities to serve Jesus or when we meet him at the moment of death or at his 2nd coming.

The faithful borrow many things from each other. But they cannot borrow their own preparations for the coming of the kingdom. Commitment and the discipleship that follows can be neither loaned nor borrowed. Each believer must participate in the kingdom with his or her own resources. Matthew 25.1-13, 274

Life in the kingdom of God requires commitment to the long haul. Advanced planning is necessary and reserves must be on hand. There is neither instant discipleship nor instant maturation in the fullness of the kingdom. Matthew 25.1-13, 274

This parable is a warning that the time of the arrival of the bridegroom is unknown and that speculation regarding the hour is pointless. The enormous amount of energy that in certain Christian circles is poured into such speculation is here declared misguided. Matthew 25.1-13, 275

Tuesday Chapel

Tuesday 18 Cahpel(1)

Tuesday 18 Cahpel(4)After a week away, and looking ahead to 3 weeks away starting next week, Tuesday 18 Cahpel(5)it is nice to be on Guam and enjoying campus life this week. Tuesday was my first day back in the office and I was able to join the campus family for a chapel worship service. PIU graduate, and now employee, Scott Refilong led the chapel music team in in several songs and then Ken Dixon spoke on marriage, a subject that most of the students are very interested in. You can see from the pictures that Ken is also very passionate about the subject. It was a joy to be back and fellowship in worship and the good teaching we get every week in chapel.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Reading Through Ezekiel #1

EzekielWe continue the journey through the Old Testament. Today we begin the book of Ezekiel accompanied by Ezekiel The College Press NIV Commentary, by Brandon Fredenburg. Ezekiel begins with a vision of God that forces the prophet and the exiles to give up their pre-conceived ideas about how God’s covenant works and prepares them for the exile and destruction of Jerusalem. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The last thing Ezekiel or his contemporaries expected was for Yahweh to communicate to his people in Babylon. Rather than coming from within the land of Judah (as with Jeremiah) or from the temple (as with Isaiah), Yahweh appears in a backwater district of the enemy’s empire. Soon, Ezekiel and his contemporaries will realize that the god of Israel is not confined within Judah’s borders. 38

The temples all around them in Babylon testified to the greatness of the Babylonian gods. Tile reliefs on massive walls and mammoth stone statues of lions, bulls, phoenixes, and dragons proclaimed the power of the Babylonian pantheon. In comparison, Yahweh seemed nonexistent. Yet, there, in the very land protected by such powerful deities, Yahweh reveals himself to Ezekiel. Ezekiel 1.3, 39

Chapters 1-3 describe Ezekiel's call and commissioning. This takes place between the time Ezekiel and the nobles were taken to Babylon in 597 and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586. God will call Ezekiel to prophecy against the idea that the exile would be short and Jerusalem would be spared. First, Ezekiel sees a vision of God on his throne that reminds him that, despite the exile, God is still in control. Then he calls Ezekiel to this difficult ministry of warning the people that they needed to repent and that rescue was not coming soon. Ezekiel does not want to do this and becomes angry at God. Much like Paul on the road to Damascus, God overwhelms Ezekiel's resistance and Ezekiel chooses to become God's spokesman.

Far from respecting the territorial claims of Babylon’s gods, Yahweh shows Ezekiel that things are opposite from what he and his companion exiles suppose. The gods of Babylon are the obedient, throne-bearers of Yahweh! Ezekiel 1, 41

From here on, Ezekiel will be referred to as son of man. This designation refers to much more than Ezekiel’s mortality (cf. NRSV’s “mortal”), though that notion is not excluded. The term is used 93 times in the book and underscores Yahweh’s sovereign right to command and direct his subjects any way he chooses. Every reference to Ezekiel as “son of man” is a forceful reminder of Ezekiel’s ultimate obligation to obey totally and immediately. Ezekiel 1-2, 44–45

Ezekiel’s task was, in part, to obliterate any remaining hope the exiles had for a swift return to their homeland. Not only would they not return soon, they would soon be joined by even more of their countrymen from Judea. Yet, by replacing these false hopes, Ezekiel would proclaim that the exiles were Yahweh’s selected people to reestablish his name and honor at some time in the future. Ezekiel 3, 50

Ezekiel's messages begin with symbolic prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is bound in spirit from saying anything but God's Word and is prohibited from Interceding for the people. Israel's sin had gone too far and the covenant curses were now activated. The only hope was repentance so that a future generation would be able to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

(The symbolic prophecy) also effectually shows that the God to whom they are related in covenant is alive, well, and faithful to his word even beyond the borders of Judah and Israel. Only when they come to see this fully, will they also see their way out of the exile. Ezekiel 4, 66

Yahweh had always intended for his covenant people to be a means of communication and blessing to all the nations of the earth (cf. Gen 12:2–3). This rebellious nation had hindered, but had not thwarted, this purpose. Yahweh’s message would still get through to the nations through his covenant people, just not in the way he had hoped. He would make a negative example out of them. Ezekiel 5, 72

Chapters 6 and 7 contain prophecies of judgment and destruction for the "mountains" and "land" of Judah. The mountains were the places of idol worship, and so the idols and the people who worshipped them would be destroyed. The land was thought by the people to be safe because of the presence of YHWH but, because the people treated God as if he wasn't there, he would leave without his protection. The Babylonians would destroy everything, kill most of the people and exile a small remnant would scattered. God and His covenant would be vindicated. People should not expect God's protection if they are not willing to live in covenant with Him.

The defeat of these dung-pellet gods and the death of their subjects demonstrated the power of Yahweh against the powerlessness of these idols. In order to begin the work of reclaiming them for himself, Yahweh must first clear the land of every vestige of rebellion and objects of rival affection. Ezekiel 6, 75

These punishments are simply the removal of Yahweh’s normal means of assistance for his people because they have so long failed to use them...Yahweh wants his people to conclude that it is he, not their idols, not their money, not his temple, that provides for them and sustains them. Perhaps when they see how they fare apart from all these props, they will acknowledge Yahweh. Ezekiel 7, 85

In chapters 8-11 Ezekiel is taken by God, in a vision, to Jerusalem. He sees the comprehensive idolatrous practices of the nation through its history. Idols from Egypt, Babylon and Canaan have polluted the temple throughout the history of the nation. Now God gets off his throne and pronounces the devastating judgment on the nation and then the cherubim escort him away from Jerusalem. YHWH has left his temple and city. He has now gone to be a "sanctuary" for the "remnant" in Babylon. They will be the ones through whom he will restore the nation.

This transhistorical, transcendent vision presents decades of various forbidden worship practices as if in a single point in time for Ezekiel to see. Ezekiel 8, 90

Riding upon his cherubim-led throne vehicle, the glory of the God of Israel exits the temple and stops for one last look at the east gate of Yahweh’s house. Yahweh has left his building. The temple and the city are now without their divine protection. Ezekiel 10.18-19, 102

More basic than their identity—based on temple, land, and people—should have been their theology of God. He is free to act however he wishes and is not confined to a box, a temple, a city, or a country. When the leaders and exiles come to this conclusion, Yahweh says, “Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” Ezekiel 11, 105

Friday, October 21, 2016

Germany #3–Monbachtal

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Bad Liebenzell (2) (768x1024)While in Germany, Howard Merrell and I stayed in the Monbachtal retreat center. It is very different to wake up in the morning with mountains all around you when you are used to living on an island. We enjoyed staying at Monbachtal. The rooms are nice and the food in the cafeteria was plentiful and tasty. I did enjoy a few sausages and bratwursts. We did get out a little between meetings and conferences and were able to take in some of the scenery at Monbachtal, Liebenzell and in the surrounding area. Most of the pictures here were taken by Howard. I took a few. Above, Howard walks from breakfast back to the retreat center. Left, is the Villa Lioba, the main admin building on Liebenzell Mountain.

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Some other sites on the Liebenzell Mountains

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Howard had some nice views on his morning walks. I did afternoon walks

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We did get to drive down to Karlruhe to see Roland and Dorothea Rauchholz. We forgot to take a picture while we were there. But I did get a picture of the church in the center of the town. You might be able to figure out why I took a picture of the street sign.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Germany #2 - An Afternoon with Sister Elsbeth

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Bad Liebenzell (22) (768x1024)Bad Liebenzell (24) (768x1024)One afternoon last week, Howard and I got to spend some time with Sister Elsbeth Reumann. She had been in Palau for many years when we arrived in 1984. When I see her I always remind her that she saved my life in 1985. I had an infection from a bug bite and had a temperature of about 106. She lanced the swelling and gave me some German medicine and I was good in a few days. She is in her 90’s and still going strong, living with the retired sisters on the Liebenzell Mountain. She wanted to show us where former Liebenzell Mission director Ernst Vatter and several of the German sisters are all buried together in a local cemetery. I thought some of my Micronesian brothers and sisters and fellow-missionaries might also be interested to see this so I took a couple pictures. It was a beautiful setting and we also stopped to get some coffee and pie, and talk a while.

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Some of the other sisters that are buried there are Sister Lengning who worked in Palau, and Sisters Stuber and Thieme who worked many years in Chuuk. These ladies gave their lives for missionary nursing, education, Bible Translation and many other evangelistic activities.