Sunday, June 25, 2017

Very Brief Medical Update

20170621_114003 (960x1280)Today is a somewhat significant date in my cancer treatment. With today’s dose of prednisone, I have ingested the last chemical of this 6 session round of chemotherapy (March-June) and move into the two week rest period. After the two week rest period I’ll be in a two month evaluation period that will include several tests that I have mentioned in previous posts. Right now my status is “Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma Stage 3 in partial remission.” I am in a much better situation than 6 months ago, but there is still a long way to go to being pronounced cancer-free. The tests will determine the next steps. The edema, in this round, has been quite annoying and I would appreciate you including some prayers for relief of that as you pray for my situation. In the picture you can see the puffiness and hot flash from the prednisone. Nevertheless, We feel very blessed and hopeful with the improvement we have seen. I continue to pray Psalm 31.5 every day, “Into your hands I commit my spirit;  deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.” Thank you for praying.

Resurrecting the Trinity: A Plea to Recover the Wonder and Meaning of the Triune God, by M. James Sawyer

TrinityWhen I was younger, teaching Sunday School, Bible classes at Christian high schools and, in my early years of teaching Bible classes at PIU, I dutifully taught the Trinity. God was “one what and three who’s” and that was that, because the Bible said it. But, as I began to use the tools for Bible study that a seminary education gave me, I began to see that the Bible told a story of the Trinity that was much more passionate and relational. Creation was an “overflow” of the love from within the Trinity, and God wanted us to have the same kind of relationship with Him that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for all eternity. As I saw this in scripture and began to apply it to myself, I wanted to teach it to my students.

That’s why it is so cool when you find a book that helps you refine these thoughts and says it in the way you wish you could say it. This is what my friend and colleague, Dr. M. James Sawyer, has done with his new book, Resurrecting the Trinity: A Plea to Recover the Wonder and Meaning of the Triune God. Over the last few years he and I have had some great theological conversations about the Trinity, (as in so long that we don’t notice that afternoon has turned into night and we are hungry because we forgot to eat dinner), that have challenged and deepened my thinking. This book incorporates a lot of what we talked about and puts it in a form that is accessible to most Bible students. Jim explains the Trinity from a base of scholarly work in the Bible and historical theology, but makes it real through his own experience along with examples from movies and stories.  I appreciated very much both the theological and relational emphases in the book. (The book is now available for purchase – just click on the cover picture above to go to the Amazon site)

This week I will summarize the first four chapters of the book and throw in a few quotes. Then next week we will cover the rest of the book. By the way, don’t skip the forward by Baxter Krueger. It is pretty good too.

The first chapter is entitled: The Trinity:Why Is It Important? Jim talks about how the Trinity has been deemphasized in Western Christianity because it is hard to understand and to explain. However, he also points to the central importance of this understanding of God…

Trinitarian theology is no less than a return to our theological roots and the basis of our faith. It
involves a commitment to make this foundational doctrine the lens through which all other
doctrines are understood
.
9

When it comes to seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament, I believe the most we can say is that the language used there allows for God’s further self-revelation as triune through the Incarnation and Pentecost. 16

In the 2nd chapter, “God and the Boxes He is Put Into,” Jim summarizes the wrong views of God throughout history that keep us from worshiping God “in truth.” We create inadequate theologies of God and build theological “fortresses” to defend them. Several of the common inadequate views, as seen in our culture, of God are discussed,

The goal of God’s self-revelation is not to give us information out of which to construct theological systems in any case. It is relationship with him. 24

I would argue that the lack of an integrated and vital trinitarian understanding of the nature and being of God produces an understanding that is at best a twisted caricature of who God has revealed himself to be in his fullness. 43

The 3rd chapter, Jesus: The Way into the Trinity, reviews the history of how this doctrine developed. From the beginning of the church Jesus was seen as the unique, 100% God, revelation of who YHWH is in this world. The theological development of the Trinity doctrine happened as the church fathers wrestled with the idea that Jesus was eternal God in human form.

We must understand how the New Testament authors did not see monotheism as an obstacle in recognizing the deity of Jesus. The fact that the Word and the Wisdom of God participate in the creative work of God and in God’s sovereignty while belonging intrinsically to God gives us the interpretive key allowing us to understand the way the New Testament texts relate Jesus to Jewish monotheism. 49

So, in the 4th chapter, God, Three–in–One, we get to the question of how to understand God properly. “God is fundamentally tri-personal, existing in self-giving love.” (61) This means that God is, in His essence, is relational and thus, human beings and all creation, reflect that. We must talk about the Trinity, not only in the abstract, but in the “personal and relational” spheres as well. God is best known through our encounter (in scripture, with God’s people and in our daily walk with him) with the crucified-risen, Jesus.

God is personal and relational! We no more learn about the personal nature of God by examining his attributes than we learn about the person and life of the murder victim on the autopsy table by his or her dissection. 68

God’s omnipotence must not be conceived of as what we think he can do, but must be defined by what he has done and continues to do in Jesus Christ. In other words, his almightiness is demonstrated in humility and condescension, particularly in the Incarnation. God’s almighty power is not demonstrated by coercion, by untold legions of angels and mighty armies conquering. It is rather demonstrated in self-emptying, the “foolishness” of the Incarnation and the cross. 75

Because the Father and the Son are eternally and inherently one, we can know God by looking at Jesus. In Jesus we see not just a part or aspect of God, but the totality of what it means to be God. 79

The idea of a hierarchy, where one of the divine persons is “in charge,” introduces the ancient error of subordinationism into our concept of God...If there is hierarchy in the Trinity, then hierarchy is at the foundation and ground of personal existence—inherent in the Godhead and therefore inherent in humanity as bearing God’s image. 85

Friday, June 23, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Ezra

EzraNehOver this week and next I will be reading through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah accompanied by, Ezra-Nehemiah, The College Press Niv Commentary. Old Testament Series, by Keith N. Schoville. Ezra and Nehemiah record the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple and wall and strengthening  of the faith of the returned exiles despite internal and eternal opposition. I have been 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 my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Ezra and Nehemiah were compiled from the personal memoirs of these two men, along with several official documents from the period, maybe by Ezra or a later compiler. Ezra records the early returns to Judah from Babylon beginning about 539 BC and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The book of Ezra is also concerned with the purification of the people from the many pagan influences from the places where they were exiled and a renewal of the worship of YHWH according to the Torah of Moses.

Ezra-Nehemiah was a call to remember the struggles of the past that had made the Jewish community viable, a summons to walk in the old ways rather than be enticed away from God by the appeal of Hellenism. Ezra-Nehemiah, 30

Chapters 1-3 record the decree of Cyrus to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the first group of returnees under Shesh-Bazzar, and the laying of the foundation of the new temple. The purpose of the return is to reinstitute worship of YHWH in Jerusalem. Only a small remnant of the exiles returns. With opposition, the people begin building the temple. They begin by completing the altar so that worship can begin again and then begin laying the foundation. The temple will not be completed for another 20 years.

The author intends his readers to understand that the return from Babylonian exile is comparable in some respects to the departure of Israel from Egypt. It marks a new beginning for God’s people orchestrated by God himself. Here as always, God moves people to provide for his work and the fulfillment of his plans. Ezra 1, 44

The author of Ezra-Nehemiah...was not writing a minutely detailed history. He was sketching the way God was at work to bring about the restoration of the remnant community in Jerusalem and its environs. He was making connections between the community that had been eradicated and the reestablished group. He was stirring up memories of the more ancient exodus from Egypt and suggesting that those who came out of Babylon were involved in a similar exodus. Ezra 2, 47

Although their forefathers had placed their trust in the sanctuary rather than in the Lord of that sanctuary (Jeremiah 7), these, their descendants, had learned in their land of exile that God’s presence and God’s worship did not require a building. Ezra 3.6, 68

Ezra 4-6 describes the 20-year process of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, with God's oversight and despite great opposition from the surrounding peoples. The first phase of the opposition was an offer to help them rebuild, which was refused by the leadership of the exiles because they did not want to compromise with the hybrid religion of the surrounding peoples. The opposition continued with a protest about the temple to the Persian government and the work was stopped. 16 years later, with the prophetic urgings of Haggai and Zechariah, the work resumed. After more letters back and forth from the surrounding peoples and from the Jewish exiles, the Edict of Cyrus was found and the Persian king ordered the temple rebuilding to continue with Persian support. The temple was completed and dedicated 20 years after the beginning of the work. God had worked behind the scenes so that the exiles could accomplish what He had planned.

We can be thankful for the determination of the Jerusalem group of returnees to adhere strictly to the decree of Cyrus, that they and they alone were charged with rebuilding the temple. In the process, they were also responsible for rebuilding the community of the committed. It was this group, rather than the northerners, through whom we received the Hebrew Bible and who paved the way for the redemptive plan of God in Jesus, the Messiah. Ezra 4, 75

The stimulus of the prophetic word and the energetic response of the leaders of the community are a powerful example of what God’s people can accomplish when challenged... clear divine guidance powerfully proclaimed will move God’s people to action and accomplishment, to his honor and glory.  Ezra 5, 83

The God of Israel is in control to accomplish his will and purposes. His people are called to faithfulness to his worship and service even though they are subject to the political control of others. Revolution is not required in order to remain faithful to the God of heaven and of Israel. Ezra 6, 95

Chapters 7-8 introduce Ezra into the narrative. Ezra was a well educated priest and scribe whose life mission was to understand torah, live it out and teach it to His people. He was a man of deep faith and prayer who led the people to trust God's provision and obey His instruction. Ezra sees the very generous grant and authority given by Artaxerxes for the trip to Jerusalem and to provision the temple and its services as an example of God's hesed, His loving care for the people and he gives God public praise and thanks for it. Ezra also takes great care to be held accountable for the vast sum of wealth that they transported to Jerusalem. Ezra is a good example of how a faithful man leads God's people and administrates God's work.

(Ezra's) dedication to God’s call was threefold: to study, apply it to his personal life, and to teach its decrees and laws to others. No wonder he persevered. Ezra provides a timeless example for every generation of God’s people. The disciple, when he or she reaches maturity, will be like the master (Luke 6:40). Such maturity comes with personal devotion to study, application, and teaching. Ezra 7.10, 99

Ezra realized that the king’s generous arrangements were really due to God’s hidden activity at work in the hearts (minds) of the king, his advisers, and powerful officials. God’s people ought always to trust in God’s providence and loving kindness. Ezra 7, 106

The journey was a walk by faith. The safe progress each day was an assurance for that day of the hand of God. To trust in God is to experience each day as an adventure in faith, trust that the gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him. Ezra 8, 112

The book of Ezra ends by recording an incident in Ezra's ministry. Probably as a result of his teaching, some of the leaders confess to Ezra that they had married foreign wives. These would have been arranged marriages designed to improve the families' economic situations. This compromised the ability of this minority community to maintain faithfulness to God and was forbidden in the Torah. Ezra publically humbles himself and confesses the sin of the community which motivates the people to also confess and make this right. The leaders move first to put away the foreign wives and the community follows. Here allegiance to God must be chosen over allegiance to family.

Rather than force an unwilling community to do his will, Ezra allowed the word of God, which he taught, to reach fruition in the hearts of his hearers. At last his teaching was changing lives. Ezra 9.1-5, 118–119

Not only did Ezra identify himself with the people, all of them were bound up together in responsibility for the nation’s guilt. Unspoken but implicit in this final statement is that their only salvation in this situation was the grace of God. Ezra 9.6-15, 124

God is praised in the human act of confession, which acknowledges the righteousness of God in contrast to the guilt of the confessor. Doing God’s will, keeping his law will follow true confession.  Ezra 10, 130

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion by NT Wright

WrightThis past week, I began reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion, by N. T. Wright. I will be blogging through this book over the next few weeks. I think this is a very important book which brings the discussion of the meaning of the atonement into the 21st century with a solid biblical basis. I am also posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 1, A Vitally Important Scandal Why the Cross?, begins the introduction to the book. In this chapter Wright discusses the amazing power that the story of the cross has had across time, cultures and places. It speaks to the shared experience of human tragedy and has provided light, hope and love to countless millions over the last 2000 years. Wright's purpose in writing the book goes beyond this though. His goal to show that the cross and resurrection of Jesus was the decisive event in God's plan for the world and that, it not only provides forgiveness and life to those who believe, but it starts the process of setting all creation right and calls all believers to play a part in making that happen.  

According to the book of Revelation, Jesus died in order to make us not rescued nonentities, but restored human beings with a vocation to play a vital part in God’s purposes for the world.  5

The crucifixion of Jesus is a plain, stark fact, etched into real space and time and, even more important, into the real flesh and blood of a human being. People today, in a wide variety of ways, simply intuit that it has powerful and profound meaning for them. Others, of course, see nothing in it except an unpleasant tale from long ago. 7-8

You don’t have to have a theory about why the cross is so powerful before you can be moved and changed, before you can know yourself loved and forgiven, because of Jesus’s death. 12

In chapter 2, Wrestling with the Cross, Then and Now, Wright discusses the importance of having a biblical understanding of the cross and some of the ways the church has understood this meaning through history. The NT is clear that, to the culture of the 1st century crucifixion was a scandal, but to the church it is the central part of the gospel and to an understanding of God. The Bible makes clear that Jesus died "for us" and "in our place." It also talks about the cross as a demonstration of God's love and the means to God's victory over evil and the re-creation of a new heaven and earth. Wright insists, and I would agree here, that the cross must be interpreted in terms of this eschatology and not in terms of getting me a pass to go to heaven some day. Personal salvation is included, but is only a part of what the cross accomplished. Wright also, rightly, dispels the notion of an angry Father God who pours out His anger on His Son. He will explain how Jesus is a sacrifice for our sin without going to this "pagan" idea of the satisfaction of an angry deity in a later chapter. The big point is that the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the way God deals with evil and brings about His "kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

But over against this downplaying or mocking we also see, from the earliest documents of the New Testament right on through the first five or six centuries of church history, the resolute affirmation of the cross not as an embarrassing episode best left on the margins, but as the mysterious key to the meaning of life, God, the world, and human destiny. 21

The New Testament insists, in book after book, that when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, something happened as a result of which the world is a different place. And the early Christians insisted that when people are caught up in the meaning of the cross, they become part of this difference. 39

My point is this: unless Jesus’s death achieved something—something that urgently needed to be done and that couldn’t be done in any other way—then it cannot serve as a moral example. 47

Chapter 3 places The Cross in Its First-Century Setting. In this chapter, Wright looks at the meaning of the cross within the Greco-Roman and Jewish worldviews. The Romans used crucifixion as a way to project power and to let subjugated peoples know who was in charge and what happened to rebels. It was a humiliating, shameful and painful death. It was an unlikely event to become a centerpiece of a world movement. The Jewish background was basically the feasts, especially Passover and the Day of Atonement, and the idea in the prophets, especially Daniel, that YHWH would return to His people and forgive their sins. However, the Jews would not have expected the cross would be the event that accomplished this.

Just as the resurrection of Jesus cannot be fitted into any other worldview, but must be either rejected altogether or allowed to reshape existing worldviews around itself, so the cross itself demands the rethinking of categories. 60-61

There was no template of expectations out of which, granted the crucifixion of Jesus, one might have anticipated the sophisticated range of interpretation that the early Christian movement in fact produced, understanding the death of Jesus as a messianic victory and connecting it with the long-awaited divine return. 65

Since sin, the consequence of idolatry, is what keeps humans in thrall to the nongods of the world, dealing with sin has a more profound effect than simply releasing humans to go to heaven. It releases humans from the grip of the idols, so they can worship the living God and be renewed according to his image. 68

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Last Round of Chemo

20170620_095538 (960x1280)I just arrived home after completing my last chemotherapy infusion session today. I began chemo in March and had one session every three weeks for a total of six. After infusion I then take prednisone for five days – which, for me so far, has been the hardest part. I’ll finish the prednisone this coming Saturday. After this I get at least two months of rest from chemo. That will be nice. My big prayers in this would, of course, be that the lymphoma would be completely gone from my body and that we would be able to deal with the edema that has been greatly annoying me for the last six months. Generally, my body swells with about 12-15 pounds of water weight after a chemo session and then I lose most of it in the two weeks between sessions. This last session I gained 14 pounds but lost only 7. I am hoping to get rid of that water weight completely in the next few weeks. 20170621_023524 (720x1280)

Without chemo sessions in July and August, we are looking forward to some other activities. We got accepted to a “cancer camp” at Mission Springs in Scotts Valley July 7-9. Joyce and I will be able to go to this with our daughter and grand-daughter. It should be fun. I will then get my bone marrow biopsy on July 12. My blood count numbers have been good lately and I am hoping that will  continue with the biopsy. This has been a difficult last six months for us, but we have seen God blessing us in many ways and I think we are learning a lot from it. I am thankful that Joyce has been there beside me through the whole thing. She is my driver and has been there for all the chemo sessions and most of the doctor appointments. She has studied about cancer and knows more about it and my treatments than I do. I am glad I don’t have to do this by myself.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Visitors From Palau

20170617_161613 (1280x960)

We were very surprised and happy to get some visitors from Palau Saturday afternoon. Pastor Hiob Ngirachemoi, and his wife Leah, are on their way to Schooley’s Mountain, New Jersey for the big 75th anniversary celebration of the founding of Liebenzell Mission USA, and stopped off in Sacramento on their way. Joyce and I would love to be in NJ for that celebration, but we cannot travel yet. This was the next best thing. Mason Soaladaob and his wife, who are part of the Sacramento Palauan fellowship, drove them up  to where we are staying.  Former PIU staff Tim and Melody Plaxton joined us as well. We had a good time of fellowship and reminiscing about good times in Palau and at PIU. Pastor Hiob is now the PIU board chairman and so we also had some good time to talk about where the school is going in the future. The Palauans are flying to NJ on Tuesday for the mission event. I also appreciated Hiob and group praying with me before they left.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Daniel (9-12) #3

E and DLast week we conclude reading through the book of Daniel accompanied by, Esther & Daniel, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Mangano. Chapters 9-12 of Daniel reassure the faithful of the nation of Israel that they will survive the persecutions of Antiochus and the other Gentile nations that will rule them until the coming of Messiah. It also provides a pattern for what is to come in future “Days of the LORD.” I have been 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 my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Chapters 9-11 describe a prophetic vision for the post-exilic period for God's people. Daniel, realizing that the 70 years of exile predicted by Jeremiah was over, confesses the sin of the nation and asks God to restore His people as promised. Gabriel is dispatched to tell Daniel that the exile is extended to 70 times 7 years. The people will be back in the land as promised with a temple, but they will be without king or kingdom. Chapter 10 describes the parallel spiritual battle that is also going on at this time, as the spiritual forces of evil are trying to destroy the nation, but the "prince" Michael fights for the preservation of Israel in the spiritual realms. Chapter 11 describes how this battle takes place in the earthly sphere as Jerusalem is caught up in the power struggles between Greece and Persia and the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires and Rome. Even though God's people will be persecuted and the temple destroyed, they will be preserved and, after the "490 years," Messiah will set up his kingdom.

God’s relationship with His people compels him to deliver his wayward family. Likewise, as Moses or Samuel interceded with God for wayward Israel, they did so because they also were committed to relationship with God’s people. And just as God had blessed them, so they sought to bring God’s blessing of forgiveness to his people. Daniel 9, 282

Michael was and would be locked in battle with Satan’s deputies to Persia and Greece. Michael’s victory over satanic foes must have paved the way for Queen Esther to thwart Haman, who wanted to obliterate the entire Jewish race. Michael’s victory over satanic foes would pave the way for the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the reconsecration of the temple for the worship of Almighty God. Daniel 10, 287

The persecution has its purpose in God’s plan (they may be refined, purified, and made spotless), and He will bring it to its appointed end (it will come at the appointed time). Daniel 11, 299

Daniel 12 concludes the book with an exhortation to endure the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, even to the point of death, because God promises to raise the righteous and give them eternal life. There is a spiritual battle here going on behind the scenes that will won by God, His powerful cherubim and His people. In scripture Antiochus becomes typical of the persecution of God's people that took place during the time of the early church under Rome and that which will take place before the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.

The wise understand that the suffering of God’s people serves the positive goal of preparing them for God’s presence. In contrast, the wicked will continue to be wicked, not suspecting that in the end they will be overwhelmed by God’s presence. Daniel 12.8-10, 305

Daniel 12:2 has taught us that our earthly lives are just a precursor to eternity. The New Testament also calls persons not to live as though this world is the end. Christians are expected to endure hardships, contradictions, and unanswered questions because of what is laid up for us beyond death. Daniel 12, 307

Friday, June 16, 2017

A "Rest Week" Medical Update

20170530_090256 (1280x960) (2)As I write this morning I'm waiting for my lymphedema massage. A few weeks ago I didn't know that such a thing existed. It has been an interesting rest week. I would have to say that the side effects of the fifth round of chemotherapy have been the most diverse. The doctor says that this is because of the cumulative effects of the of the treatment. I'm still getting the hot flashes, a few sleepless nights, and days when I'm not hungry and then other days when I'm ravenous. The edema has been better, but it is still causing “restrictions” on my lifestyle. The doctors plan on giving me medicine and treatment for the edema after the chemotherapy clears my system in a couple weeks. Thank you for your continued prayers on this.

I will begin the last week of chemotherapy next Tuesday the 20th. I will still have to take my five days of Prednisone after that. That will complete the first full round of chemotherapy. I will need to get at least two months of rest from the chemo. July and August will be months of testing. The plan is for me to have a bone marrow biopsy in July which will determine if the lymphoma is in the bloodstream. Then, in August, I will get another PET scan and visit with the doctors at Stanford to see where I'm at with the cancer. The results of these tests will determine the next step in my treatment.The doctor is expecting to harvest some stem cells from my bone marrow at some point late in the summer, in case the cancer recurs. I hope and pray that doesn't happen, but it will be a good idea to have these available if I need to do more extensive chemotherapy in the fall.

Joyce and I would like to be making plans for our future, but this is just not possible right now. We hope to have a better idea of where we're at by the end of the summer. In the meantime we plan to rest during the summer. We have been accepted to a cancer camp at Mission Springs in Scotts Valley the weekend of July 9th and we plan to go. We are also hoping to spend some time with family and friends. I am also hoping that I will be healthy enough to teach some online classes at PIU in the fall while I'm here in California. But we will see. Again, thank you for praying for Joyce and I. We appreciate your prayers very much and are hoping that we can see some of you while we are here in the US.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Daniel (5-8) #2

E and DLast week we continued reading through the book of Daniel accompanied by, Esther & Daniel, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Mangano. Chapters 5-8 of Daniel remind us of the battle that is going on between good and evil in the physical and spiritual realms and assure us that God is in control now and will win in the end. I have been 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 my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Chapters 5-6 record two more "court conflicts" between Daniel and the king and officials who  were in power in Babylon and Persia. Belshazzar takes Nebuchadnezzar's arrogance to another level by taking the temple treasures of YHWH and using them to worship the Babylonian idols. God sends a disembodied hand to write a decree of judgment on the Babylonian empire for what they did to Jerusalem and for their refusal to submit to God. God continued to be active in the Persian period to protect and preserve Daniel and His people. When the Persian officials conspire against Daniel to destroy him because of his faith, God works to bring justice, as the corrupt officials receive the death they had planned for Daniel. In all of this, YHWH is the living and engaged God who is active, day to day, to make his plan happen and save His people.

“We have already heard in general terms that God is settling accounts by paying out the kingdom which He has weighed on the scales; now we hear the name of the nation by which God will execute His sentence upon Babylon. In the final analysis, the embodiment of God’s judgment over Babylon can be captured in one word: Persia!” Daniel 5, 225

“What the chapter finally seems to be saying to us at this point is that empires rise and kings come and go, fashions and lifestyles change, but the one stable thing in the midst of all this change is Daniel himself—the man of God who does justice, and loves kindness, and walks humbly with his God.” Daniel 6, 239

Darius was quite right then to refer to Daniel’s God as the living God (6:20, 26). Daniel’s God had a history of saving his people from their enemies. Daniel could now be added to that wondrous history. Daniel had indeed been saved from the hungry lions! Daniel 6, 240

Daniel 7 and 8 contain two visions that Daniel received about the future of the nations and the people of God. The vision of the 4 beasts corresponds to the statue vision in Daniel 2 and reveals that there will be a succession of oppressive kingdoms before God's kingdom is established. God will judge the nations through a messianic character called the "Son of Man." 7.14 is the verse Jesus quotes to identify Himself before the Jewish leadership at his trial. Chapter 8 focuses on the domination of Judea by the Persian and Greek empires. The "little horn" of chapter 7 is identified with Antiochus Epiphanes as a prototype of the oppressive, persecutors who will persist throughout history and reach their climax before the final intervention of God to judge and make right the world and establish the rule of the Son of Man.

The beasts may be horrific, but their terror is relativized by two truths. First, each beast is followed by another. In other words, the terror of each beast is eclipsed by its successor. Second, these beasts are each controlled by a greater power—the power of God. Daniel 7, 246

This verse emphasizes the universal and everlasting rule of the Son of Man. Jesus probably had this verse in mind when he told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). The word translated worshiped in verse 14 is used in biblical Aramaic to refer only to the homage due to God. How, then, can one not identify this Person as the Second Person of the Godhead? Daniel 7.14, 249

Truth has indeed been thrown to the ground. Neither modernism nor postmodernism has it right. The scientific method is essential to our pursuit of better understanding the world in which we live, but it cannot relegate God and his Word to the periphery of our cosmos. And truth is not a preference. Jesus’ claims are true whether any community believes them or not. Daniel 8.12, 267–268

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, Ben Witherington, #4

WitheringtonThis week, I am concluding the reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, by Ben Witherington III. In the final chapters of this book Witherington discusses the influence of Jewish wisdom literature on Paul’s letters and the Gospels of Matthew and John. He then concludes with some summarizing thoughts. I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In chapter 7, Paul the Apostle: Sage or Sophist? Witherington looks at the wisdom content in Paul's letters, especially 1, 2 Corinthians and Romans. He asserts that wisdom themes are an important part of Paul's presentation, but not the only theme. Paul has combined wisdom and prophetic themes. The wisdom that Paul presents is mainly a "mystery" that has been revealed in Christ through the Gospel and is applied to people through faith in Christ. This removes any pride in one's knowledge or wisdom and reminds us of our total dependence on God. This is what all human wisdom and even torah were pointing to all along. In Christ, God's wisdom, righteousness and justice are completed.

He will present the Gospel in a sapiential way so as to offer a different sort of Wisdom to his audience. Paul offers a revelatory Wisdom, a Wisdom that must be called a musterion for unless it is revealed it could never be known; it is not the sort of Wisdom one could deduce from close scrutiny of the world or human behavior. He offers a Wisdom that squashes individualism, elitism, and human pride and counters factionalism in the congregation. 304

Whatever the Corinthians may have been looking for in terms of divine knowledge or Wisdom, Paul’s assertion is that they will find it in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8.10, 10.4, 316

The real aim of the Law, the righteousness of God, is Jesus Christ.” The point is then that one will find the crucial things one has been looking for in the Law (Wisdom, righteousness and the like) only in Christ, not least because Christ rather than personified Wisdom or even personified Righteousness (cf. 10:6) is what Torah has been pointing to all along. Romans 10.4, 326–327

Paul reads the Hebrew Scriptures with Christ in mind, but he often allows earlier sapiential ways of handling the text to guide the way he will use it to point to Christ. Paul does not equate Christ with Torah, but he does believe that Torah, rightly interpreted, points not to itself but to Christ as the locus of God’s Wisdom. 331

Chapter 8 is entitled The Gospels of Wisdom: Matthew and John. In this section Witherington shows that the gospels of Matthew and John are not only portraying Jesus as a wisdom teacher, but also as the very embodiment of God's wisdom. He sees both gospels as a product of teaching schools for training disciples in the wisdom and way of Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus is Immanuel, God present with us, who is the greater Son of David, the one "greater than Solomon," the ultimate teacher and embodiment of wisdom. The disciple is expected to learn this wisdom and pass it on to others. In John, Jesus is the Logos, the embodiment of God's wisdom, incarnated. He is the One that connects the heavenly dimension to the earthly and provides God's wisdom relationally as the light, life, vine, bread and shepherd. He provides the Spirit through whom God's presence and wisdom can now reside in His disciples. 

Matthew primarily intends to present what he views as the public teaching of Jesus and its explication; John primarily presents what was appropriately used as “in house” explanations of the public teaching as well as some of the private teaching of Jesus meant first for the inner circle alone...Matthew primarily presents Wisdom for Christian teachers to use with outsiders or new converts; John presents Wisdom for those who need further instruction in the school of Christ. 338

In the First Evangelist’s mind, Jesus is greater than Solomon in regard not only to sonship, or healing, or manifesting wise teaching, but also to the matter of God’s house and, one might add, in inheriting a kingdom. While Solomon did build a house for God, Jesus is the presence that must fill that house or else it is desolate. 366

The Fourth Evangelist makes understanding that Jesus is the one who has come from and returns to heaven a, if not the, key to understanding his identity in this Gospel. In short, proper christological understanding requires a knowledge of the path traced by Wisdom now seen in the person of Jesus, the incarnation of God’s Word/Wisdom. 373

Witherington concludes the book with some Final Reflections on Wisdom’s Journey. First he concludes that NT teachings, including those of Jesus, were deeply influenced by the content and forms of OT and intertestamental wisdom literature. Jesus' innovation was to apply these qualities to Himself as the embodiment of the wisdom of YHWH. The high christologies of the Gospels and NT epistles owe much to the language of the embodiment of wisdom in Jewish literature. The NT authors also followed Jewish literature in the combining of wisdom and apocalyptic ideas in their writings.

When Jesus and then his followers drew on the Wisdom traditions they too continued this trend towards particularism, only in their context this meant that Wisdom was associated with and sometimes identified with Jesus himself. 383–384

I would suggest that most if not all the Christology found in the christological hymns, in Q, in Matthew, and to a great degree in Paul as well, developed first in Jewish Christianity in Palestine within the first twenty years after Jesus’ death. This initial surge of creative thinking about Jesus, seeing him through the eyes of Jewish Wisdom material, was sparked by Jesus’ own appropriation of those traditions. 385

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Some Thoughts About Certainty and Rationalism

20170609_120908 (960x1280)The writer of Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. It would seem to me that this runs counter to our desire to find certainty about God. Bottom line is that there is no way that we can prove that God exists or what he says is true, but on the other hand we cannot disprove what God says or what is true.. Certainly, we can show that it is rational or probable to believe in God. That should be the job of apologetics. But we cannot prove him in a rational  or scientific sense. Actually, I think there's no need to even do that. We all have tacit knowledge of God that resides deep within who we are as people. I think it's part of being created in the image of God. It can be denied because it's very subjective. But I think deep down we all know it's there. This is where, I think, that the spirit connects the gospel to us.

I've been thinking about this a lot as I've taken a deep dive into the wisdom literature pool in the Bible. It's extremely significant that, in the book of Job, God never answers any of Job's questions. He basically tells Job that you have neither the rational capability, nor the experience, to apprehend God rationally. He basically tells Job to recognize his superiority, submit and worship him, which is what we are created to do anyway. The 20th century was the decade of modernism and the 20th century Church, whether fundamentalist or liberal, basically thinks (present tense here because many churches still think in a 20th century way even though we are 17 years into the 21st century) in a modernistic way. Even though we acknowledge the supernatural we don't really see it as a day-to-day reality in our life. We still view the universe in a closed mechanistic way, even though even "Science" now shows us that the universe is not closed. We see this in the Gospel of John as Jesus portrays himself as The Stairway to Heaven, the one who unites Heaven and Earth, the natural and the supernatural. This is how we should view reality.

A good example of this is the doctrine of the Trinity. We give lip service to our belief in the Trinity through doctrinal statements, but we really don't think about it too much. In fact, there are some who would say that it's not an important doctrine. Yet the early church fathers saw it as the pivotal doctrine of the faith. Our relationship with God is to be patterned after the relationship within the Trinity. The fact that we can't rationally understand the Trinity doesn't mean we can't worship God as the three in one and join through the Spirit into that relationship. It's what Jesus prayed for us in John 17.

So the bottom line for me is to live in a world that joins the natural and supernatural, even though I don't understand it nor can I comprehend it through my five senses. As important as it is to think and use the brain God gave us, I don’t want a “brain-only Christianity. I want to interpret scripture in its supernatural context. After all, we believe in a God who produces children through virgins and raises dead bodies to life in space and time. Why shouldn't we believe in him for healing and other miracles? Why do we have a hard time accepting that there is a spiritual world all around us? Why do we overlook weird and unexplainable passages in the Bible? Anyway just some thoughts; and don't forget that unless we live by faith it's impossible to please God.

Thinking out loud here and haven't come to full conclusions. If you want to discuss this I'd be happy to discuss it on my Facebook page.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Daniel (1-4) #1

E and DThis past week I began reading through the book of Daniel accompanied by, Esther & Daniel, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Mangano. The book of Daniel reminds God’s people that He is still in charge of world events, despite his seeming defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. I have been 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 my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The book of Daniel is an apocalyptic book which reassured the Jewish exiles that God, despite the defeat of Jerusalem and destruction of His temple, is still in charge of His people and, all the nations, and will continue to preserve them and keep the promises He made to them. Apocalyptic literature is designed to give God's beleaguered people a glimpse of His throne room in heaven and at His plan for the future, so that they continue to have hope and trust that He is sovereign over them and over the nations.

And Israel, would she have a future? If so, what could she expect? Just as God had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Dan 3) and Daniel from the lions’ den (Dan 6), Israel would be delivered from her captivity (9:24–27). God “rescues and he saves” (6:27). Israel is promised a future in order to fulfill God’s sovereign plan for the cosmos. 132

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to Daniel and his three friends who are exiled from Jerusalem in the first deportation to Babylon in 605BC. They are designated to serve in the Babylonian court. As part of their assimilation into Babylonian culture they are commanded to eat the king's food. They refuse to do this but provide an alternative to their overseer. When they are seen to be more healthy than their counterparts they are exalted and honored with high positions. The four friends are excellent examples of Jeremiah's instruction to the exiles in 29.5-7 of how they are to live and serve in Babylon. God's preservation and exaltation of Daniel and his friends is a picture of what God will do for Israel while the nation is in exile.

Chapter 1 has shown that “success without compromise was possible even in the midst of captivity.” Daniel’s life testifies to the challenge of cooperating with society without compromising godliness.  Daniel 1, 174

We must stand against every ideological expression of the godless spirit of the age...There is no idea more insidious than philosophical naturalism. Its explanation of human origins so devalues mankind that it leaves us without meaning, with moral anarchy, and with existential despair and misery. Parents, teachers, preachers should take every opportunity to teach that human value, dignity, purpose, and hope are based only in the biblical teaching of creation. Daniel 1, 175

Daniel enters the court of Nebuchadnezzar in much the same way Joseph came before pharaoh; as an interpreter of a dream from God about the future that would effect the "whole world." Like Joseph, Daniel humbly gives God all the credit for any wisdom and knowledge He brings to the situation. The vision is of a great statue that represents 4 great Gentile kingdoms that will rule the Mediterranean "world" until the coming of the kingdom of God. The main point is that YHWH, despite His people being in exile, is in control of world history and is moving it toward the establishment of His eternal kingdom. The pomp and power of these human kingdoms is transitory and unreliable. God's people should look, trust and hope in His coming kingdom.

When the professionals told the king that divine revelation was needed to reconstruct the king’s dream, they were quite right. This was the reason why Daniel and his friends prayed to God. They prayed that God would reveal the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and, in so doing, show the reality, power, and wisdom of the one true God. Daniel 2.17-19, 183

“We need not give only a political significance to this colossal statue,” writes Wallace, “It can stand for our little empires, domestic, social, business, financial or ecclesiastical in the midst of which some of us sit enthroned, trying in vain to find security and satisfaction. It can stand merely for the image of our own future. But we shall never be at peace till we have really seen and acknowledged that the empire of ours, whatever it is, must give way before the coming of the kingdom of God.” Daniel 2,  190

Do not trust the nations of this world. They are not preeminent. They do not hold your destiny in their hands. They, like you, are under the judgment of God—your God.” Daniel 2, 193

Nebuchadnezzar defies the message given to him by God in the dream of the image by constructing a giant image of gold to be worshipped by all His people. He decrees that all who fail to bow to the image, representing the greatness of Babylon and his own godhood, will be thrown into a fiery furnace. Daniel's three friends defy the decree and receive the penalty but are miraculously preserved within the fire accompanied by a "son of the gods." Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge God's superiority to himself.

They do not doubt the power of their God to deliver them from the king’s furnace, but they have no right to presume that He will do so.” Their faith is matched by their submission to the Lord’s will. “The young men recognized that God’s will might be different from what they would find pleasant, and they were willing to have it so, without complaining.” Daniel 3, 199

God might have effected deliverance for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego without sending such a personal messenger, and this would have been wonderful of itself. But He did more. He effected the deliverance by a special emissary who tangibly demonstrated God’s presence with them in the trying hour. God had permitted the men to be cast into the horrifying furnace, but in doing so He had literally gone in with them. Daniel 3, 202

However, he still has not learned his lesson. In chapter 4 he proudly gives himself credit for his own greatness and that of Babylon. God sends him a terrifying dream in which a great tree (representing the king) is cut down and the king becomes beast-like until he recognizes God greatness and his dependence on Him. Nebuchadnezzar recounts his humbling and acknowledges that the "God of Heaven" rules above him and he is dependent on Him and is restored to the rule of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then urges all people to acknowledge the supremacy of the "Most High God" over the gods of the nations.

King Nebuchadnezzar would for a time be despoiled not only of his empire but also of human understanding, so that he would differ in nothing from the beasts, since he was unworthy to hold even a lowly place among the common people. Although in his own eyes he had seemed to tower above the whole human race, he was so cast down that he was not even the last among mortals.”  Daniel 4, 209

“A man who thinks he is like a god must become a beast to learn that he is only a human being.” Daniel 4, 211–212

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, Ben Witherington III, #3

WitheringtonThis week, I am continuing reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, by Ben Witherington III. In the second part of this book Witherington shows that the influence of Jewish wisdom literature played an important part in the language and content of the New Testament.  I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Chapter 5, Wisdom's Legacy: From Q to James, begins the second part of the book which shows how the wisdom tradition permeates the whole New Testament. This chapter shows the wisdom content in Q and in the Epistle of James. Q is the theoretical text that is a source of Matthew and Luke. It is a collection of sayings and narratives of Jesus that pre-dates the Gospels. It is compiled from the overlapping materials in Matthew and Luke. Witherington shows that Q is a wisdom collection which includes some traditional wisdom sayings of Jesus, some counter-wisdom sayings like Qoheleth, prophetic wisdom and a portrayal of Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom.

The pre-eminence of Jesus in the Q tradition is established in two primary ways: (1) as Robinson recognized, by the identification of Jesus with the Son of Man and in particular the future Son of Man who will yet come; and (2) by the identification of Jesus with Wisdom who has already come and been rejected. 227

Jesus was a sage, but not just any sort of sage. He is a sage of counter order (like Qoheleth), but also a prophetic sage, like Ben Sira or Pseudo-Solomon in some ways (e.g. in his use of eschatology). In his use of revelatory Wisdom and the Son of Man concept he is like the sage who composed the parables of Enoch. What the final redactor is most concerned to show, however, is that Jesus is one like Solomon, or even greater than Solomon, because in him Wisdom has taken on flesh. 233

The person who put together Q appears to have been a scribe, and one may say a sage in his own right, one steeped in Jewish Wisdom material but also most profoundly impacted by the Jesus who offered aphorisms, riddles, and parables of a counter order. This sage believed not only in Jesus’ teachings but in Jesus himself, hence the central focus on Jesus in Q. 234–235

James employs the Q sayings in a more traditional way like the Book of Proverbs, Ben Sira and The Wisdom of Solomon. Witherington sees James as being written before the Gospels as well and drawing on either Q, or the tradition that led to Q. James tends to use Jesus' sayings to show that they are in agreement with the tradition of early Jewish wisdom collections. "James is handling the Jesus tradition as though it were proverbial Wisdom (247) and not bringing in the "already-not yet" counter-order which was in the more eschatological stream in Jesus' teaching.

James mainly sees the Jesus tradition as a development of the earlier Jewish sapiential traditions, and uses Jesus’ sayings to reinforce some traditional Wisdom agendas. 241

In chapter 6, Singing Wisdom's Praise, Witherington is looking at the influence of Jewish wisdom literature in the way the Deity of Christ was expressed in hymns quoted in the NT. From Proverbs 8 on, wisdom literature described wisdom as present and active with God in eternity past and participating in creation. The NT authors used this language, also based on Jesus' fulfillment of OT expectations and his death and resurrection, to praise Jesus as God. The praise took on a "V pattern," in which the pre-existent Jesus humbled himself to become human, died, rose and then was exalted back to his previous place as the divine-human 2nd person of the Trinity.  

Christ not only stripped himself in this way but also shunned any rightful human accolades or dignity; he took on the very form of a servant or slave. He identified himself with the lowest of the low, and he died a slave’s death. This hymn places an especial stress on the fact that the pre-existent Christ had a choice about these matters and he chose to act in the way he did. Thus it is stressed that Christ was obedient even to the point of dying on the cross. He could have done otherwise. Philippians 2.6-11, 265

The term prototokos reflects the Old Testament idea found for instance in Ps. 89:27 where God promises to make the King his firstborn—the meaning is preeminent, supreme in rank, not necessarily created. In this usage there is also some sense of temporal priority. Thus the point is that he is prior to and supreme over all creation. Colossians 1.15-20, 269

It is not just a case of fulfilling earlier promises, but a case of going beyond any previous revelations. What follows tries to establish not only that Jesus fulfills previous hopes and promises, but also that he surpasses previous forms of revelation. Only the Son is the exact representation of the being of God. Hebrews 1.2b-4, 276

This logos or Word was present with God before the space-time continuum or universe was created. Not only so, this Word is said to be God. John 1, 286

Wisdom Christology, as it is expressed in these hymns, is a very high Christology indeed. When the sapiential hymn material was applied to the historical person Jesus, this led to the predicating of pre-existence, incarnation, and even divinity to this same historical person. 290

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Quick Medical Update

I visited the urologist today and got some good news. He thinks the kidney is doing an adequate job of draining into the bladder and decided to take the nephrostomy bag off today. He is concerned about the narrowing of the ureter, but he thinks that since things are working okay anyway we'll be fine. We will be leaving the tubes in my kidney and I will still have the hole in my back for 3 weeks to make sure everything is ok before they pull everything out. If he needs to widen the ureter we can always do another surgical procedure later. So I would ask for your prayers that everything goes okay. It is really nice not to be tethered to a bag and a tube.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Cancer Routine and Brief Medical Update

20170512_141828 (768x1024)A few people have asked me what I have been doing lately. Since mid-March, after the kidney failure crisis and diagnosis of my T-Cell Lymphoma in February to early March, I have somewhat settled into a routine of cancer treatment, recovery, rest and my new normal daily life. I do have a lot of time to think and I struggle a bit with my new realities and finding day to day purpose, but God has ministered to me in some very real ways and I am learning a lot about myself outside of what I do and ministry. Anyway, here is a basic daily schedule of my routine the last 3 months as Joyce and I struggle together for my cancer recovery and move forward day to day. Of course, this is sometimes interrupted by a medical procedure or ER trip but this is pretty much my Monday to Saturday schedule.

8.00 – Breakfast; usually cereal, banana, coffee and some kind of protein.I also take a handful of vitamins and medications

9.00 – 10.30 - Generally, this is when I go to the doctor. Every 3rd Monday I get a chemotherapy infusion which lasts until about noon, but in between I get almost daily shots to build up my immune system. There are few days when I don’t go to the doc and then I get some extra reading and study time.

10.30-1.00 – This is my devotional, Bible study, and posting time. I read and post from the New Testament on M-W-F and from the Old Testament on T-T-S on my blog and Facebook page.  This is usually the time when I have the most energy.

1.00- 2,00 – Lunch. I try to get a high protein lunch. I have to take Prednisone for 5 days after each chemo infusion. I also need to take in a lot of liquids to keep my kidney healthy. After lunch I try to move around a bit, walk etc. This is supposed to help my edema.

2.00-5.00 – Reading, study, nap time depending on how energetic I feel. I have been listening to some good theological, biblical and academic lectures on Youtube and some other sites. I have read some good books on theology of healing and some other good theological works. I have also knocked out a few novels – even some sci-fi. Sometimes I have just enough energy to close my eyes and nap or listen to music. I like to play a little Soduku and Scrabble

5.00-6.00 – Get up, move around and exercise. I need to not be lazy and and do this. Some days I just don’t feel like it, but the doc says I need to do this more.

6.00 – Dinner

6.30-9.00 – Hang out with Joyce, my parents etc. Lately my dad and I have been watching a lot of NBA playoffs and college World Series on television. It has been a nice time to re-connect with my mom and dad these past few months.

9.00 Generally I go to bed about 9. In March and April I pretty much was sleeping from 9pm to almost 8am. Since my body has been recovering a little lately I am sleeping a little less though about once a week I’ll sleep for about 10-11 hours in a night. One of the nurses told me the best way to beat cancer is to get a lot of sleep.

So that’s it. On Sundays my routine changes so that I watch church services and listen to sermons on Youtube all morning after breakfast. I have not been able to attend church since December because of my immune system and edema issues. I really do miss that kind of fellowship, but I have heard several good sermons from several sources. I have especially enjoyed Tim Keller.

My routine is about to change in the near future. The sixth and last chemotherapy session of this round will take place on June 20. After the 3 week recovery period, I get a 6-8 week “rest” so that my body can recover from the chemo. The next event on my schedule is probably a procedure to remove some blockage from my urinary system. I have a doctor appointment tomorrow to find out more about that (Monday the 5th). The big events of the “rest” period will be a bone marrow biopsy in July and another PET scan in August at Stanford to see where we stand in the battle with the T-cell lymphoma. My Fall schedule will be determined by what they find in those tests. I am glad to have good medical people looking after me and blessed to have people all over the world praying for me and caring for us. Thank you! We are in God’s hands, the best place to be.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, Ben Witherington III, #2

WitheringtonThis week, I am continuing reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom, by Ben Witherington III. In the first part of this book Witherington looks at the influence of Jewish wisdom on the teachings of Jesus and how He develops and expands the wisdom tradition. We have already looked at the influence of Old Testament and intertestamental wisdom writings in Jesus’ teachings in the first post, and, in this post, will look at how that influence actually came out in Jesus’ teachings in the Synoptic Gospels .  I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In chapter 3, Hokmah Meets Sophia: Jesus the Cynic, Witherington begins his discussion of Jesus as a sage. But, before he looks at Jesus' relationship to the Jewish tradition of wisdom, he looks at the influence of Hellenistic philosophy, specifically the influence of Cynicism on Jesus. While Jesus must have been somewhat influenced by Hellenism, he finds the influence of cynicism to have been minimal if any. Most Cynic writings are too late to have influenced Jesus. He sees a much closer affinity between Jesus and the Old Testament wisdom, rabbinic writings and, especially Ben Sira.

Though it is plausible that Jesus intended to be in various respects a radical reformer of early Judaism, a Jesus totally at odds with the religious life of early Judaism can not be ferreted out of the Synoptics, unless one so truncates the tradition to a very few aphorisms or parables that one conveniently leaves out all the evidence of Jesus’ Jewishness. 125

This process of re-creating Jesus in one’s own image happens all too often when one works with an overly truncated corpus of Jesus’ sayings. 140

Even if Jesus was influenced by some Cynic ideas and attitudes and practices, the influence seems to have been slight in comparison to the profound impact that the Jewish Wisdom material had on both the style and substance of his teaching. 142

Chapter 4 is entitled Wisdom in Person:Jesus the Sage. In this chapter Witherington looks at Jesus' wisdom teaching through his use of aphorisms and parables. He begins with theory of language and concludes that meaning of a text comes primarily from the author and not the reader. This means the reader must consider the historical, cultural, literary and other contexts to do proper exegesis. Jesus must be understood as a Jewish prophetic sage of the common person, announcing the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Jesus is using traditional means and styles of speaking and is building on an ancient tradition, but He is using them in a new way for a new time, to announce a new way of thinking and being in relationship with God. There is both continuity and discontinuity with the OT in Jesus' presentation of the kingdom of God.

In short, the meaning derived must be in continuity with, or pursuing the same path as the author’s meaning. There must always be a line of continuity between the original intended authorial meaning, to the extent it can be discerned, and whatever meaning one may derive from the text. 151

The vast majority of the Gospel sayings tradition can be explained on the hypothesis that Jesus presented himself as a Jewish prophetic sage, one who drew on all the riches of earlier Jewish sacred traditions, especially the prophetic, apocalyptic, and sapiential material though occasionally even the legal traditions. 158

Jesus uses proverbs in defense of his vision of the Reign of God. Jesus wants people to see that it is time for a new experience of God’s presence in human life. This new vision challenges old ways of thinking and acting...Jesus sees the coming of the Reign of God as an opportunity for radical change.  160

Jesus’ social position and orientation as a sage of the common people probably explains to a significant degree why he offered aphorisms of counter order. He identified with and believed that through his ministry God was doing something special to help the least, the last, and the lost as well as others. 165

In the next section Witherington discusses Jesus' "aphorisms of counter-order." These were proverbs that countered the "act-consequence" proverbs with a new way of being wise in the new age of God's in-breaking kingdom. One important aspect of biblical wisdom is being able to adapt to new situations brought about by new things God was doing. Jesus incorporated OT eschatology into wisdom sayings because he was fulfilling the prophecies and His disciples needed to adjust their thinking accordingly.

The meaning of these two verses is that human beings, not least because they were created before the sabbath and the sabbath was given for their rest and restoration, are more important than the observance of sabbath regulations. Giving them rest and restoration, which was the original purpose of the sabbath, takes precedence over the strict observance of Mosaic sabbath rules. Mark 2.27-28, 168

A human being “is caught up in self-defeating care to maintain himself in the world, but his great hope lies in the word that he is already valued by God.… One must give up the maintenance of a little self-order as the primary concern and give oneself over to the new divine order, in which the meaning of individual-in-community has everlasting significance.” Mark 8.35, 174

An essential element in following Jesus and being like him is learning his teaching...It was the job of the disciple to learn and conserve the teaching of the master. The disciple could not assume authority over his teacher or his teaching. Third, the disciple could only be equal to the teacher when s/he was fully instructed—then only was s/he complete. Matthew 10.24-25a, 179

Next, Witherington looks at Jesus' "narrative meshalim" or parables. He suggests that Jesus was using a common contemporary rabbinic means of teaching, but used it in a different way to get across His kingdom message of God breaking into the world in an unexpected way. This unexpected way often included the marginalized and unexpected people like Samaritans, women and the poor. Jesus was not only commenting on the old, like torah, but was bringing in new prophetic revelation from God.

(Jesus' parables) were illustrations of what was happening or would happen as a result of God’s dominion breaking into Israel’s midst in the person and ministry of Jesus the sage. In this regard, Jesus’ meshalim are not Torah-centric like other early Jewish parables but are more prophetic in character, telling the truth about some present or future situation. 187

This Samaritan went well beyond a simple act of kindness or compassion. Indeed he went beyond all bounds, not merely ethnic bounds, but even the suggested bounds in the Old Testament of what compassion would look like. Herein one finds a clue to what this parable is about. When the dominion of God breaks into human lives and situations, old prejudices pass away and a new and shocking pattern of behavior comes to pass. Luke 10.30-35, 195

The dominion of God has its own economy. All work in the vineyard is apparently equally valuable to the vineyard owner, regardless of the length of time one worker or another contributes to the overall task. The point may be that it requires a group effort, and just as a team’s members all equally share in a victory, regardless of how many minutes one or another player has played, so too every worker equally shares in the remuneration in the dominion of God. Mathew 20.1-15, 200

Finally, Witherington sees Jesus as presenting Himself as the embodiment of wisdom in his proverbs and parables. As were many of the OT prophets, He was the embodiment of His message.

The spokesman for God might not just convey a message but be the embodiment of that message in who he was, in what he did, in how he lived. Realizing this, it would not be an improbable progression in early Judaism for Jesus not to be merely an utterer of Wisdom speech, but also to represent himself as the embodiment of Wisdom, Wisdom in person. The relationship of Jesus the sage and Jesus as Wisdom lies in part in one being the personal embodiment of one’s message, but also in the fact that for Jesus, who told the parable, and what his authority was, was as important as the mashal he told. Jesus did not merely announce the inbreaking of God’s dominion on earth, he believed that he brought it, and thus in some sense even embodied it. 203–204

Friday, June 02, 2017

Visit from Howard and Brief Medical Update

20170530_090252 (1280x960)We have enjoyed having visitors come by several times in the last couple months. We were blessed to have Howard Merrell come by and visit with us on Monday and Tuesday. Howard had been Board Chair at PIU for several years and is now officially the interim president of the school and is on his way back to Guam for the summer semester. It was encouraging to hear Howard’s report on how the students are doing and to have him pray with us. I have to confess that it was also painful to hear it because this was such a big part of our lives for so long and we love and miss our PIU family. We would love to be back there, and we know that God knows and has a good plan, but for us future plans are day to day, Still, it was good to discuss the school, talk about plans and pray together for this ministry. On Tuesday, Howard accompanied us to my chemotherapy treatment and we had some more time to talk. Please be in prayer for Howard and for Pacific Islands University. The school is in great need of qualified godly personnel and funding.

20170530_102116 (1280x960)My brief medical update: I had my fifth round of chemotherapy on Tuesday morning – I’ll be toxic until Friday afternoon. This time I have experienced a little nausea along with the usual hot flashes and prednisone induced sleepless nights, racing mind and heightened emotions. Edema is increasing again too. I would certainly appreciate your prayers for dealing with the side effects of the chemo. I will see the urologist on June 5th. I hear that we are looking at another surgical procedure but will find out more about that then. I’d be willing to go through it if I can get the bag off and have normal kidney function again. Joyce and I really do appreciate all your prayers and support through this. As I said above, we are day to day and don’t know what is in the future for us. The good thing is that God is walking with us through it all. Thank you for being part of that.

Reading Through the Book of Esther

E and DThis past week I have been reading through the book of Esther accompanied by, Esther & Daniel, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Mangano. Esther is a powerful story about how God can work behind the scenes to save His people and accomplish His plan for them, when they have no control, or don’t even know what is really going on. I have been 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 my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Esther is a story about how God works behind the scenes (He is not mentioned once in the story) to save His vulnerable people in Jerusalem from extermination by the powerful Persian empire. The amazing thing is that He works mainly through two unfaithful Jews, Esther and Mordecai (they ignored the prophetic call to return to Jerusalem, they have Babylonian names and have adopted the culture of their captors, they never pray or quote Torah) and the Jerusalemites don't even know they have been saved until the story ends. Esther is a powerful story of reversal. Esther and Mordecai must choose to do the right thing after years of not doing so and then their impossible situation is reversed: they are honored and Jerusalem is saved.

In the Old Testament God sometimes expressed his displeasure with his people by withdrawal (Ezek 11:23) and silence (Amos 8:11), in short, hiddenness. The absence of God’s name from the Book of Esther implies then his displeasure with the sinfulness of his people... Clearly, then, the actions of Mordecai and Esther reveal them to be less than exemplary. They both failed in consistently living according to the standard of God’s holiness. In spite of God’s displeasure, the Book of Esther still implicitly teaches God’s providential care of his people. Esther, 24–25

“The narrator understandably refrains from any reference to the deity in order to accentuate the role of human responsibility in shaping history, and to indicate the hiddenness of God’s control of history.” “God’s action is indeed involved, but it seems clear that the Book of Esther sees the manner of God’s action … as strategic help periodically supplied to those who with full awareness struggle for his cause and theirs.” Esther 27

The first two chapters of the book set the stage by describing the ascent of Mordecai and Esther to positions from which they will be able to play a part in the saving of God's people. Queen Vashti is demoted because she refuses to dance before the king's guests at his banquet. The story of the king's response, the edict, is designed to show the ineptness and foolishness of the king and his advisors. Esther is then taken to the king and, unlike Daniel, cooperates fully with the harem protocol and gains his favor and becomes queen. Mordecai saves the king from an assassination plot. They both are now in place, despite their bad decisions, to save the Jews.

Michael Fox has suggested that humor teaches us a valuable lesson. In his words, “Humor, especially the humor of ridicule, is a device for defusing fear. The author teaches us to make fun of the very forces that once threatened—and will threaten again—our existence, and thereby makes us recognize their triviality as well as their power...The book of Esther begins a tradition of Jewish humor.” Esther 1, 48–49

If the names of Mordecai and Esther allude to their assimilation into Babylonian culture, “the outcome of the story suggests to the Babylonian pagans that Marduk and Ishtar are subservient to the purposes of the unnamed God of the Jews. The victory of the Jews in this story would then function as a polemic against the pagan deities.” Esther 2.1-7, 54

The author never exonerates Esther’s actions by inferring that her marriage, perhaps the lesser of two evils, led to the greater good for God’s people. The author does not commend to us the actions of Esther as a case of “the end justifies the means.” Esther 2, 60

Mordecai provokes the ensuing persecution by, again unlike Daniel, refusing to bow before Haman. Haman is the prototype (the Agagite) of anti-Semitism and everything God hates (Proverbs 6.16-19), and in his anger at Mordecai decides to destroy the entire Jewish people. He gives an enormous bribe to the king to sign off on his plan and sets the date by lot; 11 months later. Mordecai goes into mourning when he hears of the plot and gets word to Esther, asking her to use her influence to help. Esther is reluctant, probably because she is out of favor with the king. The turning point of the story comes when Esther decides to identify with her people and risk her life to save them. When Esther goes before the king he receives her graciously. The text gives several clues that this is because God has given her favor before the king. She invites the king and Haman to a banquet. When they come, she prolongs the suspense by saying she will reveal her request at another banquet the following night. Haman returns home and builds a large pole to impale and humiliate Mordecai. The danger is at its highest but the stage is set for a great reversal.

Haman’s logic is a classic example of the stereotype. If Jewishness is the basis for Mordecai’s opposition to the royal command, then all Jews are potential lawbreakers. Genocide would solve Haman’s “Jewish problem.” Esther 3, 66

Esther’s defining moment comes when she is faced with taking responsibility for the life God has given her by identifying herself with the people of God. Jobes writes, “After her decision to identify herself with God’s people, Esther becomes the active agent, commanding Mordecai, planning a strategy to save her people, and even confronting Haman to his face. Her decision energizes her, gives her purpose, and emboldens her to face a threatening and uncertain future.” Esther 4, 77

Esther’s initial response includes the words יָבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן הַיּוֹם (yābô˒ hammelek wəhāmān hayyôm), “let the king and Haman come today.” The first letters of these four words, YHWH, spell God’s personal name, the LORD. The divine name may be explicitly absent from the narrative, but he is not. Esther 5.4, 82

In chapter 6 the great reversal begins. A sleepless night for the king leads to the overturning of positions for Haman and Mordecai. Haman must give to Mordecai what he wanted for himself. At the banquet Esther reveals her request to the king leading to the demise of Haman on the very gallows he had intended for Mordecai. Esther is the hero as she acts boldly, but God created the scenario, behind the scenes, that made it all possible.

In the book of Esther God works without miracles through seemingly insignificant events and through the decisions of flawed people. “God delivered an entire race of people in Persia because the king had a sleepless night, because a man would not bow to his superior, because a woman found herself taken to the bedroom of a ruthless man for a night of pleasure. How inscrutable are the ways of the Lord!” Esther 6, 92–93

God’s plan cannot be thwarted. Haman was delighted with the suggestion to hang Mordecai on a tree (gallows). Satan was elated that the Son of God was crucified on a tree (cross). Would evil overpower good? Would God lose to the Evil One? Would the plan and promise of salvation be aborted? No! In time Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. On the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus was raised to life, overcoming the power of both death (1 Cor. 15:54–57) and Satan (Gen 3:15). God’s plan cannot be thwarted! Esther 7, 101

In chapters 8 and 9 Esther and Mordecai must deal with Haman's irrevocable decree. They wisely come up with a plan that gives the Jews the right to defend themselves and enrich the king at the same time. This leads many other groups to come to the Jews' defense and they win a resounding victory. Haman's sons and supporters are killed and Mordecai and Esther assume the positions of power in the nation to the benefit of their people.

Mordecai’s decree permitted the Jews the right to defend themselves against attackers. Chapter 9 reveals that God did defend his people from the attackers. And if the attackers do lose their lives, as chapter 9 will make clear, their deaths are evidence of God’s judgment upon sin and evil. Even in the action that follows the scene of highest narrative tension (ch. 7), God is ever present! Esther 8, 111

No other woman among God’s people wrote with authority to confirm and establish a religious practice that still stands today. The importance of most biblical women, such as Sarah and Hannah, lies in their motherhood. Esther’s importance to the covenant people is not as a mother, but as a queen.” Esther 9, 123

Esther shows that God has not forgotten His people in exile. Even when they are not aware of what is going on, God can easily maneuver the great powers of this world to accomplish His kingdom plan for His people. Despite present circumstances, God's promises will be kept, He will win the battle and His kingdom will come.

The book of Esther sets aside the fear expressed in Lamentations 5:21–22. Even though Israel’s sin led to the forfeiture of the promised land, and even though Israel had been driven into exile, the LORD still protects and sustains his people. In short, he is still interested in their well-being. Esther 10, 126

Thursday, June 01, 2017

An Up and Down Weekend

20170527_173822 (1280x960)Last weekend was interesting to say the least. It was both joy-filled and disappointing at the same time. I have already mentioned, in a previous post, last Friday’s nephrostogram which we hoped would allow me to get rid of the nephrostomy bag 20170526_105218 (960x1280)I have been tethered to for the last 5+ months. We were disappointed in that and are still waiting for the June 5 appointment with the urologist which will give us our next steps in treatment for my kidney. We also got another blood test Friday which gave us the go-ahead for Tuesday’s round 5 of chemotherapy treatment. We were expecting a last “weekend of rest” to enjoy some good family time on the 3-day weekend.

Sunday interrupted the family time with an unexpected trip to the ER at Marshall hospital. My nephrostomy bag stopped draining on Saturday night and we were worried that it had pulled out of my kidney. This led to a surprise: a second nephrostogram within one weekend. The good news was that the tube was where it was supposed to be. The better news was that the kidney was draining through the ureter into the bladder better than we had thought. I was a little overly optimistic when I posted on Facebook that it was draining properly, but it was better, which gives us a bit more hope for the June 5th urologist appointment.  I’d appreciate your prayers for that appointment. My life would be a bit more normal without the bag, but even more important, getting rid of it would reduce my vulnerability to infection.

20170527_183712 (960x1280)We did get in our enjoyable family time on Saturday and Monday. Saturday we went to Olive Garden in Folsom to celebrate my mom’s 83rd birthday. We spent a couple hours enjoying good food and had a special area to ourselves to enjoy good, loud, conversation. My sister Jayne and her husband Nate were with us along with our niece Shelly and her husband, Brandon. 20170527_173841 (1280x960)I am getting a little more comfortable being out in public, which I guess is good. The same group gathered for a Memorial Day barbecue on Monday. The highlight was my dad’s homemade ice cream, although the chicken and burgers were pretty good too. Though  it was not our plan to be in California five months after our Christmas vacation, we are enjoying being able to have some extended time with my mom and dad and the rest of the family.