Saturday, September 23, 2017

Contentment and Happy Fall (or is it Merry Autumn?)

20170922_085345 (960x1280)I have learned the secret of being content in whatever situation I am in. Umm, that is not me speaking. That is Paul in Philippians. I would need to change the tense to a progressive present: I am learning to be content in whatever situation I find myself. Joyce and I were having one of those late night talks a couple nights ago where you share the things you are really thinking or concerned about. I was talking about my fears and concerns about the upcoming medical issues we will be facing and my big concern that I might not be taking full advantage of the situation I am in by learning what God is trying to teach me through this situation. (Theological point: I don’t blame God for my cancer. It happened because we live in a fallen world. But God walks with us through these situations and uses them to grow us into His image.) I asked her what she thinks I am learning. She laughed and said, “you are learning to be content. I thought you’d be a terrible patient and mad at your situation, but you have done very well.” I thought, “well there’s not much I can do about it, so I just had to trust God through the process.” Then I thought, “but that is contentment. Wow, I have learned something.” I have a long way to go. I have been able to trust God through most of the cancer adventure, but I still find myself, weirdly, getting unreasonably angry when my reading glasses slide off the top of my head because I don’t have enough hair up there to hold them any more.

I listened to a sermon on contentment by Tim Keller a while back. One of his big points was that contentment must be learned by going through adversity and responding well to it. It is not a spiritual gift or talent. It is gained through experience. When we experience adversity we must respond in 3 ways: Think, Thank and Love. First, we have to think through the real cosmic situation which includes the biblical worldview, God’s promises to be with us and the truth that this life is preparation for the next one. This enables us to thank God that He is working through the situation. Finally, as we go through these experiences we learn to love God, because we also experience His presence. This is something that I have found to be true. Through cancer I have experienced God in ways I never I have before. I have also had a few dark nights of the soul, but those seem to go together with the former. I, definitely, cannot say “I have learned” like Paul, but I am learning and have been able to praise and thank God in the midst of it. Honestly, I am hoping to Iearn what I need to and can get off the bench and back into the game soon, but I know I need to keep living and ministering in the present, where I am right now.

20170916_142916 (960x1280)20170916_142935 (960x1280)So, Happy Fall and Merry Autumn! One side benefit of all this is the time I have had for family relationships. I am blessed to have my daughter Missy and granddaughter Leila living with us. We have some fun together and I enjoy being close to them. Seeing the world through the eyes of a very energetic five year old can be quite enlightening. These pictures were taken as Leila was getting ready to go to Placerville’s Oktoberfest. Yes, Placerville had their Oktoberfest in September. But it did include a wiener dog race. May God grant you contentment in His presence. Blessings!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #3 (8-10)

Keener MatthewI am continuing reading through the Gospel of Matthew accompanied by Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. In chapters 8-9 Jesus begins His kingdom ministry of signs, healing and teaching. In chapter 10 he sends the 12 apostles out to do kingdom ministry to Israel in His name as an example of the way the church is to do ministry worldwide. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version (for some reason I cannot make the page numbers come up in the quotes) of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 8 begins a section recording Jesus' miracles. The miracles are an indication of Jesus' identity as creator and Messiah and that the promised kingdom has arrived, though not in its full and final expression. Matthew portrays Jesus' healings as a sign that the atonement of the kingdom predicted by Isaiah has arrived and sin and its effects (death, disease) are dealt with. Jesus provides access to God for the leper and prefigures the mission to the Gentiles in healing the centurion's servant. I agree with Keener that we have allowed modern rationalism to influence our thinking too much and we miss the healing that is available to us in the atonement now. We want to avoid having too much "already" in the "not yet" of the kingdom, but it is also important not to have too little "already" and miss out on what God has promised. The miracles at the end of the chapter, stilling the storm and exorcism, show Jesus as the Creator with power over nature and the ruler over the unseen realm of supernatural beings. In the middle of this chapter is the application. If Jesus is who his miracles suggest, then we owe him the highest allegiance and must make following Him the highest priority.

Jesus demonstrated his feeling toward our infirmities by bearing them with us and for us (8:17) and by healing all who sought his help (8:16). Matthew hardly expects us to suppose that Jesus has lost any of his power (28:18) or compassion since the resurrection. Unfortunately, many of us Western Christians today feel more at home with the Enlightenment rationalism in which we were trained than we do with the desperate faith of Christians who dare to believe God for miracles. Those in desperate need cannot afford to rationalize away God’s power and compassion. Matthew 8:1-17

Jesus does insist on honoring parents (Mt 15:4–6), yet he demands a greater affection toward himself. Jesus scandalously claims the supreme position of attention in his followers’ lives. If we devote ourselves to anyone or anything more than to him, our claim to be his followers becomes hollow, no matter how many “disciples” around us live the same way. Matthew 8:18-22

Just as Jesus demands that we express our love for God by trusting him for material provision (Mt 6:25–34), he demands that we trust him for safety. Our heavenly Father may not always protect us from earthly ills, but he will do with our lives what is best for us (10:29–31). Matthew 8:23-27

Chapter 9 continues the narrative about Jesus' miracles with an emphasis on his authority over sickness and death, and his ability to bring the outcast, the unclean and the gentile into the presence of God through forgiveness and cleansing. Jesus' ability to heal paralysis, bleeding, blindness and even death is evidence for his ability to overcome evil, sin and separation from God. This was something new which the religious establishment was not willing to accept. The one that the scriptures spoke about, who would take on the pain of the curse and defeat it, was there and it was time to embrace Him and leave behind unbiblical tradition and that which was no longer relevant. The king was there and true disciples would listen to and obey Him.

Although physical healing is secondary to forgiveness, such healing is often crucial not only for compassionately meeting some of our most pressing human needs (9:36) and empowering us for greater service to the Lord (20:34) but also for drawing attention to Jesus’ power to do other works. People who reason today that Jesus can heal either physically or spiritually but not both are like the radical critics who debate whether Jesus was a wisdom teacher or a prophet, a messiah or a healer. The question is forced-choice logic; why can he not be both, as the text teaches us? Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus came to call sinners—to invite them to God’s final banquet (Mt 22:3, 14), a foretaste of which the present table fellowship with them may have represented...That Jesus’ opponents agreed with his principle in theory yet invited his reprimand should force us who acknowledge his doctrine to survey our practice as well...some apparently worshipful and Bible-centered churches do not welcome such persons—suggesting that ultimately Jesus who ate with sinners might not truly be welcome there either. Matthew, 9:9-13

It is too easy, even for Christians, to use charlatans as an excuse to ignore the real workings of God. One can understand the sentiments of religious people in Jesus’ day; after all, they may have reasoned, if God were still doing miracles like those he had done through Elijah and Elisha, surely he would have been doing it through them. They, after all, were sure that they were the ones with correct doctrine. When we become so sure of our theological system that we cannot listen to anyone else no matter how cogent their evidence, we may risk repeating the kind of mistake many of Jesus’ contemporaries made. Matthew 9:27-38

Now, in chapter 10 Jesus sends out the 12 disciples, as His agents, to announce the coming of the kingdom to the nation of Israel. Keener emphasizes that both Matthew and Mark tailor their presentation of Jesus' instructions to their own audience showing that these instructions apply to our situation as we announce the kingdom today. First, Jesus calls his agents to live simply, trust God to supply their needs and devote their resources to kingdom work. They should expect opposition and persecution even from those closest to them, that could be lethal, but they should fear God alone and be willing to give their lives for the kingdom. Jesus assures the disciples that the rewards for this commitment and sacrifice are eternal and worth it. There is even great reward for those Christians who provide support and resources for those who are on the front lines of the kingdom. We, as a church, need to take these instructions more seriously and get out of our comfortable church buildings and take Jesus' kingdom actions and message out to those who need it. The effectiveness of a church should be evaluated by how they serve the needy of their own community and by how much of their resources go into sending missionaries out to make disciples of all nations.   

Both Jesus’ proclamation and practical acts of compassion go beyond what many Christians call ministry today. Our communities are ravaged by demonic forces, violence, injustice and all kinds of human pain, while the church often remains irrelevant except to the few who venture through our doors. To follow Jesus’ model of ministry, more Christians must stop simply going to church and learn rather to become the church among our communities in evangelism and ministry to social needs. Matthew, 10:1-4

The message of this text summons us to radically value our mission above all possessions and to live as simply as necessary to devote our resources to evangelism. Those who strive to “witness” to their neighbors by demonstrating that Christ can “bless” them with abundant possessions may unwittingly witness for a false gospel...Non-Christians often have the spiritual sense to recognize what much of the church ignores: tacking Jesus’ name onto worldly values does not sanctify those values, it just profanes Jesus’ name. Matthew 10:5-15

As people treat God’s prophet, so they treat the God who sent the prophet (1 Sam 8:7). Matthew repeatedly emphasizes that disciples as Jesus’ agents are his righteous ones and prophets, even greater than the prophets of old...Receiving Jesus’ representatives with a cup of cold water probably refers to accepting into one’s home missionaries who have abandoned their own homes and security to bring Christ’s message. Matthew 10:40-42

Reading The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser #5

HeiserI am continuing to read through The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser. Chapters 10-11 continues the discussion about Eden, focused on the identity of the serpent, the nachashI 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. I am using the Kindle version of the book.…

Part 3, Divine Transgressions begins with Chapter 10, Trouble in Paradise. This section deals with the rebellions of God's supernatural imagers and their effect on creation. Chapters 10-11 will discuss one of the main rebels, the nachash, or serpent, that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Ancient readers would have understood that the story in Genesis 3 was not talking about a normal snake. This was a divine, supernatural being that was trying to mess up God's plan for humanity and creation. Heiser compares the description of Eden and the guardian cherub there in Ezekiel 28 with the Genesis snake to show that they are describing the same supernatural being. The exegesis within Ezekiel is disputed, but his conclusion makes the most sense with the context of other passages (Rev. 21:7-9).  

An Israelite would have known that the episode described interference in the human drama by a divine being, a malcontent from within Yahweh’s council...If it’s true that the enemy in the garden was a supernatural being, then he wasn’t a snake. 74

Ezekiel 28 browbeats the prince of Tyre using an ancient tale of divine arrogance in Eden, where a member of Yahweh’s council thought himself on par with the Most High. This divine throne guardian was expelled from Eden to the “ground” or underworld. 82

In chapter 11, Like the Most High?, Heiser compares the elements in the story of Eden with the description of Lucifer, helel ben-shachar, the “shining one, son of the dawn.” in Isaiah 14. The issue here is "to whom is the king of Babylon being compared?” (83). Heiser's answer is that he is being compared to the nachash in Eden. Heiser sees the clues in Genesis 3 that this must be more than just a mere snake in the word nachash, which can also carry the meaning, in adjectival form, of being "shiny." There is a little conjecture here with the word meaning, but the immediate and biblical context provides strong enough support for Heiser's point that the snake is surely a divine being. So the nachash tempts Eve and brings about the "Fall" necessitating God's judgment. The nachash is cast out of heaven and consigned to the realm of the dead, while the humans are forced to carry out their mission to subdue the earth with opposition, in drudgery, and without the contingent immortality they had in Eden.

The serpent (nachash) was an image commonly used in reference to a divine throne guardian. Given the context of Eden, that helps identify the villain as a divine being. The divine adversary dispenses divine information, using it to goad Eve. He gives her an oracle (or, an omen!): You won’t really die. God knows when you eat you will be like one of the elohim. Lastly, a shining appearance conveys a divine nature. All the meanings telegraph something important. They are also consistent with the imagery from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. 88

After the fall, though humankind was estranged from God and no longer immortal, the plan of God was not extinguished. Genesis 3 tells us why we die, why we need redemption and salvation, and why we cannot save ourselves. It also tells us that God’s plan has only been delayed— not defeated— and that the human story will be both a tragic struggle and a miraculous, providential saga. 91

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reading The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser #4

HeiserI am continuing to read through The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser. Chapters 8-9 continues the discussion about Eden. The big point here is that, although God created a world in which evil is possible, He is not morally responsible for evil. Evil happened because of the free moral decisions of God’s supernatural and earthly imagers. 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. I am using the Kindle version of the book.…

In Chapter 8, Only God Is Perfect, Heiser discusses some overlooked elements in the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. First, the snake, the nachash, in the garden is not identified as the devil in the Old Testament. This comes later in Jewish writings and in the New Testament. In fact, in Job, the satan appears to be a working member of God's counsel. The snake is a rebellious elohim who does not agree with God's plan for Eden or for creation. God took a "risk" in Eden allowing free will beings, the elohim in the spiritual realm and humanity in the earthly realm, to administrate His creation. Both humans and elohim gained the experiential "knowledge of good and evil" as they exercised their God-given ability to choose to make a bad choice.  

The function of the office of the satan is why later Jewish writings began to adopt it as a proper name for the serpent figure from Genesis 3 who brought ruin to Eden. That figure opposed God’s choices for his human imagers. The dark figure of Genesis 3 was eventually thought of as the “mother of all adversaries,” and so the label satan got stuck to him. He deserves it. The point here is only that the Old Testament doesn’t use that term for the divine criminal of Eden. 57

Only God is perfect in the possession and exercise of his attributes. Every lesser being is imperfect. The only perfect Being is God. This is why things could, and did, go wrong in Eden...being in the presence of God is no guarantee that free-will beings will never stray or act out of self-will. 59

Heiser entitles Chapter 9 Peril and Providence because he discusses the relationship between God and evil, predestination and foreknowledge. His point is that God is not morally responsible for evil because free will decisions of His imagers made them morally responsible for their own disastrous decisions. God did foreknow that they would make these bad decisions, but that does not mean God predestined evil. Heiser gives an example from 1 Samuel 23 that God foreknows events that never happened. Foreknowledge does not necessitate predestination. God knew that evil would enter the world but he decided that would be preferable to never creating His imagers and He has made a plan to deal with the evil. "God does not need evil as a means to accomplish anything” (66).

Prior to knowing good and evil, Adam and Eve were innocent. They had never made a willing, conscious decision to disobey God. They had never seen an act of disobedience, either. When they fell, that changed. They did indeed know good and evil, just as God and the rest of his heavenly council members— including the nachash (“serpent”). 63

Evil does not flow from a first domino that God himself toppled. Rather, evil is the perversion of God’s good gift of free will. It arises from the choices made by imperfect imagers, not from God’s prompting or predestination. God does not need evil, but he has the power to take the evil that flows from free-will decisions— human or otherwise— and use it to produce good and his glory through the obedience of his loyal imagers, who are his hands and feet on the ground now. 66

Sunday, September 17, 2017

“Our Father”

20170914_094953 (1280x960)For several months I have been using the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6 as the template for my evening prayers. It started in February when I was so sick and drugged up that all I could do was just recite the Lord’s prayer from memory and then go back to sleep. But it has developed into a long meditation on the implications of what Jesus was teaching in the prayer. One thing I have been thinking about lately is the word “Father.” Why do I want to call God father? First, it is an acknowledgement that I am a contingent, dependent being and God is my Creator. Everything I am and have comes from Him. He is “in Heaven” at the steering wheel of the control room of the universe. The Father has both the means and the desire to provide for me and for all His sons and daughters.

Second, God the Father is a gracious provider. I have worked hard to dispel the idea I see in the church that God the Father is a mean, wrathful judge who sits in heaven waiting to squash us when we mess up. The Exodus description of God begins with ”the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin,” and yes I know it ends with “punishment to the 3rd and 4th generation,” but even that is gracious as God lets us be free to experience the consequences of our behavior or receive the loving discipline He provides. He wants to give us what we need to flourish as His children, not just now but for all eternity. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, He knows what I need before I even ask Him and He is a loving Father who is willing to give it to us.

20170914_094911 (1280x960)Joyce and I have experienced this is in very practical ways since we have begun the cancer adventure. God has provided so many things, some that we didn’t even know we needed, like the free cancer camp. Jesus says that the Father knows our basic needs like housing, food and clothing and we have seen God supply these in abundance through His people. We came for Christmas vacation with no summer clothes and God’s people have provided for us. We came without the funds necessary for covering deductibles and co-pays, and God has provided above and beyond so that we could cover expenses we did not even know existed. God has provided homes for us to stay in (the beautiful place we are staying now is pictured above) and we are covered now through at least the end of 2017. God provided us with a 2004 Toyota Sienna van for $20 (right), in which Joyce has made a bed for me in the back for long trips to the doctor, and which she loves to drive. The list goes on and on. So right now, I am obeying the command to praise God for what He has done for His people. God has blessed us by meeting our needs throughout this whole experience. He really is “Our Father who art in heaven!”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #2 (5-7)

Keener MatthewWe continue reading through the Gospel of Matthew accompanied by Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. This section is probably a summary of Jesus’ teaching and the content here was likely spoken by Jesus many times in many venues. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version (for some reason I cannot make the page numbers come up in the quotes) of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Keener sees Matthew 5-7 as a summary of Jesus' teaching, placed in a mountain setting to emphasize that Jesus is a "greater than Moses" means of God's revelation. He emphasizes the shocking nature of the teaching's requirements to be a kingdom disciple, but also emphasizes that the entire sermon must be understood in a context of grace. The introduction in 5.1-16 must be read holistically as the required character for a kingdom disciple. Basically, the main point is that the disciple of Jesus must live the kind of self-giving lifestyle that Jesus lived. We cannot live for ourselves or for our own personal agendas, but instead be focused on God's will and kingdom even if that brings persecution and death.

Jesus summons those who would be his followers to radical devotion and radical dependence on God. His followers must be meek, must not retaliate, must go beyond the letter’s law to its spirit, must do what is right when only God is looking, must depend on God for their needs and pursue his interests rather than their own, and must leave spiritual measurements of others’ hearts to God. In short, true people of the kingdom live for God, not for themselves. Matthew 5:1-16

If we truly repent in light of the coming kingdom, we will treat our neighbors rightly. No one who has humbled himself or herself before God can act with wanton self-interest in relationships. Those with the faith to await the vindication of the righteous in God’s kingdom can afford to be righteous, to relinquish the pursuit of their own rights, because they know the just judge will vindicate them as they seek his ways of justice. Matthew 5:3-9

Here Jesus takes his ethic of nonretaliation to its furthest possible length: not only must we refuse to strike back, but we are to rejoice when persecuted. The persecution itself confirms our trust in God’s promise of reward, because the prophets suffered likewise. The prophetic role of a disciple is analogous to and greater than that of an Old Testament prophet...But here Jesus summons us to a greater honor than being prophets; he summons us to bear the name—the honor—of Jesus.  Matthew 5:10-12

In the rest of chapter 5 Jesus challenges those who would be His disciples with some very hard, perhaps hyperbolic, teaching about our relationship to God's law. The point is that legalistic fulfilling of the letter of the law is not enough. God wants total transformation of our hearts, goals,and desires to match His character and that we value His kingdom above our own desires and even our own needs. It is not enough to agree with Jesus. We must imitate His actions here. Jesus gives six examples in the chapter of His very stringent application of the law. God eternally judges based on the motivation of the heart, not just the action. We may seem okay on the outside but the law judges unjust anger, lust or coveting, betrayal (divorce), integrity (oaths), what we really love (retribution or resistance) and what we really value (love for enemies). Jesus calls us to carefully consider, not just what we do, but our motivations for being and doing, and humbly commit to imitation of Christ in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus essentially says, “Look, if you thought the law was tough, wait till you see this. If you really want to be my disciples, give me your hearts without reservation.” This passage seems to suggest that an uncommitted Christian is not a Christian at all...After grabbing his hearers’ attention with such a statement, Jesus goes on to define God’s law not simply in terms of how people behave but in terms of who they really are. Matthew 5:21–48

Through a variety of terrible images, Jesus indicates that when we damage our relationships with others, we damage our relationship with God, leading to eternal punishment. A man who beats his wife, a woman who continually ridicules her husband, and a thousand other concrete examples could illustrate the principle. We must profess our faith with our lives as well as with our lips. Matthew 5:21-26

Jesus reads the humanly unenforceable tenth commandment as if it matters as much as the other, more humanly enforceable commandments. If you do not break the letter of the other commandments, but you want to do so in your heart, you are guilty. God judges a sinful heart, and hearts that desire what belongs to others are guilty. Matthew 5:27-30

We can appeal to no law to tell us that we are righteous enough—that would be legalism. Instead, we must desire God’s will so much that we seek to please him in every area of our lives—that is holiness. Jesus says that God’s law was never about mere rules; instead, God desires a complete righteousness of the heart, a total devotion to God’s purposes in this world. Matthew 5.21-48

Chapter 6 continues Jesus' teaching and focuses on the need for disciples to prioritize God's kingdom in everything we do. Personal piety should be practiced before God as an audience of one, not for a human audience (1-18) and God's kingdom work should be prioritized over personal wealth and possessions as evidenced by our generosity to the needy (19-34). Jesus uses 3 examples of personal religious practice, charity, prayer and fasting, to teach that grandstanding religion to impress people is useless. Instead our prayer and service should come from a heart devoted to God and His kingdom. Wealth is not a bad thing, but its use reflects our real devotion to God. Wealthy people should use their wealth, not to gain luxuries for themselves, but to serve God's kingdom by serving God's people. Less wealthy people should not worry about their needs and live their lives focused on getting rich, but should trust God to meet their needs. Keener rightly emphasizes that Jesus is speaking somewhat hyperbolically here, but this does not mean we can dismiss or try to get around what He is saying. We need regular self-examination of our motives for ministry and evaluation of how we use the resources God gives us.

Much of today’s church is divided between those who emphasize personal intimacy with God in prayer and those who emphasize justice for the true poor. Like the prophets of old, however, Jesus demanded both (6:2–13; Mk 12:40); he also recognized that without keeping God himself in view, we can pervert either form of piety. Matthew 6:2-18

Because prayer promises the hearing of an Advocate more powerful than any other, it goes without saying that those who spend little time in prayer do not in practice believe much in a God who answers prayer; but Jesus goes one step beyond this charge. Those who spend much time in prayer so they may impress others with their piety likewise lack faith in a God who rewards us by answering prayer or at the coming of his kingdom. Slicing through the veneer of human religion, Jesus exposes the functional atheism of our hearts. Matthew 6:5-15

Jesus exhorts us not to value possessions enough to seek them (6:19–24), quite in contrast to today’s prosperity preachers and most of Western society. Yet he also exhorts us not to value possessions enough to worry about them (vv. 25–34), a fault shared by most believers who rightly reject the prosperity teaching. Jesus’ words strike at the core of human selfishness, challenging both the well-to-do who have possessions to guard and the poor who wish they could acquire them. His words are so uncomfortable that even those of us who say we love him and fight to defend Scripture’s authority find ourselves looking for ways around what he says. Matthew, 6:19-34

Church buildings are valuable, but when they take precedence over caring for the poor or evangelism, our priorities appear to focus more on our comfort than on the world’s need—as if we desire padded pews more than new brothers and sisters filling the kingdom. Have we altogether forgotten the spiritual passion of the early church and nineteenth-century evangelicalism? Matthew 6:19-24

Chapter 7 concludes the "sermon on the mount" by gathering more of Jesus' regular teachings. The distinctive of this chapter is the authority of Jesus. He equates His word with that of torah and makes final judgment dependent on obedience to His words (24-29). On judging, Jesus urges thorough self-examination before we try to deal with issues in the lives of others. On prayer, Jesus talks about the Father's great willingness to answer the prayers of kingdom focused people and the great power their prayers have. On discerning our own hearts and recognizing false prophets, Jesus urges us to look at behavior and lifestyle, not giftedness. Do we and do our leaders live a life of obedience to Jesus' teachings? Growing obedience is the demonstration of real faith.

Just in case we have been too obtuse to grasp that Jesus addresses us rather than others in 5:3–6:34, Jesus renders the point explicit in 7:1–5. We are objects of God’s evaluation, and God evaluates most graciously the meek, who recognize God alone as judge...he is not warning us not to discern truth from error. Further, Jesus does not oppose offering correction, but only offering correction in the wrong spirit. Matthew 7:1-6

Jesus intends his words to jar us from complacency, to consider the genuineness of our commitment to him. One wonders how many members in our churches today assume that they are saved when in fact they treat Jesus’ teachings lightly—people who give no thought to their temper, their mental chastity, their integrity and so forth during the week then pretend to be religious or even spiritually gifted in church...Some texts in the Bible provide assurance to suffering Christians that the kingdom is theirs; this text challenges “cultural Christians,” those following only Christian tradition rather than Christ himself, to realize that they need conversion. Matthew 7:13-23

One cannot be content with calling Jesus a great teacher, for he taught that he was more than a mere teacher; one must either accept all his teachings, including those that demand we submit to his lordship, or reject him altogether. Jesus is not one way among many; he is the standard of judgment.  Matthew 7:24-29

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fear of the Process

20170913_151713 (960x1280)This afternoon my reading was the Stanford Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. This is the 101 page handbook for the procedure, an autologous blood and marrow transplant, that I am planning to go through beginning September 27th. I am trying to absorb a whole ton of information now after carefully reading this thing. In Joyce’s words, “this is going to be a horrible experience” and yet, “this is going to be a hopeful experience that probably will save my life.” I know that I most likely will not experience all the listed side effects and possible “life threatening” situations. In fact my local oncologist said that people in my general health range usually do well with this procedure. Nevertheless, It is a bit unnerving to read about everything that could happen in the procedure. It is going to be a long 3-6 month procedure. I am thankful that Joyce is committed to being there throughout the process and, of course, for Jesus’ promise “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Someone asked me the other day how I go through this process with so much positivity and lack of fear. I laughed a little because, when I think about it, I am terrified. First, as I always warn the nurses, I am a wimp when it comes to pain and I’m scared of that. Second, even though there is a detailed plan here, there is a huge unknown factor as well which can make one very nervous when dwelt upon. So there is not a lack of fear in my heart. I have been encouraged to talk about it and have felt better when I do. In fact, I feel better by writing this. I know this is what I need to do, so I am strapping on my helmet and will carry the ball into the line as hard as I can (Sorry I still think in sports analogies) no matter how big the opponents are. I also know that healing comes faster to positive people and so I have tried hard to take my thoughts into captivity and avoid the dark mind caves and holes. I have to say my prayer and meditation discipline has improved considerably with all this extra motivation. I am taking the “how” of going through the cancer process as my ministry right now and try to stay focused on that. I appreciate that many people are praying for me and I know that has been a major factor in being able to stay positive through all of this. Thank you!.

Reading The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser #3

Heiser

I am continuing to read through The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser. In chapters 6-7 Heiser shows that Eden was designed to be the place where heaven and earth would come together and God’s kingdom would be completed. 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. I am using the Kindle version of the book.…

In Chapter 6, Gardens and Mountains, Heiser shows how the biblical description of Eden supports the idea that it was intended to be the place where God's heavenly council and his human imagers would come together and rule heaven and earth under YHWH's authority. Ancient Near Eastern civilizations viewed the abode of the gods as both a lush garden and an inaccessible mountain and the Hebrew scriptures reflect that view. The Fall delayed this from happening, but moving toward this is the focus of all the Bible. The humans are tasked with "subduing" the earth, that is bringing it all under the authority of God so that the entire earth becomes an "Eden" as depicted in the last section of Revelation. I think Heiser is correct that what God does in the world, he desires to do through his representatives, even if He has to become human Himself to do it.

Eden was God’s home on earth. It was his residence. And where the King lives, his council meets. 44

The biblical version of the divine council at the divine abode includes a human presence. The theological message is that the God of Israel created this place not just as his own domain, but because he desires to live among his people. Yahweh desires a kingdom rule on this new Earth that he has created, and that rule will be shared with humanity. 47

Chapter 7, Eden— Like No Place on Earth, describes the nature and purpose of the garden and the imagers of God that were to care for it. It is important to understand that Eden and the rest of the earth were not identical. The human beings were to care for the garden, but they were to subdue the earth. One does not subdue that which is perfect. Heiser also points out God's commitment to administering, both the heavenly and earthly realms, through his imagers in each one. We see examples of the Divine Council's role in administration in 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4. God does this even though both groups of imagers are free to rebel, and they do rebel in both realms, yet God will accomplish His kingdom plan through both groups.

Adam and Eve lived in the garden. They cared for it. But the rest of the earth needed subduing. It wasn’t awful— in fact Genesis 1 tells us that it was habitable. But it wasn’t quite what Eden was. The whole world needs to be like God’s home. He could do the job himself, but he chose to create human imagers to do it for him. He issued the decree; they were supposed to make it happen. They were to do that by multiplying and following God’s direction. 51

God rules over the heavenly realm and the earthly realm with the genuine assistance of his imager-representatives. He decrees and they carry out his commands. These points are clear. What is perhaps less clear is that the way God’s will is carried out and accomplished is open— imagers can make free decisions to accomplish God’s will. God decrees the ends, but the means can (and apparently are at times) left up to the imagers. 54, 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reading The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser #2

HeiserI am continuing to read through The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser. In these chapters 3-5 Heiser lays out his basic thesis. God desires to rule heaven and earth through the representatives He has created. He has created a “Divine Council” through whom He rules in the heavenly realm and human beings through whom He rules in the earthly realm. God desires ultimately to bring these two realms together after overcoming the rebellions in both. 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. I am using the Kindle version of the book.…

In chapters 3, God's Entourage, and chapter 4, God Alone, Heiser describes the "Divine Council of God" and defends his view of it from some objections. Psalm 82 is Heiser's key passage on this, but this council is referred to all through scripture, especially in the Old Testament. The Divine council is a group of divine beings created by God, called "sons of God" in several places in the Bible, who witnessed creation and help YHWH administrate it. They are called elohim, which has the basic meaning of "supernatural or divine being. When elohim is used to refer to YHWH is takes a singular verb, but when it refers to the council it takes a plural verb (Ps 82.1). The arguments against this are that Psalm 82 is speaking about the Trinity or human leadership, but neither of these fit the context of the Psalm. This is not polytheism because YHWH is the only Creator and these other elohim are all created beings. There are no elohim like YHWH! Some of the members of this Divine Council become the demons (and other evil spiritual entities) whose reality is asserted throughout the scriptures. I think in these chapters Heiser makes a very good case for the existence of both the evil and good hierarchies of created supernatural spiritual beings.

God has created a host of nonhuman divine beings whose domain is (to human eyes) an unseen realm. And because he created them, he claims them as his sons, in the same way you claim your children as your sons and daughters because you played a part in their creation. 25

The biblical use of elohim is not hard to understand once we know that it isn’t about attributes. What all the figures on the list have in common is that they are inhabitants of the spiritual world. In that realm there is hierarchy. For example, Yahweh possesses superior attributes with respect to all elohim. But God’s attributes aren’t what makes him an elohim, since inferior beings are members of that same group. The Old Testament writers understood that Yahweh was an elohim— but no other elohim was Yahweh. He was species-unique among all residents of the spiritual world. 31-32

Ancient people did not believe that their gods were actually images of stone or wood. We misread the biblical writers if we think that. What ancient idol worshippers believed was that the objects they made were inhabited by their gods. 35

In chapter 5, As in Heaven, so on Earth, Heiser discusses the meaning and significance of humans being "in the image of God." When God says, "Let us make man in our image," Heiser says that he is addressing the Divine Council, and is asking them to watch Him create man on earth. The point is that the Divine Council images God in heaven and human beings will image God in the physical world. The image of God, thus, is not an ability or capacity, but an assigned responsibility to be God's representative. Eden was to be the place where the heavenly imagers and the earthly imagers would come together and we see this realized in Revelation when the "heavenly Jerusalem" and the renewed earth become one. This, the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, is the main theme of the entire Bible.

The story of the Bible is about God’s will for, and rule of, the realms he has created, visible and invisible, through the imagers he has created, human and nonhuman. This divine agenda is played out in both realms, in deliberate tandem. Michael S Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 38

We are created to image God, to be his imagers. It is what we are by definition. The image is not an ability we have, but a status. We are God’s representatives on earth. To be human is to image God. Heiser, 42-43

A Couple of Good Sundays

20170910_192932 (1280x960)I mentioned a couple weeks ago how much I enjoy it when people come by and see me. I have not been able to get out much because of issues with the cancer, edema and chemotherapy. I have been able to attend only two church services since December, so I have also appreciated the church leaders who have brought communion to me. The next few months will probably be more of the same as the transplant process looks like it will be a very rigorous process with a lot of hospitalization time and a difficult recovery. So yesterday was a good day for me. I started out the way I usually start Sunday, with a Youtube sermon. Yesterday’s sermon was on Job and suffering from Tim Keller (Go figure right? That one kind of jumped off the menu to me). It was quite encouraging (and convicting) to me. Then my brother Doug, came up from the Bay Area and spent the whole afternoon and evening with me and the family. We watched some (a lot) of football, talked and enjoyed sandwiches, donuts and other goodies. It was good family time and, although I was exhausted by 8PM, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

20170903_134948 (1280x960)Last week the Plaxtons answered the call with Subway sandwiches and frozen yogurt. Again we had a good time of eating and talking together. One of the hazards of visiting me is that I never know how I am going to feel, even when I am feeling good when people arrive. I had begun the immuno-chemotherapy on Friday and I think it hit me as we were finishing lunch. I had to lay down or fall down. So I laid down and fell asleep most of the afternoon while they were there. I think they still had a good time with Joyce and my parents. Joyce and I are very thankful that there are so many people who care about us and are praying for us.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My NFL Predictions For This Season

49ers 2013

One can’t be serious all the time so I thought the time was ripe for another post making my NFL predictions for the 2017 season. I have done this a few times in the past, but not the last couple years. I am not a prophet, or the even the son of a prophet, and my past predictions have been pretty bad (just like the experts you see on TV) but it is fun to do it. I am looking forward to this season because I think my 49ers are going to be a little better. So my first prediction is that they will win 5-7 games this year. I am looking for them to steadily improve over the next three years and become more like the great team they were in the 80’s and 90’s. We also have a family fantasy football league on NFL.com. My team started out badly Thursday night (Brady is my QB) but I still hope to achieve my main goal of not getting beat by Joyce’s team every time we play. Yep, that happened last year. So below are my predictions for the coming year. You can hold me accountable. <Smile> The picture above is from my 2013 predictions.

NFC Playoff Teams: Cardinals, Packers, Falcons, Giants, Wild Cards: Cowboys, Seahawks

AFC Playoff Teams: Raiders, Texans, Patriots, Steelers, Wild Cards: Chiefs, Titans

NFC Playoffs: Round One: Cardinals over Cowboys, Giants over Seahawks

                        Round Two: Cardinals upset Falcons, Packers over Giants

                        NFC Championship: Packers over Cardinals

AFC Playoffs: Round One: Steelers over Titans, Chiefs over Texans

                        Round Two: Raiders over Steelers, Patriots over Chiefs

                        AFC Championship: Raiders over Patriots

Super Bowl: Raiders 34 – Packers 31

We will revisit this post next February and see how I did!

Friday, September 08, 2017

Medical Update: Another Stanford Adventure

20170906_131932 (960x1280)20170906_131956 (960x1280)Joyce and I headed down to Stanford for our medical consult yesterday. It was a long day. We left El Dorado a little before 9 AM. We arrived back home a little after 9:30 PM. With heavy traffic it took us about three and a half hours to get to Stanford and about five hours to get back home. We did take an hour to stop at Olive Garden for a little dinner on the way home. The purpose of the visit was to discuss with the doctors, nurses and the social worker what was involved in the bone marrow transplant process. It's not official yet, all my doctors still need to consult, but it looks like I will be a bone marrow transplant patient starting sometime this month. We learned a lot yesterday about what this means. It will be at least a six to eight week process once my chemo puts me back in remission. Below is what we're probably looking at over the next two months. This is a best case scenario, if complications come up it will make this process even longer.

Tomorrow: I will get my second immuno-chemotherapy. 20170907_085512 (720x1280)Hopefully this will clean out all the lymphoma from my lymph system and my blood. After after a couple weeks I will get another PET scan and another bone marrow biopsy to determine the status of the cancer. If these are clear we will proceed to the next step. If they are not clear I will do another round of immuno-chemotherapy and we'll try again 3 weeks later.

Mobilization : This step involves moving stem cells out of the bone marrow and into the blood for collection. It is accomplished by administering chemotherapy and hormones to stimulate the recovery of my white blood cells I will get some chemotherapy and receive a hormone to stimulate the blood cells. This will also involve a surgical procedure in which they will remove the port I have in my chest and put one in that can be used in both directions at the same time; putting in and taking out.

Collection:  When my blood and bone marrow are clear of cancer they will quickly proceed to collect the stem cells from my blood before the cancer has a chance to recur. This will be done in 3 or 4 days at the Stanford Hospital. I'm hoping that they will be able to do this the first week of October. If the collection is successful they will store it for when they need to transplant it back into my body.

20170907_085543 (720x1280)Preparation Regimen: After a couple weeks of rest, I will return to Stanford for a three-week stay. The first week I will receive 3 chemotherapy drugs in large doses that are administered three times over a six-day period.  Basically this will wipe out all of my white blood cells and hopefully all traces of the lymphoma. Because my immune system will be basically gone, I will need to stay in the hospital under observation for the whole three weeks.

Transplant: Then, at some point during my 3 week stay in the Stanford Hospital, my stored stem cells will be transplanted back into my blood. If they are not able to harvest stem cells from my own blood, we will have to look for a compatible donor. I am really praying that it does not come to that because it creates many new risks.

Follow Up: it will take several weeks for my blood counts to recover and for my body to heal from the preparation regimen and stem cell transplant. I will need to be seeing the doctor for at least 3 months afterward (doctor said maybe a year) for follow up to see how the transplant is working. The key to all this is to get clean stem cells from my own body. The doctor yesterday told us that if they can get the clean stem cells the odds of success are 70 to 80%. That sounds pretty good to me.

We arrived at Stanford about 12:15 for our 12:30 appointment. We missed lunch and had a protein bar in the waiting room. The consulting and blood draws took us until about 4:30. Again, we were very impressed with the 20170907_100559 (720x1280)time the doctors and nurses took with us and how they treated us as human beings not just patients. The social worker was especially helpful and is going to be helping us find housing for the two hospital stays and will also assist us with finances and issues with medical insurance. It's going to be a long hard road, but at least we have a good idea of what we're facing now.

So we headed out into 5 o’clock traffic, going through San Francisco and over the Bay Bridge, on our way back to El Dorado. By the time we got to Vallejo we were starving so we headed into Olive Garden for a nice dinner for the two of us. By the time we got back to El Dorado it was almost bedtime. It was a long day but I think it was very productive. Hopefully, we have our next two to three months planned out. As I said, this is a best case scenario. A lot of things can happen, but again we know these are in God's hands. I know a lot of people were praying for us yesterday. Thank you very much and we would ask that you continue in prayer as we head into this next phase of our cancer adventure. We appreciate your prayers and we will keep you informed on how it goes.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Reading The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser #1

HeiserMy Old Testament devotional postings for 2017-18 will take a little bit different direction. I will be reading through some OT theologies, devotionals and other interesting OT themed books. I am starting with The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser. I think this is a very important book with an important message for anyone who teaches or wants to learn what the Bible is all about. We will start with the first two chapters of the book which lay out the hermeneutic ground rules for his biblical theology. 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. I am using the Kindle version of the book.…

The purpose of this book is to look at the "unseen realm," the spirit world, as it is seen in the Bible, apart from modern approaches, and as it would have been understood by its original ancient audience. The first short introductory chapter, Reading Your Bible Again- For the First Time, relates the "watershed moment" for the author when he realized that Psalm 82 taught that there was a heavenly "Divine Council" of supernatural beings that were under God's judgment for mismanaging the nations. This blew apart his rationalistic understanding of the text and drove him to try to understand the OT in its original cultural and literary contexts. Thus, the main point of the book is to get the reader to interpret the Bible in the context of its ancient supernatural worldview. I agree that this is critical. My experience as a missionary is that the unseen spirit realm affected my ministry regularly, as it does in the biblical narrative, and yet Western Christians tend to act as though this realm does not exist. This is why I chose to blog through this book.

A theology of the unseen world that derives exclusively from the text understood through the lens of the ancient, premodern worldview of the authors informs every Bible doctrine in significant ways...What you’ll read in this book will change you. You’ll never be able to look at your Bible the same way again. 13

Seeing the Bible through the eyes of an ancient reader requires shedding the filters of our traditions and presumptions. They processed life in supernatural terms. Today’s Christian processes it by a mixture of creedal statements and modern rationalism. I want to help you recover the supernatural worldview of the biblical writers— the people who produced the Bible. 13

The second chapter of the book, Rules of Engagement, lays out the principles by which Heiser interprets and correlates scripture, his hermeneutic. He says that we tend to interpret scripture with filters, by which we understand it, but our modern filters keep us from understanding scripture as it was originally intended. We tend to filter out verses that don't fit our overall worldview, which means that we rationalistic moderns tend to filter out things that are supernatural and weird, or that don't fit with our preferred systematic theology. Instead we need to read scripture as a mosaic, in which ALL the parts, which may not make sense by themselves, put together provide the unifying meaning, a complete biblical theology. Tradition is important, but we need to read the Bible with our traditions, not under them. It is more important to interpret the Bible according to its own cultural, literary, and historical context and then adjust our overall theologies accordingly, in concert with others in the body of Christ who are doing the same thing. I have the same concern as Heiser: that we restore the supernatural worldview of scripture and re-open ourselves to the unseen world, our interaction with it, and miracles. If we really believe in a Triune God, virgin birth, and bodily resurrection already, why not? 

Psalm 82 has at its core the unseen realm and its interaction with the human world. And that psalm isn’t the only piece like that; there are lots of them. In fact, the intersection of our domain and the unseen world— which includes the triune God, but also a much more numerous cast— is at the heart of biblical theology. 15

Modern Christianity’s view of the unseen world isn’t framed by the ancient worldview of the biblical writers. One segment wrongly consigns the invisible realm to the periphery of theological discussion. The other is so busy seeking some interaction with it that it has become unconcerned with its biblical moorings, resulting in a caricature. 17

My main contribution is synthesis of the ideas and articulating a biblical theology not derived from tradition but rather framed exclusively in the context of the Bible’s own ancient worldview. 20

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #1 (Intro and 1-4)

Keener MatthewWith this post we begin a new series reading through the New Testament which will go through August of next year. We begin by reading through the Gospel of Matthew accompanied by Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version (for some reason I cannot make the page numbers come up in the quotes) of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Keener begins by stating his desire to write a commentary that will "echo and apply Matthew's own message." He applies all the critical methods because he believes they tend to support the historicity of Matthew's biography of Jesus. He sees Matthew as using Mark and Q as his major sources, but that he also had other sources unknown to us. For example, he may have taken notes when Jesus was speaking. Keener suggests that we read through each Gospel completely to get the impact and unique message it brings and that is exactly what we are going to do this year with each book of the New Testament.

Jesus ate with sinners as he won them to God’s kingdom, and reserved his fiercest denunciations for those who claimed to be doing God’s will but were not doing so.

Rather than reading a story about Jesus here and there, skipping from one Gospel to another, Christians should read the Gospels the way God chose to give them to us, one Gospel at a time. Further, we should read the Gospels as narratives, as stories (in this case true stories). Like the first Christian readers, we must ask, “What is the moral or point of this story?”

As Christians we also read each book of the Bible as a message from God. We ask a final question: “Given what God inspired the author to say to the book’s first audience, how does this message address God’s people and our society today?”...For us the Bible is both history and literature, but it is far more: it is a message from God that we live by.

Keener tentatively puts the writing of Matthew in the 70's, within 40 years of the resurrection, and sees the member of the 12, Matthew, as having a part in the production of the Gospel, with it probably being completed by his disciples. Matthew was written to a Jewish audience which was being persecuted and in conflict with rabbinic Judaism. Thus, the emphasis is on Jesus as Messiah and the completer of the expectations of the Old Testament prophecies and history. Jesus also was the living "Shekinah," God's presence among humans.

Matthew probably functions as a discipling manual, a “handbook” of Jesus’ basic life and teaching, relevant to a Jewish Christian community engaged in the Gentile mission and deadlocked in scriptural polemic with their local synagogue communities.

One of the most prominent characteristics of Matthew’s Jesus is how he fulfills Scripture, sometimes literally and sometimes as the embodiment of Israel’s history. Matthew is clear that Jesus is the goal of the Law and Prophets; hence anyone faithful to the heritage and the Bible of Israel must recognize and follow him. 

When Christians dare to believe that they are citizens of a future age, empowered by the Spirit who rules among them, they will begin to live like people of the future age instead of letting the world define their identity and establish their values. Through the Spirit, Christians can live out the reality that Jesus is King of the deepest values and sentiments of their hearts (Gal 5:16).

Matthew records events from Jesus' childhood and early preparation for ministry to show that he is the culmination of God's plan for the history of Israel and the mission to the Gentiles, and that, as Savior, he identifies with people in their pain and depression and saves them through it.

Matthew begins with a genealogy to show a basic truths about Jesus' mission: He came as the culmination of God's plan for Israel to bless the entire world. Besides detailing Jesus royal lineage, Matthew includes four Gentile women that married into the royal family and typify God's plan to bless the world. In the birth story of Jesus, while Luke emphasizes Mary story, Matthew emphasizes the righteousness of Joseph. Joseph chooses to obey what God tells him in a dream rather than cling to his honor which would have allowed him to divorce Mary. Joseph chooses obedience over cultural norms and the honor of his peers.

Genealogies like those in Genesis typically list a person’s descendants after this phrase, rather than his ancestors. Matthew’s point here is profound: so much is Jesus the focal point of history that his ancestors depend on him for their meaning. In other words, God sovereignly directed the history of Israel and preserved David’s line because of his plan to send Jesus. Matthew 1:2-17

As God “with us,” Jesus is also the fully human one who save[s] his people by the cross. Matthew thus invites us to consider and worship the God who accepted the ultimate vulnerability, born as an infant to poor and humiliated parents into a world hostile to his presence. Oppressors must hate such a God, for his abandonment of power for love is contrary to everything they stand for. But the broken and oppressed find in him a Savior they can trust in a world where trust is generally dangerous. Of all the world’s faiths, only Christianity announces a God who embraced our pain with us. Matthew 1:18-25

The story of the Magi is another of the indications that Matthew is concerned for the mission to the Gentiles. The irony here is that pagans are honoring God's Messiah, while the religious leaders of the Jews, who know enough to know where Messiahs born, are not willing to go out of their way even to go find him. Herod typifies the oppressor of God's people. He reminds one of pharaoh. And like the Israelites in Egypt, Jesus's family becomes refugees fleeing Herod, but preserved by God. Ultimately the oppressor dies and God's plan goes on. Jesus lives his early life in Nazareth and Matthew makes a word play off the Hebrew word nazar, the “branch,” to show that the plan for Messiah will start small, but moves on despite the opposition of the world.

God who rules the heavens chose to reveal himself where the pagans were looking. Without condoning astrology, Matthew’s narrative challenges our prejudice against outsiders to our faith: even the most pagan of pagans may respond to Jesus if given the opportunity. What a resounding call for the church today to pursue a culturally sensitive yet uncompromising commitment to missions! Matthew 2:1-12

The past exodus with which Jesus identified (Hos 11:1) was the historic sign of the covenant anticipating a new exodus (Hos 11:11). By quoting the beginning of the passage, Matthew evokes the passage as a whole and shows how Jesus is the forerunner of the new exodus, the time of ultimate salvation. Matthew uses God’s pattern in history to remind us that our call and destiny, not the ridicule of outsiders, must define us. We are the people of the new exodus, the people of God’s kingdom. Matthew 2:15

Matthew 3-4 record the preparation and early organization of Jesus' calling and ministry. In chapter 3 Jesus submits to John's baptism as a witness to the nation, which John and God the Father confirm, that Jesus will bring in the promised kingdom. John's lifestyle and message confirm that he is the promised Elijah who will announce the coming of Messiah. He calls the nation to a change of lifestyle (repent) to become ready for the kingdom and denounces the religious leaders who have misused their position for personal gain. John challenges all of us to live our lives according to the promises of God's word rather than allow our culture to dictate our lifestyle.

Matthew is telling us that John lived simply, with only the barest forms of necessary sustenance. Although God calls only some disciples to such a lifestyle (Mt 11:18–19), this lifestyle challenges all of us to adjust our own values. Others’ needs must come before our luxuries (Lk 3:11; 12:33; 14:33), and proclaiming the kingdom is worth any costMatthew 3:1-12

Jesus’ example also calls us to offer ourselves sacrificially for an undeserving world as he offered himself for us. In a world that regards moral boundaries as impractical, where nothing higher than selfish passion guides many lives around us, Jesus reminds us of a higher mission and purpose for our lives. By submitting to baptism by one of lower rank who was nevertheless fulfilling his calling, Jesus also models humility for us. Matthew 3:13-17

Keener makes the point that all callings from God must be tested. Jesus passes his test in the temptation. He repeats the history of Israel in the wilderness, but he passes the test that they failed and trusts God for all His needs. He resists the temptation to use God's power for selfish needs, for getting God to miraculously back his own agenda, or to gain political power. Jesus uses scripture in context to defend against temptation while the devil tempts by taking scriptures out of context. Chapter 4 ends with the beginning organization of Jesus' ministry. Matthew defends Jesus' choice of Galilee as a base of operations and emphasizes the prophesied outreach to the Gentiles. Keener also sees Matthew emphasizing the high cost of following Jesus and a holistic view of ministry that meets the physical and spiritual needs of people.

Political and social involvement are important; marketing strategies are not necessarily wrong; but when we substitute any other means of transforming society for dependence on God, we undercut the very purpose for our mission...Atheists and Christians often use the same methods of social change; but if we genuinely embrace a faith worth defending, can we also have the faith to go beyond those methods and depend on God to give us revival? The temptation narrative strikes at the heart of human religion and worldly conceptions of power—and reminds us of how close that danger can come to believers. Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus cared about people in their totality and was concerned for their pressing needs. His example summons us to a more well-rounded ministry that preaches the gospel through evangelism and demonstrates the gospel through ministries of compassion, justice and Spirit-empowered healing. Matthew 4:23

Here We Go Again…

20170903_100620 (960x1280)This second round of cancer treatment begins in earnest this week. It actually began two weeks ago when I begin the second round of immuno-chemotherapy. It has been an interesting two weeks of recovering from the first chemo session as I've had a pretty different reaction than I had in the first round of chemo. So I'm not too sure what to expect in the second installment of this round. We are also probably looking at, at least, a two month odyssey as we go through this second round. Here's what is coming up…

Tuesday:  I get a complete blood test to see if I'm ready for the immuno-chemotherapy session that will take place on Friday. My blood numbers have been good over the last couple months so I'm anticipating this will go well.

Wednesday: Joyce and I will head down to Stanford for a consult on the upcoming stem cell transplant. The appointment is at 1PM and we will be there probably until about 4:30. I have a lot of questions about what a stem cell transplant consists of so I'm looking forward to this consult. One impressive thing about the doctors at Stanford is how much time they take with you. The first half of the consult will be with the doctors who will be doing the stem cell transplant. They'll be telling me what to expect, which I've been eager to hear. The second half of the consult will be with the social worker who will explain the side issues; insurance etc. that go with us. We will have some opportunity to discuss our future Insurance options, possible disability status, and other issues like that. Will drive back up to El Dorado after that appointment.

Friday: Friday morning we will begin the second session of the second round of the of immuno-chemotherapy. Last time it took about 2 hours. I would anticipate about the same time frame on this one. Hopefully, Joyce will stay upright throughout the whole procedure and be able to drive me home instead of having to go to the hospital in an ambulance.

Monday:  We are scheduled to go back to Stanford with another consult with the Stanford oncologists. They will be going over the bigger picture of our treatment over the next few months. At least I think that's what we'll be talking about. Hopefully after this consult we will know a lot more about what's going on.

So, this coming week is going to be a very busy one. We would appreciate your prayers for a good outcome to the chemotherapy and a good outlook in terms of the stem cell transplant. There are a lot of issues that are up in the air for us, but God knows what's coming and is walking through it with us. Thank you for praying for us. We appreciate it very much and would appreciate a few extra prayers being thrown up for us this week. God bless and thank you.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

On the “Bench”

20170831_121148 (1280x960)One of the hardest things about having my cancer is that I feel like I've kind of been "put on the bench" in terms of ministry, and even in terms of fellowship.  I haven't been able, over the past 9 months, to get out in public and interact with people. I've actually only been to a church service twice since I was diagnosed with cancer in December. Most of that is due to the fact that I can't sit up for long periods of time.  In one way this has been a good thing. I've been able to spend a lot of extra time in study, in prayer, and enriching myself by taking Bible courses on YouTube. One fellow missionary mentioned to me that I had not taken a sabbatical or a furlough in the last 14 years, so God has been enforcing one on me over this past 9 months. I think he may be right. The downside is that I get bored quite often. I really do miss interacting with people. I'm looking forward to moving next door to the church at Gold Country Baptist, where we will be able to, hopefully, see more people. We should be moving there in a couple weeks. I do get tired if there is too much interaction, but I'm looking forward to being able to see more people.

20170831_121340 (960x1280)In the meantime, I have appreciated the ministry of the Gold Country Baptist elders. Three times one or more of the elders have been to my parents' house to minister the elements of communion to me. This was a very significant encouragement to me. I really miss participating in corporate worship. I've also had other pastor friends come and celebrate the Eucharist with me as well. Being on the other side of this situation has really reminded me of how important it is to reach out to the sick or disabled within our churches. That's something that is often gets overlooked, especially in big churches. So I would urge you to reach out to somebody that, perhaps, you haven't seen in a while because they've been sick or unable to come to church. And I would also invite you to come by and visit with Joyce and me sometime. I'm very thankful for the way God has ministered to me since I've been sick, both directly and through His people. I have really experienced the love of Christ through several generous and loving people and I am very very thankful for that. Thank you for praying for us too. God bless.