Friday, December 29, 2017

The “ABC’s” of 2017 #5 (V-Z)

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This post concludes our “end of the year” newsletter. God has taken me back to school to learn the basics, the ABC’s of life, faith, and work for the kingdom in this world. Here is some more reflection on the “adventures” that having lymphoma brought into my life and some more theological  thoughts prompted by them. The picture above was taken in July at the Me-One “family cancer camp” at Mission Springs in Scotts Valley. The picture below right is one of the chemicals infused in me in November and below left is from an encouraging September visit from our friends from Guam, the Vigils.

V: 20171013_095313 (768x1024)Vincristine: Vincristine was one of the drugs I received in my first round of chemotherapy. Before chemo I was given a paper describing what I should expect to happen to me. Here is what it said, "Common side effects of vincristine sulfate injection include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, bloating, stomach/abdominal pain or cramps, mouth sores, dizziness, headache, hair loss, constipation, loss of appetite, changes in sense of taste, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet." These were pretty typical side effects of all 7 chemotherapy drugs I was privileged to experience. At some point I experienced the side effects that are in red in the quote above. Actually, I was quite blessed to have "mild" experiences of many of these side effects. The nurses commented that I was "lucky" to be able to handle chemo so well. I am thankful for that but hope that I do not have to go through the experience gain.

W: White Blood Cells: Never in my life have a I been so concerned about my white blood cells, and other blood counts, as I have been in 2017. It was a blood test that revealed that something was severely wrong with me a year ago and blood counts that were a major factor in determining my treatments, what I could and could not do and whether or not I had to be in the hospital throughout the year. While I was in Stanford hospital, Joyce and I waited each evening to hear what my blood counts that day were, because it indicated how I was recovering from the transplant and chemo. It is amazing to me how God has made the body to be so vulnerable and yet so resilient at the same time. A month ago I had no immune system and now it seems to be functioning properly. There are so many little things in the body that can go wrong, it could make us worry and fear constantly. But, just as God somehow holds the universe together, He also holds the mini-universe that is the human body together too.  Both of these "universes" will wear out someday, but we hold to the promise that both of them will be renewed to eternal life some day. 

X: X-rays: I have lost count of the X-Rays, PET scans, MRI's etc. that have looked inside my body this year. Sometimes they told a sad story that made me wonder if I would survive the year. Other times they delivered good news that gave me hope. Sometimes that hope was dashed by a subsequent scan. Waiting from scan to X-ray to scan could drive you crazy. What kept me from going crazy in this process was the promise that my future is really in God's hands and that is where I had to daily place it as I faced this (Psalm 31.5). I am now waiting for another scan in a couple months that will indicate that my body will remain cancer-free as well as that can be humanly determined. I am a little anxious, but continue to pray Jesus' prayer of faith in trial: “Into your hands I commit my spirit (life).” That is a prayer that applies in this life and beyond this life.

20170925_173848 (1024x768)Y: "YALEN": Okay, I confess that I couldn't think of a "Y" word for this post, so I decided to come up with an acronym to replace YOLO ("You only live once"). That one is such bad theology that I thought we needed a new one. So I came up with YALEN: "You are living eternally now." I am open to improvements on this acronym! :) This keeps the urgency of "seizing the day" contained in YOLO, but recognizes that we, as Christians, are acting today in the "already kingdom of God" to invest in the future "not-yet" kingdom of God. Everything we do as the imagers of God in this world today has an effect now that carries over into eternity. Every act done to serve God's people and God's mission today is an investment in our future participation in the new heaven and earth when they come together in the fully realized kingdom of God. This gives an urgency and deep meaning to everything we do today, tomorrow and so on. The smallest act done for God and others has eternal significance.  

Z: Zofran: I am very thankful for the drug Zofran. One of the reasons I did not experience so badly the nausea associated with chemotherapy was that Zofran, an anti-nausea drug, was given to me before every chemo session and I had an ample supply of Zofran pills for the aftermath. I was told not to deny myself at all, but to take a Zofran pill "every time you feel the least bit queasy." I did have some nausea and vomiting. Brushing teeth seemed to be the time when I got most nauseous. Missy told me that "now you know how pregnant women feel," so there is that experience I can cross off my "bucket list." Again, I see God's work in the advances made in medicine, especially cancer treatment, in the last few years. That creative image of God seen in these advances reflects God's care for His creation. I pray that more human effort could come from that side of our human nature now, and I look forward to the day when all creation is redeemed and that bent toward the evil, destructive side of our nature is fully removed.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #6

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapter 6 is entitled Nouns: Yahweh as Constant and focuses on the noun metaphors which became characteristic descriptions of God in the Old Testament. 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 theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

In Chapter 6, Brueggemann discusses the nouns the Old Testament writers use to "identify the constancy, substance, and graspability of YHWH and that "name and characterize Yahweh in this explanatory narrative of testimony." (229) Of course, one cannot characterize God because His Substance is far beyond human words, so these nouns must be understood as metaphors. One must meditate on how God is both like and not like the human terms (judge, king, warrior, father) used to describe YHWH. Human judges, kings, warriors and fathers have some correspondence but fall far short of what God is. Terms of governance like "Judge," "King," and "Warrior" describe God's earned right to actively implement and continue His rule over all people to bring about justice, order and well-being to those who recognize His rule, discipline those who sin against it, and actively protect it from those who would try to destroy it. The idea of "father" emphasizes God as the Creator who cares for and wants the best for His children, disciplines them to help them reach their divine potential and protects them from both natural and supernatural enemies. 

Metaphors, are nouns used to characterize the Subject, God. But because the metaphor does not fully match the elusive Subject, the Subject both “is” and “is not” made available in the utterance of the noun. Thus when Israel testifies, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” the noun shepherd gives Israel certain specific access to Yahweh. At the same time, Yahweh is not a shepherd. This is not because shepherd is a poor or inadequate metaphor, but because speech about the elusive Yahweh, in its very character, allows for this reservation. 231

Yahweh as warrior is the one who, as a judge committed to a rule of law, acts to stabilize, maintain, or implement that rule, over which the king will preside. As in the case of judge and king, the notion of Yahweh as warrior serves as a critical principle, in order to assert that Yahweh will fight against and defeat all the illicit claimants to public power. 241

In all of these images, Yahweh is known in Israel as an utterly reliable God, a father who cares, a judge who seeks justice, a king who provides order, a warrior who defends and protects. In all of these aspects, Israel bears witness to a good and generous Agent who makes life possible. The severity of Yahweh is an intentional severity that is understood as a function of the fundamental ordering of reality for which Yahweh is responsible and about which Yahweh cares intensely. Thus the actions of Yahweh that have a destructive dimension are sanctions and enforcements of an ordered regime that will brook no threat or fundamental challenge. 249

The rest of chapter 6 describes five "metaphors of sustenance which are not as stern or rigorous, but which represent Yahweh as one who nurtures, evokes, values, and enhances life." (250) YHWH is seen as an artist/potter who wants to create beauty and order in people, nations and the rest of creation. He is a Healer/Doctor who heals the diseases caused by the Fall when His people are willing to recognize their need and trust Him for help. He is a Gardener/Vinekeeper who enables his people to produce good works and represent Him well. Yahweh is a compassionate Mother who conceives and births Israel and thus has deep compassion that continues to forgive and reach out to Her people. YHWH is a shepherd who protects and sustains His people. These metaphors can also have a negative side (the potter may need to smash the fatally flawed pot or the doctor cannot heal the patient who refuses to admit sickness) but overall they are more consistently positive than the metaphors discussed earlier in the chapter. Brueggemann concludes by mentioning that there are many other metaphors used in the OT to describe God. Israel felt free to invent new metaphors to describe God, as they experienced His new actions in their lives. We should feel free to do this as well.

Yahweh has the will and capacity to rehabilitate persons, nations, and all of creation that are distorted. The healing is wrought through Yahweh’s pathos and depends on truth-telling about “the diseases of Egypt.” 255

Yahweh is said to have “carried (Israel) from the womb” (Isa 46:3; cf. 63:9). Yahweh is also portrayed as the mother who comforts Israel in Jerusalem...The motif of drawn into Yahweh’s motherly functions as the one who will feed, care for, sustain, and remember Israel in its time of exilic displacement and postexilic distress. Thus the image is one of enormous reassurance. 258
This field of noun-metaphors...means that the Subject of the verbs is decisively present in every phase of Israel’s life. Yahweh’s decisive presence, moreover, is not flat, thin, or predictable. It is, rather, as supple as metaphor can permit. Israel knows no other so alive, decisive, playing, caring, and demanding as the God who lives in and through this collage of nouns. None other!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The “ABC’s” of 2017 #4 (Q-U)

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This post continues our “end of the year” newsletter. God has taken me back to school to learn the basics, the ABC’s of life, faith, and work for the kingdom in this world. Here I focus on some more of the “adventures” that having lymphoma brought into my life and how God has worked to encourage, teach, and rebuke me through them. The picture above was a “selfie” taken in August at my parents’ house. The pictures below were taken in March when I had a rash reaction to a medication and in May during the ultrasound procedure that pronounced my urinary tract to be unobstructed.

Q: Questions and Questioning: When one gets a diagnosis of cancer many questions come to mind. What did I do that caused this? (probably nothing) Why me? (Why not me?) Why did God do this to me? (He probably didn't do it) Why did God allow this to happen? (Don't know, no one knows, Job didn't know, only God knows) Am I going to die? (Maybe, but we all have to die). I'd like to say it took a long time to work through these questions, but it is still an ongoing process. These questions still run through my head even though I know there is no definitive answer. The important question is "How am I going to respond to this new reality in my life?" and an even more important question, "Will God stay with me and minister to me in this situation?" The answer to the 2nd question is unequivocally YES! God has taught me things and ministered to me in ways that I never thought possible. I think that facing death in the presence of God has better equipped me to face life. The answer to the 1st question is ongoing. I have to answer that one every future day that God lets me live. God is good even when you go through cancer.

20170323_134036 (768x1024)R: Rashes: Rashes have been both the 2nd most annoying side effect of my lymphoma (edema swelling is by far #1) and the symptom that originally alerted the doctors to my condition. It was a biopsy of the rash on my legs that confirmed the diagnosis of T-Cell Lymphoma and jump-started my treatment process. This may have been a major factor in saving my life. So when I get the very itchy rash in the middle of the night I try to console myself with that. I am also thankful for Atarax, which not only relieves the itching of the rash, but reduces any anxiety I am feeling and helps me sleep. Isn't it funny how something can be "good" and "bad" at the same time?

S: Sickness and Suffering: What has the sickness and suffering that has characterized my life in 2017 done for me? One big thing is that it has turned me into more of a person of prayer. I have always been very disciplined in my devotional life when it comes to Bible study and meditation, but have always struggled with a regular prayer life, especially one that is devoted to intercessory prayer. Being forced to be "inactive" and suffering myself has very much changed my perspective on that. 2017 has been a year of prayer for me. God has opened my eyes to the pressing need for intercessory prayer, especially for the sick. Never in my life have I prayed for people the way God pushed me into prayer this year. Never in my life have I had God minister to me in such a direct way as He has when I have been in prayer before Him, just using the Lord's prayer as an outline and then allowing the Spirit to lead as I pray. As I get healthier I don't want to forget this experience and lose this lesson. The need is always there even when we don't feel it.

T: Tired: With cancer you are tired all the time. Fatigue is a side effect of all the different chemotherapies. For most of the first half of the year after diagnosis I was going to bed around 9PM and waking up at about 9 the next morning. I have now pretty much settled into a 10PM bedtime and I wake up between 8 and 9 in the morning. My doctors have told me that it usually takes a year or two after transplant to return to a normal energy level. The loss of strength was also kind of embarrassing. I used to be the one that opened the lids of jars for Joyce, but now I sometimes needed her help to unscrew the lids of my water bottles. That was a bit of a humbling experience. So now 2018 looks to be a year of rebuilding and strengthening. I would appreciate your prayers that I stay cancer-free and that my body continues to recover from the chemotherapy, surgeries and treatments. I am hoping to get off the bench and into ministry/service again. I don't know what that will look like for me, but I am looking forward to it.

20170526_101201 (1280x960)U: Ultrasound: I thought ultrasound was only for checking on pre-born babies, but I am not pregnant and have had 3 or 4 ultrasounds (not sure how many I had when I was in ER with my kidney issues) in 2017. Mainly they have been used for diagnosing my kidney problem and guiding the treatment. I enjoyed getting to see my entire urinary system on the computer screen a couple times. I was especially happy when the May ultrasound showed that it was working properly. Ultrasound was also used to look at my edema to make sure it was not causing other health issues. The edema will be the next focus of treatment starting in March, assuming a clear PET scan before then. It is possible that, because of some permanent damage to some of my lymph nodes, the edema will be chronic and will need to be "managed" long term. I'd appreciate your prayers for that too. I am OK with God healing it completely, but it may be my "limp" that God gives for His glory. Either way it is in His hands.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from Dave and Joyce

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Merry Christmas!

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The caramel corn is ready. The cookies are baked and frosted. We wish all of you could join us for our celebration.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1.14 The Message

Our Christmas prayer is that God would enable us to live in such a way that we also bring the generous glory of God into our homes and neighborhoods in the coming year.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The “ABC’s” of 2017 #3 (L-P)

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This post continues our “end of the year” newsletter. God has taken me back to school to learn the basics, the ABC’s of life, faith, and work for the kingdom in this world. Here I focus on some of the “adventures” that having lymphoma brought into my life and how God ministered to Joyce and I in a very concrete way through them. The picture above was taken in July at our family get-together. The picture below was taken in September as we were preparing for the Stem Cell Transplant procedure.

L: Lymphoma: When I got my diagnosis of T-Cell Lymphoma I felt like I now knew who the enemy was. As several people told me, this was not just a physical battle. It has spiritual dimensions and should also be handled as spiritual warfare. So I imagined and prayed against the cancer cells as invaders that needed to be eliminated. As the chemo went into my body I prayed that each drop would be an "arrow of God" killing a lymphoma cell. I could see my body eliminating the dead cells (in my nephrostomy bag) and kept praying that all of it would be gone. After the transplant my body should be free of the lymphoma cancer. My prayer is that it remain free. I  believe God is going to do that and extend my life and ministry, but I know that even in my death, which has to come some day anyway, unless I make it to the 2nd coming, I have the victory over cancer and every other result of sin in Christ.

M: Matthew, Michael and Melissa: One highlight of 2017 for me was our get together with our kids and grandchildren in July. Matt and family drove up from San Diego and Mike and family (thanks to a gracious gift from their church) flew out from Cincinnati to join Missy, Leila, Joyce and I for several days at a cabin we rented up in Pollock Pines. This happened between my 1st and 2nd chemo sessions before the cancer recurred after the 1st and the subsequent 2nd chemo treatment. So this happened while I was feeling pretty good. We had a wonderful week together just being with each other enjoying and celebrating barbecue, swimming, hiking, fishing (sort of) and each other's general silliness. After so long where the only place I got out to was a doctor's office, it was encouraging to be with people, especially family. It helped give me the strength and purpose to face what was coming in the second half of the year. I do have to say that I do have eight very cute and smart grandkids. :)

20170913_151713 (960x1280)N: Neutropenic: A couple times in my treatment process I have become neutropenic. This means that my blood counts (red, white and platelets) dropped so low that basically I had no immune system. This is why at certain points I had to wear the HEPA mask whenever I was outside or in the proximity of anyone who could possibly be sick. I also had to avoid dust and smoke. Try to do that in California in the Fall! It is a little scary to be so defenseless. I had to spend 3 weeks in the hospital at Stanford at the lowest point of the blood counts. One day when I took a shower I  accidently cut myself with my fingernail (I wasn't allowed to cut my nails while I was neutropenic because of infection danger). It was a surface scrape which didn't even really penetrate all the layers of skin but it bled a lot. The shower looked like I had reprised the scene from Psycho (a slight hyperbole) and we had to watch the cut carefully for a while. The amazing thing though was how fast my body was able to recover from the neutropenic state (the stem cell transplant did speed up the process tremendously). The more I learn about the body the more I realize that we are certainly fearfully and wonderfully made. Thank you LORD!

O: One Day at a Time: "One day at a time" has been our theme for the whole recovery process. I am a guy who likes to make plans but the events of 2017 shot all my plans to pieces. I had no control over where I would be in the near or far future because I had no control over my own body. Tomorrow was no longer a guarantee. I do think the biggest lesson of the year for me is that the control I thought I had over my own life was basically an illusion. We can't even guarantee our next breath. So we had to learn just to deal with today and not worry about tomorrow, because as Jesus said, "Today’s trouble is enough for today." What I have found in this is freedom. Now one of my daily prayers is Psalm 31.5, "Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God." So now, though we still plan, we realize all our plans are tentative. I am excited about the future no matter how many days here on earth it will be.

P: Prednisone: There was no doubt in my mind that P would be represented by Prednisone. Cytoxan was the most devastating chemical I received in chemo, but Prednisone was by far my least favorite. During the sessions of the first round of chemo I had to take it for five days after each of six sessions. It caused me to blow up like a balloon. One time I gained over 20 pounds of water weight in two days of taking it. I felt bad for my mom and dad because Prednisone made me voraciously hungry and I was out of control eating everything in the kitchen including my dad's hidden stash of cookies. It also made me crazy. I saw giant spiders spinning webs above my bed and heard "people" in the house at night. It gave me several sleepless nights with wild and crazy things running through my head. Of course, it did give me some of my most creative ideas and helped me write poetry, songs and a few blog posts. During that time I also had God speak and minister to me in ways that I cherish to get me through some of the darkest nights. I hope I don't have to take it again, but I am blessed, in an odd sort of way, to have had the experience.

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #5

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapter 5 is entitled Adjectives: Yahweh with Characteristic Markings and focuses on the general descriptions of God in the Old Testament. 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 theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

In chapter 5 Brueggemann moves from verbs which describe what YHWH does to adjectives in the Old Testament which describe the character of YHWH. From specific actions of YHWH, the Old Testament writers make general assertions about what YHWH is like. This description begins with Exodus 34.6-7, the self-revelation of God to Moses, when He is reestablishing His covenant with Israel after the golden calf incident. The first four descriptions, "slow to anger," "has steadfast love (hesed)," “abounds in faithfulness,” and "forgiving," describe God's fierce loyalty to the covenant with and well-being of His people despite their sin. However, the 5th description makes clear that the people have a serious responsibility within this covenant too because God will not release them from the multigenerational consequences of their sin and faithlessness, and may in fact discipline them severely to protect His Name, holiness and His faithful remnant. "The God of steadfast love is no wimp, but will act in the service of God’s own sovereignty, which in this case is to the enormous benefit of Israel." (220) The rest of the Old Testament provides many concrete examples of these aspects of God's character in action. Like the Old Testament writers we should not be relying on abstract descriptions of God in our witness, but on concrete examples of how God has worked relationally as revealed in scripture and in our daily lives today. 

Yahweh’s life with Israel is marked by a fundamental, inalienable loyalty. Israel’s life, at this pivotal point of risk in Exodus 34, is now guaranteed by the assertion on the very lips of Yahweh that Yahweh abides for Israel in complete fidelity, even among those who enact “iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Exodus 34.6-7, Psalm 136, 217

Israel can recall enough about Yahweh’s characteristic fidelity so that Israel’s confidence in Yahweh overrides the moment of despair. Theologically, it is evident that Israel could not have responded in faith in the midst of such a crisis, had it not available a stylized rhetoric about the God of fidelity.  Lamentations 3.21-24, 222

The tension or contradiction is that Yahweh is for Israel (or more generally “for us,” pro nobis) in fidelity, and at the same time Yahweh is intensely and fiercely for Yahweh’s own self. These two inclinations of Yahweh are not fully harmonized here, and perhaps never are anywhere in the Old Testament... Along with love and care, there are holiness, wrath, and rage. 227

Friday, December 22, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #2 (Chapters 3-4)

Bock LukeThis post is the second in my reading through the Gospel of Luke accompanied by Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Darrell L. Bock. Chapters 3-4 record the preparation for and beginning of Jesus’ ministry. 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 of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue. Again, I am not sure why the page numbers in the IVP series do not come up in Logos, but I will reference the quotes with the corresponding scripture reference.

Chapter 3 records John's ministry of preparation of the nation for the coming of Messiah and then his presentation of Jesus when He comes. John is the promised Elijah who will prepare the hearts of the people to receive the Messiah. The preparation involves a hard look at one's character and actions in light of what God requires and to repent, change one's mind and heart. to what God wants. This evidence of this is in loving, merciful, relationships that serve God and others, especially the needy. Jesus is presented to the nation by John's baptism, in which He identifies with the plight of sinful humanity. Jesus is then validated by the Spirit descending as a dove and the voice of the Father, which identifies Him as the promised King, unique beloved Son of God, and the Servant promised through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, is now ready to carry out His mission.

What pleases God is responding to him and showing concrete kindness to others. Such kindness involves compassion and concern for those in need, an ethical value that has corporate and individual dimensions. Authority should mean not the wielding of power but faithful service. Such is to be the life of God’s saint still, as James 1:26–27 makes clear. Luke 3:1-20

In this short event heaven places its endorsing stamp on Jesus. He is the promised regal Son, the chosen one, unique in his call. He reveals the will of God and serves him. This is the one for whom John prepared the people. Anointed with the Spirit, Jesus is truly the Christ, a term that means “anointed one” (4:18). He is ready to minister and carry out his call. Luke 3:21-22

Jesus has a claim to the throne through David and is related to all humankind through Adam. He has the proper roots to be God’s promised one. He has the right heritage to inherit this ministry of deliverance. His roots extend to David, Abraham and Adam. God has carefully designed his plan. There are no historical surprises in Jesus. Ultimately all humanity is a unit, and Jesus is concerned with more than deliverance of the tiny, elect nation of Israel. Luke 3:23-38

Luke closes the section on Jesus' preparation and presentation for ministry with the account of His temptation (4.1-13). Jesus' character, trust in the Father, and reliance on the Spirit are proven in action and show that He is the One worthy to be Messiah and bringer of the Kingdom. In addition, Jesus reprises the temptations in the Garden of Eden and in the post-Exodus wilderness, but where Adam and Eve and Moses and the Israelites failed, Jesus passes perfectly. Jesus' trust in God's word and God's care provide the example for how we are to do God's kingdom work today.

Jesus’ numerous quotes from Deuteronomy in response to these wilderness temptations recall another time and place where temptation and God’s chosen met in the wilderness. During the exodus, the Israelite nation failed this test. Jesus succeeds where Israel failed. What is more, the genealogy immediately preceding this account has named Jesus as Son of Adam and Son of God. The echo of Genesis 3 cannot be missed. What Adam failed to do as representative of all humanity, Jesus succeeds in doing. Jesus’ success is the first of many TKOs Jesus will deliver against Satan. Darrell L. Bock, Luke 4.1-13

For Jesus, truth is living in awareness of God’s promise of care and relying on him even when God leads him into the wilderness. If Jesus is God’s beloved Son, as was declared at the baptism, God will care for him. Such trust is exemplary. Darrell L. Bock, Luke 4.1-13

4.14 begins a new section in which Jesus and His kingdom ministry is presented to the nation of Israel. The rest of chapter 4 introduces Jesus to the nation and focuses on His miracles and teaching. Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee and Luke has Jesus introduce Himself in a synagogue service in Nazareth. Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of all of God's kingdom promises to Israel. Sadly, his hometown people reject His claim. This will be repeated throughout the nation with disastrous consequences. The rest of the chapter summarizes Jesus ministry activity as he compassionately reaches out to heal the nation with physical healings, exorcisms, forgiveness and release of God's power. He shows that He has the authority to overcome the effects of sin and to overcome the oppression of the forces of darkness and evil. God's kingdom has come. How will the nation respond?

Jesus makes three points: (1) Jesus is anointed with the Spirit. (2) He is the prophet of fulfillment who declares good news...(3) Jesus is the one who brings release as well as the one who proclaims it. He is Messiah...The Son of David brings not only a future rule but also present release from sin and a reversal of the effects of Satan’s presence in the world. In short, this is the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise, and Jesus is the source of that fulfillment. Luke 4.14-30

Forces stand opposed to humanity that pull down and bring sin, pain and pressure. Being under demonic oppression is like being trapped in a prison of pain and despair. Jesus offers release from such pain and dark despair. That is what his miracles picture and point to, the reality beyond the act of the miracle (11:14–23). Luke 4.31-44

Jesus does not proclaim who he is; he lets events explain who he is. For him, actions speak louder than words. He is more than an ethical instructor or a psychologist; he has power to overcome the forces of evil that plague humanity. His ministry is not designed for a little corner, but it extends far and wide to take the message out to others. So Jesus takes his message and ministry to the other synagogues of Galilee. Luke 4.31-44

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The “ABC’s” of 2017 #2 (G-K)

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This post continues our “end of the year” newsletter. God has taken me back to school to learn the basics, the ABC’s of life, faith, and work for the kingdom in this world. You will see a focus on relationships in this post. This is what is most important to God. Theology, doctrine, ministry, work, knowledge etc. are not ends in themselves, but means or tools to get us to what is important: Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and Loving our neighbor as ourselves and Worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. I hope this post blesses you.

G: Gasoline: I know "gasoline" seems like an odd word for this post. But 2017 was a year for a lot of driving (Joyce did the driving, I could not drive all year, and still can't, because of edema swelling) as we had almost daily trips to the local doctors and several trips to Palo Alto for our appointments at Stanford. So transportation became very important. We have two cars, but they are both on Guam (I'll sell either one for a deeply discounted price if you are interested!). When the word went out about our need for a car one family at church offered their 2004 Toyota Sienna van for $20. What a gift from the LORD! We were able to take the seats out in the back and Joyce set up futons so that I could lay down for the trip to Stanford, which can take anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours depending on traffic. People, over and over, helped us with gas money and other funds we needed for hotel and Stanford apartment stays while we were there. We started the year wondering how we'd pay for all this. We ended the year praising God for how He provided. Why did we ever worry?

H: Hospitals: I have been to two hospitals and several medical facilities the last twelve months. The care, and by that I mean professional, physical, emotional and even spiritual care, has been amazing in all these facilities. Things have really changed since Joyce spent so much time in medical facilities back in 1988-95. I am thankful for how I was treated by many amazing people this year. But, what really stood out to me as I spent so much time there were the so many other patients and caregivers that I met in these facilities. First, my heart was broken to see SO MANY people suffering from various cancers and other devastating diseases. I was driven to prayer for them (something that I confess I have not done enough of before this year) and for the "kingdom of God to come fully" to set these things right and restore His creation to the wholeness it was meant to have. Secondly, I was amazed to see the faith, hope and loving desire to reach out to one another in that whole hospital community. There is something about cancer that drives people to God. Nobody there ever refused my greeting of blessing or my offer to pray for them. I wish we always had that perspective of the immediacy of God.

20170712_132527 (960x1280)I: Infusion, Infusion Treatment Area: I spent time in the infusion centers in the Marshall Oncology center and Hospital in El Dorado County and the ones in the Stanford Cancer Center and Hospital. These were also amazing, caring, positive communities. I felt like the nurses in infusion center in Cameron Park were our friends. They called me at home to make sure I was OK (Stanford people did the same) and we shared our lives with each other as the chemo came through the tubes and my port and entered my veins. I was also amazed with the port I had in the left side of my chest and the Hickman catheter I had in the right side of my chest. Through them the chemo could be sent right through a major artery, through my heart and out to all my body. This was all done through a tiny incision in my chest. Amazing! It reminded me how close the external, the skin, is to the heart. All the little things we do quickly affect the core, the heart. This is true in both the physical and spiritual realms.

J: Joyce is my official caretaker, lifeline, chauffeur and angel. After my kidney surgery in February when I was wheeled back into my hospital room she was sitting by the window waiting for me. When I saw her the sun was shining behind her and it looked like light was radiating out from her and I felt comforted that things were going to be OK. (True I was high as a kite from the anesthetic, but God can speak through that I am sure.) She has certainly kept her vow about marriage commitment "in sickness," and, to me, Joyce is the epitome of what Christian love and service looks like. I know I have the advanced degree in Biblical Studies, but I have seen and learned biblical love from her in a more and better way than I ever learned it in a classroom.

K: Kidneys and Killers: When we got to California on December 16, 2016 I knew something was really wrong because of the swelling that had happened during the flight. But we still did not have a specific diagnosis in February. Foolishly, I wanted things to move faster. And boy did they in February when the internal swelling of my lymph nodes cut off my right kidney and caused everything in there to back up. My kidney began to fail. Later, the doctors told me I was in danger of losing one or both kidneys and close to death when I went to the emergency room then. I had emergency surgery to drain the kidney the next day and, thank God, after a few months my right kidney fully recovered. Ironically, this episode prompted my medical team to move forward faster and, the day after the kidney surgery, I had a lymph node biopsy surgery. This surgery enabled the specific diagnosis of T Cell Lymphoma and I started treatment in March. Other cancer veterans had told me that it took many months to get treatment moving. The kidney that was almost my killer might have ended up saving my life because my chemo treatment began less than three months after our arrival in California and only a couple weeks after diagnosis. Many people have told me, and I agree, that all of this was a great miracle of God’s perfect timing.

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #4

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapter 4 is entitled Testimony in Verbal Sentences. The idea here is that Israel's testimony describes YHWH in terms of His actions in their experience. He was a God who did things to drive back the destructive chaos around them, protect them, teach them, and provide them with a stable life. 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 theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

The first and most important of these verbs is "create." The Hebrew verb bara', "create," is used only with God as its subject in the OT. God's action of creation in the OT is always seen in terms of the nation of Israel, but places Israel in the context of God's plan for all the world. Creation is seen as the basis for God's covenant with Israel and with the world. In creation, God pushes (a present and past activity) back the forces of chaos, darkness and death, and replaces those with order, light and an "extravagant" gift of life that provides beyond all that people need to enjoy life. Creation also places all people under God's care and under the limits and rules He has placed on it for functioning well. Creation is also used to show God's sovereignty and superiority to the gods of the other nations (especially Babylon). God's action "to create" must be the source or basis from which our understanding of the other actions of YHWH flow.

Israel’s testimony to Yahweh as creator concerns Yahweh’s ultimate power to work an utter novum, one that on any other terms is impossible. In this testimony, the world is characterized, according to Yahweh’s intention and action, as a hospitable, viable place for life, because of Yahweh’s will and capacity to evoke and sustain life. 146

Creation faith is put into the service of covenantal sanctions. The God who can be trusted in the face of the Babylonians is the same God who must be obeyed in a season of Israel’s self-indulgence. All the forces of heaven and earth are at the disposal of the One who enforces Torah requirements.  Jeremiah 10.16, Amos 4.13, 153

Israel refused the claims of chaos, refused to cringe in helplessness before the powers that negated life. In its daring testimony, Israel seized on this ineluctable term create (and its less exotic synonyms). In the use of such verbs, Israel claims to know the name of the Subject powerful enough to enact the verbs. In these utterances, chaos is decisively driven back. In practice, the testimony provides a place (safe, dry land) in which Israel and the world may be fruitful and multiply. 164

2 other verbs that characterize YHWH in Israel's testimony are "makes promises" and "delivers." God makes promises by means of taking a verbal oath based on His own character, witnessed by Israel, to bless Israel with His life-giving presence and give them the land and other material blessings. The promise expands from Abraham to David to the later prophets who promise God's presence and blessing even in exile and extends it to all the nations. God delivers by "bringing out" of a bad situation, "bringing up" to a better situation, by "pulling out of danger," by acting as a "family redeemer," "redeeming" by paying a price or ransom, or by "saving" through struggle with oppressors. Israel characterized God's actions in their history in reference to the Exodus, as do the New Testament writers. This deliverance could be both material/physical from human oppression or cosmic/spiritual from sin, dark powers and death. The hope of Israel and Christians is that YHWH is a God who gets intimately involved with His people to bring out their ultimate well-being despite oppressive present circumstances. 

Israel’s testimony to Yahweh as a promise-maker presents Yahweh as both powerful and reliable enough to turn life in the world, for Israel and for all peoples, beyond present circumstance to new life-giving possibility. Yahweh’s promises keep the world open toward well-being, even in the face of deathly circumstance. 164

Israel’s testimony to Yahweh as deliverer enunciates Yahweh’s resolved capacity to intervene decisively against every oppressive, alienating circumstance and force that precludes a life of well-being. Yahweh is more than a match for the powers of oppression, whether sociopolitical or cosmic.  174

We must not argue, in my judgment, that deliverance is material rather than spiritual, or that salvation is spiritual rather than material. Rather, either side of such dualism distorts true human bondage and misreads Israel’s text, which well understood the larger, mythic component of human bondage. The issue for the Bible, in both Testaments, is not one of either/or but of both/and. 180

Another important characteristic verb describing God's actions in Israel's testimony is "command." God is Creator and Lord and people are dependent on Him. His commands provide the way that His people can prosper in His creation. The great expression of command in the "10 Commandments" is set in the context of the exodus. God has set Israel free to serve Him instead of pharaoh and His commands set the way that Israel can enjoy this relationship with God (covenant) and prosper within it. Subsequent revelation, especially Deuteronomy, develops, applies and adapts these laws to a new situation. The torah focuses on issues of justice that insure power is used to serve all the people, especially the needy, and issues of purity that hold back the chaos around them and make it possible for a holy God to live with His people. True freedom is found only in covenant with God and obedience and service to Him.

The new “command society” of Sinai is one of dignity, freedom, and well-being. It is important not to stress the command structure of Sinai without appreciating the emancipatory impulse of Yahweh. Conversely, it is impossible to appreciate the emancipatory impulse of Yahweh, operative in the Exodus narrative, without paying close attention to the command structure of Sinai. 182–183

The piety of Israel, as the final form of the Psalter proposes it, is a glad obedience to the commands of Yahweh, enacted in full confidence that such obedience produces a life of joy, well-being, and blessing. 197–198

The truth of the testimony, “Yahweh who commands,” is that unfettered, autonomous freedom is in fact not available. Life is fundamentally relational, and the One who instigates and stands as the source of life’s relatedness is the God who commands. 200

The last verb Brueggemann discusses is "lead." YHWH leads Israel into difficult times of testing (wilderness) so that, as they trust Him, He can provide generously to meet their needs. In this role YHWH is pictured as a shepherd and a mother who births and provides for Her children. God does this to transform His people into what He has destined them to be. The Gospels often place Jesus in this wilderness motif (feeding of 5000 for example) to show that He is YHWH come to His people to lead, prepare and provide for them. The point of this chapter is that God made Himself known to Israel through His actions. Israel's witness is that there is no God like YHWH and this is based on what He did and said in their experience. There is also an open-endedness to this experience. YHWH has acted in the past, but present experience does not yet match YHWH's promise. Nevertheless, based on that past experience, Israel's trust and hope is that YHWH will set things right for them and for all of creation.

The two verbs together, “eat and be satisfied,” affirm Yahweh’s extravagant generosity, which gives abundantly beyond Israel’s need, and Israel’s complete delight in Yahweh’s abundance. Yahweh is the God who performs in situations of hazardous scarcity in order to generate abundance. Exodus 16.8, Deuteronomy 8.10, 203

Yahweh is incomparable! There is none like Yahweh! No rival is or claims to be the subject of these active, transformative verbs...we may imagine the witnesses have a kind of quiet confidence, a trust mostly talked about only in the community itself, that the world is the arena wherein Yahweh’s verbs are enacted; that the world, circumstances to the contrary notwithstanding, is responsive to and necessarily conforms to the actions of this irresistible Character. 206–207

Israel generated, one verb at a time, one sentence at a time, one narrative at a time, this alternative Agent. And this Agent of an alternative life in the world gave to Israel (and to the world): instead of deathly chaos, ordered life; instead of despair, possibility for a future; instead of oppression, dancing freedom; instead of absolutizing autonomy, obedience in viable community; instead of wretched abandonment, nourishment and care. 209

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The “ABC’s” of 2017 #1

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I have been thinking quite a bit about my usual end of year letter/post that I customarily write. 2017 has been a very unexpected experience. It has been difficult, but amazing in many ways. I wanted to reflect on what happened this past year and what I have learned. Honestly, I feel like God has taken me back to the basics on what it means to be human, to be Christian and to be a servant/minister of Jesus Christ. So the ABC’s seemed like the proper organization principle for this year’s end of year letter. I originally intended to do all 26 letters in one post, but it quickly got too long. So I am breaking this up into 4 or 5 posts with 5or 6 letters in each one over the next couple weeks. I hope this blesses you. I will also include some pictures taken throughout the year. So here is A to F. The picture above was taken March 4th in front of my oncologist’s office.

A: Apheresis and Acyclovir: Apheresis is an important part of the bone marrow transplant process in which my own stem cells are collected for transplant back into my blood. These "clean" implanted stem cells allow me to be "born again" and start my physical life all over with a brand new immune system. In fact, the hospital brought me a birthday cake on November 16th to celebrate my "new birth." My immune system is so new that I have to take the anti-viral medicine Acyclovir because all my immunizations are gone. One year from now I will need all the basic vaccinations I got as a baby to protect my new immune system. This is the most effective treatment available right now for lymphoma. The high dose of chemo eradicates the cancer and comes close to destroying the immune system and killing the patient, but the new implanted stem cells provide a new start, in most cases, on a cancer free life. I can't help but think of how this illustrates the spiritual truth of what Jesus' "stem cells," given for and to me, provided salvation from sin and death and new life in Christ! "Behold, all things have become new."

B: Bathroom Issues: There is nothing that destroys one's pride and feelings of self-importance and control like being in the hospital with edema and being designated as a "faller." For 3 weeks at Stanford Hospital when I got up to shower or use the bathroom I had to have a nurse watch me and steady me to make sure I did not get dizzy and fall. Often, I felt like a baby who couldn't do the most basic things for himself. I wanted to tell the nurse, "Hey, you know I used to be a college president and had my own office." You realize, when you are walking and need someone to take a handful of your shirt in the back to steady you the whole way, that the ways we tend to measure success, influence, and meaning aren't really valid. We are all headed for this, because physical life and health wind down to death and dust some day. A life philosophy that cannot find meaning, purpose and worth in the face of death, disease and the difficulties of life is a faulty, inadequate basis for living. 

C: Cancer, Chemo and Control. Cancer dominated my day to day life in 2017. It was something I thought about every day. I did 3 rounds of chemo in March-April, August-September and October-November. It was one of the most difficult and grueling experiences of my life. Of course, I have asked for healing many times (per day), but the main thing I asked for was for Jesus to walk with me in a very real way through this experience and He has confirmed His presence and His word for me in many ways in 2017. Just ask me and I'll tell you about it if you have a couple hours! One in particular stands out to me. I was asking "why me God," "please can you give me a word to help me understand this?" I then watched a Tim Keller sermon (it was Sunday) based on the story of Jacob wrestling with God. The point that answered my question was when he said that God could not really work with Jacob until He "gave him a limp." I don't believe that God gave me cancer, but I do believe me that He worked through it to "give me my limp." I really needed to understand deep down that I was not in control and not in charge of anything. Cancer is a great teacher of that truth. To serve God in 2017 did not look like anything I had planned for my life and yet, God worked in and through me. I am confident in God, not me, that He can do the same in 2018.    

D: Doctors: I have seen a lot of doctors during the last 12 months. I have been impressed, not just by their skill, but by their willingness to engage with Joyce and I, their care for us and their openness to the spiritual side of healing and well-being. Back in March I was struggling with the issue of whether I should rely on medicine and go through the whole chemo process or should I "just trust God for a healing." I asked God to show me the answer. That day, when I was sitting in my oncologist's office, it was like a voice was in my head saying, "Look at these people in this office (doctors, nurses and staff). They are doing My work. You need to trust the healing that I am doing through them." My experience has been that many of the doctors, nurses and staff have been believers and we have been able to encourage each other in our faith. 

Emergency Rooms: Joyce and I have each made 2 trips to the ER this year. Both of mine were because of my kidney issues in February and April. Hers involved a faint while I was getting chemo at the Marshall Cancer clinic and a fall at Stanford Hospital. There were also a couple near trips when I was monitoring my temperature for chemo induced fevers. I remember praying one night, as my temperature inched upward toward the danger zone, and then 20 minutes later the thermometer showed a 1.5 degree drop. I dread ER's, but the doctors and nurses in the ER at Marshall saved my life in February when my right kidney was failing. I thank God for them and my oncologist, who commanded me to "get to the ER" and called in to get me admitted immediately, that their quick action not only saved my life, but my kidney as well. I think I dread ER's because they remind us that our lives are tentative and we are vulnerable. Emergencies can happen when we least expect it. How wonderful to know that there are people always on stand by to help and we serve a God who always hears our prayers and is always ready for our emergencies.   

F: Friends and Family: We have an amazing family and friends all over the world that truly care about us. I was humbled and blown away by the response of people from all over to requests for prayer and financial support as we went through this trial. The "hello I'm praying for you" emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, cards and letters have been a tremendous source of encouragement. People have let us stay in their houses, brought us food, provided rides to the doctor, laughed and cried with us and served us in more ways than I can count. We have certainly seen God's people rally around us in our moment of need. I feel inadequate to respond. Right now all I can do is say "thank you" and try to encourage those around me in the same way I have been encouraged.

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #1 (Chapters 1-2)

Bock LukeThis post begins my reading through the Gospel of Luke accompanied by Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Darrell L. Bock. I am looking forward to working through this commentary because DarrelI was one of my favorite teachers during my time at Dallas Theological Seminary (‘88-‘92) and I had the opportunity to work through the Gospel of Luke with him in an exegesis class.  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 of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue. Again, I am not sure why the page numbers in the IVP series do not come up in Logos, but I will reference the quotes with the corresponding scripture reference.

Luke writes this most inclusive of all the Gospels to explain, to a church that began as a Jewish movement but is rapidly becoming predominantly Gentile, what God is doing in the world through Jesus to fulfill His plan. He presents Jesus Christ “from the ground up,” in human terms, words and actions, to explain how this man is the incarnation of God on earth, who now rules from God's throne and provides His Spirit to His followers who will bring His message and kingdom by their daily actions to all the peoples of the earth. In Luke, Jesus is constantly reaching out to those on the outside and those on the margins, healing and saving them, so that they become key players in His kingdom plan. Jesus has provided victory over sin, death, evil and the powers of darkness so that anyone may come to Him to receive forgiveness and salvation and participate in His victory.

Jesus brings promise and salvation. Salvation involves sharing in the hope, experiencing the blessing of Jesus’ rule from the side of the Father and sharing in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the indwelling Spirit. It also looks forward to the glorious completion of what Jesus started by coming to earth. The Spirit empowers us for the mission of proclaiming Jesus and also for living an ethical, God-honoring life. Introduction to Luke

Luke shows how to love God through trust, patience and perseverance and how disciples love their neighbors through compassion and service. More than any other gospel writer, Luke puts working gloves on disciples as he paints a portrait of the call of God. In fact, Luke has more parabolic material from Jesus than any other Gospel. Luke is the Gospel that reveals the heart and mind of Jesus. It is here that we see how God cares for the sinner, the poor and the despised, the ones the text calls “tax collectors and sinners.”  Introduction to Luke

Luke begins his Gospel, after a brief introduction explaining how and why he is writing, with the announcements of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. The emphasis in these announcements is that God is decisively acting in history again to fulfill His promises to save His people and bring about His rule on earth. John will act as "Elijah" the promised forerunner of the kingdom who will prepare the nation for the coming of the Messiah. His birth will be miraculous, much like that of Isaac. Jesus' birth will be even more miraculous, a virgin birth. He will fulfill the messianic promises of deliverance from oppressors, but the announcement expands this deliverance to spiritual and cosmic oppressors like sin and death.

The angel’s giving his name and position communicates that his message is to be accepted as coming from the throne room of heaven. Zechariah, righteous as he is, needs to learn that God will fulfill his promises when he sovereignly chooses to act. The God of heaven may even do things out of the ordinary. The major lesson in this announcement for the priest, as well as for Luke’s readers, is that God will do what he promises in his own way. Luke 1:8-23

God chose to use an average young woman and to announce his intentions in quiet obscurity. The fulfillment of God’s promise came to earth in an unadorned package of human innocence, without any pomp, far away from any palace. The promised one entered human life as he still seeks to meet it: at the level of everyday experience with everyday people. Luke 1:24-38

Luke chooses to present Jesus from the “earth up”—that is, showing how, one step at a time, people came to see who Jesus really was. He starts with Jesus as the promised king and teacher who reveals himself as Lord in the context of his ministry. Only slowly do people grasp all of what is promised. Luke 1:29-38

Luke continues with the record of Mary's visit to Elizabeth and the prophetic sayings prompted by the Spirit that result from the visit in chapter 1. He uses these prophecies to set several of the themes for the rest of the Gospel. Elizabeth recognizes that God is blessing His people through Mary's child and that He will be a great source of joy. Mary prophesies that her child will be the one who brings redemption to the nation  and to the world and will especially benefit the poor and marginalized. Zechariah prophesies the role of John as the forerunner of the Messiah and the forgiveness and victory over evil He will bring. All recognize that God is acting in a significant way through these two children.

Since God remembers the loyal love promised in covenant to Israel, Theophilus can rest assured that God will remember his promises to this Gentile believer. God’s care for one promise reinforces the other. The basic teaching implied here is very similar to Paul’s argument for the hope of Israel in Romans 9–11. Luke 1.46-56

Zechariah is not retreating from life or looking only to a future reward in heaven. His heart’s desire is to serve [God] without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. This is the expression of an exemplary soul. The meaning of life comes in faithful service to a holy God. By saying our days, Zechariah represents many who share this desire. Salvation enables the child of God to serve God. Luke 1.67-80

Chapter 2 tells the story of Jesus' birth and completes Luke's account of His childhood. Luke emphasizes the humanness of Jesus' and His identification with the average person in His humble rural birth, but also emphasizes His cosmic kingship through the announcement made by the heavenly armies of God to the shepherds. The shepherds represent the correct response to the announcement of the gospel. They go and see it for themselves and then joyfully announce what they have seen wherever to all they meet. The section closes with two visits of Jesus and His parents to the Temple. When Jesus is presented to God for circumcision, two prophets, Simeon and Anna, announce His unique character and mission. He will be the One who completes God's plan for the nation and for all creation. The final story is about the 12 year old Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem after a feast. When his parents find Him, He informs them of His unique mission from and relationship with the Father. Mary represents the proper response to this, and to the shepherds'' report, as, though she does not fully understand, she meditates on what she has heard and seen God doing and what it means.

It is Jesus’ birth that draws an angelic host. Once again, appearances are deceiving. As humble as the setting is, his birth is accompanied by the attention of the heavenly host. The shepherds who are privileged to share in the moment become bearers of a story full of wonder. Jesus’ birth is more than a cosmic event; it is the arrival of divine activity that should provoke joy, reflection and attentiveness. That is why Mary ponders these events and the shepherds return glorifying God. Luke 2.1-21

To see Jesus is to see God’s salvation. They are inseparable. There is joy, even in the face of death, when one has seen the source of life. Simeon’s job as a sentinel for Messiah is done. The Lord can take him home. Simeon pictures a faithful servant who is at home in God’s purpose and plan, even when his time is up. Luke 2:25-35

The infancy material stresses Jesus as Messiah, but this text is one of two hints early in Luke’s Gospel that he is also much more. Luke reveals Jesus’ identity gradually, bringing the reader along in an understanding of who Jesus is. So this first clue comes from Jesus himself. The other major clue comes in the infancy section, where Jesus’ divine origin is tied to the Spirit (1:31–35). Luke 2:46-52

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Day 1 of “Freedom” on Day 30 After “Rebirth”

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Today is Day 30 from my “rebirth” day when my harvested stem cells were implanted on November 16th. It is a day of “freedom” because I no longer have to wear the mask in public (except in doctors’ offices), I can have visitors again, and my diet is pretty much unrestricted. I have been exercising, mostly walking, but today I can begin resistance exercises to rebuild muscle and restart my edema therapy exercises. On November 16th the hospital cafeteria made me a birthday cake to celebrate my being “born again.” With the new stem cells I have a brand new immune system. In fact, if things go well, next November I will need to get all my vaccines redone. I have to take some special anti-viral medicines this year until that happens. My system is now “cancer-free” and we expect it to stay that way (80% successful according to my doctors) as I get tested for that over the next few months. I would appreciate your prayers as I move through the rehabilitation process throughout 2018.

Being “born again” again is a new start for me, and for Joyce. We really do not know what our future holds except that we know that God is guiding us and we will be serving Him wherever we are. As of January, our exact status with Liebenzell Mission is on hold until we get word from our first post-transplant PET scan in March. After that we will have a little better idea of what we will be able to do. Another issue is still my edema. I will begin more focused treatment for that in March. It is likely that 2018 will be the year that we move back into a more active ministry, but this may be limited depending on how I move through rehab. I have applied for disability status on the advice of my doctors and we should hear if that is approved within the next few months. The bottom line is that God is taking us in a new direction and we are not sure what that is. We plan to stay connected with Liebenzell Mission USA and with PIU but we are waiting for God to lead us into what that role will be. Our future is in His hands, as it always is – we just realize it more in times of transition like this, and we appreciate your prayers that God will lead. As I read in my devotions this AM, God sometimes leads us into the wilderness (but He provides manna while we are there) to get us to the Promised Land. It is a little scary, but an exciting time. Thank you for your prayers and support for us through this whole process.

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #3

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. In chapter 3 Brueggemann begins the explanation of his own Old Testament theology. This is where the meaty part of the book begins and I already enjoying his insights into the text. 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 theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

Brueggemann sees the Old Testament as primarily a witness to what God has done and said in the life of Israel. Thus, it is more important to understand clearly what is being said than to try and explain the reality behind it (although that is a legitimate area for study). So the Old Testament is a witness to the reality of Israel's experience with God. God both acts and speaks in a righteous way that sets things right for Israel. Israel responds with public acts and words of thanksgiving. The writer wants the reader (listener) to make a decision about God based on his witness. God is portrayed as active, righteous, merciful, forgiving and covenant-keeping. There is no other god like YHWH. YHWH is the center of Israel's reality.

The beginning point for articulating an Old Testament theology is in the liturgical, public acknowledgment of a new reality wrought by Yahweh in the life of the speaker and in the community of the speaker. 128

The much greater and more pervasive problem in ancient Israel is not a refusal to speak of Yahweh—that is, not a practical readiness to dismiss Yahweh as a factor in life, but the temptation to engage in wrong speech about Yahweh, which amounts to idolatry. 136

Israel’s characteristic grammar in speaking of Yahweh, governed by active verbs, regularly insisted that Yahweh is a major player in Israel’s life and in the life of the world. Yahweh’s characteristic presentation in Israel’s rhetoric is that Yahweh acts powerfully, decisively, and transformatively. Yahweh is morally serious and demanding, so that Yahweh is endlessly attentive to distinctions of good and evil, justice and injustice. 137

Israel does not begin with some generic notion of God, to which Yahweh conforms. It begins its utterance, rather, in witness to what it has seen and heard and received from Yahweh. It is Yahweh and only Yahweh who provides the peculiar norms by which “godness” is now understood in Israel. It is clear to Israel, moreover, that beyond Yahweh, there are no serious candidates for the role of God. 144

Friday, December 15, 2017

3rd Follow-Up Visit at Stanford

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20171214_153955 (960x1280)Joyce and I just returned home from another visit to Stanford yesterday. I got a blood test and had a follow-up visit with my Bone Marrow Transplant doctor. Everything went well. My blood counts are up where they are supposed to be and, so far, I am recovering from the process a little faster than expected. The doctor said that he is “very pleased” with how I am doing. I will have another follow-up visit January 17th and then a PET scan in early March. Please keep me in prayer that I stay cancer-free, which is what we expect. I feel better than I have felt in a long time though I still get tired pretty easily and the edema is still a real annoyance. The really good news is that I can resume a normal diet (just in time for Christmas) and I don’t need to wear the mask any more, except at doctor’s offices. Thank you for praying for us. We appreciate it very much.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Mark #5 (Chapters 14-16)

MarkThis post concludes my reading through the Gospel of Mark accompanied by Mark, The NIV Application Commentary, by David E. Garland. In chapters 14-16, Mark completes his discussion of the Passion week of Jesus with a discussion of the arrest, trials, crucifixion and a very brief account of the resurrection. 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 of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Mark 14 begins with a woman's act of devotion, the anointing of Jesus, sandwiched between two dastardly acts of betrayal of Jesus by the Jewish leadership and by Judas Iscariot. Probably both thought they were serving God, but the betrayers had mistaken their own personal agendas for God’s. The woman, possibly, had listened to Jesus and was one of the few people who understood what we has doing and thus prepared his body for burial. At the very least it was an act of supreme devotion to Jesus which was what God was really looking for. The next section records the preparation and eating of Jesus' Last Supper. Mark is clear that Jesus is fully aware of what is about to happen and the coming significance of the events, though the disciples seem to have no idea. He warns them that there is a betrayer in their midst and that they all will deny Him, but they refuse to believe Him. God's kingdom will not come about by human bravery, but by lives changed through Jesus' death and resurrection. This is what is symbolized in the recurring remembrance of the Lord's Supper. It is the ceremony of a new relationship with the risen Christ, a pledge of our allegiance to the New Covenant begun made possible by Jesus' broken body and blood, and commitment to one another as God's kingdom family. Each of us need to regularly examine ourselves to make sure we are not acting as Judas, who takes the elements while planning to betray Jesus, or as the disciples who think they can serve Jesus in their own power and with their own agendas.

The woman had no idea of the worldwide significance of her action, nor did the high priests, Judas, or Pontius Pilate. Albert Einstein said, “It is a tragic mistake for those in power to think that they are in control.” It is also a mistake for us to think that our sacrificial devotion is wasteful or insignificant. Who knows how God will use it? Mark 14.1-11, 521

Jesus’ sacrificial death is also a covenant-making event. It marks a new act of redemption and begins a new relationship between God and the people—one that supersedes the old. It creates a new community gathered around his table. Mark 14.12-31, 529

The Lord’s Supper works for good. It reminds us who we are, what our story is, what our values are, and who claims us as his own. In the Lord’s Supper, the gospel confronts all five of our physical senses. We see, hear, taste, smell, and touch what it meant for Christ to die for us. It also binds the past, present, and future together. We look back to Jesus’ Last Supper and experience the beginning of the new covenant with God. We experience Jesus’ death for us and the power of our sins being forgiven in the present. We look forward to the future celebration in God’s kingdom, when all will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Mark 14.12-31, 534

The rest of Mark 14 records Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, His abandonment by His disciples and the trial before the Sanhedrin. Mark portrays Jesus in agony, knowing and waiting for what he is about to experience. He goes to the Father in prayer asking if there is any other way but trusts the Father's plan and becomes the example of how we are to handle suffering. The disciples, on the other hand, fail to realize the crisis they are in and immediately abandon Jesus when the mob comes to arrest Him. The Sanhedrin, not all the Jewish people, are seen in Mark as the guilty party for arresting Jesus and turning Him over to the Romans. The issue is that Jesus combines several OT prophecies and raises the idea of a human Son of David to a human/divine Son of Man. He is then convicted of blasphemy. Peter's denial heightens the abandonment of Jesus. The only encouraging thing here is that Mark's readers would have known that Peter was forgiven and restored. This whole scene goes exactly as Jesus predicted.

Prayers asking God to have a change of mind are not considered insubordinate but actually exude trust that God listens to prayer and grants requests that can be reconciled “with overall Providence.” Mark 14.32-52, 540

In Mark, we see the Son of Man associated with power that is blended with suffering and weakness. Jesus openly declares that he is the Messiah only when there is no possibility that crowds will rise up to crown him king. His admission seals the case against him and ensures that he will die. If Jesus is the Son of Man who will sit on the right hand of Power and come in the clouds of heaven, one must completely rethink what one believes about the Messiah and about power. Jesus as the Messiah is far less than many people hoped, because he never raises a finger against anyone and passively submits to death. As the Messiah, he is far more than anyone hoped, because he divinely exercises the power of God. Mark 14.53-65, 569

Peter was the most prominent of Jesus’ disciples, yet he was still a sinner in need of God’s mercy. He thought he would die for Jesus, but he needed Jesus to die for him...If Peter could be restored after denying his Lord and even cursing him, then there was hope for others who might be guilty of the same or worse. Peter’s tears of remorse mark the beginning of that restoration. Mark 14.53-72, 574

Chapter 15 of Mark describes the trial before Pilate and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate's indifference to justice and desire to preserve order and his position, at all costs assure this miscarriage of justice. Garland sees the people's choice of Barabbas over Jesus as an example of the human way to choose violence to gain personal power over God's ways. Mark emphasizes the mockery of all classes of people at the crucifixion. Ironically, what was intended as mockery is shown to be true. Jesus was a real king and God did deliver Him from death through the resurrection. Mark also emphasizes Jesus’ cry from Psalm 22 and he pictures the crucifixion with reference to the entire psalm, emphasizing that Jesus was the "righteous sufferer" who felt and seemed abandoned by God but was never abandoned and would be vindicated. That vindication began with the tearing of the temple veil from top to bottom and the confession of the centurion. The old order was done. God's presence and power were about to break out of the temple and go out to all the world.

God’s way responds to evil redemptively and short-circuits it. On the cross, Jesus took the sting of death and absorbed all the poison. Our failure to choose this way stems from our failure to trust God. We may trust God to take care of the afterlife, but we do not trust God enough to let go of too much control of the here and now. If we have to suffer, we would rather put our trust in the Barabbases of this world, who fight back and murder enemies. We have yet to see that this way only leads to more death and tragedy. David E. Garland, Mark 15.1-20, 583

Jesus is a king who died an outlaw’s death. Jesus is the Messiah, who was rejected by the people he came to deliver. Jesus is the mighty Son of God, who did not use his power for himself but died a seemingly powerless death. All traditional symbols have been reversed. Weakness is a sign of power. Death is the means to life. Godforsakenness leads to reconciliation with God. Mark 15.21-47, 598

Jesus prayed the prayer of the righteous sufferer, who trusts fully in God’s protection. Psalm 22 naturally came to mind because he was mocked (Ps. 22:7–9), his strength was dried up (22:15–16), his hands and feet were pierced (22:16), and his garments were divided (22:18). Jesus therefore did not simply let out an anguished wail of pain but deliberately quoted this lament, which moves from an expression of pain to confidence in God’s deliverance. Why would Jesus cry out to an absent God unless he believed that God was indeed there to hear and able to deliver him? Mark 15.34-37, 601

Mark ends his record of the Passion the same way he started it; with a report of the devotion of the women who followed Jesus. The women come to the tomb wondering how they would roll away the stone and then, when they see it rolled away, they wonder how that happened. A "young man" explains that Jesus "is not here. He is risen." He instructs the women to tell the disciples and let them know that Jesus will see them in Galilee. The narrative ends with the report that the women remain silent and do not report as instructed. I would tend to agree with Garland that "Mark fully intended to end his Gospel with the startling disclosure that the women spoke to no one because they were afraid. If we want to understand Mark, we must grapple with this awkward conclusion no matter how unsatisfying it might be." (618) I think that Mark does this purposely to place the reader into the story. We know that eventually the women told the story, the 11 disciples believed and the gospel has gone out powerfully into most of the world. Now the question becomes what will we do with this command. Will we go meet Jesus and faithfully live as His people and tell the story of the gospel to all the world?

This command is the first time that Jesus’ followers are told to tell something about him. The crucifixion and the resurrection, therefore, mark a turning point. There is no need for silence or secrets now (see 9:9). As Marcus points out, “Whereas before those events Jesus commanded secrecy and open proclamation was disobedience, now Jesus commands open proclamation and secrecy is disobedience.” Mark 16.1-8, 614

“He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” There is no reunion with the familiar earthly form of Jesus, with tears of joy and hugs all around. Jesus cannot be held by death, let alone by a stone. He is free from death, transformed from this earthly existence and unleashed on the world. One cannot meet him at the place where they laid him. His grave is not to become a shrine like David’s tomb (Acts 2:29), the dressed-up tombs of the prophets (Matt. 23:29–31), or the tombs of modern-day leaders. The God who raises the dead has no use for earthly memorials. The tombstone is not to become a wailing wall. God is not the God of the dead, entombed in shrines, but of the living. Mark 16.1-8, 623

The gospel is about the power of God, which overcomes human dysfunction and disaster. We know that Jesus’ resurrection was proclaimed and is being proclaimed throughout the world, just as Jesus said it would. This means that God’s will and Jesus’ promise have been fulfilled despite human disobedience. Mark 16.1-8, 626