Thursday, January 18, 2018

Another Brief Medical Update

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Yesterday we headed down to Stanford for some more blood tests and a follow-up visit with our bone marrow transplant doctor and his staff. We were blessed that Mark and Christine Freeman volunteered to drive us there and back this time. We were thankful because, after the week Joyce had with the pain of a lupus flare-up, it relieved her of a lot of stress of driving in the Bay Area. We were also blessed by less traffic than normal. We made the trip down in about 2 hours and 10 minutes and the trip back in 3 hours and 45 minutes. I think both are record times for us. We also had some nice fellowship and conversation all the way up and back that made the trip seem much shorter. Thank you Mark and Christine.

The doctor visit went well too. My blood numbers were even better than expected and the doctor was very encouraged by how I was recovering from the transplant process. He wants me to go ahead and get the PET scan in late February or early March. We are hoping to schedule it for March 2nd when we will be there for a consultation for my edema. We were urged to still be careful about infection (I will be taking anti-virals and antibiotics for the rest of this year until I can get revaccinated) but I am pretty much free to go out and be with people. The doctor reminded me that the recovery process from chemo lasts at least a year and to expect a few setbacks on the way. But, he also urged me to exercise and begin the work of rebuilding muscle and getting healthier. We were excited and happy about the visit and are very hopeful for more good news in March. Thank you for your prayers for the trip and for your ongoing prayers for the edema treatment. God Bless!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #5 (9:51-11:54)

Bock LukeThis post continues my reading through the Gospel of Luke accompanied by Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Darrell L. Bock. Luke 9.51 begins the next major section of Luke (9.51-19.44). Jesus "sets his face to go to Jerusalem" to face rejection and death and accomplish his saving kingdom mission. This section highlights the growing rejection of Jesus and Jesus' teaching of His disciples to prepare them for the next step of God's kingdom plan. 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 9.51-10.24 introduces this next major section by showing the widespread rejection of Jesus as he is rejected even in Samaria (9.51-56), explaining the main demand of discipleship: absolute devotion to Jesus and His mission, and describing the sending out of a group of 72 to announce the kingdom with the delegated authority of Jesus. The Samaritan rejection illustrates the calling of disciples to announce the kingdom and benefits of Jesus. It is not yet a time of judgment, but opportunity. If rejected they are to move on. Judgment will come from God later. 9.56-62 shows the high demand of a disciple of Jesus. Being part of Jesus' kingdom mission is a higher priority than personal comfort or well-being, family, or any other responsibility one may have. Finally the 72 are sent out with Jesus' message and authority to announce His kingdom benefits. They are to bring both good news and healing. In doing so, they defeat the forces of evil. Their audience will be judged by God based on how their message is received.

Knowing God is a blessing and life’s highest priority. But that blessing is not automatic for every individual; it must be consciously entered into by embracing the hope the disciples offer. This period is so special that kings and prophets have longed to share in the blessings that the disciples get to experience through Jesus. To minister with power is exciting, but to know God and his grace is even better. Luke 9:51-10.24

Disciples cannot back off from the task. Discipleship is not a second job, a moonlighting task, an ice-cream social or a hobby. It is the product of God’s calling and should be pursued with appropriate seriousness. Luke 9:57-62

Proclamation and healing form a verbal, pictorial union of word and deed that evidence the truth of the disciples’ message. Such a mixture of word and deed is also a powerful testimony today, even when the deed is an act of compassion rather than a miracle. When we proclaim God’s love and show God’s compassion concretely, the word takes on a dimension it otherwise might lack. Luke 10:1-24

The next section (10.25-11.13) contains Jesus' basic teaching about relationships for disciples. Following Him is all about relationship with God through Jesus and loving the people who God brings into our lives, made in God's image, by meeting their needs. All the commands of the Bible can be summed up in "love God" and "love your neighbor." The rest of the Bible tells us what we need to know to do that. Relationships demand more than just keeping rules. The lawyer, who knows scripture well, is not willing to love the "Samaritans" in his life which betrays the fact that he does not really love God either. The Mary and Martha account also shows Jesus receiving women as disciples (not done in Jesus' culture) and highlights Mary's correct choice of prioritizing relationship. Finally, the "communal prayer" that Jesus gives to the disciples shows that the key issue is recognizing and deepening that relationship with God and each other. Disciples can boldly approach God with their basic needs and for power to live out the kingdom in this world. We can be real with God and with each other because God has placed us in this relationship.

When Jesus says, “Do this and you will live,” he is saying that relationship to God is what gives life. The chief end of humankind is to love God wholly. We were designed to love; but to love well, we must love the right person. Here is the definition of life that brings life. And the product of our love for God will be a regard for others made in his image, those whom God has placed next to us as neighbors. Luke 10:25-42

The prayer does not use an individualized checklist of specific wants and needs as we often hear at prayer meetings. The prayer is focused like a laser beam on expressing a dependent approach to God, on the quality of the community’s life with him. It expresses a desire for holiness, for God’s ruling presence, for a life of forgiveness, and it recognizes that provision and spiritual protection come from God. It asks God to work on the heart and seeks to be submissive to his will. Luke 11:1-13

The next section is about the purpose of Jesus' miracles and warnings about the need for proper response. Jesus' opponents do not deny His miracles, but attribute them to Satan. They are looking for an excuse not to follow Him. Jesus responds that the miracles show that He is the Messiah bringing God's kingdom to them and they will be held accountable for their response. Jesus' teachings and miracles are enough evidence that God and His kingdom are in their midst and the time is urgent for them to make a choice about what will be the center and foundation of their lives. The section closes with Jesus pronouncing condemnation on the practice of the Jewish leadership. In their pursuit of "holiness" they emphasized human rules and outward focused religion rather than love for God and meeting the needs of their fellow humans. Thus, when God appeared in their midst, they missed it, and opposed and killed the very person they claimed to serve. Unless we humbly take care to keep our hearts right before God we can make the same mistake.

Here is the ultimate cosmic war. Jesus and Satan stand toe to toe in battle. The miracles are an audiovisual that Satan’s cause is ultimately lost. He can do great damage, as any enemy can; but the die is cast. He will lose. The picture of the “stronger one” alludes back to 3:15–16. The stronger one is the promised Messiah who brings fire and the Spirit. The dividing of the spoil recalls the imagery of Isaiah 53:12 (see also Is 49:25–26). Jesus’ work means that Satan is no longer in control of the palace. Luke 11:14-23

We want to avoid offending others in a culture that is diverse. But neutrality is not always a good thing, and neither is polite disengagement. Some issues are important enough to require our considered choices. That is Jesus’ premise in this passage...Jesus calls us to consider what directs our lives. Luke 11:24-36

Luke is showing not only how the opposition grew but also how they failed to heed Jesus’ earlier call to repent (11:29–32). Luke also reveals what piety does not look like. The way to God is not that of the Jewish leadership. The way to God is not in a piety of pride and rules without care and compassion. The God-lover should not point the finger but lend a helping hand. Luke 11:37-54

Friday, January 12, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #9

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 10-12 conclude the second section of the Theology which highlight the tension between the core testimony of the OT which focus on God’s dynamic actions in creation and what Israel often experienced in its history: God’s hiddenness, ambiguity and inscrutability. 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.…

Chapter 10, Ambiguity and the Character of Yahweh, deals with the very difficult texts in the OT which seem to portray YHWH as being deceptive, contradictory, arbitrary, or even abusive in His dealings with His people. Often, these difficulties come from parts of the story that are peripheral to the main point and are often ignored in OT theologies. Some can be explained as human overstatement, misperception of God's motive in Israel's experience such as lack of understanding of God's purpose for suffering, as in Jeremiah's complaints (Jeremiah 20.7-18). God's seeming unfairness (his willingness to forgive David, but not Saul for example) could be explained by God's perfect insight into the human heart. Passages which show God as being willing to deceive (1 Kings 22.20-22) or changing His mind about previous laws (Jeremiah 3.1-23) are more difficult to reconcile with the core testimony of the OT. I think part of the solution is that God is committed to real relationship with flawed humans and accomplishing His purposes in creation through human agency. This throws some ambiguity into the mix when God chooses relationship over law and works His plan through flawed creatures. We need to leave the tensions in the text and recognize that God operates on a plane far above us and has a perspective far wider than ours. In the Word he speaks to us in ways we can understand, but our understanding limits our perception of the revelation. As Calvin said, He speaks to us in "baby talk." 

Yahweh knows well ahead what is to happen. Thus the tale (of David's anointing) is an exemplar of Yahweh’s hidden, inscrutable, majestic purpose for the historical process of Israel, which is well beyond human discernment, even that of Samuel. What interests us is that this sweeping, lordly intention is juxtaposed to a rather seamy strategy for securing the new king. 368

Yahweh’s will is not mushy and romantic. But it is a powerful resolve that Israel should return, in direct challenge to the old command of Moses. It is clear that the old command, to which Yahweh has just subscribed, and Yahweh’s present yearning for fickle Israel are in profound tension with each other. It is equally clear that Yahweh is willing to overthrow and contradict the old command of Moses, Yahweh’s own command, for the sake of the relationship. Yahweh, as it turns out, cares more passionately for the relationship than for the old command. Deuteronomy 24.1-4, Jeremiah 3.1-23, 366

Whatever else this particular narrative (David and Saul) may intend, it shows unmistakably that Yahweh is nobody’s hostage, not even David’s. Perhaps the deception in the anointing, the acceptance of Samuel’s listening to the people (and not Saul’s), the acceptance of David’s act of despoiling of the Amalekites (and not Saul’s), the readiness to forgive David (and not Saul), are all evidences in Israel’s countertestimony that Yahweh will make provisional alliances in the historical process; thus Yahweh may cohere for a time with historical persons, movements, or power arrangements, but only for a time. 372

Chapter 11, Yahweh and Negativity, addresses the Old Testament passages that seem to portray YHWH negatively. These would especially include the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and the "complaint Psalms." These witnesses seem to accuse God of not keeping covenant, being inattentive to the needs of His covenant people, punishing too harshly or violently or even not keeping His own standards of justice and righteousness. It must be noted here that, in these passages, God's faithfulness, justice and power are always acknowledged in the end with a corresponding required response of obedience and worship. How does one justify this seeming contradiction? First, as in Job and Ecclesiastes, the writers conclusion that the God of creation is so far beyond us we will never fully understand what He does or why He does it, forces us to trust Him (based on His known acts of love and righteousness) and believe that He will work things out. Second, we must understand that the OT is not speculative or philosophical in its witness about God. It is written in the emotional, passionate fires of relationship. The human writers vent their frustrations in prayer when their experience does not match God's promises and God accepts and responds favorably. These prayer "complaints" are actually statements of real faith despite an experience that seems to contradict it. 

Whereas the prophets hold to the sanctions and consequent indictments in asserting that Israel has betrayed the covenant, the complaint psalms hold to the sanctions accusing Yahweh of not having honored the covenant. For if Yahweh had honored covenant, it is argued, bad things would not have happened to Israel. 375

Yahweh’s rightful place is not in the speculations of heaven, but in the realities of the earth. Yahweh is not a member of a mythical cast, but a partner to the bold and the obedient in the earth. Yahweh’s continuing engagement is with Job, who is Yahweh’s partner in abrasive candor, and who turns out to be Yahweh’s proper counterpoint. Job does not yet know why the wicked prosper, and he no longer cares. Yahweh does not yet know if Job serves Yahweh for naught, but Yahweh knows enough. Yahweh is no easy, gentle partner, but then neither is Job.  393

Israel’s way is to voice all of its enraged candor, but always to bear in mind the One who must be addressed, and then obeyed. 397

Chapter 12, Maintaining the Tension, closes the discussion of Israel's "counter-testimony" about God. Brueggemann is concerned that the reader maintain the tension between the "core testimony" in the Old Testament about God's "faithful sovereignty and Yahweh’s sovereign fidelity," and its witness to "Yahweh’s hiddenness, ambiguity, and negativity" in their experience. It is as though Israel lived between the great actions of God in the past and His promises for the future. Though the New Testament Gospel, the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ resolved some of this tension, we as Christians still live between the "already" kingdom life which calls us to take up our cross daily and the "not yet" when we will rule with Christ in a renewed creation. We experience that hiddenness, ambiguity and negativity like the psalmists and should passionately, honestly and openly cry out to God and "complain," even as we trust Him to "make all things work together for good" in the end.

The lived reality of the world, with its barbarism and alienation, indicates unambiguously that Easter has not singularly settled all. Thus in its eucharistic confession when the church, rooted in Israel’s testimony, must “proclaim the mystery of faith,” it not only asserts: “Christ has died, Christ has risen.” It must also add: “Christ will come again.” It ends with an acknowledgment of waiting, albeit full of belief; confident waiting, but nonetheless waiting. 401

This waiting where the Old Testament ends is not, as some supersessionist Christian interpretation suggests, because Old Testament faith is flawed, inadequate, or incomplete. The waiting is inescapable because of the unresolved condition of life in the world, an unresolve shared by Christians with Jews and with all others. The unresolve is as profound in the New Testament as in the Old. The Old ends with the waiting of Elijah “before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (Mal 4:5). The New ends with a prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). 402–403

I Don’t Like to Wait

Many of you know that, for the last few months, our daughter Melissa and grand-daughter Leila have been living with us. It has been a long time since we had a 5 year old (correction 5 3/4 year old) with us for an extended period of time and I had forgotten how differently a small child sees the world. Perception of time for a child is very different than for an adult. When Leila asks “when will my mom get home from class?” and we answer “in about 30 minutes,” her response is always, “that’s a long time!” A 5 minute wait for a snack can be an excruciating trial of patience.

Having said that I find that I am not all that different. At age 61 (correction 61 11/12) I have a little longer perspective on time, but I dislike waiting just as much as she does. This is really not so good because waiting is an every day part of life in this world. I wait for my doctor appointments, on hold to pay my bills on the phone, and for the 49ers to win another Super Bowl. I have been waiting 22 years on that last one. The big wait for me now is the wait for my PET scan, in a month or two, that will let me know if the bone marrow transplant got all the cancer. It appears so, but the doctor will not commit until that test. In fact, the doctor will wait until I am cancer free for a year before the official pronouncement. “That’s a long time!”

This waiting plays with my mind. The doctor told me to watch for any symptoms that might return so that they could get me back in earlier if necessary. I am not sure that was a good thing for me, because the temptation is to worry about each back twinge and pain in the abdomen and say “here we go again.” This has led to a few nights where it is hard to get to sleep. I have prayed my Psalm 31.5 prayer about a 1000 times since the transplant. I know that a positive attitude promotes healing, but it is still hard to stay away from the dark paths that sometimes open up in my mind.  I am so thankful for people that are praying for me and for Joyce. This helps a lot. I have confidence in God’s promises and in His love for me, but there are times when it is tough to stay positive.

Sometimes I feel like this…

    Deliver me, O God, for the water has reached my neck. I sink into the deep mire where there is no solid ground;
     I am in deep water, and the current overpowers me. I am exhausted from shouting for help; my throat is sore;
     my eyes grow tired of looking for my God. The NET Bible First Edition Ps 69:1–3

Even though I know it ends like this…

    For the LORD listens to the needy; he does not despise his captive people. Let the heavens and the earth praise him, along with the seas and everything that swims in them! For God will deliver Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah, and his people will again live in them and possess Zion. The descendants of his servants will inherit it,
and those who are loyal to him will live in it. NET Bible, Ps 69:33–36

But waiting is an integral part of living in this age between the 1st coming of Christ when the forces of sin and death were defeated, and the second coming when that victory will be fully realized and experienced. While we experience the kingdom through the Holy Spirit today (and we need to trust God more for that – I believe God heals and trust Him to heal me) we wait for the full release from the corruption sin has caused in this world. As one writer put it “ours is a long day’s journey of the Saturday.” (George Steiner, quoted in Brueggemann’s OT Theology)  In some ways we live between the cross on Friday and glory of the Sunday resurrection. We suffer as we take up our cross daily and we look forward to the full release from suffering, aloneness, and brokenness. What do we do in the meantime? We wait!

Monday, January 08, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #8

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 8-9 begin the second section of the Theology which deals with Israel's "counter-testimony" or "cross examination" of the its core testimony about God discussed in the first section. That is, Israel's core testimony is that God is sovereign and faithful to His loving covenant and yet the Old Testament is brutally honest that many times Israel's experience seems to contradict this. 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.…

Chapter 8, Cross-Examining Israel’s Core Testimony, introduces this second section of the Theology which deals with Israel's "counter-testimony" or "cross examination" of the its core testimony about God. Events, such as the exile and destruction of the temple, make it seem like God does not act in love or according to covenant or perhaps does not have things under control. Sometimes God seems hidden or absent, His promises seems ambiguous or God is even acting in a negative way toward His commitment to Israel. The text itself questions God asking, "How long?" "Why?" "Is God's arm shortened (unable to save)?" or "Has He abandoned us?" The writers of the OT struggle with these very real faith issues. This is not a rejection of faith, but an acknowledgement that the plan of God is still incomplete and we look to the future with faith, not objective certainty. We must be careful to not think our view of God is absolute and eliminate this countertestimony from our meditations upon God and His word, because in doing so we create an idol that is less than Yahweh, the Holy Trinity. The Bible reveals the truth about God that we need to know, but God is more than the Bible. 

A reader of the Old Testament, I suggest, must accept cross-examination as a crucial part of the way in which Israel makes its presentation of disputatious testimony concerning Yahweh. It does not know any other way to speak. As a result, it is evident that Israel’s countertestimony is not an act of unfaith. It is rather a characteristic way in which faith is practiced. 318

The questions arise when Israel faces situations of desperate need, as in the case of unbearable injustice...These questions arise not in an act of unfaith, but out of deep confidence that the God of the core testimony, when active in power and fidelity, can prevent and overcome such intolerable life experiences. The questions arise with such urgency because Israel finds that life without the active force of Yahweh is not good. 321

Christian faith is centered on Good Friday and on the crucifixion, in which we speak of “the Crucified God.” Friday is of course linked to Sunday, and death is tailed by the eruption of new life. But the scar tissue of Friday lingers in the body of Christ, and it protests against every totalizing, triumphalist, and absolutizing ambition. 332

Chapter 9, The Hiddenness of Yahweh, focuses on the "counter-testimony" about God's governance, mainly in wisdom literature, that God does not always act dramatically and openly in Israel's experience, but often is working behind the scenes, invisibly to bring about His good plan for the nation and for the world. In fact, the entire creation is permeated by God's wisdom and guarantees an order which provides for the needs of all creation, an "ethical dimension" which rewards behavior which recognizes the boundaries God has placed in creation and an "aesthetic dimension" of beauty to which we should respond with wonder and praise. But God has not just created a good system and then left it to itself. He continues to be an active agent, planning, providing and working with people and the rest of creation (the natural and supernatural) to bring about His ultimate plan.

Yahweh is the hidden guarantor of an order that makes life in the world possible. The operational word is order, and Israel marvels at, ponders, sings about, and counts on that good order without which life would not be possible. 336

Proverbs 8 already wants to say, under the aegis of wisdom, that the whole of creation is shot through with the rationality and intentionality of Yahweh, a rationality and intentionality that need not be visible and intrusive because they are inherent in the very character and structure and fabric of creation itself. It is this intrinsic quality of intentionality that God has embedded in the working of creation to which John 1:1–18 bears witness, and to which the church testifies in Jesus of Nazareth. 345

Yahweh in indirectness and invisibility is no less decisive. Indeed, in its countertestimony, Israel used the occasion of Yahweh’s hiddenness to magnify its claims for the generous, creative, and faithful governance of Yahweh. Yahweh is, in the face of hard evidence, said to be a practitioner and guarantor of joyous, life-giving coherence, the cause of all good and evil, the one with durable intentions for well-being in Israel. 357

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #4 (Chapters 8-9)

Bock LukeThis post continues my reading through the Gospel of Luke accompanied by Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Darrell L. Bock. Chapters 8-9 close this major section of Luke by summarizing the message of the kingdom, the word of Jesus, that God has visited His people in the person of Jesus and the proper response is to acknowledge who He is and hear and obey His words as the word of God. 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.

The section continues with the parable of the sower, or four soils, which shows that the only proper response to Jesus' word is to hear it, reflect on it and live a lifestyle of obedience to it. His word is also a light that one must use to go the right way. Those that respond to it are in a relationship with God that is closer than a physical bond. Jesus then does 4 miracles that demonstrate who He is to claim this authority. He has authority over the wind and chaotic sea as YHWH is pictured in the OT. He has authority over the forces of evil and can reverse evil's effects in people. Finally, He has authority over disease and death. The proper response is faith and trust that Jesus can take care of us and handle the most deep and troubling obstacles we face in life.

This parable is not about a response to the word at any given moment. It sums up the different ways the word is received over a lifetime of exposure. It takes time to fall away from an initial attraction to the word. Only over time do the pleasures of life erode the seed’s effectiveness. The parable calls for reflection. We need to cling to the word in patient faith. If we desire to be fruitful, especially given that the obstacles to fruitfulness are so varied, then we must hold fast to God and his message of hope. We focus either on God’s promise or on our circumstances. Which we choose makes a difference: one leads to fruitfulness, the other to barrenness. Luke 8:4-21

Authority for Jesus is not a matter of a raw exercise of power; rather, it is a natural resource that is put to positive use as he shows compassion to those with all kinds of needs...The miracles all raise one question. That question cannot be any more clearly stated than it is at the end of this first miracle where Jesus calms the storm: “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:22-25

Jesus possesses authority so great that he can reverse the effects of evil. Some are transformed by that power—turned from a path of uncleanliness, destruction and death to life and testimony. But others fear it and want God’s presence to be distant from them. They fear what involvement with God’s power might entail. Luke 8:26-39

Jesus has taught a major lesson: faith means understanding that Jesus has the power to deliver life and that his timing and sovereignty can be respected. All Jairus’s earlier pain and frustration have been transformed into a new perspective that weds faith with Jesus’ authority. In fact, this is the lesson of all four miracles of Luke 8:22–56: God’s power is absolute. Death is not the chief end of persons. Trusting and knowing God is. Luke 8:40-56

The second major section of the Gospel of Luke comes to a conclusion in chapter 9 with the end of the Galilean ministry. Jesus now sends the disciples out with His delegated authority to heal and announce the good news of the kingdom, even though they do not yet fully understand who He is. This issue is dealt with in the rest of the chapter as this preaching mission of Jesus' and His disciples stirs up questions about who He is. Clearly God is working in a new way through Jesus, but the point Luke will make here is that Jesus is much more than a prophet like Elijah or Moses. The feeding of the 5000 demonstrates this graphically as Jesus shows Himself to be the Messiah who can provide for His people. Peter gets this part of the identification as he confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. However, Peter still does not fully get it yet, as he rebukes Jesus for bringing up the necessity of suffering and the cross. The rest of the chapter reveals to the disciples that Jesus' path involves suffering, rejection and death before glory and those who choose to follow Him must walk that same path.

The picture is of a Messiah who provides and makes full...the disciples learn that Jesus is the source of provision for their own ministry. They are to model Jesus’ style of ministry as they depend on what he can give them (22:24–27). They are to provide the food for the crowd, and through Jesus they do so. He supplies with abundance, and they are the vessels bearing the provision. Luke 9:1-17

Prophets have abounded through the centuries, but only one is called the Christ, God’s anointed. Peter’s answer highlights Jesus’ uniqueness...Jesus’ uniqueness goes beyond prophetic-teaching categories. Jesus is not the messenger; he is the message. The burden of the rest of Jesus’ ministry is to show how that message will be delivered and who the message bearer is. Luke 9:18-20

Two summary commands are issued: deny oneself and take up the cross (aorist imperatives). These are basic orientations of the disciple. Then the disciple can continually follow (present imperative) Jesus...Someone whose life and reputation in the public sphere were primary would never want to come to Jesus. But if they gave up a life of popular acclaim and acceptance to come to Jesus, they would gain deliverance. Jesus understood that trusting in God means nontrust in self and nonreliance on the security the world offers: Whoever loses his life for me will save it. Luke 9:21-27

This section ends at verse 50 with a confirmation of who Jesus is from the Father Himself at the transfiguration and a command that should be the basic guiding command for all disciples, "Listen to Jesus!" The transfiguration announces that Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Old Testament is saying, but He is also the bringer of a new and better approach to God. The only way to know and do what God wants in this new age is to listen to and follow Jesus. The disciples failure to exorcise the young boy and failure to understand Jesus' prediction of betrayal illustrate this. The disciples also fail to understand that following and serving Jesus is not about gaining status or honor or collecting power and authority. Jesus' kingdom will be inclusive and cooperative and will reach out to those who have no status (children) or official position.

The transfiguration was confirming testimony to the glory of Christ, and the resurrection was the crowning endorsement. Revealed in light, he is the light. With the “exodus” came understanding—but only after much listening. When we are with Jesus, we experience the cloud of glory, if we have ears to hear. Luke 9:28-36

The transfiguration called the disciples to listen to Jesus. The miracle that follows explains why this call was issued. The disciples’ failure to heal a possessed boy indicates their failure to trust. The contrast between Jesus’ glorious power and the disciples’ impotence is significant. Jesus’ authority can be trusted, but disciples acting on their own are useless...Instincts fail the disciples; they must listen to Jesus. Luke 9:37-45

Jesus defines greatness without using explicit comparison to anyone else, as people often measure greatness. Greatness is found in an attitude, humility; it does not require someone else’s lack of greatness. All relative scales are removed. Greatness has only one mirror, the reflective eyes of God. He sees greatness in those who do not need to be great to have stature. Luke 9:46-50

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #7

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapter 7, Yahweh Fully Uttered, closes and summarizes the first section of the theology on the core testimony of 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.…

Brueggemann sees his summary of Old Testament theology as a "thematization" of the witness of the OT rather than a systematization because Israel's testimony is full of tensions and cannot be systematized. The main tension is between the descriptions of God as a forgiving God of order in covenant with Israel to bring them benefit, and yet the same God is the One who is willing to destroy Israel and anyone who disturbs His righteous order. There is no easy resolution to this tension and perhaps the tension should be left as is, with the human response to both love and fear God left intact. Perhaps some of this tension can be resolved in the New Testament with the Romans definition of wrath as "giving over" the offender to the consequences of sinful choices and with the 2nd person of the Godhead taking on this wrath at the cross, but even that does not fully resolve the tension  we feel as we read. We want to fully understand and explain God, but that is an impossible task.

The faithful God who forgives (nsʾ) iniquity is the same God who visits (pqd) offenders for their iniquity. That is, the very God who is in inordinate solidarity with Israel and who is prepared to stay with Israel in every circumstance, is the God who will act abrasively to maintain sovereignty against any who challenge or disregard that sovereignty. 270

Thus I propose that in the full utterance of Yahweh, the thematization of Yahweh is as the powerful governor and orderer of life who is capable of generous and gracious concern, but this same Yahweh has a potential for extraordinary destructiveness. These texts of destructiveness are endlessly problematic for normative theology. 275

The One with whom Israel has to deal is not an image, a category, a genre, a concept, or a norm. Rather this is a particular God with a name and a history, who is a free agent and an active character. Israel’s faith is finally not trust in something that is transcendent in Yahweh, so as to escape what is contingent. But Israel’s life with this God is endlessly dialogical, and it is therefore always open and always capable of newness. Israel is tempted to minimize the risk and curb the danger by boxing Yahweh into its formula. But each time it does so, Yahweh surprises. 282

In the second half of this chapter Brueggemann looks at several texts which try to bring harmony to this tension between God's self-honoring righteous sovereignty and His "resilient relatedness" that remains steadfast to His commitment to the well-being of humanity and all of creation. The common terms that refer to God's righteous sovereignty are the "glory, holiness and jealousy of Yahweh." Glory refers to the right (portrayed as won in battle with other gods or human rulers) to be honored and obeyed. Holiness refers to the absolute, unique otherness of God. Jealousy refers to God's passionate self regard for His own reputation. These characteristics lead God to punish/destroy nations, including Israel. Yet all of these also lead to God passionately loving and protecting Israel and His creation. God is appealed to, especially in exilic texts, as the God of covenant loyalty who has great compassion for His covenant people. How can God be both a God who who jealously guards His righteous reputation against all disregard and evil and yet can forgive and restore sinners? It is not an easily resolved tension. It is clear from the OT that this tension is part of God's character and that God's righteousness includes His love and compassion somehow in a way that we cannot fully understand. The NT resolves at least some of this tension with the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection as God Himself bridges this gap for humanity. But anyone who says they fully understand how this can be has reduced God down to something less than God, which is idolatry. 

The collage of texts concerning the glory, holiness, and jealousy of Yahweh leave one astonished at the largeness and roughness of the claim made for Yahweh, and the power and intensity with which that claim is made. This is a God who will be taken seriously, who will be honored and obeyed, and who will not be mocked. The nations are warned; and Israel is also on notice. Yahweh must be taken in full capacity as sovereign; there is no alternative. 295

Yahweh’s righteousness is engaged in the work of well-being. Israel has benefited from this gift of Yahweh’s righteousness, and the nations are invited to participate in the same. But neither Israel nor the nations can receive such transformative activity unless they are among those who bend the knee and swear with the tongue to the sovereignty of Yahweh. This convergence of sovereignty and compassion is a staple of Israel’s faith. Where this convergence functions well, Israel’s testimony renders a coherent picture of a character of constancy and reliability. Isaiah 45.21-25, 306

Beyond the Old Testament, it is fair to say that the New Testament and the Christian tradition have, on the whole, moved beyond this tension to affirm a complete identification of God’s power with God’s love. One specific ground for such a complete identification is found in the truth of the crucifixion of Jesus, wherein God’s own life embraces the abandonment of broken covenant. In this theological claim, Christian theology has extended the hints about God already voiced in the most pathos-driven witnesses of the Old Testament. 311

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #3 (Chapters 5-7)

Bock LukeThis post continues my reading through the Gospel of Luke accompanied by Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Darrell L. Bock. Chapters 5-7 begin the section on the Galilean ministry of Jesus as He slowly revealed  His identity to His disciples and to the nation and prepared His followers to take the message of the Gospel to the world. 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.

In chapter 5 Jesus begins to connect with and call disciples to follow Him and be trained to do His kingdom work. Luke mixes this call with accounts of Jesus' miracles, which illustrate His authority to call disciples and how His kingdom works. The miraculous catch illustrates to Peter, Andrew, James, and John the need to recognize one's own sin and inadequacy and Jesus' abundant provision (and the danger that He puts you into) to come to Him and follow Him. The healing of the leper demonstrates that Jesus' "touch" heals and makes one acceptable to come into God's presence. The healing of the paralytic shows, to the Jewish leadership especially, that Jesus has the power and authority, that belongs only to God, to forgive sin and overcome its effects. The Jewish leadership questions why Jesus reaches out to sinners instead of withdrawing from them as they did. Jesus responds that His presence means that God is acting in a new way. If one follows Jesus, they cannot go back to their old ways and traditions. Following Jesus is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Simon Peter represents all disciples. His humility and awareness of his sin do not disqualify him from service; they are the prerequisite for service...Jesus does not call those who think they can help God do his work. God does not need or want servants who think they are doing God a favor. Jesus calls those who know they need to be humble before his power and presence. From now on Simon will be casting his nets in a different sea, the sea of humanity’s need for God. Luke 5:1-11

Jesus has just painted a picture that speaks more than a library full of books on Christology. He has backed up his words with action. God is vindicating Jesus’ claims. At crunch time Jesus applies his authority with great skill. As the paralytic walks, the question becomes who will walk with him and share the forgiveness Jesus has pictured. Fence-sitting is no longer possible, given the nature of Jesus’ claims. Luke 5.17-26

Jesus views people in terms of what God could make them into, rather than pigeonholing them into who they currently are. There is no compromise with holiness in his relationships with sinners, because one of the very characteristics of God’s holiness is the way he reaches out in mercy to those in need (1:46–53). God graciously takes the sinner who is responsive to him and begins the work of transformation. Luke 5:27-32

There can be no syncretism between what Jesus brings and the old tradition of Judaism. If it were tried, both would be destroyed...Jesus’ presence requires a new way, new forms and a new spirit. Luke 5:33-39

Luke continues Jesus' preparation for the calling of His disciples in 6.1-16 as He shows them how his kingdom is different than what they were used to or what they expected. The Sabbath controversies show that Jesus' kingdom is more about loving people and meeting their needs, as God does, rather than just keeping rules. Jesus has authority over the laws and institutions ordained by God and can adapt or change them as He decides. Thus, he picks 12 men who will begin this new phase in His kingdom plan that will fulfill what Israel was to do but will be "something new and something parallel to Israel," a "new community is both distinct from and connected to God’s promises for the nation." (6.12)

The battle over the grain becomes yet another discussion of Jesus’ authority. He is not just a teacher, a great example or a moral-religious leader like other greats of history. He claims to possess authority over laws and institutions that God has ordained. Again, the event forces a choice. Is Jesus right or wrong about himself? Does he reveal the way of God or pervert it? It is either one or the other. Luke 6.1-5

Zeal often leads to unrighteousness, as ends are cited to justify questionable means. Sometimes in seeking to prevent murder or unrighteousness, God’s people engage and even justify acts that are just as reprehensible...The pursuit of righteousness should never cause us to resort to tactics that reflect unrighteousness. Luke 6:6-11

The rest of chapter 6 contains Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus here lays out His kingdom values and the danger of rejecting them. God's people have received grace and blessing and are obligated to live in a way that reflects God's character and passes on grace and blessing to others. We do this first by living in a way that adopts God's values of blessing in relationship with Him, rather than the world's value of getting things for ourselves. This means living a life of love that imitates God who gives and loves despite the response to it. Jesus will give His life for the very people that rejected and persecuted Him. Finally, Jesus' disciples build their lives on the teachings of Jesus and God's Word. This provides a solid foundation for a successful and fruitful life before God and other people. 

For those who do not engage God on the divinity’s terms there looms nothing but the terrible expectation of a day of reckoning. One of the dangers of wealth is that it can lead one to believe a life of independence is possible—a view that Jesus teaches is arrogant and misguided (12:13–21). The world’s values are not God’s values. The reversal portrayed in the beatitudes and woes reflects the idea that “the one with the most toys” often loses. God’s blessing can be found in surprising places. It rests on those who rest in him. Luke 6:20-26

Jesus’ formulation of the ("golden") rule, however, is the least self-focused. Jesus is not saying, “Do good deeds for others so they will return the favor.” Instead he is calling for actions of love regardless of how the other responds. Nor is he saying, “Think of what you like, then do that for others.” Rather, we are to be sensitive to the needs, feelings and concerns of others and seek to meet them. Sensitivity in love means listening and serving. Luke 6:27-36

Choose your instructors wisely, since you will become like them. To build solidly on a firm foundation, follow the teaching of those who teach God’s Word, not tradition or feeling (two alternatives often on offer today). Jesus’ message commends itself as worthy of being heard and followed. Those who reflect his message also are worth listening to. In a time when reflection and thought are often given low priority, we ought to give high priority to reflecting on Jesus’ teaching. Luke 6:37-49

Chapter 7 focuses on the desired response of disciples to Jesus and who can be a disciple. First, the offer is open to anyone. A Gentile centurion and a group of women are commended as examples of faith and frame the section. Second, the disciple must recognize the Divine authority of Jesus (He has the power and ability to save and do what He says) and the willingness (love and compassion of God) to make this available to all who trust in Him. The centurion provides the main example with his humble trusting faith that Jesus can heal his servant. At the center of this section Jesus raises a dead man to life. The crowd recognizes that Jesus is a great prophet, yet does not fully understand who He is. Even John the Baptist has doubts about who Jesus is. Jesus responds by focusing John on what God is doing through Him. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus. At the dinner party a Pharisee refuses to recognize even that Jesus is a prophet. It is a sinful woman  that recognizes Jesus and He responds by forgiving her sin, illustrating a main focus of His mission: To forgive all sins and bring people who are far from God back into relationship with Him. The section ends by mentioning that Jesus' ministry is supported by women who have been forgiven and healed by Him. This would have been surprising and scandalous in the Jewish culture of that day.

Here is faith that should be emulated. Here is trust, confidence, rest in the authority of God and awareness of his plan. The Jewish nation, and all others, can learn from this outsider. Aware of Jesus’ authority, the centurion has committed the well-being of his beloved slave into Jesus’ hands. Jesus commends the centurion’s humility and his understanding of Jesus’ authority: such faith is exemplary. Luke 7:1-10

When the crowd fears and recognizes Jesus as a great prophet, they are not wrong; their view of Jesus is merely incomplete. With his account of this miracle Luke is steadily building his portrait of the many-faceted nature of Jesus. God is visiting his people. God’s visitation is a key theme in Luke (1:68, 78; 19:41–44; Acts 15:14). God is active through Jesus. Luke 7:11-17

Even in the midst of doubt, we are called to see what God has done and trust that his way is the path of wisdom. Wisdom’s children see his ways and walk in them. In wisdom’s path is the blessing of sharing in God’s presence beyond even what the best of God’s prophets enjoyed. Even if many of their peers never acknowledge God’s work, those who respond to Jesus are highly privileged. Sometimes the most precious gifts of God are the least appreciated. Luke 7:18-35

Jesus represents the messenger of God who ministers God’s love. As a result, he is open to and conscious of the opportunity that exists when sinners are loved. He does not ignore sin, but he recognizes that sin can be reversed when God’s love is received. The Pharisees’ separatist attitude stands rebuked as an inappropriate model of holiness. The heavenly Father is ready to forgive debts when we turn humbly to him. Luke 7:36-50

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year from Joyce and Dave. As you may know 2017 was a tough year for both of us. (see pictures below) It certainly did  not go as we expected. 2018 starts out for us without a clear path as well. I am greatly encouraged by how my body has responded to the transplant, but we cannot make any definite plans until after my PET scan in February or March. After that we will see. Whatever happens our 2018 life is going to be quite different than our life in 2016. As we figure out where and how God is leading us, I will keep everyone informed here. I will be making some changes on my blog too which you will probably see in the upcoming weeks. The one thing that never changes is God’s love and care for us and His direction for our lives. Please join us in praying for our discernment and sensitivity to both of those.

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Over the next three months my job is to continue to recover from the transplant process, regain strength and avoid infection. Our ministry plan is to be in prayer during the months of January-March and take some time to really hear from God on what He wants us to do and how He wants us to minister in the future. We hope my health will allow us to continue with Liebenzell mission, but we also want to make sure we will be in a role there that God is calling us to. There are some exciting possibilities out there and I believe that God has a role for us to play in His kingdom work in the next few years. Thank you for praying along with us for this. If you have any questions or just want to communicate with us on this send us an email at dowen@piu.edu