Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Joyce is Going to Guam

Joyce will be headed to Guam on February 6th, arrives on the 7th, and will be back in California on the 18th. Her main goal for this trip will be to take care of personal and financial business there which we have left neglected while I have been in cancer treatment since December of 2016. Our plan is to have her return to Guam a couple months later to finish up what she starts on this trip. We have a big decision to make about selling or renting our houses there. She will also be boxing up our stuff there that we need here (biblical studies and theology books for example) and selling, or giving away, the rest of the stuff. She will be very busy during the 10 days she is there, but I am guessing she will have some time for socializing. This will be a weird experience for me. Joyce has pretty much taken care of all my needs while I have been in treatment and I will be more on my own while she is gone. I have improved a lot and can drive again so I can get around. Yesterday was the first time I have driven a car by myself in over a year. It seems odd to say that, but it is true. Anyway, we appreciate your prayers for her as she has a lot to accomplish on the trip and for me who has to stay home and wait. Yea, I am a little jealous that she gets to go and I don’t. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #8 (17.10-19.44)

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 17-19 conclude the “journey to Jerusalem” section. Jesus continues to teach about His upcoming death and resurrection and prepare His disciples for their task after He is gone.  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 rest of the chapter 17 and first part of 18 deal with the looking and waiting for the king and kingdom. What will the kingdom look like and what is the proper response to it? The healing of the 10 lepers opens the section and focuses on the response of the Samaritan leper. He only responds with thankfulness and is given Jesus' approval. Thankfulness to God is the proper response to the blessings Jesus brings and reveals faith. The Pharisees skeptical question about the kingdom allows Jesus to correct their misperceptions about the kingdom. The kingdom has begun because the king, Jesus, is there. There will be 2 phases to the kingdom: a present phase in which Jesus will suffer, die and rise and the gospel will be preached to the world, and a future delayed phase that will bring, suddenly without sign, judgment and God's kingdom of justice and peace.

God’s grace, even though it is extended to all, does not mean that all gain salvation. God blesses humanity in a general way, but only the responsive who appreciate what he has done in Christ receive his full blessing and acceptance. Among the ten former lepers, only the Samaritan hears the comforting words “Your faith has made you well.” His gratitude has revealed his faith. Luke 17:11-19

Jesus is outlining a series of events that precede the return. He makes clear in texts like Mark 13:10, 32 that the exact timing is not known and that other things must happen first, like his suffering and the church’s preaching of the gospel. These discourses function to reassure disciples that God has a plan, even if we cannot know the exact timing of all these events...Again the point is, Expect suffering but persevere with patient faith. Redemption comes, and so does God’s vindication. Luke 17:20-37

Jesus continues in 18.1-30 to teach the disciples the way they should respond to the kingdom's presence "among them" now and how to live in the period of waiting for the final consummation. The parable of the nagging widow teaches persistent prayer for God to act to make things right. If an unjust, uncaring judge will act in response to persistence, how much more will our loving, caring Father act to bring us justice and what we need. The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector emphasize the need for humility. All of us receive the kingdom by grace and none of us have any more right to God's blessing than anyone else. Jesus receiving of the children models the Father's willingness to grant access to His presence to everyone and the need for childlike trust in His ability to care for His people. Jesus conversation with the rich ruler shows that self-trust and self-righteousness are a barrier to entry into the kingdom. Trust in God is demonstrated by generosity, self-sacrifice and service. That kind of trust will be rewarded in the present age and even more in the age to come. "Simple, humble faith is what God desires."

God responds to prayer and listens to his children. He does not wind up the universe like a watch, as the deists of old argued. He does not merely send the universe ticking on its merry way and sit back to observe as an uninterested spectator; God relates to his creation. This is especially the case when our prayers cry out for justice and the righteous treatment of his children. In such cases, when God acts, his response will be swift and certain (v. 8). Luke 18:1-8

The disciple’s trust should lead to humble service (18:17)...To trust God means to rest in him and his way. To pursue such a path is not works, but relationship with God. The entry into grace and relationship saves; the path and pursuit of righteousness follow. Luke 18:9-30

Chapter 19 ends the section on the journey to Jerusalem. As he nears the city, Jesus continues to prepare the disciples for his rejection, death and crucifixion. He tries to correct their misunderstanding that the final stage of the kingdom is coming right away but they are too blind to see it yet. One the way in to the city two men, a blind man and Zacchaeus a tax collector, place faith in Jesus and both receive salvation. In the midst of the blindness of the nation, it is the ones we would not expect that have the wisdom to see who Jesus is and respond in faith. Jesus then tells a parable which shows that while the kingdom is delayed it is service to Jesus that will be rewarded and shows true faith. The section ends with Jesus presented to the nation as Messiah. Sadly, the nation's leadership rejects Him, misses their opportunity for blessing and the city will be totally destroyed in judgment only a few years later. Blessing and judgment depend on response to Jesus.

It is the Son of David who heals. Messiah draws near to Jerusalem, and his authority is at work. Healing comes immediately, and the man follows Jesus, praising God. The picture is poignant. God is thanked for his work through Jesus. Having gained physical sight, the man finds that new light dawns as he focuses on following Jesus. Even the crowd is changed. Scoffers at the start, the people turn to praise God in the end. Seeing Jesus means being transformed. Luke 18:35-43

This rich man, touched by Jesus and responding with faith, exemplifies the restoration of a “lost one” and opens up his resources to be shared with others. He does not have to sell everything to receive Jesus’ commendation. His heart is in the right place when it comes to possessions. So Zacchaeus becomes an exemplary rich disciple. Luke 19:1-10

The reason for the destruction is simple—“you did not know the time of your visitation.” Messiah has come and Israel has said no. Opportunity for peace has come, but the nation has opted for destruction—a destruction that will not be permanent, as later texts like Acts 3:18–22 and Romans 11:27–29 make clear. Still, this soon-to-come destruction will be devastating...What was true of the Jewish nation can also be true of individuals. To miss Jesus is to miss the time of visitation and face accountability before God. Luke 19:28-44

Monday, January 29, 2018

More on “How Am I Doing”

I am thankful that I have many friends that ask me how I am doing and actually care about the answer. <smile> There is not a lot of change to report, but I am slowly but steadily improving. I have been able to go to church the last two Sundays in a row without a great deal of discomfort. This is the first time that has happened since this all started in December of 2016. We were even able to go out yesterday after church with some friends and have a long conversation at a restaurant. That was fun. I have been doing some walking and a little strength training with resistance bands. The edema does not seem to be improving very much, even with an increased dosage of my prescription medicine. I am looking forward to meeting with an edema specialist on March 2nd when we go back into Stanford for the PET scan and follow up.

I am now officially on social security disability for the rest of 2018. I will be re-evaluated next January by SSDI to see if that will continue long term. We also have received our Medi-Cal cards and are set up with new medical insurance. We don’t know what the next step will be for us and are using the January-March period to seek God’s direction for the next step. This means we will not be receiving our Liebenzell salary for the next 3 months while we wait to hear what God has for us. No worries, we are OK financially for that time with our SS payments. Any donations received at LMUSA will continue to go into our account there. In March we will make a decision about whether we will continue to serve as employee missionaries with LMUSA in a stateside position and restart salary on April 1, or be retired active missionaries (this would allow us to maintain a ministry account with LMUSA), or be inactive retired missionaries which would mean we would discontinue our support there. We would appreciate your prayers on this as we have a lot of issues to look at as we make this decision, including my health and other practical issues. BUT, the most important issue is calling. We want to make sure that this next step of our life and ministry is something God is calling us to do. This is the compelling and only reason to do ministry and we want  to make sure this is the reason we serve. We value your prayers as we move through this time of uncertainty into the next adventure God has for us.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #11

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 15-16 deal with the testimony in the Old Testament about YHWH’s relationship with humanity and with the Gentile nations. 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 15, The Human Person as Yahweh's Partner, discusses the Old Testament view of humanness. The OT never views humanity as autonomous, but only in dependence on and in covenant with YHWH. To be disconnected from God is to cease being human. As the "image of God" the human role is to respond to God's sovereignty with obedience, to His faithfulness with freedom and initiative, and to be his "transactional partners." Though God is wholly other, there is a kind of OT "kenosis" in which God lowers Himself to fully experience relationship with humanity in a way that provides for human freedom, and permits humans even to challenge God (as in the lament psalms), without yielding any of God's full sovereignty. Humans are responsible to use their brains to discover how God has ordered the world and live accordingly, to trust God's care even when circumstances seem to suggest otherwise, to use their God-given freedom and abilities to love and care for those with needs, and to manage creation as God representatives. 

Yahweh is not hostile toward humankind and does not work in enmity, but is positively inclined to sustain, heal, and forgive. Human persons are, by the very inclination of Yahweh, provided a sure life-space in which to exercise freedom, power, responsibility, and authority, in order to use, enjoy, and govern all of creation. 456

The discernment to which human persons are enjoined is not simply technical knowledge. It is, rather, a sense of how things are put together and how things work in God’s inscrutable deployment of creation. It is the delicate recognition that reality is an intricate network of limits and possibilities, of givens and choices that must be respected, well-managed, and carefully guarded, in order to enhance the well-being willed by and granted by Yahweh for the whole earth. 465

Humanness requires: listening and responding to the summons of the sovereign, discernment in wisdom in response to the hidden generosity of God in God’s world, trusting completely, without reservation, in the reliability of Yahweh and Yahweh’s world. These practices provide positive linkage to Yahweh, from whom life comes, and permit buoyancy for an effective life in the world. These three markings portray humanness at peace, in equilibrium, fully authorized for and entrusted with the fullness of life. 470

The rest of chapter 15 focuses on the human response to YHWH's sovereign actions. The human being is expected to be an active, engaged partner in the covenant relationship. He sums up this responsibility in three parts. When things are going well, the response should be obedience that acknowledges dependence on God, active discernment (wisdom) of God's revealed order and plan, and a trust in God's care and presence. When one is "in the pit," we should respond with "complaint," "petition," and thanksgiving that shows faith in God's goodness and care. Finally. we respond to God's deliverance with praise and hope. Our lives, thoughts and actions should reflect a desire to live in God's presence and a trust in His promised abundance even when those are temporarily hidden from us. 

Praise is a key marking of Israel’s discernment of humanness. To be human means to be willing and able to praise. We have seen that the drama of rehabilitation consists in complaint, petition, and then thanks, as an act of shrill self-assertion. Now we see the countermove in Israel: praise as a glad act of self-abandonment, the active gesture of accepting that life is ceded beyond self, that well-being is rooted in an Other, and that without any claim for self, the human agent is glad to defer to and rely fully on Yahweh, who can only be expressed in lyrical language. 478

Much human conflict is rooted in the conviction, born of greed and enacted in acquisitiveness, that there is not enough and one must seize what one can. Israel’s sense of human hope is grounded in Yahweh’s faithful intention of abundance, which liberates humans from the driving grip of scarcity in order that they begin to act, in hope, out of a conviction of abundance. 482–483

The amazing thing is that in the midst of the sanctions that Yahweh pronounces, in the face of guilt and in the face of mortality, in the face of both situations in which the human person is helpless, Yahweh is attentive. Full of steadfast love and compassion, Yahweh is like a father who pities, like a mother who attends. Yahweh is indeed for human persons, for them while they are in the Pit, willing and powering them to newness. It is the central conviction of Israel that human persons in the Pit may turn to this One who is powerfully sovereign and find that sovereign One passionately attentive. That is the hope of humanity and in the end its joy. Psalm 103, 491

Chapter 16, The Nations as Yahweh's Partner, focuses on the relationship between God and the Gentile nations. Again Brueggemann sees tensions in this relationship as the nations are viewed as both related to God in terms of Israel and related to God directly. God intends to bless the nations through Abraham and through submission to David, and yet the nations pre-date Israel and also are called to submit directly to God. Israel is called to destroy some nations and co-exist with others. Brueggemann does not deal with the issue of God turning over the nations to other gods at Babel, which resolves some of these tensions. I would agree with his main point that God deals with the nations, similarly to Israel, by judging them based on His standards of justice, righteousness, and care for the needy. Even with the texts that describe the destruction of these nations, there are also promises of the restoration and blessing of even the worst offenders in the end.

Yahweh holds sovereign authority over all the nations and that all the nations must come to accept that rule, which is characterized by equity (v. 10), righteousness, and truth (v. 13). This assertion, critically, is a rejection of any loyalty other nations may give to any other gods and a rejection of any imagined autonomy on the part of any political power. Positively, the assertion promptly brings the nations under the demands and sanctions of Yahweh’s will for justice. Psalm 96, 493

Without for an instant minimizing the cruciality of the negative tradition of the legitimated destruction of the nations, there is also evidence that as Israel kept the nations on its horizon, Israel could imagine that the nations could share willingly in the service of Yahweh, becoming a part of Yahweh’s community of praise and obedience. 499

The second part of the chapter deals with God's relationship with the superpowers: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. These nations have abused the power which God has delegated to them and thus stand in judgment. Brueggemann sees each nation as a paradigm of how nations abuse power. Egypt is the oppressor from which God's people need to be delivered. Assyria is the arrogant nation that thinks it does not need to submit to any authority but its own. Babylon was the instrument of God's destruction and exile of Jerusalem, who, despite the repentance of Nebuchadnezzar, went beyond God's delegated authority and attributed their victory to their own power and to their own gods. Persia, who acted out of their own interests, was still God's instrument to restore and protect Jerusalem after the exile. God removes all these enemies as judgment for their arrogant use of power for selfish ends, but in the end the prophets see even the cruelest enemies to the North and South of Israel restored as chosen people of God in the age to come (Isaiah 19.23-25).

Because of Yahweh’s massive, overriding sovereignty, these oracles assert that the nations are subject to a governance, a requirement, and an expectation, no matter how secure and self-sufficient they seem to be or think they are. This governance, moreover, cannot be overcome, disregarded, or evaded. 503

Yahweh, not Nebuchadnezzar, is sovereign and is the one who establishes proximate sovereignty in the earth. All worldly power is provisional, derivative, and penultimate, and may be given and taken away by the authority of Yahweh. Indeed, Yahweh is completely free in actions concerning world power, and need conform to no worldly expectation. Daniel 3-4, 514

Brueggemann concludes, that just like with Israel, YHWH acts in freedom to raise up and remove nations as He wills according to His purposes. But, He also acts toward these nations with passionate love and is willing to forgive and restore them in the end. God's prophets spoke mainly to Israel, but also revealed His will at strategic times to the nations. The Old Testament's testimony is clear that God rules over all the nations and desires to make His blessings available to all peoples.

With the most recalcitrant of nation-partners, Yahweh acts in a characteristic rehabilitative way, moving beyond the harshness of rejecting sovereignty, in order to re-embrace the established enemy. In all of these cases, the move beyond judgment and nullification toward new national possibility is rooted in Yahweh’s freedom, freedom to restore an enemy. But more is at work in these instances than unfettered freedom. There is also, it appears to me, a predilection toward forgiveness, restoration, and rehabilitation, propelled by an old and enduring positive concern and not undercut even by resistance and rebellion. Amos 9:7, Isa 19:23–25, Isa 56:3–7, Jonah, 524–525

It is the characteristic urging of Israel’s prophets that arrogant nations, which overreach in imagined self-sufficiency, operate autonomously at their own peril. Yahweh, in this rhetoric, is a critical principle of restraint, which arrests both self-aggrandizement and brutality in the service of self-aggrandizement. 526

Friday, January 26, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #7 (15.1-17.10)

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 15-16 highlight the accessibility of God to sinners and the joy He takes in restored relationship with them. Jesus seeks out outsiders to bring them in to His family and His disciples should use all their resources to follow His example.  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 15 is one of the best known chapters in Luke. In it Jesus explains, in 3 parables, why He seeks out and has close fellowship with sinners. The bottom line is that God loves and is compassionate even toward those who are in rebellion against Him. God does not turn his back on sinners, but seeks them out to encourage repentance and full restoration to relationship. Jesus' disciples must take the same attitude and reach out to sinners in the same way. God's desire is always for forgiveness and restoration and His people should always offer it to others. The passage also emphasizes the joy that the Father has in restored relationships and renewed people. We can and should share in that joy.

Recovering a lost sinner can take diligent effort. But the effort is worth it when the lost is found. Sinners should know that God is diligently looking for them. Disciples should diligently engage in the search for sinners on behalf of the Master they serve. Jesus provides a clear example for us to follow. Finding lost “sheep” and missing “coins” is a disciple’s priority. Jesus involved himself with sinners; so should disciples. Luke 15:1-10

The parable has two major points. First, repentance means an absolute reversal of status. The lost son has become a family member again. The father’s acceptance of the penitent son is total. This is God’s grace. This is why God pursues sinners. Second, others should have joy when the penitent returns. Reconciliation involves not only God and the individual but also the individual and the community. Luke 15:11-32

Chapter 16 deals with how disciples are to handle money and possessions. Jesus uses two parables to teach that wealth is to be used to do Kingdom service to those around us. It can be very dangerous because it is a powerful temptation to squander our resources on our own comfort and ignore the needs of those around us. The parable of the shrewd steward is very difficult to interpret. It is unlikely that Jesus is praising deceptive financial practices. The point is that the steward uses money to build relationship. How much more important it is that we use our money to build our relationship with God and our place in His eternal kingdom. The rich man and Lazarus parable shows shows the urgency of using wealth to serve God in this life. Our love for God is seen in the way we meet the needs of others. The first 10 verses of chapter 17 show other ways that we demonstrate kingdom love for our fellow human beings which include holding one another accountable, forgiveness, humble service and a trust in God that permits generosity.

Money cannot come with us to heaven. Its value is limited when it comes to everlasting life. So recognize its limits and use it for others, not selfishly. To gain friends by means of mammon is to use money in such a way that others appreciate you for your exercise of stewardship, your kindness and generosity. Luke 16:1-18

Love for God changes one’s values, so that persons made in God’s image become more valuable than things. Money is a resource, not a reward. It is to be used, not hoarded. It is to serve, not become master. Jesus said as much in his own ministry. To love God is to love and show compassion to the humanity he loves...Jesus warns that treasure invested for the self yields emptiness, while treasure invested for God yields compassion. Luke 16:19-31

The disciple’s life is lived in community with others and God. Be careful not to lead others into sin, Jesus says. When sin occurs, rebuke it, but be quick to forgive when there is repentance. Don’t worry about having great faith; just let the faith you have do its surprising work. Finally, serve God as a matter of duty. If you trust God, you can serve him. Luke 17:1-10

Monday, January 22, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of Luke #6 (12-14)

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 12-14 highlight the need to listen to Jesus to receive God’s blessing. The religious leaders reject this and miss it. 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.

After exposing the defective righteousness of the Pharisees, Jesus explains what it means to be His disciple. Jesus' disciples must make allegiance to the person and teachings of Jesus their highest priority. Often this will place them in opposition to the prevailing culture which will produce persecution. True disciples publicly acknowledge allegiance to Jesus, no matter how intense the opposition is, because they know that God sees what is happening, and, in the end, will set the scales of justice rightly for both the disciples and the one who persecutes them. This means that disciples must use the time we have on earth to serve Jesus rather than ourselves. The "rich fool" is one who lives for earthly possessions and ends up with nothing in eternity. God can take care of His people who work hard to serve Him and others so that they don't have to worry. Serving God now is investing in an eternal future. We will stand before God in judgment and the standard will be how we served God and His people. Let us use our lives now to invest in God's kingdom rather than in our own pleasures and desires which do not last or satisfy.

The disciple may face a hostile world, but loving God means standing up for him. Behind that backbone and resolve to face the opposition is an understanding that we must fear God and know that he sees both the disciple and the accuser. What is done in secret will be revealed in public before God one day. Then the disciple will stand though others fall. Luke 12:1-12

For some, the material world is god. Many of us end up serving our dollars or pounds and bowing before their demands rather than relating sensitively to people. In the process relationships can be damaged and marriages destroyed. False worship involves bowing before something that is not worthy of honor and that cannot deliver life’s true meaning. The pursuit of wealth is the pursuit of false religion. Luke 12:13-34

The good servant, the one who waits and is ready, is the one who serves faithfully during the master’s absence. Often we think of waiting as an attitude, but Jesus sees it as translating into action. Life lived prospectively is marked by constant service to God. The Lord blesses those living faithfully as they await his return. Luke 12:35-48

The next section records the fact that Israel's leaders did not discern that this was the time of God's promised visit to His people and they rejected Jesus and missed its blessings. Nevertheless, blessing could still come to those who followed Him and generously invested in His kingdom.

We all have debts before God that need paying. To settle accounts with God, we must come to grips with Jesus. His presence forces choices and brings the potential for division. We need to look at the ledger. Bankruptcy and debtors’ prison will be the results of rejecting God. Only Jesus can pay our debt. Luke 12:49-59

The section continues with another rejection from another Jewish religious leader which leads to further warnings from Jesus not to miss the opportunity from God that His presence provides. The issue is urgent because we are all going to die and face judgment. Whether we die early from a natural disaster or human oppression or live a full life we all will die and stand before God. The issue for judgment, Jesus explains, will not be our heritage or even our completion of religious duties. It will hinge on "knowing Jesus." Jesus shows that He has this authority in the synagogue by healing a woman from a disease which involved supernatural causes. This demonstration of God's compassion and authority were rejected by the synagogue ruler and this would be the last time Jesus is seen in a synagogue in the book of Luke. Jesus explains that the Jewish expectations of the kingdom were wrong and, perhaps, mistimed. The kingdom would begin slowly with acts of healing and compassion and grow into a great entity which would provide shelter for all the nations. Everyone who hears is responsible to take the kingdom message, receive and apply it for themselves to enter into the great "banquet" that God's ultimate kingdom will bring.

Jesus is again stressing that the real fact of life we must face is mortality, not the timing of death. More important than determining death’s cause or timing is dealing with the fact of death and subsequent judgment. This quickly levels the playing field and calls on each person to consider where God stands in the equation—or better, where one stands before him. Luke 13:1-9

Luke’s reader can have hope that despite the humble beginnings of this community, the kingdom will come to have a dominating presence and will provide shelter and calm. God’s plan is advancing. Opposition, whether human or spiritual, cannot stop its realization in the world. Trees built with earthly hands, like that of Nebuchadnezzar, will become stumps, but the branches of God’s kingdom provide shade forever. Luke 13:10-30

The parable warns people not to assume they are in the kingdom on the basis of exposure to Jesus or on the basis of elect ethnic origin. The patriarchs of Judaism will be there, but that does not mean every physical descendant of Abraham will. One had better decide for Jesus while the door remains open and there still is time. A responsive heart to Jesus is what God seeks. Luke 13:22-30

The theme of Jesus' call to discipleship in the midst of the rejection of the Jewish leadership continues in the next section. When Jesus is threatened from Herod he cries over Jerusalem's rejection of Him and the devastation it will bring to Israel in the near future. The healing of the man with edema (14.1-6) illustrates how deeply chronic is Jerusalem's resistance to God and their rejection of His protection and blessing. The first banquet parable (14.7-14) shows the reason that Israel misses God's banquet: they pridefully preferred to honor themselves rather than to humbly serve God and let Him honor them. Instead of reaching out and helping those in need, they viewed relationships as a tool to climb the social ladder. Thus, when invited to God's great banquet (14.15-24) they missed the invitation because they had other priorities and they would suffer the consequences. The bottom line (25-35) is that Jesus' disciples must be willing to make Jesus, and learning from Him, their #1 priority in life. Anything less causes one to miss God's blessing.

The passage confirms how strong sin’s stubbornness can be. It also shows how even after warnings about judgment and its consequences, God graciously still gives evidence of his presence. His grace still reveals itself, but closed eyes can never see the evidence of God’s power. The division between Jesus and religiosity remains, and so does the question of which way we will choose if we want to know God. Luke 13:31-14:1-6

Honor is not to be seized; it is awarded. Jesus is not against giving honor to one who deserves it, but he is against the use of power and prestige for self-aggrandizement. God honors the humble, and the highway of humility leads to the gate of heaven. Those who are truly humble persons recognize their desperate need for God, not any right to blessing. Luke 14:7-14

The point of the list is that no other relationship is first for a disciple. “Hate” is used figuratively and suggests a priority of relationship. Jesus is first. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus, not anyone or anything else. A disciple is a learner, and the primary teacher in life is Jesus. This total loyalty is crucial, given the rejection and persecution that lie ahead. If his followers care more about family than about Jesus, when families are divided under pressure of persecution, they will choose against Jesus. This is what lies behind Jesus’ remarks. Discipleship is not possible if Jesus is not the teacher. Luke, 14:15-35

Happy Birthday to Joyce

20180121_123308 (1280x960)

20180121_123237 (1280x960)Yesterday we celebrated Joyce’s 60th birthday with our grand-daughter Leila. We will celebrate a little more later this week. I am blessed to have been with Joyce to celebrate 40 of those 60 birthdays. We started dating in January 40 years ago and are coming up on 39 years of marriage. This last year has been a tough one for both of us. At this time last year we were not sure I’d still be around to celebrate this birthday. But, by God’s grace, we are still here and looking forward to His next steps for us. Happy Birthday Joyce!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #10

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 13-14 move into the 3rd part of the book, which discusses the character of YHWH from the subjective perspective of His partners in relationship. 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 13 is entitled Israel's Unsolicited Testimony. Previously Brueggemann has looked at Israel's testimony of how God's acts upon them, but here God's partners, mainly Israel function as the subjects acting upon God. This immediately creates tension because God sovereignly acts, as witnessed in the core testimony with its active verbs, to create and maintain the relationships and yet is affected and changed by the relationships. God responds to Israel with love, passion, regret, anger etc. Brueggemann frames this dichotomy by saying that God is committed to the partner relationship "in freedom and passion." That is, God is in complete control of the relationship and yet He commits Himself, with strong feeling, to stay engaged in the partner relationship. I think this is a very important observation about how God is presented in the OT. How can an "omni" Being be in relationship with beings He created? Words are inadequate. I like to say that God "lowers Himself into relationship with us so that He truly experiences relationship, with all of its joys and pains, while still remaining sovereign." The incarnation, in which the 2nd person of the Trinity "empties Himself," would be the supreme expression of this. That God does this is clear in scripture. How God does this is beyond human understanding.

Yahweh’s person and character are indeed fully available in the relationship, that nothing about Yahweh is held back or kept immune from this relationship. This does not mean that in this fully available relationship, where Yahweh is accessible for being impacted, Yahweh is “like any other.” Indeed not. And so the Old Testament continues to ponder and puzzle over the character of Yahweh, who is fully available to Yahweh’s partners, but in such ways that it is always the Yahweh of the transformative verbs who is available. 410

Yahweh is committed to the partner in freedom. This assertion means that Yahweh’s connection to the partner is undertaken as sovereign, unfettered choice on Yahweh’s part. Yahweh makes a commitment of care, fidelity, and obligation to the partner that Yahweh did not need to make. In the end, Israel can give no reason for this act of Yahweh’s freedom. It is simply a given that is available in Israel’s discernment of its life in the world. In freedom, Yahweh surely retains sovereignty over the relationship, evidenced in the continuing control of the decisive verbs. 410

Yahweh is committed to the partner in passion...It refers, first of all, to powerful and strong feeling. Yahweh does commit to the partner with powerful and strong feelings of concern, care, and affection...And so it is, on occasion, that Yahweh surprisingly does not exercise sovereign freedom to terminate a dysfunctional relationship, even when Yahweh clearly has the right to do so. Yahweh, on occasion, stays with the partner, seemingly because Yahweh is so engaged in the relationship that Yahweh is unable or unwilling to terminate it. 411

In chapter 14, Israel as Yahweh's Partner, Brueggemann discusses the testimony of Israel regarding their origins and covenant with YHWH. Israel's origin is entirely due to God's sovereign choice of the nation. Because God "loved," "chose" and "set His heart" upon them, Israel became His special nation with a special mission. God placed them in covenant relationship with Him, which obligated Israel to "hear" His commands and do justice and righteousness in God's world, and to "see" Him in worship, which drew Israel into a personal relationship with YHWH and obligated them to holiness. Israel was to love God and "be a light to the nations" by living as a just community and worshiping God in beauty and holiness.

From the outset there is something odd, enigmatic, and inexplicable about Israel’s origin and continued existence...It is important to remember that as Israel pondered and spoke about its existence, it offered no explanation for its existence. What appear to be explanations are in fact articulations of wonder, awe, astonishment, and gratitude, all addressed back to Yahweh. 414

Israel is to “listen” to the command of Yahweh and to respond in obedience...we may say in sum that Israel’s obligation is to do justice. Israel is a community put in the world, so the testimony suggests, for the sake of justice...Israel understands itself, in its unsolicited witness, as a community of persons bound in membership to each other, so that each person-as-member is to be treated well enough to be sustained as a full member of the community. 421–422

The obedience of Israel as Yahweh’s partner concerns the demanding practice of neighborliness and the rigorous discipline of presence with God...the Israelite with integrity is the one who fully practices neighborliness and who lives with passion the disciplines of holiness. 429

The last part of the chapter deals with Israel's experience with God as they respond to Him with faithlessness (exile) and with repentance (forgiveness and regathering). The faith of Israel that Christ fulfilled and the church inherits comes largely out of the exile. The majority of the nation had rejected God and failed to obey covenant, so they experienced His rejection, divorce and abandonment. In exile, many in the nation turn to God with repentance, grief for sin and their present situation, practice of Torah, trust in God's presence, and trust in His promises for regathering. God responds with the destruction of the Babylonian empire and the approval, by the Persians, for Israel to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple and resume the OT religious system. The reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah begin the process of solidifying the content of the OT canon and creating the Jewish community into which Christ would be born. This brought about the "fullness of time" to prepare Israel for the promised full restoration that Christ would bring, that would be experienced as the church was birthed at Pentecost and in subsequent church history, and is still awaited to be completed at His return.  

Repentance in itself is an act of hope. A return to Yahweh, and to land and to well-being, is possible. Any such return, however, will be on the terms of the sovereign God who waits to be merciful (Deut 4:31). The repentance entails the very issues that were the causes of Israel’s condemnation: remembrance, holiness, and justice.  436

While Israel’s judgment is a function of Yahweh’s sovereignty, Israel’s grief and protest are a complement to Yahweh’s faithfulness and pathos. The grief and protest permit Yahweh to move beyond sovereign anger and rage to rehabilitation and restoration. It is evident, moreover, in the ongoing life of the exile of Israel, that grief as candor and protest as hopeful insistence are effective. For Yahweh is indeed moved toward Israel in new, caring ways. 437–438

Obedience gives sharpness and urgency to Israel’s existence. But it is the promises of Yahweh, in which Israel hopes, which keep this community from turning in on itself, either in despair or in self-congratulation. Israel as a holy people refuses to give up on the commandments of Yahweh as the anchor of its significance in the world. Israel as a holy people refuses to doubt the promises, which assert that the future is dependent on nothing in this world, not even on Israel’s obedience, but only on Yahweh’s good intention, which is more reliable than the world itself. 447

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