Learning New Things

I see I’ve managed to let the blog slide into silence for a couple weeks.  It’s been busy.  Real busy.

Glad to report that after over a week of not having a window on the van (from the break-in…see the post from April 1), the local repair shop finally had the glass and installed it quickly.  The job took an extra couple hours because I needed the after-market tint removed.  The tint came with the van when I got it at auction back in 2011, and technically the front two windows were illegal here with tint, and the new window wouldn’t have any tint, and it just wouldn’t look right with the other side windows tinted.  Yeah.  First-world problems in a second-world country.  I’m debating looking in to having new tinting because it’s noticeably hotter inside the van now.  I doubt I’ll have time to mess with it.  Our home assignment is less than one month from cranking up.

I turned in the big 6-8 page paper (that turned into a 10 page paper) for week 6 of 7 of my Hermeneutics class.  I’m working on the readings for the final week (7 chapters instead of the usual 4 chapters…so lots to read and think about).  This has been my favorite class so far, and I’m sorry to say I don’t see any other Hermeneutics course on my list of future classes.  I’ll just have to keep reading and learning on my own.  I am enrolled in another class starting on May 12 and running all the way through June which is not a happy reality.  Living on the road and making visits and speaking engagements while trying to study is something I can’t envision.  I do hope the prof will be flexible given my circumstances.  I may not be able to turn assignments in on time.  Unfortunately, I can’t retain the Timothy Scholarship without taking this class, and without that scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to continue since it ultimately covers 2/3 of the tuition.  More first-world problems.

Easter service went well and we had almost full attendance for our small house church.  We enjoyed a brunch together and a special Easter message with kids involved too and then took communion together.  It was lovely.

Last Sunday we only had one family come.  Jason and Kristin are the original members and the reason why we started this small work.  Kristin didn’t really understand Spanish well enough to attend the other church, so we started in English here and kept it in English for about 2 years until non-English speakers began coming.  So, we switched to Spanish.  Since it was just them this past Sunday, I changed back to English.  Since they had missed the week before, I gave that lesson which I hadn’t prepped in English.  It wasn’t too hard to make the switch, and I really enjoyed being able to teach within my linguistic comfort zone (a rare thing).  I even made a quick search on YouTube for some music we could sing in English (with words on the video), and so we even sang in English.  They didn’t know any of the songs, but they enjoyed them!

Speaking of music, I learned something new today.  If you play a tortilla on and old record player, you’d be surprised at the sound it makes.  Here’s a sample:

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A Saturday Reflection

We went to the edge of San Juan on Saturday to have lunch in a field under a tree with a family from our house church, Lupe and Rocío (you know them if you’ve followed the blog for very long).  We grilled a lot more meat than I thought they could afford (and we had brought a kilo of meat as well), and we sat in the shade on a warm, windy afternoon and talked and watched the shepherds move their sheep and goats past our spot just a stone’s throw from their two room apartment.  Quiet for a Saturday.  The big day was Good Friday.  Saturday is “glorious Saturday” and apparently is glorious for sleeping off the activities of Good Friday and getting out of town for the coming week (vacation as well).

Since our Sunday service was a little earlier than normal, having lost an hour of sleep due to Mexico flipping over to daylight savings on that day, and having an Easter breakfast scheduled for the house church, I told them I would come up and get them (about 15 to 20 minute drive).  It would be a quiet morning and not probably many buses would be running too early or often.  I’ve never picked them up on a Sunday morning before but had taken them home a number of times after the service.

So, I drove up there Easter morning.  It was still not early arriving at 10 a.m.  I didn’t realize the wife was planning on making pozole (hominy soup) with chicken.  I should have picked up on that on Saturday because Lupe had shown me the long scratch marks on his forearm where the chicken had caught him as he has handling it to kill it and cook it.  (How’s that for effort on the church carry-in dinner?!)  The pot of pozole was too big for their little gas stove, and then I understood why he had asked to borrow a machete on Saturday.  After we left on Saturday, he marched up the mountain and chopped at some tree limbs so they could cook the pozole outside on some rocks and chunks of block.  It would cook much faster that way as their little stove wouldn’t manage to cook it through.  It would have been quite a walk with three little boys and a 10 gallon pot of soup to catch a bus (close to a mile).  A different life than most of us experience.

As we drove away from their apartment Sunday morning to come back to our house, a block away I noticed some kids playing in the cobblestone street and then noticed people milling around a food stand.  We all thought someone was selling breakfast, but realized it was in front of that little neighborhood’s Catholic church. Easter morning…the resurrection of Christ and what were these Catholic faithful doing?  They were there in their work clothes with wheelbarrows doing construction on their perpetually unfinished building.

The finished work of Christ on Friday somehow only leads to their own efforts to impress God and man by showing up on Easter morning for a work project.  I assume they know that Jesus rose from the dead, but there is no understanding of the power of the resurrection and the true purpose of the cross.

For these people in that community, the events of the week merely point toward how great Mary is.  She loved her son and wept for him.  The Father cursed and abandoned the son.  The loving, faithful mother stayed with him and wept for him.  The son did as he was told.

It’s a cultural story that results in an elevation of the maternal god who loves us and weeps for us too.  They’d better be about her business because for them, that’s where Easter left us, and her “appearance” to Juan Diego proved it when she told him to tell the priests to build a sanctuary in honor of her on a hilltop called Tepeyac; now a hilltop squished in the megalopolis of Mexico City where that nearly 500 year old church still stands just above the modern basilica and where that apron of Juan Diego is displayed up for all to see (millions go to see it every year…there are moving walkways below it so people don’t slow down the masses who come to mass to see it).

Further down the road as we came back into town, we were slowed by a parade of Catholic faithful heading to another church building with banners and fanfare…a slightly different attitude toward the resurrection, but the same flawed message found throughout.  There still is only one name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved.  That name is Jesus and he purchased our salvation by his blood and freed us from death to life by his resurrection power.

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The Letter in the Mirror

I’m now working on week 4 of 7 in my current class on hermeneutics.  Those of you who’ve taken such classes already know all these things I’m learning, but I’m guessing at least a few of you reading my blog haven’t taken a class on this subject.  In week 3 both of my textbooks mentioned an approach to reading and interpreting the NT epistles that I think I can say I’ve seen evidence of this in commentaries and devotionals I’ve read over the years, but I probably never realized there was a particular method at work. This may not be new to you at all, but here goes.

It’s called “mirroring” or “reading between the lines” (not too technical, right?) or “reconstruction.”  The idea is that the author of whatever NT epistle was writing with a particular agenda to a particular audience for a particular purpose, an “occasional writing.”  He was writing for a specific occasion/reason.  So, in reading and understanding the meaning of any particular epistle, it is important for us today to understand what issues were being addressed and why.  Unless we do that, we run the risk of misunderstanding not only the intended meaning of the passage, but our application of that passage then runs the risk of being based on a faulty understanding of it.

So what is “mirroring”?  Of course, I’m no expert on this and have just read a few pages on the topic and enjoyed some interesting discussions concerning this.  So just for a very basic description, it is likened to overhearing a telephone conversation where we only hear one person on the phone but not the person on the other end.  Have you ever done this?  Perhaps in a public place what was being said by someone on their cell phone was so interesting or unusual that we wanted to know what the person on the other end of the call was saying in response to what we could hear, or we wanted to know what that person on the other end was saying that was causing the responses on this end that we could hear.  Perhaps you even imagined what was being said or thought on the other end.  It could be quite entertaining depending on the scenario.  When we do this (if we do this), we’re filling in what we don’t know by clues that we are observing.

When we read a NT letter, we’re basically hearing one side of a phone conversation.  By studying the letter as a whole and then in more detail, we begin to try to figure out why the author wrote what was being written to the audience.  In some epistles there are references made to other communication that had taken place before.  We don’t know what was involved in that communication and yet it’s clear that a conversation is taking place about a particular topic.  Obviously, making sense of what isn’t said relies heavily on making sure we read between the lines in context.  Otherwise, we could just be making up anything whether it really makes sense or not or has any realistic chance of having been the case or not.  Due diligence is required to determine what the context most likely was.  Thus, in order to figure out what the conversation is about, we have to find clues in what we’re able to read to figure out what isn’t being said.

So why wasn’t it said explicitly in the letter?  The answer is obvious.  Just like when we communicate with someone who already knows the background, history, and current situation, we don’t retell all of that just to continue the current conversation.  We just pick up where we left off because we know the audience of our conversation already understands what we’re talking about.   That’s why the writers of NT letters don’t give us all the information.  They were writing an actual letter to actual people and both sides knew the context.

I bring this up because as we read the NT letters, we weren’t privy to that entire conversation.  2,000 years later, we obviously don’t know all of that.  We have to figure it out.  We have to piece it together by textual/contextual clues in the letter, in other letters (if those apply), in historical references (e.g. the book of Acts can be quite helpful for some of Paul’s writings), and at times there are other biblical and historical connections that could be of help.

So, I wrote all the above because I was so impressed by what one of the authors of one of my textbooks discussed concerning Philippians.  It’s such a warm and fuzzy little epistle.  I grew up singing that nice little chorus, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!”  Isn’t that a nice little song?  Scripture songs are wonderful!

Have you ever thought about why Paul wrote something like this to the believers in Philippi?  Think for a moment.  When believers in a church are doing the right thing, the pastor or teacher addressing them usually thanks them for doing such a good job with whatever it is.  When the congregation is not doing a good job, what typically happens?  The preacher or teacher instructs and corrects.  The bigger the problem, the more prominent and forceful the teacher’s response.  When the message is important, the message is repeated.  Repetition is a clue to importance as well as purpose behind repeating it.

Are you beginning to think about that?

“Hey you believers at Philippi.  You have a problem.  Yes, you are generous givers.  That’s good.  But you don’t give from a joyful heart.  It’s some kind of obligatory thing for you.  You don’t have much, and yet you give much, but you give with a bad attitude.  You aren’t happy about giving.  You need to give joyfully.  In fact, ‘Rejoice!  And again I say rejoice!'”

Does that make sense to you?  Often we think of Philippi as a church with few if any problems, but they struggled with unity (the two women mentioned who were not getting along, and to the point that Paul had to mention it in his letter…that’s a big deal).  They struggled with joy.

We often associate this letter with joy in a positive way, but really the letter is written apparently because of a lack of joy.  I think of where Paul begins the letter with what I have often viewed as a beautiful testimony of his commitment to Christ, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  That’s probably Paul trying to get the believers’ attention that they’re concerned with petty things regarding their motive in giving, their struggle to live in unity, and an apparent lack of humility (pride does lead to disunity so that makes sense too).  So Paul is very loudly saying…”HEY!  It’s not about money, and not about who gets their way in the church!  It’s about living for Christ and even dying for him!  You people need a reality check!”

He moves on in chapter 2 with the section on Christ’s humility.  The glorious God took on the flesh and blood as a man.  He stooped so low only to be humbled even further by being executed on a cross.  There is no greater example of humility anywhere at any time than this.

Why did Paul write this?  He just happened to be thinking about how awesome Christ’s humility and was and thought maybe he’d share it with others because he just couldn’t contain himself?  Of course not!  He wrote this because it fit perfectly into the message he was sending to the believers in Philippi.  They needed to understand humility because obviously (to Paul) they did not, and they needed to practice it because they were not.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the letter from this perspective, I see it in a totally new light.  I had never thought much about the possibility that there were some serious problems in this church.  Paul doesn’t write lovely platitudes so we can enjoy campfire choruses.  He had a specific message and really a stinging one at that.  He was addressing serious problems in the church at Philippi and these people needed to get with it and get it and get on with it.

So what do we do with this?  If these seem to be solid conclusions, then we can think through how this applies to us.  Certainly, if we suffer from disunity, I think we can safely say that we lack the humility of Christ.  If we give but do so from a sense of duty and obligation rather than from a heart motivated by joy to give, then maybe we should sing our campfire song and really mean it!

There’s more that was mentioned in the textbook, but you get the basic idea from my paraphrase of it.  Even the author would point out that none of this is 100% certain.  We’re making educated guesses when we use this technique of mirror-reading or reading between the lines.  We can be fairly certain with some things, less certain with others.  We should be very careful with this because we can be wrong and we can come to incorrect conclusions and applications.  However, as Silva says in his book (paraphrase), it isn’t a matter of whether or not we do this, it’s a matter of how we do it.  We need to be careful, but we really have to do this in order to explore the meaning of a NT letter.

Hope this is helpful to you as you continue studying the Word!

 

The text by Moises Silva:

http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Biblical-Hermeneutics-Search-Meaning/dp/0310279518

 

The text by Duvall and Hays:

http://www.amazon.com/Grasping-Gods-Word-Hands–Interpreting-ebook/dp/B006BJECNK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427953627&sr=1-1&keywords=duvall+and+hays

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Count It All Joy

[For those reading this who aren’t on our regular ministry email update list, here is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of that update that was sent last night.]

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COUNT IT ALL JOY

March has been an amazing month of ministry!  And while great things are happening in our journey with Jesus, guess what we can expect?  Trials!

As you can see in the picture above, something is missing.  Glass!  Yes, we went to order new glasses for three of us who are struggling to see clearly, and when we stopped for lunch with our van parked in a Walmart parking lot (we needed something there too), someone broke this window, climbed in and helped themselves to about $90 worth of groceries and a nice pair of jumper cables.  Our insurance should cover all but about $80 worth of the damaged glass.  The groceries and jumper cables are an offering to someone unknown to us.  I wish I had put a gospel tract in the bag!  A glass replacement shop here in San Juan will hopefully fix it by this Saturday or next Monday (the glass has to be ordered).

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  ~ James 1:2-4 (ESV)
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Baby Dedication

The good news.  I survived the baby dedication on Sunday, the baby did great (I didn’t hold him during the service which contributed to that result), we had a houseful (around 30, including about 20 guests), the gospel was shared, and my Spanish held up (or out).

The better news.  During the lunch and fellowship time afterward, one of the great-grandparents on the wife’s side, was overheard repeating the gospel message to one of the aunts on the husband’s side, including what sounded like a prayer of salvation!  I didn’t catch that, but Bethie caught a little of it.  Praise God for using the service to share the Good News!

I kept it simple.  We began with a word of welcome, we went around and introduced ourselves by name, and then dove into the program.  There were three songs interspersed between the main points: The importance of the family (both the physical family and the spiritual family) using 2 Timothy 1:1-5 and Esther 2:5-7; the importance of the parents using 1 Samuel 1 (the baby’s name is Samuel and was named after the Samuel from the Bible; the mother here was not supposed to be able to have children, but like Hannah she prayed and prayed for a baby, and God graciously gave her their own baby Samuel); and finally, the importance of the Scriptures using 2 Timothy 3:14-15 and the gospel tract, “El ABC’s de la Vida” (“The ABCs of Life”).  I asked different believers in the group to read these passages and one of our young men read through the tract.

The main idea of the message was that this baby dedication was not for the baby because he didn’t know what was going on.  The dedication was for us…for the family of the baby, for the spiritual family of the baby (the church), and for the parents.  We are all responsible to help the baby Samuel to grow up hearing the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus.  So, just to be sure we all knew our part in Samuel’s spiritual journey, we’d better be sure to know what we’ll be sharing with him as he grows up.  At that part, we went through the tract together.  Of course, I knew there were a number of unsaved people present, so this was a good way to encourage them to hear and consider the gospel for themselves.

I think it went well.  Praise God for using it in the lives of those who attended.

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MK Camp 2015 – the pics

Now that I’ve gotten through the weekend event (baby dedication) and have uploaded both of my weekly papers that are due tonight, I have time now to go through the pics Bethie took during the annual MK Camp held this past week.

It was unfortunate that I couldn’t attend, but I got a lot of school done and as a half-introvert, I greatly enjoyed a rare couple of days with the house to myself!  Since I wasn’t there, I can’t really report much on what all happened or didn’t happen at camp this year.  Bethie was in charge of the crafts again so that’s when most of these pics were taken.  You’ll probably notice some “disposable” glass Coca-cola bottles.  I do know that the kids used a homemade template to cut their bottles and made Coke drinking glasses out of them.  Cool!

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Getting Ready

We’ve been busy for the big event.  Tomorrow’s house church meeting will be a first for our group.  We’re having a baby dedication!  Since I really didn’t come to Mexico with the idea of being a church planter, all these things are new experiences for me.

If you are a merciful type, please feel free to pray for me!  It should be a great experience, but knowing my challenges with Spanish, and expecting over half of our group coming to be special guests for the service, well, there’s a little bit of pressure to not stumble too badly with the language.  Normally, I’m not too concerned.  Our group is patient and gracious about those shortcomings of mine.  So, hopefully, I’ll be understood and clear…clearer than normal!  The gospel will be shared!  I’ll have more prepared notes than usual which will help.

After the dedication service, we’ll enjoy a meal together.  A “pot-luck” dinner for all my Baptist church friends, and a “pot-providence” dinner for all my reformed church friends.  Haha!  (I picked up that term from a Reformed Baptist church years ago…they always pointed out, “We don’t believe in luck.  God provides our daily bread.”  I have to say, I agree with that!)

As you can see from the pics, we’ve got more chairs (I invested about $200 in more folding chairs, so we’ll have them for this event and future events too).  You can also see that Beth was busy burning things on the stove.  We’re used to that.  :)  Seriously, she was making “rajas con crema” which requires roasting large poblano peppers on an open flame.  The end result is delicious with strips of roasted pepper, corn giblets, ham, and lots of sour cream.  We already tried it on some corn tortillas!

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