Ebenezers, Benchmarks, and Transitions in 2013

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

How will you remember 2013?

Did you watch the corn grow in 2013 or did God break into your life in ways that will change you forever? The Greeks had two words for time which capture this distinction: chronos time and kairos time.

Chronos time is clock time. It is often associated with the Goya painting of Saturn eating his son—a grotesque reminder that each minute on the watch can only be enjoyed during the minute and then it is gone. In chronos time, the corn grows and we watch.

By contrast, kairos time is decision time. When God steps into our lives from outside of time, we experience His presence as crisis. We are changed forever. We are forced to answer the question—who are you, really? This is the experience of God that we read about in Paul when he says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2 ESV). In kairos time, we grow and God becomes real.

I will always remember 2013 as the year that I graduated from seminary. For 5 years, I worked towards the goal of graduating seminary before my 60th birthday. I passed that benchmark this month. My diploma now hangs on the wall in my office—a kind of metaphorical Ebenezer (a pile of stones erected to God)[1].

School is a transition with a beginning (how you got admitted), a middle (all the classes, experiences, and uncertainties), and an ending (graduation). Looking back, I am not sure which stage in the transition was most stressful!

Other transitions that I will remember include—seeing family members grow, witnessing my first death, preaching my first emotional sermon (http://bit.ly/1eQEqbn), writing my first book (http://bit.ly/1fVF6c9), developing the social side of social media (e.g. http://bit.ly/19ROE26), and first appreciation Christmas. Of these, appreciation Christmas was probably the most meaningful.

At the Hiemstra Christmas party this year, we got everyone in a room together and shared. The usual fare was been to share things like—what are you most thankful for? Or, what was your most memorable Christmas memory? However, this year I proposed that we go around the room and take turns being appreciated. When it is your turn, everyone else in the room takes a turn telling you why they appreciate you. People really got into this—we spent about two hours appreciating one another. This exercise only works for groups that really know one another, but for these groups it can be a really healing experience [2]. I will never forget.

Return tomorrow to view my Top 10 Postings in 2013.

Thank you for supporting this online ministry.

Happy New Year!

1/ Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the LORD has helped us (1Samuel 7:12 ESV).

2/ I owe this idea to my Clinical Pastoral Education instructor, Jan Humphreys (http://bit.ly/19zhgPb).

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M & A Account for Losses; Recognize Grief

Loss_12242013Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Anniversaries can be painful. I remember one patient in the emergency department. He was loud; he was obnoxious; he was threatening. When I spoke to him, I was startled to learn he was also grieving—his brother had died at age 40 from alcohol abuse. He was now 40 and also abused alcohol. In remembering his brother, he also feared his own death. In All Our Losses: All Our Griefs, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson remind us that grief can accompany losses other than death and is often mixed with other emotions.

Mitchell and Anderson start by observing that grief—the normal response to loss—is much more common than most people believe (9).  Their book is organized around three questions:  (1) Why do people grieve? (2) What are the dynamics of grief? And (3) how can we help those who grieve? (10-11). At the time of writing, both authors were professors of pastoral care.  Mitchell served at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis; Anderson served at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Mitchell and Anderson observe that grief is both natural and unavoidable.  They write:  Just as there can be no life without attachments, there can be no attachments without eventual separation and loss.  Grief has its beginnings in the twin necessities of attachment and separation (21). One example of this principle of attachment and separation is the child before and after birth (20).  Another example is the child’s distinction between me and not me, and later—not me but mine and not mine (23).  All losses and separations are painful, in part, because they remind us of our limitations and eventual death (31).

Mitchell and Anderson identify six major types of loss, including:  1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (36-45).  They then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses:  1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left (46-50).  Surprisingly, they observe that:  Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional (51).  It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.

The complexity of grieve arises because it is more than just a single emotion and it includes physical responses as well.  Mitchell and Anderson cite 7 elements of grief: 1. Numbness, 2. Emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 3. Fear and anxiety, 4. Guilt and shame, 5. Anger, 6. Sadness and despair, and 7. Somatization—physical reactions (61-81).

In my experience as a chaplain intern, I was struck by the pervasive nature of grief among the patients that I visited and by the number of physical ailments triggered by intense or unresolved grief.  Grief was a part of more hospital visits—especially in the psyche ward and the retirement facility—than any other factor.   Mitchell and Anderson suggest that care givers be sensitive to 4 elements.  Give people:  1. Permission and space to grieve, 2. Recognition of importance of and support for grief, 3. Encouragement to share, and 4. Help in reintegrating in life (111).  They remind us as caregivers of Jesus’ statement on the Sermon on the Mount:   Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 ESV; 165).

Among pastoral care professionals, Mitchell and Anderson’s book is a classic.  Grief and loss ministry remains underappreciated, in part, because death is an embarrassing subject in our youth-oriented, post-Christian society.  Because our culture denies death, the pain of death and other losses is amplified by ignorance and uncertainty[1].  Mitchell and Anderson shine a light into this dark corner of life.  As such, this book makes a helpful gift from time to time.


[1] As the saying goes:  denial is not just a river in Egypt!!!
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JOHN 21: From Fish to Sheep

fish_12232013Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women (Matthew 4:19).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I worked in the hospital with psychiatric patients, I met a man with a huge Bible. When we spoke, he opened up this Bible and showed me the many color photographs. When he spoke with the other patients, they ridiculed him for his lessons which he had never applied to his own life. He fashioned himself as a fisherman, but he was no shepherd.

John 21 tells the story of the disciples going fishing on the Sea of Tiberius, but catching nothing all night long. In the morning, a man on the beach advises them to try again, but on the other side of the boat. When they do, they are overwhelmed with fish. At that point, they recognize that the man on the beach is Jesus.

After Jesus offers the disciples breakfast on the beach, he asks Peter a pointed question three times. He said: Simon, son of John, do you love me? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Tend my sheep (v 16). Because Peter had denied him three times on the night of his arrest, the three-fold question and response served to restore Peter to relationship with Jesus and leadership among the disciples. Both events took place in front of a charcoal fire (John 18:18; 21:9)

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus promises that if the disciples follow him, then he will make them fishers of men and women. Now, Jesus is asking Peter—and us—to give up fishing and become a shepherd. A fisherman catches fish with nets and hooks, but a shepherd feeds and protects sheep. This is a story about Christian leadership—the English word, pastor, originally meant shepherd.

The story continues. Jesus goes on to prophesy Peter’s death by crucifixion (v 18). At this point Peter’s rivalry with John rises to the surface. Peter asks: Lord, what about this man? (v 21) At this point, Jesus rebukes Peter: what is that to you? You follow me! (v 22) In other words, as Christian leaders we are to lead out of obedience to Christ, not rivalry with one another.

It is interesting that three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) end with the disciples being given new responsibilities for evangelism. Matthews ends with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20); Mark ends with the disciples preaching everywhere and performing miracles (signs); John ends with a lesson on Christian leadership. Only in Luke do the disciples simply hang around the church. However, Luke is like an extended preface to the Book of Acts (also written by Luke) where virtually the entire book is about early church evangelism and the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel of John is not bashful about describing its objective.  John writes: these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).  My prayer is that his objective is accomplished.

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Juan 21: De Pescado a Ovejas

fish_12232013Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Vengan, síganme —les dijo Jesús—, y los haré pescadores de hombres y mujeres (Mateo 4:19)

Cuando trabajaba en el hospital con pacientes psiquiátricos, conocí a un hombre con una enorme Biblia. Cuando hablamos, él abrió la Biblia y me mostró las numerosas fotografías en color. Cuando habló con los otros pacientes, que se burlaban de él por sus lecciones que nunca se había aplicado a su propia vida. Él formó a sí mismo como un pescador, pero no era un pastor de ovejas.

Juan 21 cuenta la historia de los discípulos de ir de pesca en el Mar de Tiberio, pero sin pescar nada durante toda la noche. Por la mañana, un hombre en la playa les aconseja que intentarlo de nuevo, pero por el otro lado de la embarcación. Cuando lo hacen, se sienten abrumados con el pescado. En ese punto, reconocen que el hombre en la playa es Jesús.

Después de que Jesús ofrece a los discípulos el desayuno en la playa, le pide a Peter una pregunta directa tres veces. Él dijo: Simón, hijo de Juan, ¿me amas? —Sí, Señor, tú sabes que te quiero. —Cuida de mis ovejas (v 16). Debido a que Pedro lo había negado tres veces en la noche de su arresto, la pregunta tres veces y la respuesta sirven para restaurar Peter a la relación con Jesús y el liderazgo entre los discípulos. Ambos eventos tuvieron lugar en frente de un fuego de carbón (Juan 18:18; 21:09)

En Mateo 4:19, Jesús promete que si los discípulos lo siguen, entonces él los hará pescadores de hombres y mujeres. Ahora, Jesús está pidiendo a Pedro, ya nosotros, a abandonar la pesca y llegar a ser un pastor. Un pescador captura peces con redes y anzuelos, pero un pastor alimenta y protege a las ovejas. Esta es una historia sobre el liderazgo en el Cristianismo—la palabra, pastor, originalmente significaba pastor de ovejas.

La historia continúa. Jesús va a profetizar la muerte por crucifixion de Pedro (v 18). En este punto, la rivalidad de Pedro con Juan sube a la superficie. Pedro le pregunta: Señor, ¿qué pasa con este hombre? (v 21) En este punto, Jesús reprende a Pedro: ¿a ti qué? Tú sígueme no más (v 22). En otras palabras, como líderes cristianos hemos de llevar a cabo de la obediencia a Cristo, ni rivalidad entre nosotros.

Es interesante que tres de los cuatro Evangelios (Mateo, Marcos y Juan) terminan con los discípulos están dadas las nuevas responsabilidades para el evangelismo. Matthews termina con la Gran Comisión (Mateo 28:19-20), Marcos termina con los discípulos a predicar por todas partes y haciendo milagros (signos), Juan termina con una lección sobre el liderazgo cristiano. Sólo en Lucas no los discípulos simplemente cuelgan alrededor de la iglesia. Sin embargo, Lucas es como un prefacio prolongado con el Libro de los Hechos (también escrito por Lucas), donde prácticamente todo el libro es acerca de la evangelización de la iglesia temprana y la obra del Espíritu Santo.

El Evangelio de Juan no es tímido acerca de la descripción de su objetivo. Juan escribe:  éstas se han escrito para que ustedes crean que Jesús es el Cristo, el Hijo de Dios, y para que al creer en su nombre tengan vida (Juan 20:31 NVI).  Mi oración es que su objetivo se logra.

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Hyatt’s Platform Stands Solid; Gets Noticed

PlatformMichael Hyatt. 2012.  Platform:  Get Noticed in a Noisy World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My introduction this fall to social media evokes memories of my experience with survival camping as a Boy Scout. Survival camping tested your skill with the equipment, with problematic colleagues, and with hiking through rugged terrain. Social media likewise tests your knowledge of technologies, ability to communicate, and dealing with numerous uncertainties. In preparing for survival camping, I studied the Scout Fieldbook [1]. In preparing in social media, Michael Hyatt’s Platform is a great help.


Hyatt is the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, celebrity author and speaker, and professional blogger. His professional focus is on leadership, productivity, social media, and publishing—all issues of personal interest. Hyatt came to my attention online when I observed him promoting John Maxwell’s Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn among bloggers (New York:  Center Street, 2013) [2]; at that point I knew that he was also a marketing professional. My curiosity about Hyatt led me to purchase Platform.

Hyatt’s basic thesis is that: “A good product does not stand on its own anymore. It is foundational, but it is not enough” (xvii). He defines a platform as: ”the thing you have to stand on to get heard” (xvi). A platform provides visibility, amplification, and connection (xviii). He writes: “This book is all about attracting [an] audience, turning on the brightest lights you can find, and building passionate loyalty so your audience stays with you through every line, every scene, every act” (xv).


Platform is divided into 5 parts: 1. start with wow, 2. prepare to launch, 3. build your home base, 4. Expand your reach, and 4. Engage your tribe. Before these parts is an introduction which declares that “All the world is a stage” (William Shakespeare; xv). After these parts are some helpful items: complying with FTC guidelines, post ideas for novelists, a list of online resources, notes, acknowledgments, a writer’s bio, an index, and contact information. Hyatt’s scope is comprehensive; his details are thoroughly researched.

In chapter 35 which focuses on generating more blog traffic, for example, Hyatt talks about how he was able to increase his traffic (measured by unique visitors) by 81.3 percent in a single month. After changing to a professional blog theme, he blogged more frequently; we wrote shorter sentences, paragraphs, and posts; he started optimizing his posts for search engines; and he became more engaged in comments (134). He then offers ten additional recommendations on increasing traffic, a focus most bloggers identify with.

Focus on Followers

What is interesting is that in chapter 36 he then argues that increasing traffic is the wrong focus. Focus instead, he says, on increasing the number of people who follow and promote your blog. Keep your best customers happy and they will keep you happy (137). Hyatt’s list of 7 strategies to grow your list of followers then makes it clear that he sweats the details. My favorite is suggestion 4: offer an incentive for subscribing. Hyatt’s incentive here is to offer a free copy of one of his e-books.


Hyatt’s Platform is a helpful book and a good read.  Authors, speakers, and other professionals in the public eye will want to take a look because the rules for success in professional life are evolving so rapidly. While many professionals will not be stepping up to a national platform like Hyatt, his advice should scale well to the local platform where most of us live. In my case, I have already given my blog a makeover and have developed a long to do list based on his advice.  I suspect you will too.

[1] Boy Scouts of America. 1967.  Fieldbook for Boys and Men.  New Brunswick.

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free copy of Maxwell’s book in exchange for an online mention.   I read the book and found it worthy of a review (http://bit.ly/1ktRxPI).

Hyatt’s Platform Stands Solid; Gets Noticed

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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JOHN 20: Encounters with the Risen Christ

seeds_12162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24 ESV).

How do you respond to the risen Christ?

In John 20 we observe 8 encounters with the risen Christ.

1. The first encounter is really not an encounter so much as an expression of fear of the unknown.  Mary Magdalene saw that the stone had been move from the grave and she ran to tell Peter and the others.  Actually, she did not even look inside although she reported that Jesus’ body had been taken (vv 1-2).  Maybe she did look, but we are not told.

2. The second encounter is Peter’s.  Peter ran on Mary’s report to see the tomb, found it empty, and left (vv 2-7).  We are not told how Peter responded to the empty grave.

3. The third encounter is that of the “Other Disciple”, presumably John, who was with Peter.  He experienced everything that Peter did (and ran faster), but, unlike Peter, we are told that he “saw and believed” (vv 7-8).  He too then left.

4. The fourth encounter is Mary Magdalene’s second encounter.  She remains at the gravesite grieving.  This time, however, she peeks inside the tomb and sees two angels who ask her why she is crying (vv 12-13).  The angel’s presence in the tomb is most curious because neither Peter nor the other disciple saw angels only moments earlier.

5. A fifth encounter occurs, this time between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  Jesus is standing right next to her and she does not recognize him (v 14).  He repeats the angel’s question (why are you crying?) and then asks her: who are you seeking?  She then begins to quiz him about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body (v 15).

6. A sixth encounter occurs as Jesus addresses Mary by name.  She recognizes and grabs him.  He cautions her not to hold on to him, but sends her to the other disciples with the word of his resurrection (vv 16-17).

7. The seventh encounter is with the disciples behind locked doors later that evening.  Here Jesus comforts them, commands them to evangelize, grants them the Holy Spirit, and bestows on them the power to forgive or retain sins. The dialog is often interpreted as  commissioning service (vv 19-23) to which Thomas is absent.  When Thomas is told about it, he refuses to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

8. The eighth encounter arises a week later when Thomas is present and on seeing Jesus comes to faith.  Thomas’ initial doubt and subsequent belief are significant for us because Jesus’ words—Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29 ESV)—appear directed as us.  Interestingly, John closes out the chapter by commenting on his writing objective—that his readers come to faith (v 31).

We each come to Christ in different ways.  Reviewing these encounters we observe 4 things:

(1) Revelations to the disciples differ in time and content,

(2) The disciples do not all respond immediately in faith,

(3) Jesus reveals himself to some, but not others, and

(4) Mary Magdalene ties these accounts together.

How has Jesus revealed himself to you?

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Juan 20: Encuentros con Cristo Vivo

seeds_12162013Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Ciertamente les aseguro que si el grano de trigo no cae en tierra y muere, se queda solo. Pero si muere, produce mucho fruto (Juan 12:24 NVI).

¿Cómo responde usted a Cristo resucitado?

En Juan 20 se observa 8 encuentros con el Cristo resucitado.

1. El primer encuentro no es realmente un encuentro tanto como una expresión del miedo a lo desconocido. María Magdalena vio que la piedra había sido movida de la tumba y ella corrió a decirle a Pedro ya los otros. En realidad, ella ni siquiera miró en el interior a pesar de que informó de que el cuerpo de Jesús había sido tomado (vv 1-2). Tal vez ella se veía, pero no se nos dice.

2. El segundo encuentro es Pedro. Pedro corrió sobre el informe de María, a ver el sepulcro, la encontró vacía, y se fue (vv 2-7). No se nos dice que Pedro respondió a la tumba vacía.

3. El tercer encuentro es la del “otro discípulo”, presumiblemente John, que estaba con Peter. Él experimentó todo lo que hizo Pedro, pero, a diferencia de Pedro, se nos dice que él “vio y creyó” (vv. 7-8). Él también se fue.

4. El cuarto encuentro es el segundo encuentro de María Magdalena. Ella permanece en el duelo tumba. Esta vez, sin embargo, ella mira a escondidas en el interior de la tumba y ve dos ángeles que le preguntaba por qué está llorando (vv 12-13). La presencia del ángel en la tumba es más curioso porque ni Pedro ni el otro discípulo vieron ángeles que sólo momentos antes.

5. Un quinto encuentro se produce, esta vez entre María Magdalena y Jesús. Jesús está de pie junto a ella, y ella no lo reconoce (v 14). Repite la pregunta del ángel (¿por qué lloras?) Y luego le pregunta quién buscáis? A continuación, comienza a hacerle preguntas sobre el paradero del cuerpo de Jesús (v 15).

6. Un sexto encuentro se produce mientras Jesús se dirige a María por su nombre. Ella reconoce y lo agarra. Él le advierte que no se aferran a él, pero envía a los otros discípulos con el mensaje de su resurrección (vv. 16-17).

7. El séptimo encuentro es con los discípulos detrás de puertas cerradas más tarde esa noche. Aquí Jesús los consuela, les manda a evangelizar, les concede el Espíritu Santo, y les otorga el poder de perdonar o retener los pecados. El cuadro de diálogo se lee como un servicio de ordenación o la puesta en servicio (vv 19-23).

Thomas está ausente y se niega a creer en la resurrección. Thomas’ ausencia es importante para nosotros porque de Jesús’ palabras – ¿Te has creído porque me has visto? Bienaventurados los que no vieron, y creyeron (Juan 20:29 NVI) – dirigido aparecerá como nosotros.

8. El octavo encuentro surge una semana después, cuando Thomas está presente y en el acto viene a la fe. Entonces Jesús bendice a aquellos de nosotros que han llegado a la fe sin la vista. Curiosamente, John cierra el capítulo de revelar su objetivo por escrito – que nosotros, los lectores, creemos (v 31).


Cada uno de nosotros venimos a Cristo de diferentes maneras. La revisión de estos encuentros que observamos 4 cosas:

(1) Las revelaciones a los discípulos difieren en tiempo y contenido,

(2) Los discípulos no todos responden de inmediato en la fe,

(3) Jesús se revela a algunos, pero no en otros, y

(4) María Magdalena vincula estas cuentas juntos.

Como ha puesto de manifiesto el propio Jesús para usted?

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Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control

Cloud and Townsend's book: Boundaries

Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shortly after 9-11, my pastor preached about an intriguing book which I later bought and read.  The book suggested lifestyle changes which over time led me to find a better job and discover a call to ministry. The book?  Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.


What is a boundary?  Cloud and Townsend write:  Just as homeowners set out physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t (25).

Cloud and Townsend start their book by outlining a day in the life of a mother named Sherrie.  In the first chapter, she is anxious, overworked, motivated by fear, and micro-managing those around her (24-25).  She trouble seeing where her world begins and where it ends.  In the final chapter, they return to Sherrie who is now self-confident, works hard, knows her limits, and helps people assume responsibility for themselves.  Sherrie learned to manage her boundaries.

Key Concepts

The increasingly common use of the term, boundaries,  today makes defining boundaries especially important.  Cloud and Townsend talk about boundaries by outlining ten key concepts (laws).  The first three of these are:

First, the law of sowing and reaping:  you reap whatever you sow (Galatians 6:7-8).  Codependent people make a lifestyle of rescuing others from their bad decisions.  Establishing boundaries breaks the codependency cycle and helps weak individuals accept responsibility for their own actions (84-85).

Second, the law of responsibility:  I am responsible for myself; you are responsible for yourself (86-87).

Third, the law of power:  boundaries define what you have control over and what not.  The serenity prayer provides a great summary of this law:  God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference (87-88).  Elsewhere, Cloud and Townsend comment:  the ultimate expression of power is love; it is the ability not to express power, but to restrain it (96).

The list continues.  It is interesting that the original Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 likewise establish concrete boundaries with God and with our neighbors.

Why Good Samaritan is not Great

Cloud and Townsend’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan provides an excellent life application of their concept of boundaries.  Jesus tells this story in Luke’s Gospel:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back (Luke 10:30-35 ESV).

Why is this story about the Good Samaritan rather than about the Great Samaritan?  The Samaritan did not walk on the other side of the road like the priest or the Levite, but he also did not drop everything and nurse the man back to health.  Instead, the Samaritan focused on what he was able to do.  Then, he delegated further assistance to the innkeeper and continued his trip (38-39).  In other words, the Good Samaritan saved the man’s life and, still, displayed healthy boundaries.

Life Changing Book

Cloud and Townsend’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan story affected me deeply.  Anxiety about not being able to “save the world” had left me feeling powerless to initiate simple steps of charity that were well within my reach.  Understanding the healthy boundaries displayed by the Good Samaritan empowered me to take steps to become more charitable myself.

Cloud and Townsend explanation of abuse was also life-changing.  Abusers are people who disrespect unspoken boundaries.  It is our responsibility to communicate our boundaries; it is their responsibility to respect them.  Both parts are important.   One I learned to articulate my boundaries, much of the pain and anxiety involved in my relationships simply vanished–most people do not want to be abusers and hate the inference that they are.  Establishing boundaries takes time and effort, but the rewards are enormous.

Do yourself a favor–read this book.  You will be glad you did.

Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control

Also see:

Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Lowry Preaches Plot; Reveals Gospel

Plot_12122013Eugene L. Lowry. 2001. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Orig pub 1980). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In Greek, John’s Gospel begins: Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1 BNT). The English translation reads: in the beginning was the word. By contrast, Spanish follows the Vulgate and translates λόγος, not as a noun, but as a verb: in the beginning was the verb. This translation is generally interesting because Hebrew is a verb-based language which makes it easier to tell a story.  It is specifically interesting because Jerome observes John’s choice of Εν ἀρχῇ mirrors Genesis 1:1 reminding his reader of the creation account.  Creative work requires creative words–action verbs, not passive nouns.

In The Homiletical Plot, Eugene Lowry likewise sees a sermon as a narrative event rather than as a content transmittal (12, 90-91). The narrative event discovers content and meaning rather than merely reporting it. Lowry explains: the sermon is a bridging event in time, moving from itch to scratch, from issue to answer, from conflict to resolution, from ambiguity to closure born of the gospel (118).  Motion, not information, drives the sermon.

For Lowry, the sermon does not so much tell a story as adopt a narrative structure. He outlines this structure in five moves: (1) upsetting the equilibrium, (2) analyzing the discrepancy, (3) disclosing the clue to resolution, (4) experiencing the gospel, and (5) anticipating the consequences (26). Lowry’s craft is displayed in how well he unpacks these five moves.

In the first move of the sermon, for example, the preacher upsets the equilibrium by introducing dramatic tension, conflict, or ambiguity. Lowry’s illustrates this move with the dilemma presented in the film High Noon (1952). In the film, tension arises as the marshal has promised his pacifist fiancée to retire only to discover that a band of desperados just released from prison have vowed to take revenge on his town.  Here is the dilemma:  if the marshal retires with his fiancée, he is a coward; if he stays, he breaks his promise (57).  The backstory on the film is that only a decade earlier a pacifist America had sat on the sidelines in the early stages of World War II.  Just like the film helped Americans relive their dilemma, Lowry’s sermon strives to help the congregation feel the tension.

Eugene Lowry is the William K. McEvaney Emeritus Professor of Preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology of Kansas City. This printing commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Homiletical Plot. The forward is written by Fred Craddock, another well-known homiletics professor and author. The book itself divides into three sections—the sermon as narrative, the stages of the homiletical plot, and other considerations. These sections are preceded by an introduction and followed by an afterword which reflects on how things might have changed over preceding 20 years.

Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot is a short book and a good read. Why is an average Christian interested in reading a preaching (homiletics) text?  Because the Word of God is meant to be read out loud, the gospel itself lies within the ambiguity and tension of the narrative event.  That makes homiletics a key to biblical interpretation. Consequently, Lowry’s book is more than just another preaching text and is worthy of careful reading.

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JOHN 19: Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried

Cross_12092013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7 ESV).

Jesus’ life story is an important part of the Apostle Creed which, in part, reads:  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell[1].  While Jesus’ death raises many questions, why is it important to remember the brutality of his suffering?

The answer to this question depends on one’s experience of suffering.  At one point, I spent a weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) had just been released and I attended the film with some seminary students, one of whom was African American.  The film blistered my mind and left me speechless sitting in an empty theatre afterwards.  The purpose of the graphic brutality eluded me—Christ’s resurrection, not Christ’s death, had always been my theological focus.  My African American colleague, by contrast, understood implicitly.  The bond between Christ’s suffering and hers was real—suffering people hear and feel the nails being pounded in the Gospel accounts.  That’s how they know that God feels their pain.

One measure of the brutality here is the word used for flogging.  Roman law distinguished three types of flogging:  fustigatio (beating), flagellatio (flogging), and verberatio (scourging)[2].  John 19:1 records a flagellatio flogging (ἐμαστίγωσεν)[3].  A fustigatio beating (παιδεύσας—literally teaching a child)[4] is recorded in Luke 23:16 which would simply be a warning.  Mark 15:15 records a verberatio scourging (φραγελλώσας)[5], where bones and internal organs would be exposed, which would be prelude to crucifixion and often killed the prisoner.  Because flogging generally preceded crucifixion, as the only writer who was also an eye-witness to the actual flogging John is recording a more nuanced account. This lends to his credibility. John’s choice of the word, flagellation, according suggests that Pilate truly had not made up his mind to crucify Jesus at that point.

Of course, Jesus’ suffering did not end with the flogging.

One of the principles of alcoholics anonymous is that it takes an alcoholic to understand an alcoholic[6].  Human suffering works the same way. Christ’s suffering gives him credibility to approach us in our suffering.  The extreme nature of his suffering implies that no human being could suffer more; hence, no one is excluded from relationship with Christ.  In effect, Christ’s suffering and death is what assures us that Jesus was truly human.

The English Standard Version divides chapter 19 into these section:  Jesus delivered to be crucified (vv 1-16), The crucifixion (vv 17-27), The death of Jesus (vv 28-30), Jesus’ side is pierced (vv 31-37), and Jesus is buried (vv 38-42).  …Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried…

Christ crucifixion, death, piercing, and burial prepare us for the reality of the resurrection.  One must be truly dead in order to be resurrected.

[1]Question 23 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Faith Alive Christian Resources.  2013. The Heidelberg Catechism.   Online:  https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.  Date:  30 August, 2013.

[2]Gary M. Burge.  2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Pages 502-503.  Also:  Craig S. Keener.  2003.  The Gospel of John:  A Commentary.  Vol 2.  Peabody:  Hendrickson.  Pages 1118-1119.

[3]μαστιγόω (BDAG 4729): to beat with a whip or lash, whip, flog, scourge (of flogging as a punishment decreed by the synagogue).

[4]παιδεύω (BDAD 5489.2): to assist in the development of a person’s ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline.

[5]φραγελλόω (BDAG 7809): flog, scourge, a punishment inflicted on slaves and provincials after a sentence of death had been pronounced on them.

[5]From the alcoholic’s perspective, of course.  Howard J. Clinebell, Jr.  1978.  Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic Through Religion and Psychology.  Nashville:  Abingdon.  Page 128.

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