39. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webBlessed Lord Jesus,
Place your hedge of protection around me, Lord, for I am confused and afraid. My strength fails me; my body aches; my children are yet lost; and it is night—when jackals run freely and the hyena contends with the lion over much carrion.Have mercy on the children, Lord—for they are yours and yours alone. Spare me their voices in the night; spare me the weeping of souls forgotten and lost—be they familiar. And near. And dear. For the workman cannot save from folly nor tell what ears will not hear. Yet, you God hear our prayers; your blessings blossom beyond measure daily. Since the days of my youth, you have comforted me and given me life and hope and joy—to sing and dance and clap hands for the joy of your salvation which is near. But now, let me rest securely til the new day awaits in morning sun with blessings and hope of rest with you, now and always. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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Unprepared


ShipOfFools_web_07292016“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;

nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39)

Unprepared

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In graduate school, I met and dated quite a few women, particularly during my time at Cornell University. Ironically, Cornell had just gone “co-ed” during my time there so the girls I met were often quite choosy and many guys I knew had very little success dating. But since my definition of success was developing a more permanent relationship, my frustration with dating grew to be a major theme because the women I dated did not seem to value relationship, except within limited bounds. Offering a 100 percent commitment and finding a 20 percent commitment being offered in return left me feeling used and abused.

Commitment, of course, meant that I needed to make some adjustments—expecting to meet “miss right” meant that I had to become “mister right”. In the 1970s as now, “mister right” had to have the financial capacity to support a family and not everyone was willing to date someone with great expectations. With rapid inflation, high energy prices, and a deteriorating job market, my economics training suggested that the package for “miss right” also needed now to include a serious career, which suggested that dating attractive younger women was risky because a serious career required more commitment than many people—male or female—were willing to invest.

Those women willing to invest the time and energy in a career expressed less interest in men and had much higher expectations, which posed a real problem in dating. The problem was simple—career expectations for men were going down with a weak economy and competition from women while the expectations of attractive women with career potential of eligible men were going up. If women’s expectations were unrealistically high because of the historically unique nature of this problem, then the dating market need not yield a solution—a disconnect would emerge.[1]

This disconnect was obvious to me from the quirky responses I received from American women that I dated. One woman I dated broke up with me because she wanted to spend more time with the rowing team; another women who I dated was still in the process of divorce; still another wanted to meet me and bring along half-a-dozen friends from her department; another was engaged but wanted just to hang out with me until she got married. By the time I left Cornell, I resolved not to date American women because of all the relational confusion and the pain that it caused. It was simply much easier to date foreign students who were more committed to and conventional in their relational expectations.

During the late 1970s, I had a serious relationship (more than a year) with a foreign student—let me call her Betsy (not her name) and let me be vague about time and place and nationality so that I can speak more freely. Betsy and I worked hard to find a financial path to marriage while continuing our education. While that path never materialized, another problem emerged to threw our relationship in disarray.

This disarray began when Betsy and I traveled to her hometown to visit her mother, where Betsy put me up for the night with a friend. In the morning when Betsy came to pick me up, she looked like someone who had been beaten up—unkept and shaken—and she had been. At this point, she shared with me that she was an only child and her mother had had her at a young age out of wedlock; her untimely birth caused a scandal so her parents never married; and in the years that followed her mother became an alcoholic and blamed Betsy for all her troubles. When her mother learned that Betsy was dating an American, she went nuts and beat her up—as a consequence, my introduction to mom never took place.

Unprepared to deal with physical abuse and alcoholism, I quietly freaked out. I had never the financial nor the emotional resources to offer Betsy the shelter she needed. I was no use at all—useless, helpless, and unable to process what was happening. I offered her the support that I could, but I was clearly out of my league, having hit my emotional threshold. Sheltered in family and church, I had never learned to deal with abuse, addiction, or a chronic illness—the bandwidth on my empathy was too limited and I withdrew emotionally. Over the next few months, our relationship melted away, like an ice cream cone left too long in the sun, and we eventually broke up.

In my shame, I started reading about alcoholism, especially Howard Clinebell’s Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic (1978). I learned to recognize the signs of alcoholism, some of the contributing factors, and the spiritual nature of the problem. More than simply learning the details of the problem and of various groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, that have attempted to deal with it, I gained an appreciation for the need to study brokenness before attempting to deal with it—a lesson which has served me well over the years. Clinebell’s book was the first counseling book that I ever read; interestingly, it is still in use and is considered a classic in counseling addicts.

The spiritual side of alcoholism is well known. For me, the story of Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane is most instructive—when we are faced with a difficult pain or decision, do we turn to God in our hour of need or do we turn into our pain? If we turn to God, our faith is strengthened and he promises to walk with us through our afflictions; if we turn into our pain, then we are easily deceived into thinking that our drugs of choice—food, liquor, sex, work, or narcotics—are part of the solution, not part of the problem. This confusion over problems and solutions means that the alcoholic cannot be helped until this twisted thinking is exposed for what it is—Satan’s bondage.

While I was never myself an alcoholic, alcoholism runs in parts of my mother’s family, which suggests that I may be genetically predisposed. Since this experience I have felt fortunate to have learned enough about the problem of alcoholism in time to learn to avoid it—not everyone I know has been so fortunate. During this period of my life, I began avoiding hard liquor and, significantly, I made a serious effort to enter the mission field, applying for a position in Latin America with the Reformed Church of America.

Reference

Clinebell, Howard J. Jr. 1978. Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic: Through Religion and Psychology. Nashville: Abingdon.

[1] Evidence of this disconnect between the expectations of men and women was everywhere to be seen, but it was most obvious in the high divorce rates during this period. Many of my male colleagues in graduate school had married their high school sweet-hearts who supported them both financially and emotionally during graduate school only to divorce on graduation—evidence that the guys were taking advantage of their new earning power to divorce.

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Duckett Designs Websites; Introduces CSS

HTML_CSS_review_07162016Jon Duckett. 2011. HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites. Indianapolis: John Wiley and Sons.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Over the years, I have purchased an office full of books about computers, programming languages, operating systems, and social media. Most of these books have nothing to do with another passion of mine, which is writing and publishing. Jon Duckett’s book, HTML & CSS, is decidedly different, falling squarely in the middle of these two fields.

For the uninitiated, HTML is short for hypertext markup language and CSS is short for cascading style sheets. These two scripting languages come together when the task at hand is designing and programming out high-quality, well-designed websites. Both programming languages may be somewhat invisible—under-the-hood—if you are like me, and create webpages in Word and simply save the result as an *.htm file.

For the observant, this design focus is obvious from the high quality paper-stock employed in printing Duckett’s text. The paper used in color printing is often heavier than regular printed pages, in part, so the colors will not bleed through one side of the page to the other, a problem most obvious in newspaper print. High quality paper-stock also gives a book a certain nonverbal gravitas that is impossible to reproduce with other paper. If you are clueless about all that, the cover sports a stunning design, which reinforces the design focus—this book is definitely coffee-table ready, setting it apart from other computer books.[1]

The design focus of Duckette’s book comes as a surprise because hypertext is best known for being somewhat plain, allowing relatively few variations on basic formats. The old image of hypertext is kind of like Henry Ford’s admonition, “you can have any color you want, provided you want black”. Hypertext has historically not offered text options typically found in other print media. I was pleasantly surprised to read explanations on how to download alternative typefaces more typically found in topography books. Now, for example, things like first letter variations (something like a drop letter) can be rendered directly (289). With the introduction of CSS, hypertext is starting to allow a great deal more flexibility.

Duckette writes to communicate designing his book with this in mind. He focuses on the tags most frequently used in programming, structures the book around HTML, CSS, and practical examples, and discusses features following the way that people access the internet: browsers, web services, devices, and screen-readers (5-7).  The book is organized into 19 chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by an index:

Introduction
1. Structure.
2. Text.
3. Lists.
4. Links.
5. Images.
6. Tables.
7. Forms.
8. Extra Markup.
9. Flash, Video, and Audio.
10. Introducing CSS.
11. Color.
12. Text.
13. Boxes.
14. Lists, Tables, and Forms.
15. Layout.
16. Images.
17. HTMLS Layout.
18. Process and Design.
19. Practical Information.
Index.

The codes examples used in the book can be downloaded at:  http://www.HTMLandCSSBook.com/code.

Jon Duckett’s book, HTML & CSS, provides an accessible introduction to HTML and CSS for both beginning website designers and those looking for a reference guide. The examples are easy to follow and he directs the reader to helpful resources online.

[1] The design focus is not accidental –see: http://www.htmlandcssbook.com.

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38. Prayers for a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Wonders,
The heavens declare your glory and we are witnesses to it. Our eyes have seen and our ears have heard of the splendor of your creation. We give testimony to the love that you showered on us when Jesus died a cruel death in our place and for our salvation he rose from the dead. How can our lips then be silent? We are citizens of heaven and sojourners in this land. Teach us, Lord, to testify in humility to your love for us and to abstain from the passions of this life that wage war on our souls and to share your passion for our lives and for our salvation with gentleness and respect. If we then should suffer, then may it be for your kingdom and your righteousness and not for an evil that we ourselves have done. In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to be salt and light. In Jesus’ precious name and for his glory. Amen.

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Evangelische Kirche

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:3)

Evangelische Kirche

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Towards the end of my summer in Puerto Rico, I briefly began attending a church, but not long enough to get involved or remember the name.[1] In that church, it became immediately obvious that I should have attended church from the moment of my arrival because I would have met more people and learned more Spanish—I knew my English Bible well enough that I did not need to look up the translation when I read the Bible in Spanish. So later when I returned to Cornell University, I ordered a Spanish Bible from the American Bible Society[2] through the mail.

My experience with church in Puerto Rico led me to seek out a church immediately after I arrived in Germany. From my dormitory on Rosenbachweg, I was able to walk or take the bus to a number of churches, but most had one thing in common—few if any members. Most churches, even cathedrals, that I visited in Germany were empty on Sunday morning with only a few old widows and the pastor in attendance for worship. The exception, I learned, was a little village church, Kirche Herberhausen, which my friend, Hermann, drove me to one Sunday.

Kirche Herberhausen was different because it was packed every Sunday with women and students, many of whom no doubt attended Göttingen’s seminary. Every week worshipers would come in, grab a hymnal (gesangbuch) from a shelf near the door and have a seat—even the loft was full most weeks. Then at the appointed hour, the pastor would come in through a door in the chancel, give his sermon, and leave again through the chancel door—he never engaged the congregation in conversation or shook anyone’s hand. In Germany, clergy receive a government salary and are not dependent on the morning offering. In a Christmas visit to Germany in 1982, I learned that Baptist churches in Germany, who are not officially sanctioned by the government, operate more like American churches and one gets a hand-shake.

I remember the Sunday morning routine at Kirche Herberhausen clearly because I had to decide each week whether to walk or take the bus. The bus schedule either brought me to church very early or about ten minutes late, in which case I would not be able to get a scarce hymnal.

In my first attempt at using the bus, I arrived more than an hour early and, because the church door was locked, I stepped out for a cup of coffee at a local restaurant, whose door was also locked. But I noticed as I stood there that people kept walking by me and around to the back of the building. So I joined them going to the back of the building and through the door. There I discovered a room full of men—apparently, the tradition of frühschoppen (morning pint) amounted to men tipping beers while the women attended church. I later bought a hymnal and started walking to church, which was interesting because Herberhausen and Göttingen are separated by a beautiful park.

In addition to a hymnal, I bought a German Bible, complete with concordance, to supplement the New Testament with Psalms that I had brought with me from home. Like any typical student in those days, I traveled to Germany wearing my winter coat and carrying a backpack, which meant precious little space for a full-size Bible. Most of my biblical study at that point in my life was of books in the New Testament so not having the Old Testament did not crimp my style, but I came to love this new Bible.

My beloved German Bible never made it home. As I packed to leave for home, I was moved to ask a friend whether she needed a Bible. Being Catholic, she responded that she had never even owned a Bible so I left my Bible with her. Consequently, my only German Bible today—other than my New Testament with Psalms—is published by the American Bible Society and does not include a concordance.[3]

Shortly before I left Germany, I received admission to several university doctoral programs, including the one at Michigan State University, which I accepted in a long distance call from Germany. This call became an interesting talking point because the department secretaries perpetuated the rumor that I was myself German and every time a foreign student needed to be picked up at the Lansing Airport I got tapped with the responsibility. Of course, I did not mind at all because I met some very interesting foreign students, but I did not immediately learn the reason for my good fortune.

Between my experience at the Kirche Herberhausen and the influence of my friend, Jon, who had become a Lutheran pastor, when I studied at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan I began attending University Lutheran Church (ULC),[4] whose pastor was German. Like many university churches, ULC’s charter called for them to reserve a portion of their leadership positions for college students so I was quickly elected to serve on the worship committee and became chair of the committee, which meant that I also served on church council.

While I was happy to be of some use to the church, it was probably a mistake in view of my busy schedule with doctoral studies. Instead of fellowship and quiet time with the other students, I found myself engaged in long committee meetings focused on ULC’s stressful financial problems and discontent with the pastor. The financial problems arose because the church built a small cathedral without adequately estimating potential growth, only to find themselves strapped with a burdensome mortgage. The pastoral problems were compounded by weak and obstinate lay leadership. I remember being so frustrated with one attorney on the personal committee who instead of offering reports would dodge and weave reasonable questions—after a point I made it a personal policy to walk out of the meeting and read a book outside whenever he would make a report.

My mistake in taking on such responsibilities at ULC ultimately soured me on the Lutheran church, perhaps because I never really had a chance to enjoy it, and when I left East Lansing to live and work in Northern Virginia I returned to worship at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, where my parents were also members. Still, it was at Kirche Herberhausen and ULC that I came to appreciate the usefulness of the liturgy for dispensing God’s grace in spite of the limits of our linguistic abilities and human frailties in our hour of need.

[1] I walked from my boarding house on Calle Manila in Santa Rita to church so it could have been several churches. However, it was likely las Iglesias de Dios Pentecostal.

[2] The date written in that Bible is August 20, 1978.

[3] The American Bible Society does not publish Bibles with concordances, in part, because the concordances pose a fault line in arguments on how to interpret scripture.

[4] http://ulcel.org.

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Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection

Stone and Duke, How to Think Theologically

Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection

Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke. 2006. How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our anti-intellectual society has trouble seeing the God’s hand at work, in part, because such vision requires thinking about things outside ourselves. Since the romantic era of the nineteenth century, Americans have preferred to “experience” God emotionally rather than to “know” God intellectually. This is truly disturbing outcome for anyone familiar with the Great Awakening experience of eighteenth century. Post-mortems by theologians, such as Jonathan Edwards (1746), clearly showed that religious experiences not followed by theological reflection are soon forgotten. Consider the increase in church attendance immediately after 9-11. Theology helps us reflect on our experiences of God in scripture and daily life.

Introduction

Howard Stone and James Duke in their book, How to Think Theologically, respond to this question, writing:

“It is a simple fact of life for Christians; their faith makes them theologians.[1] Deliberately or not, think—and act—out of a theological understanding of existence, and their faith calls them to become the best theologians they can be.” (1)

This is not a throw away comment; when life loses its meaning, we die even if the body continues to process air and food. If we are to continue living we need to seek meaning in the many challenging experiences that life holds for us. The question is not whether we have a theological view of life—we all do—but rather whether the theology we live by is the one that we would chose if we took the time to think about it.

Faith Seeking Understanding

Like most good theologians, Stone and Duke cite the famous line from Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) who wrote: “I believe so that I may understand” (2008, 87) or as they cite it: “faith seeking understanding” (2). While this idea that faith precedes knowledge seems controversial until you realize that assumptions are faith statements and are required before any scientific inquiry can begin. Anselm’s apologetic laid the philosophical foundation for the modern era.

Theology Defined

Also like most good theologians, Stone and Duke define important terms. For example, they observe:

“Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of the term theology. It comes to us as a compound word from ancient Greek: theo—logia are logia (sayings, accounts, teachings, theories) concerning theos (the divine, gods, and goddesses, God).” (7)

They also distinguish Christian orthodoxy “correct opinion or belief” from orthopraxy “correct practice” (7). It is often the case in some church circles that the accepted doctrine of the church is orthodox, but the church does not practice orthopraxy—a kind of hypocrisy that minimizes criticism and correction.

Embedded Theology

Stone and Duke make distinguish between embedded theology and deliberative theology. Embedded theology is defined as “Christians learn what is all about from countless daily encounters with their Christianity”. Deliberative theology is“the understanding of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions” (13-16). Notice that neither embedded nor deliberative theology requires scholarly intervention. We engage in both types of theology on our own every day as we deepen our understanding of our own faith journey. But, as Stone and Duke observe, “theological reflection cannot flourish unless it is valued and practices by the church itself” (23).

Organization

Stone and Duke write in 9 chapters proceeded by 2 prefaces and an introduction and followed by a glossary, notes, and index. The 9 chapters are:

  1. Faith, Understanding, and Reflection,
  2. Fashioning Theology,
  3. Resources for Theological Reflection,
  4. Theological Method,
  5. The Gospel,
  6. The Human Condition,
  7. Vocation,
  8. Theological Reflection in Christian Community,
  9. Forming Spirit.

At the time of publication, Howard W. Stone was a professor emeritus of Department of Psychology and Pastoral Counseling at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and the author of numerous books. James O Duke was also a professor of history of Christianity and historical theology at Brite.

Assessment

Stone and Duke’s How to Think Theologically primes young seminarians for seminary. Assess to its wisdom goes much further and any dedicated reader will benefit from it.  If nothing else, consider the irony posed by the cover!

References

Anselm of Canterbury. 2008. The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (Orig pub. 1746). Vancouver: Eremitical Press.

[1] My best friend in high school, who is now a Lutheran pastor, used to moan that our faith forced us to become “little Kierkegaards” because our faith raises more questions than answers. Soren Kierkegard (1813-1855) was a well-known, nineteenth century theologian.

 

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37. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webLoving Father,
We give thanks for the life and death of Jesus who lived a humble life and bore our sins on the cross. Help us to practice humbleness and hospitality with all people. Help us to put on Christ’s righteousness and defend your honor, not ours. Help us to pay our taxes, to turn the other cheek, to treat our enemies with love and respect, to go the extra mile seeing it as a ministry opportunity, to judge the actions but not the intentions of those around us.  Help us to end racial and ethic inequality and practice gender and economic equality in all we do. In the power of your Holy Spirit,  may conflict and bickering and gossip end with your sacrifice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The Internationals

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you
not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,
but to think with sober judgment, each according to the
measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Rom 12:3)

The Internationals

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was still at Cornell, I had a friend and colleague from Zaragoza, Spain, by the name of Luis, who invited me to join a Latin group in playing soccer. Our soccer games together became a regular thing and I focused on soccer during the warmer months, leaving pickup basketball in the gym as a winter sport.

During my year in Germany, basketball again became a regular Monday afternoon activity which was always followed by a trip to the same sandwich shop for a baguette with schinken (the German equivalent of country ham) and, of course, a good German piltzner. After having spending so much time on the bench in college, it was not hard getting used to being a star playing basketball in Germany. Basketball was a relatively new sport in Germany; local professional teams all recruited American players to upgrade their teams, so I had a distinct advantage on the courts relative to my German friends. But still, although my friends tolerated me scoring points in basketball, scoring the only goal in the annual graduate/undergraduate soccer game was another matter!

Soccer became an even more important part of my life when I entered the doctoral program at Michigan State University in the fall of 1979 and lived in Owen Hall, the graduate residence center. Owen Hall had an intramural team which helped me get to know international students across the campus because of year-round daily pickup games late in the afternoon. When it was warm, we played outside; when it was cold, we played in the gym. The intramural competitions were in the fall, but the real focus was on the afternoon games. When Owen Hall’s team manager graduated during my first year at Michigan State, I took over as team manager and named the team: the Internationals.

The Internationals competed well because I recruited international players from the daily pickup games where I was able to observe how well they played. Most were graduate students; many players had played semi-professionally or at the varsity level in their home countries before coming to study in the United States. I had players who could dribble the ball in the air (or head the ball) as long as they wanted and some could goal-kick from mid-field. With such serious players, the undergraduate American intramural teams really could not compete; when we practiced with the Michigan State varsity team, we held our own until the younger players wore down our players with their sheer athleticism. As manager, I could play anytime I wanted, but I seldom substituted myself into games when I had a full complement of players. I was able to recruit good players, in part, because I promised that they would play the entire game—a promise that I worked hard to keep.

In competition, my role was, in part, to keep the team together. Greeks did not play easily with Turks and strong willed players often would get in each other’s hair. It helped, however, to play a zonal defense, which gives everyone an equal opportunity to play and which also allowed us to adjust positions to match the strength of our opposition.

Like adjusting our zones to match the opposition or uncertainty, we routinely employed several strategies. One strategy was to identify the one or two talented players on an American team and assign someone to mark them—partially abandoning a zonal defense. Because most American teams had only one or two good players, this strategy worked extremely well in intramural competition. Another strategy was more of a person—we had a talented female player on the team, which was unusual in the early 1980s. Men on opposing teams would frequently underestimate her abilities long enough for us to score a goal or two at their expense.

The Internationals took the gold cup in 1982 using a strategy that we only used once against our chief rivals—the Pink Panthers, which was the only other team composed of international students involved in our daily pickup games. The Internationals and Pink Panthers both typically won all their games up until the final match where they faced off against each other. In 1981, we dominated the final match until the Pink Panthers targeted for injury our star forward: Manuel, a fellow agricultural economist from Spain. Manuel got upset and walked off the field; the Pink Panthers then proceeded to win the game and take Gold Cup. The manager of the Pink Panthers had a well-earned reputation for dirty tricks and it worked—he was also well known for his white-hot temper.

The strategy used in our 1982 final match was very simple—if the Pink Panthers attempted again to win the match by injuring our players, one of our half-backs would provoke their manager with a good swift kick in the shins when the referees were not looking. As expected, when the Pink Panthers began to loose the game, they became very physical and our half-back executed the plan. When kicked, the manager came out swinging and was immediately red-carded. Forced to play down a man, the Pink Panthers lost and the Internationals took the Gold Cup.  A Mexican player, who had turned down my invitation to join the Internationals and played with the Pink Panthers because he wanted to be on the winning team, left the field in tears.

After joining the federal government in Washington in 1984, I continued to play soccer for a couple seasons with an FBI team, but it proved to be a fool’s errand. Not being with the FBI, the team did not fully accept me as a player and, because I worked all day in Washington DC, playing soccer resulted in frequent injuries. In my last soccer game, for example, I sprained my ankle.

My friend, Luis, returned to Spain after graduation and became the lead investigator on a joint research project between his experiment station in Zaragoza and my office in USDA here in Washington. When I was appointed to lead the U.S. side of this project, I traveled to Zaragoza to undertake research on Spain’s mixed feed industry. Knowing that I would be in Zaragoza with Luis, he invited me to bring along my soccer shoes and to play with his team—the only problem was that he was a much better player and I ended up spraining my ankle, which made for a painful trip home.

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Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church and a Christian author. Today we continue our study of the Beatitudes.

In the Beatitudes, we see that the promises of God are anchored in his unchanging character and we know this because God remains forever meek.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father. Thank you for your presence among us this morning. We are grateful that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this moment and in this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears to listen. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Scripture

Today’s scripture lesson comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:5. This is the Third Beatitude and a part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Listen for the word of God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

A famous confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees begins with a difficult question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 22:17) If Jesus answers yes, the Hebrews will be mad at him. If he answers no, he will have legal difficulties with the Romans. This question does not have an obvious answer.

Jesus answers:

“Show me the coin for the tax.  And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, Caesar’s. Then he said to them, Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:19-21)

In other words, Jesus redefined the question and challenged them to deepen their faith in God—in whose image they were created—and not to focus on political things that they cannot change.

The story of the response of Jesus to the difficult question is an example of a concept known by experts as fogging.[1] Fogging is an answer that responds only to the part of the question that you agree with. In this example, Jesus continues the conversation about taxes but he changes the focus to the coin used to pay the tax. The coin offers an opportunity to give a lesson about God without falling to a political trap and without appearing defensive in front of his opponents.

This last point is important for us because every day we talk with difficult people and fogging is a technique to remain civil during a conflict when it is much easier to become emotional or to feel the stress. It is useful because when we have an appropriate answer to a difficult person, we are not victims; we are not defensive; we are Christians that respect and utilize the wisdom of Christ. It is also an example of how to be meek like Jesus in our everyday life—meek is not weak or as Jesus said:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5)

Context

The Third Beatitude appears only in Matthew and in the Greek, the language of the Old Testament, meek means: “… Not [being] overly impressed with a sense of self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like the character of a person who applies the concept of “poor in spirit”, which we find in the First Beatitude, and which is shown not less than three times in Matthew:

  1. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29)
  2. “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Matt 21:5) [2]
  3. “And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent.” (Matt 26:62-63)

These three events—the invitation of Jesus to be disciple, his humble entrance into Jerusalem, and his silence during his trial—demonstrate the humility of Christ. The humility of Christ is also observed in the writings of the Apostles—Peter, James, and Paul.

From all of this evidence, it is obvious that humility is very important to Jesus in the New Testament. But, no one normally wants to be humble—we have to learn to be humble.

Is it possible that God also learned to be humble? (2X)

Analysis

This curious question over the God changes during the period of the Bible is very important in today’s theological conversations because if God changed during the history of the Bible, then he can change in our time as well.

I will be very brief. Here I will use an argument from the law and the prophets, like Paul and many other rabbis.

Point One: God acts as someone very meek in spite of the sin of Adam and Eve.

In the Books of the Law we see that God looks meek and gentle. For example, in Genesis before “God sent him [Adam and Eve} out from the garden of Eden” (Gen 3:23), “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21) like a mother prepares her kids for the first day of school. God had every right to zap them both and create new people, but he did not do that. He did not do that because he had compassion on them and made provision for them, in spite their sins and against his own rights and power. In this context, God appears meek.

Point Two: God is humble like his good friend, Moses.

Here in the Books of the Law, only Moses is described as humble, as we see in the Book of Numbers, where it is written:

“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3)

But, many times friends share very similar personal characteristics. Consequently, the implication is that probably God is also meek like his very good friend, Moses.

Point Three: The Books of the Prophets describe the Messiah as meek.

The Books of the Prophets are all the books of the Old Testament that are not among the Books of the Law. Here we find that humility is a characteristic expected of the Messiah. The most famous example was cited above in Matthew and comes from the Prophet Zachariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9)

It is obvious also in the prophets that humility is a characteristic of God reflected in his people, as an important part of his image. For example, we see in the Psalms:

“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps 25:9)

And we find in the Psalms our Third Beatitude, in so many words:

“But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps 37:11)

Therefore, we see in the law as in the prophets that God was meek and he did not need to learn to be meek because he was already meek in creation. This is very good news because the character of God does not change over time and is immutable yesterday, today, and always.

The implication is that, just like the character of God is immutable and does not change, the Bible is also reliable and the promises of God are good forever. Thanks be to God!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty Good, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit, we give praise because you do not change and offer your gracious love and consolation in painful times and times of loss. Cleanse our hearts of evil passions that lead us to sin and lead us to violence against other people. Give us a character that is deep in your wisdom. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1]  See: Savage (1996, 57-62).

[2] Also: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9)

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v .9.>.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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Dichosos Los Humildes

Dichosos Los Humildes

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra,

Almuerzo para el Alma, Miércoles, 13 de Julio, 2016, Iglesia Presbiteriana de Trinidad, Herndon, Virginia

Bienvenido

Buenos tarde. Bienvenido al Almuerzo para el Alma. Mi nombre es Stephen Hiemstra. Soy un voluntario pastoral de la Iglesia Presbiteriano de Centreville y también un autor cristiano. En el sermón de hoy continuamos nuestro estudio de las beatitudes.

En las beatitudes, vemos que las promesas de Dios son anclado en su carácter que no cambia y sabemos porque Dios es humildes para siempre.

Oración

Vamos a orar.

Padre celestial. Gracias por tu presencia entre nosotros esta mañana. Agradecemos que tu palabra todavía mueve nuestras corazones y estimula nuestras mentes. Haga tu presencia especialmente claro en este momento y este lugar. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santa, abran nuestros ojos y danos oídos que oyen. En el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.

Texto

El texto de hoy viene del evangelio de Mateo 5:5. Eso es la tercera beatitud y una parte de la introducción del Sermón de la Montaña. Escuchan la palabra de Dios:

“Dichosos los humildes, porque recibirán la tierra como herencia.” (Mateo 5:5 NVI)[1]

La palabra del Senior.  Gracias a Dios.

Introducción

Una confrontación famosa entre Jesucristo y los fariseos empieza con una difícil pregunta: “¿Está permitido pagar impuestos al césar o no?” (Mateo 22:17) Si él responde si, estaría los hebreos enojado a él y si el responde no, él tendría problemas legales con los romanos. Esta pregunta no tiene una respuesta obvia.

Jesús respondió:

“Muéstrenme la moneda para el impuesto. Y se la enseñaron. —¿De quién son esta imagen y esta inscripción? —les preguntó. —Del césar —respondieron. —Entonces denle al césar lo que es del césar y a Dios lo que es de Dios.” (Mateo 22:20-21)

En otras palabras, Jesús redefiní la pregunta y los desafió a profundizar en su fe en Dios—en qué imagen en que fueron creado–y no enfoque en las cosas políticas que ellos no pudieron cambiar.

Esta historia de la respuesta de Jesucristo a esta difícil pregunta es un ejemplo de un concepto conocida entre los expertos como nublando[2]. Nublando es una respuesta donde se respondió solamente a la parte de la pregunta lo que usted está de acuerdo (2X). En este ejemplo, Jesús continúa la conversación sobre impuestos, pero el cambió el enfoque a la moneda usada para pagarlo. La moneda ofreció la oportunidad a dar una lección sobre Dios sin cayendo en una trampa política y sin pareciendo defensivo frente de sus adversarios.

Este punto último es importante para nosotros porque cada día hablamos con personas difíciles y nublando es una técnica a permanecer amable durante un conflicto cuando eso es mucho más fácil a ser emocional o a sentir el estreso. Se hace útil porque cuando tenemos una respuesta apropiada a una persona difícil no somos víctimas…no somos defensivo…somos cristianos que respetan and emplean la sabiduría de Cristo. Eso es también un ejemplo de como a estar humildes (o manso) como Jesucristo en nuestra vida de cada día—manso no es débil o como se dice en inglés: meek is not weak.

O como Jesucristo dijo:

“Dichosos los humildes, porque recibirán la tierra como herencia.” (Mateo 5:5)

Contexto

La tercera beatitud aparece solamente en Mateo y en el griego, la lengua del Nuevo Testamento, humildes significa: “… No [ser] muy impresionado por el sentido de la auto-importancia, gentil, humilde, considerado” (BDAG 6132). Humildes es como la característica de una persona que aplica el concepto de “pobre en espíritu”, como encontramos en la primera beatitud, y que se muestró por Jesucristo en no menos de tres versículos en Mateo:

  1. “Carguen con mi yugo y aprendan de mí, pues yo soy apacible y humilde de corazón, y encontrarán descanso para su alma.” (Mateo 11:29)
  2. “Digan a la hija de Sión: Mira, tu rey viene hacia ti, humilde y montado en un burro, en un burrito, cría de una bestia de carga.” (Mateo 21:5)[3]
  3. “Poniéndose en pie, el sumo sacerdote le dijo a Jesús—¿No vas a responder? ¿Qué significan estas denuncias en tu contra?

Pero Jesús se quedó callado.” (Mateo 26:62-63)

Los tres eventos—la invitación de Jesús al discipulado, su humilde desfile en Jerusalén, y su silencio durante su juicio—muestreó la humildad de Cristo. La humildad de Cristo es también observado en los escritos de los apóstoles Pedro, Santiago, y Pablo.

De toda esta evidencia, es obvio que humildes es muy importante a Jesucristo en el Nuevo Testamento. Pero, nadie quiere normalmente a ser humildes—nosotros necesitamos aprender ser humildes.

¿Está posible que Dios aprendió ser humildes también? (2X)

Análisis

Esta curiosa pregunta sobre el cambio de Dios durante el tiempo de la Biblia es muy importante en las conversaciones de teología de hoy porque si Dios cambió en la historia, entonces él puede cambió en nuestros tiempos también.

Voy a ser muy breve y aquí uso un argumento de la ley y los profetas como Pablo y muchos otros rabinos.

Punto Uno: Dios acta como alguien muy manso a pesar de los pecados de Adán y Eva.

Los libros de la ley son los primeros cinco libros del Antiguo Testamento. En la ley vemos que Dios hace como una persona manso y gentil. Por ejemplo, en Génesis antes “el SEÑOR expulsó al ser humano [Adán y Eva] del jardín del Edén” (Gen. 3:23), Dios “hizo ropa de pieles para el hombre y su mujer, y los vistió” (Gen. 3:21) como una madre prepara su hijos para el primer día de la escuela. Dios tiene razón a matarlos ambos y crea nueva personas, pero él no lo hace. Dios no lo hace porque él tiene compasión y hace provisión para ellos, a pesar de sus pecados y contra su propio derecho y poder. En este contexto Dios parecía manso.

Punto Dos: Dios es humildes como su buen amigo Moisés.

Allí en la ley, solamente Moisés fue descrito como humildes como vemos en el libro de Números, donde se escrito:

“A propósito, Moisés era muy humilde, más humilde que cualquier otro sobre la tierra.” (Núm. 12:3 NVI)

Pero muchas veces amigos son muy similares en características personales. Entonces, la implicación es que probablemente Dios es también manso como su buen amigo Moisés.

Punto Tres: Los profetas dijeron que el mesías va a ser manso.

Los libros de los profetas son todos los libros del Antiguo Testamento que no son en los libros de la ley y aquí encontramos que humildes es una característica de esperar en el Mesías. El ejemplo más famoso fue citado en Mateo arriba y viene del profeta Zacarías:

“¡Alégrate mucho, hija de Sión! ¡Grita de alegría, hija de Jerusalén! Mira, tu rey viene hacia ti, justo, salvador y humilde. Viene montado en un asno, en un pollino, cría de asna.” (Zec 9:9)

Eso es obvio también en los profetas que humildes es una característica de Dios reflejada en su gente, como una parte importante de su imagen. Por ejemplo, vemos en los salmos:

“Él dirige en la justicia a los humildes, y les enseña su camino.” (Sal 25:9)

Y encontramos en los salmos nuestra tercera beatitud en otras palabras:

“Pero los desposeídos heredarán la tierra y disfrutarán de gran bienestar.” (Sal 37:11)

Entonces, vemos que en tanto la ley como los profetas que Dios fue humilde y el no necesita aprender a ser manso porque él fue ya manso en la creación. Eso es buenas noticias porque el carácter de Dios no cambió sobre tiempo y es inmutable ayer, hoy, y para siempre.

La implicación es que, como el carácter de Dios es inmutable y no lo cambia, también la Biblia es confiable y las promesas de Dios son buenas para siempre. (2X) ¡Gracia a Dios!

Oración Para Terminar

Oramos.

Dios todopoderoso, amado hijo, omnipresente Espíritu, alabamos porque tu no cambias y ofrecías tu gracioso amor y consolación en tiempos de dolor y pérdida. Limpia nuestros corazones de las pasiones malvadas que nos llevan a pecar y que lidera a violencia contra otras personas. Damos un carácter profundo en tu sabiduría. En el precioso nombre de Jesús, amen.

 

[1] “Bienaventurados los mansos, porque recibirán la tierra por heredad.” (Matt 5:5 R95)

[2]  En inglés se dice: “fogging”. Vea Savage (1996, 57-62).

[3] También: “¡Alégrate mucho, hija de Sión! ¡Grita de alegría, hija de Jerusalén! Mira, tu rey viene hacia ti, justo, salvador y humilde. Viene montado en un asno, en un pollino, cría de asna.” (Zec 9:9)

Referencias

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v .9.>.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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