Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Through the New Testament in 2012 -- Introduction

Below are three brief articles: One is on the Gospels, the second is a comment on the oral tradition and third is on the Gospel according to Mark. Starting January 2, 2012 there will be daily (or nearly so) postings on this blog regarding daily readings that the Christ Church, Snyder, New York will be doing together. Beginning with Mark 1 on January 2.

The following comes from a document I wrote for our Mission partners in Uganda: This "Biblical and Theological Primer" was written for Nexus Seminary students and is being translated into Lugandan and will be printed in Lugandan and English as a teaching tool for Nexus graduates.

Gospels The word Gospel comes from the Greek word meaning “Good News”. The Gospel writers are sometimes called the four evangelists. The gospels are written to show that Jesus is who he said he is (Son of God). The four gospels tell the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection from four different perspectives and are written to four different audiences (or communities). The four gospels tell the same story but they differ in details and emphasis. It is widely believed that Matthew was written to a Hebrew congregation because he quotes the Old Testament significantly more than the other Gospel writers and other factors. Mark was written for a Latin, perhaps a Roman military audience; Mark is an action orientated book where there is little teaching but a lot of activity. Luke, the only identifiable non-Jewish writer in the entire Bible, writes as an historian, to show that Jesus came for the whole world; he includes more contacts with foreigners than the other three gospels combined. Finally, John writes not to tell what Jesus did but to show why he did what he did; every story in John arrives at the same conclusion: Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the World.
Oral Tradition: The ancient world was not a literate world. People did not have books or scrolls at their immediate disposal. The vast majority of people could not read or write. Family history was passed down by word of mouth through stories. These stories were memorized in each successive generation and passed on exactly as received. In the New Testament the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed before it was written. Jesus death and resurrection occurred in AD 27-30. The earliest of the gospels, Mark, was probably written down 25 to 30 years later. Many modern persons do not understand the quality of information in the oral tradition because, with the easy access to books and computers, we do not need to remember anything. In a preliterate or non-literate culture stories as carriers of wisdom and information are more prevalent. In existing tribal cultures there is a clearer understanding of the importance of the oral tradition and the place of story in a people’s history. 

Mark was probably written for a Latin (Roman) audience and possibly for a military audience. The gospel writer often explains Jewish customs which strongly suggests that he had a non-Jewish audience in mind. The gospel according to Mark bustles with activity and energy. Mark contains the least amount of Jesus teaching in the four Gospels preferring to show the activity of Jesus ministry. Mark is generally believed to be the first of the gospels written. It was written sometime between AD 55 and AD 70. The oldest Christian tradition holds that John Mark was the author. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin and accompanied Barnabas and Paul for much of their first missionary journey. Later he became a close companion of Peter and it is widely believed that Peter is the primary source for Mark’s information. Scholars believe that Luke and Matthew had a copy of Mark available to them when they wrote their gospels. Mark shows Jesus victory over the power of darkness through the casting out of demons. Mark also shows the disciples struggle to understand the meaning of Jesus life and teaching.
Key Learning: Mark has a bias for action. Jesus proves he is the Messiah of God through miracles and the casting out of demons.
Dr. BJ

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent/Christmas Adventure

I published this in my weekly newsletter (Christ Church Update) about a week ago and some of you wanted to see it again:
We are half way through the Advent Sundays and less than three weeks from our celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation (aka Christmas). I get a kick out of all the energy and excitement people have around the observance of Christmas. In our society there are a wide variety of celebrations going on this time of year. Our Jewish friends and neighbors are observing Hanukkah a minor observance celebrating the miracle of the oil during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees (circa 167 BC). There are many “pagan” celebrations (pagan from the Latin paganos meaning country rural – is a reference to some of the older pre Christian religions that were practiced in Europe. Christianity was an urban movement and the older religious practices survived in the country side: hence pagan.) that note the arrival of the Winter Solstice. In recent years we have added the African American celebration of Kwanza. On top of this diversity, different Christian cultures and groups observe different parts of the Nativity story (many Hispanic cultures, for example, focus on the arrival of the “Three Kings” making January 6 – Epiphany – the bigger celebration than December 25). We could, I suppose, join the now dated Seinfeld craze and celebrate “Festivus” and just admit it is all just one big party to the end of the year anyway. In our “melting pot” American culture, much of this just gets blended together into a “Happy hanakwansolsfestimas”. Unfortunately, some Christians’ discomfort with these other celebrations often gets expressed in an exclusive “keep Christ in Christmas” – which sounds good but relegates to unimportant status all of the other observances going on around us. There is the group that gets excited and upset when Christmas gets shortened to X-mas – not knowing that the X in Greek is the letter Chi and represents Christ. I find no reason to be upset with Greek shorthand (and it is really fun to point it out to those who don’t know this). However, there is a uniqueness to the Feast of the Incarnation. Maybe the best solution is this: rather than getting worried about what other groups, cultures, and religions are or are not doing we would proceed to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation like Christians – that is living after the manner and example of Jesus (and doing a little exploding in love and service might help too!). I don’t even mind hearing “Happy Holidays” since I know that the word “Holiday” is simply another form of “Holy Day”. Wishing me a “Happy Holy Day” works just fine. It is Advent . . . are you slowing down? Are you getting ready? The Feast of the Incarnation is nearly upon us! Jesus is coming (nay, is already here!).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kirimandagi waiting for a drill

October 25, 2011
Instead of heading down to Masaka today, Davis and I headed back to Kirimandagi to supervise the drilling of the bore hole at the Blessed Primary School. I spent a big part of the day visiting with Naphtal and Grace and to see the school in action. We just kind of hung out and waited. It is a very African experience -- waiting for things to happen. Things run on their own schedules . . . 10:00 means when we get there and there may have been more important relationships (the person in front of me is the most important person) to deal with along the way. So we sat and we waited.

Late in the afternoon the drill and compressor arrived with the crew. They immediately went to work setting up. The crew travels with tents and a kitchen -- they intend to live with their drill while the job is being completed. These were some seriously no nonsense men -- well diggers. The next day they would begin drilling and the compressor would break -- necessitating a journey back to Kampala. The drilling would not be completed until well after I returned to the US. But it was completed and the well is not fully functional. Davis and I headed back to Kampala late in the afternoon. We are hoping for many photos and a DVD of the drilling.

The rest of the team spent the day doing a variety of things. Clair was with me today. Barb, Kathy and Linda had day one of the Women's conference.

Tomorrow we finish up. Davis and I will be back to Kirimandagi; Linda, Kathy and Barb will be finishing up the women's conference, Clair is teaching at Kalangaalo (in my place).

I asked the team to summarize their favorite part of the trip:
Clair: helping a young muslim girl become Christian at the youth rally
Kathy: preaching and working at the Gayaza school for girls
Barb: the children
Linda: wide range and varied

I've been very proud of this team. They worked hard, hung together, were "Gumby" incarnate.

We left a significant gift for Soul Fishing ministries and a personal thank you to our friend Davis.

I had one final insight as I worked this week. I realized that John the Baptist was baptizing on the border between life and death. He was baptizing in the Jordan river near where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea. To the one side is the life giving flow of the Jordan. To the other side is the body of water where nothing lives (hence "Dead Sea"). Isn't that baptism in its purest form? We cross from death to life. Standing on the boundary.

This is my last journal entry for this trip. I arrived home late 10/27/11. And have already begun plans for October 2012.

I need to finish the book and get it printed and published for my Ugandan friends.

Blessings on your journey,

Monday, November 21, 2011

A day off in Kampala

We got up this morning to the sound of a pounding thunderstorm. It was raining "frogs and lizards" (as they say here in Uganda). Generally, in this kind of rain we just hunker down and wait for it to stop. We did so for most of the morning and then boarded the Mutatu and headed to Davis' pastor's home. We had breakfast today with Davis' pastor at her home and met a man there who was a representative of a Bible College out of Kenya. We spoke of providing additional training for our leaders and I suggested that they might consider a "satellite" one week intensive approach to theirs courses to increase their number of students in Uganda.

After breakfast we were off to do some shopping. We always go to a "crafts" center where the proceeds support local persons with disabilities. I bought the nativity for Rachel's mother that she wanted me to get, I purchased 100 drum key chains for my supporters back in Buffalo and some small gifts for my staff and a small wooden statue of a lion my wife.

We had a nice relaxing cup of coffee and then off to the Mzumgu grocery store so I could get the ingredients to make bread. Bread making at Davis and Samalie's home is an adventure. The oven only goes up to 300 to start with, getting ingredients is complicated (at best). And there is TIA (this is Africa). I put the dough up to rise and the power went out (did I mention that Samalie's oven is electric?). I let it rise, punched it down an hour or so later (the temperature and humidity in Uganda is perfect for bread dough to rise). Still no power. 3 hours after putting the bread up the power finally came back on. I had already gone to bed but got up, the bread had fallen but I baked it anyway. The cinnamon bread was quite edible and the rest would be fine for breakfast. Always an adventure. But fun to do.

I was explaining to my audience (Samalie, Millie and Jesse) that making bread is a chemistry lesson. It is about getting the right ingredients in right proportions at the right temperature to create the right chemical reaction between the yeast, the sugar and the other ingredients. It is really fun.

Kathy has been explaining to me that microfinance here in Uganda is a joke. That the microfinance rates here are actually higher than banks (can get a better deal from a loan shark). We explored some "credit union" and other types of ideas as alternatives. Kathy and Barb went off to the School meeting this evening.

Tomorrow I am back to Kirimandagi to check on the progress of the well. The Women's leadership conference that Linda, Barb and Kathy are leading begins tomorrow as well and Clair will be heading up to teach the Kalaangalo/Caini groups in my stead. We decided to cancel the trip to Masaka in order to supervise the well project.

Back to Kirimandagi and Kikyusa in the morning.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

To the farthest reaches: Nakakono

10/23/2011 Sunday in Nakakono

I preached in a place called Nakakono today. Nakakono is WAY out in the country side. The road there was a foot path for at least two miles. I think Davis enjoys sending me to these remoter outposts. It is also a good way to encourage more Nexus students (if the visitors are willing to go to the remote places it shows a depth and willingness in the program). We signed up seven or eight more potential students by the end of the day. We drove through the center of Satanic worship in this region. Pastors and other Christian men in this area (including my friend Naphtal) have been holding prayer and fasting vigils in this area -- praying down the strongholds. They are reporting some success in this effort.

Pastor Lamech and his family were most gracious in welcoming me. There were 3 other Nexus graduates here and a large crowd with many children. I was planning to preach on Acts -- the aftermath of Paul's conversion and the anonymous people who helped him get started. But as I looked around and was praying I felt that the story of the women who cries on Jesus feet and dries them with her hair from Luke 8 would fit the congregation better. So I preached that. One man became a Christian today, it turned out that he was Lamach's younger brother.

I prayed for many people for a wide and various reasons. I found myself trusting the Holy Spirit more and more to lead how I should pray and to bring help for many diseases and needs and issues.

Nakakono is way out there and I was the first white to preach in this church. The children came and sang their welcome song and some other songs as well and I was given a purple and gold prayer mat as a welcome gift. Then I had lunch with the family and we headed back to Kikyusa.

The congregation felt the need to give me a "love offering" for coming and preaching. I felt very awkward in taking their gift but knew there was no gracious or nonoffensive way of refusing it. It is good for them to be generous and it is good for me to be gracious and generous as well. Fortunately, I had been told by Pastor Lamech that they were trying to build a school there and that the children were deeply in need of supplies and school materials. I made the love offering a gift to the children of the school for supplies and other materials.

We returned to Kirimandagi where Davis and Linda were waiting for us. Linda preached at Grace's church. They were hiding from us and Grace was encouraging them by telling us that Davis and Linda had gone to sleep and had gone home. Quite fun.

On the way back to Davis' home we stopped at the church plant at Seeta. It has come a long way. The Latrines were working, the first floor and columns were in place for the new assembly hall and the second floor was scheduled to go up in the near future. Davis is planning to have the opening worship service here on Christmas Day.

When we returned Barb and Kathy were at Davis' home and they had preached at Samalie's church in the morning and then had spent the day with her. They were talking about the great day they had at Ronald's school (Gayaza Girls School) and the entrepreneurial exercises the students had been undergoing.

Clair returned later and was all fire up about the youth rally and the good meeting he had Sunday afternoon with youth workers from around the area. He reported that many youth came to Christ and the the youth workers were also greatly encouraged and challenged to do better work. He is starting a foundation to help youth in this areas through Pastor Richard's church.

tomorrow is an open day starting with breakfast with Davis' pastor (Bonyme). We are going to do some shopping, have lunch in town.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Graduation at Kikyusa

Graduation Today at Kikyusa was a great success. This is the highlight of the trip for me. Linda and I participated in the graduation of 40 Nexus students (40 and a 1/2 -- one student is 9 months pregnant). Linda got to place the mortar boards on the graduates heads and got to wear one of the special graduation hats. She wore it in a "Rebecca of Sunnybrook farms" style and it fit her hust fine.

This was the largest graduation class ever from Nexus. We had several special guests. The chair of the local gospel preachers council (a council of 560 churches) and a song artist friend of Davis'. The preacher was excellent and spoke encouraging words about believing in themselves and to be people of prayer. The singer was fun and playful and had a great story of being from a small village in the East (near Mbale), building his own guitar and dreaming of being an international recording artist. He is a pastor and, from what I heard and saw well on his way.

I spoke of new beginnings not based on wishful thinking but based on the experience of having talent and mastering the Nexus training and seeing it through to completion. Davis speech was moving. The class witness was given by the young woman Julie Valeski has been sponsoring. She was terrific and talked of the first time she had encountered Nexus training as a possibility.

Davis requires each student to open a savings account and to put away so much per week during the training. He does this to encourage them to become savers and to participate in the economic life of the villages and regions in which they live. This "savings" culture could change, profoundly change, the life of the villages. This class of 40 saved 4.7 million shillings (90K each?) which is pretty good for a rural pastor. The bank manager was there to make a report and to encourage the students.

I attended a Graduation in Kiteme, with pastor Robert. Kiteme means to cut or the cutting. It was an interesting gathering there were two other graduates present. He is a fine young pastor and is building a good congregation at Kiteme. His father was there and is grandmother and his young wife. It was fun. Davis likes to send me off on these farther outposts to preach and to extend our reach deeper into the villages. They gave me a rooster and a stalk of Matoke as a thank you for coming gift. The founding pastor of this church was present, she was a graduate of the last Kikyusa Nexus group.

The party included statements from his former Pastor much singing and a brief sermon from me. I was sitting minding my own business when the MC asked me to get up and share the word of God. So I gave a brief message from Acts 16 about how Paul and his entourage were making plans and intentions to do ministry but at the same time were listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Then I celebrated our graduates and sat down.

The team has been having a great time. Barb and Kathy are Ronald's school today, Clair had the youth rally today and it was bigger and better than ever. Linda got to go to the big graduation party in Kikyusa.

the MC at the part last night looked familiar. Maybe it was the Nigerian costume or that he looked a little like Martin Lawrence (could have been his brother) or that he was marvelously energetic.

At Kiteme, after dinner, several people came to me for prayer. I laid hands on a small baby, a 7th grader and an older women. This is a culture that believes in prayer.

I am preaching near Kikyusa in a place called Nakakono tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nakasangola day 2

We returned to Nakasangola for day "2" today. I taught the 10 Commandments from a Hermaneutical perspective: how does the context help us understand that the commandments are rules for living as free people. The teaching and the congregation seemed to connect. I have some new friends in this place. Linda taught about suffering from Questions by Adam Hamilton -- she did a great job and her voice and health are getting stronger each day.

In the Afternoon I taught on Jeremiah 29 -- Jeremiah's letter to the exiles. 597 the nobility and creative were carried off to Babylon and were being told by the other Judeah prophets that their stay in Babylon would not be long and that they should not unpack and be ready to return at a moment's notice. Jeremiah tells them that they will return to Jerusalem -- but not for 70 years. He advises them to build houses and live in them, gardens, marry and give sons and daughters in marriage. Seek the welfare of the city in which you find yourself -- I talked about how being citizens of heaven we are also in exile and have a responsibility to seek the welfare of wherever we live. The goal of this life is not to wait for death so we can go to heaven. The goal is to bring heaven to earth. We are to storm the gates of hell and the gates of hell will not overcome or prevail against us.

I really enjoy teaching and preaching and this opened up a response from Davis that challenged the leaders in Nakasangola to build heaven where they were -- buy cloths for your children and buy for the orphan next door as well. Serve where you live, build your church.

When we returned to the Luweero guest house our friend Robert, his new wife, Agnes and Davis wife, Samalie had arrived in anticipation of tomorrow's graduation. I am blessed to have these friends and to see them doing exceptionally well. We had dinner together and then (BLESSING) I actually had hot water in my room and was able to take a hot shower -- no much water pressure but hot made up for it! (Amazing how quick we are to be thankful for small things when we are required to forgo them for a while!

Curious view of the day -- saw a man on a motorcycle (boda boda) carrying a man who was carrying a bicycle. We also saw some odd swamp bird as we were driving through the swamp. It had a long neck and beak and was greyish black in color. We asked Davis what they were and he said: "it is a Ugandan Swamp bird" and we all laughed.

Kathy and Barb passed out the "Dress My People" dresses at the Blessed Primary School in Kirimandagi today and took many photos of the children. Kathy took a 30 second video of the children. It was great to hear them talk about it and rejoice in the giving. The light in their eyes and the joy in their voices reminds me again that "it is more blessed to give than receive!

"Tomorrow we are off to graduation in Kikyusa -- 40 students who have completed the training.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A place called Nakasangola


Interesting day yesterday. It started at Pastor Elisha's place and a nice bible conversation with my friend Eddie and our ESL teacher, Alice. Most of the conversation was bout the culture/historical/religious conditions in Corinth. The focus of the conversation was "what is fornication". Apparently some individuals have been teaching that anyone who has non marital relations with another is committing fornication -- in the context of the Corinthians letter (where this conversation is in the context of ritual temple prostitution) this would not be an accurate reading. These individuals had put the "offenders" out of their church. It is amazing how quickly legalism and judgement can take over the spirit of a congregation. I find that I am having a lot of these "side bar" conversations about matters of biblical interpretation and the application of hermaneutical principles.

The well is not yet completed

We drove to Nakasangola today -- 40 miles out form Kikyusa. The road ends 100 yards from the church which is 200 yards from the beginning of the swamp that is this end of lake Kyoga.

A woman named Magdalene is the Senior Pastor in this place. She is a formidable woman, an excellent leader and a deeply spiritual person. It is clear that her connection to God is the driving force in her life and in the rather large circle of human beings who have gravitated to her work. The church looks like an old school mission compound. There is the church, there are homes, there are little huts for the sick who have come in need of prayer. There are herds of goats and cows and pigs and a multiple acre garden. It is quite large and very active. The Nakasangola district is mostly dairy and cattle ranching with a few small farms -- and the usual subsistence farming.

People come her for prayer. Those in need of prayer wander the compound and stop in front of you and you are expected to lay hands and pray over them. Imagine the faith of the prayer seekers and the faith of the prayer givers in a God who responds to every request and petition.

Linda taught this morning on the Prodigal God material and I taught Leadership 101 material that I have brought with me. We were well received and I thought the day went well. We didn't get home until nearly 8 p.m. and the power was out (again) and my water heater doesn't work so another dark cold night at the Luweero guest house. Clair is off with Richard and we won't see him until Sunday night. Barb was a little under the weather last night (another long day) and Kathy is doing great. We are sending Barb and Kathy off early Saturday morning to attend an event at the Gayaza School for Girls (where Davis' brother Ronald works) and they will be attending church with Samalie on Sunday.

We met some Rotarians from Alabama this morning at the guest house. They are working with a school reading program in the Nakasangola area.

John, our driver, has been teaching us Lugandan and is having a blast doing it. He is more engaged with us this trip (probably more comfortable with us) and is more comfortable with our bad Lugandan and his marginal English. Davis has been working to keep all the plates spinning and the team moving. We've had some good conversations.

Tomorrow we are back to Nakasangola and graduation is Friday

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kikyusa Day Two

October 19, 2011

Spent all day today teaching "Palestine of Jesus Time" there are five lectures: 1. Malachi to Matthew (the political back drop and lead up to the New Testament); 2. The fullness of Time (the realities of the 1st century world that enhanced the spread of the Gospel; 3. Judaism of the first century (groups, factions, customs and traditions); 4. Judaism of the first century (2) (culture, day to day living, etc).; 5. Religions of the Empire (Christianity's first century competition). We recorded these five lectures live and my friend and president of Nexus Seminary, Davis Matovu, is planning to use these for future groups as they are about to graduate.

It was a really fun day for me. I love to teach. It was also interesting for me to use these older lectures and to see what else I might be tracking on as I taught -- what new research, reading, etc. that may have come up into my mind as I taught. The students were very responsive and asked some great questions.  found myself, at one point, giving a very detailed description of first century crucifixion and in another place I was giving an extended description of the role of the Sanhedrin council in the 1st century. I do not remember ever teaching for seven (7) straight hours (with a break for lunch).

We kept Linda out one last day but will be traveling with me to Nakasangola tomorrow to do her first bit of teaching in Kikyusa. We are sending Clair off, tomorrow, to Kampala -- he will be collected by Pastor Richard (another friend of ours) to do the Mosher youth rally and to spend some time with other youth workers.  The rest of the team is processing their experiences and doing well in this environment. I am deeply blessed to be traveling with Barb (a first time missionary); Kathy, Clair and Linda.

I met with Grace and Naphtal yesterday evening to give them the balance (the overage) on the money raised for the well. It amounted to $1500 US. I asked for some of their dreams and hopes. There were some personal things they were to take care of and the balance was to be used to buy the potato field next to the new well. This will expand the use of the well but also give the Blessed Junior School the control over all traffic routs to the well.

The water and electricity is working again at the guest house in Luweero. Africa, at least this part of Africa, is a jumble of working/not working. There is usually electricity there is running water in some places (when it works. There is cell service nearly everywhere but basic necessities are not always availalbe. The people have an attitude that essentially says we will use what is working and not worry or miss it when it is not working.

I am sitting in the dining room of the guest house. The security guard, who walks the perimeter of the property all night stops and greets me from a distance. I greet him and thank him for his work.

Tomorrow: we are off to a new place for me: Nakasangola.