Monday, August 30, 2010

Acts 12 -- peeking over the edges

Acts 12 is jammed full of action, and colorful personalities. It begins and ends with an angel -- the first visitation liberates Peter, who is in jail awaiting execution. The second time an angel shows up, it is to put an end to Herod, the enemy of Peter and the church, who seeks to curry favor with the quisling ruling class of Israel by acting against the church.

And, in the middle of the chapter, a church that could not believe God had just answered their prayers, and a scatterbrained maid. You have to read the whole chapter for yourself to savor the richly detailed narrative. It sounds so much like reportage of first-person narratives, that the inquiring mind wonders where the information came from.

Well, since you asked, we'll look at the last part of chapter 11, and the first part of chapter 13!
Act 11:28 Bunlardan Hagavos adlı biri ortaya çıkıp bütün dünyada şiddetli bir kıtlık olacağını Ruh aracılığıyla bildirdi. Bu kıtlık, Klavdius'un imparatorluğu sırasında oldu.
Act 11:29 Öğrenciler, her biri kendi gücü oranında, Yahudiye'de yaşayan kardeşlere gönderilmek üzere yardım toplamayı kararlaştırdılar.
Act 11:30 Bu kararı yerine getirip bağışlarını Barnaba ve Saul'un eliyle kilisenin ihtiyarlarına gönderdiler.
Jesus had warned that the last days of Israel would experience wide-spread shortages. That world was running out of gas, running down. The root word here is kıt, which means "insufficient. inadequate. exiguous. penurious. poor. scant. scanty. scarce. spare. sparse. stingy. in short supply."[1] Add the -lık suffix, and you have a condition of all of the above -- a famine.

More germane to this post, however, is the last verse. This gift was taken to Jerusalem by Barnabas and Saul, who apparently were eye-witnesses to the events surrounding Peter's deliverance, and heard the story from his lips.

The chapter ends with Herod's spectacular demise, while in the course of giving a presumptuous oration. OK, so we want to know, who had first-hand knowledge of the doings inside this opulent royal court? Turn the page to Acts 13, and we have a hint:
Act 13:1 Antakya'daki kilisede peygamberler ve öğretmenler vardı: Barnaba, Niger denilen Şimon, Kireneli Lukius, bölge kralı Hirodes'le birlikte büyümüş olan Menahem ve Saul.
Ah. I think we've spotted our source! A guy names Menahem. More specifically,
bölge kralı Hirodes'le birlikte büyümüş olan Menahem. Let's look at a few of those words!
  • bölge -- area. zone. region. district. division. section. belt. circumscription. climate. corner. department. latitude. phase. precinct. quarter. sector. sky. territory. tract. ward. parts.
  • kralı -- king
  • Hirodes'le -- with Herod
  • birlikte -- at one with, together with
  • büyümüş -- he grew up / he got bigger
  • olan -- he was
  • Menahem -- Menahem
Talk about a fascinating leadership team! Saul and Barnabas are there. A black guy names Simon. And a dude who had been raised in the royal court of Herod. And who may very well have been standing there when Herod bit the dust.


[1] Do not confuse this word with kit, which means such things as:
  • a kitten
  • a small violin
  • a large bottle
  • A wooden tub or pail, smaller at the top than at the bottom; as, a kit of butter, or of mackerel.
  • A straw or rush basket for fish; also, any kind of basket.
  • Anything implied by the English word kit
A dot makes a big difference! When you immerse yourself in Turkish for a bit, you'll find yourself wondering whether or not to dot the iii when writing English!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Acts 11 -- crossing picket lines

The driver was a dork. The chief loader was a charismatic, charming guy who decided he didn't like the driver. "You can teach a chimpanzee to load boxes in 15 minutes," old Spen would say, a big grin on his dark face, "But loading furniture takes real skill." On this night, not much furniture was getting loaded.

And one college boy, with a liberal arts degree that prepared him for low-wage dead-end jobs, had a decision to make. Cooperate with the dorky driver, a stranger? Or with his crew mates? Well, since the furniture van driver is the king of the enterprise, he broke ranks, and crossed that invisible picket line.

Somehow, the house got emptied and the truck got loaded. Last impression that night -- the driver turns to the one loader who'd cooperated with him and asked, "Do you know where I can get some herb?" and pantomimed toking a joint.[1]

The next day, the loader was wearing a different color shirt, and working for the competition across the road. He'd been fired, for getting between the driver and the crew, and between the driver and the customer. This latter offense was intolerable.

ANYHOW: in the last chapter, we saw how Peter had learned through a vivid, disgusting, and unforgettable vision that he was not to disdain any man made in the image of God. He goes, he preaches, they hear, they respond to the message, and God demonstrates His favor and presence upon an occupation soldier's household. This news did not sit very well with the good Jewish folks back in Jerusalem:
Act 11:1 Elçilerle bütün Yahudiye'deki kardeşler, öteki ulusların da Tanrı'nın sözünü kabul ettiklerini duydular.
Act 11:2 Ama Petrus Yeruşalim'e gittiği zaman sünnet yanlıları onu eleştirdiler.
Act 11:3 "Sünnetsiz kişilerin evine gidip yemek yemişsin!" dediler.
People from other nations were hearing the Good News of the Great King -- and the big issue in the home boys' minds was -- "you went into their home and ate with them! With unclean human swine!" Peter repeated his account of God's supernatural guidance through the entire event, and won their grudging acceptance.
Act 11:18 Bunları dinledikten sonra yatıştılar. Tanrı'yı yücelterek şöyle dediler: "Demek ki Tanrı, tövbe etme ve yaşama kavuşma fırsatını öteki uluslara da vermiştir."
Well. So even those folks over there can be saved. That's nice.

This experience had to have left a mark, however. Imagine Peter walking into the naked hostility and cold, accusing glares of the home town crowd, after he "broke taboo." Years later, when Peter was visiting Christians from non-Jewish cultures in the area of Galatia, now a part of Turkey, a delegation came from Jerusalem. They were friends of James, a hard-core advocate of the notion that good Christians had to be good Jews first. These emissaries, or perhaps spies, so intimidated Peter that he began shunning those who had treated him as an honored guest.

The Jewish Christians of that day, perhaps the majority of them, had not gotten the memo. They were betting on the wrong horse. They had hitched their wagon to the wrong star, a falling star, a culture and nation under a pending death sentence.


[1] Sorry, I'm stuck with the idiom I grew up with, with the vocabulary that leaked osmoticly across from the prominent parallel drug culture.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Acts 10 -- cross-cultural excursions

This story begins with a military man, an officer charged with managing a subjugated and restless province. Somehow, he has come to prefer the God of this conquered people to the mob of gods he grew up with.[1] He surrounds himself with people who also prefer the God of Israel, he prays, but he has not undergone the painful, and somewhat risky, surgical procedure of circumcision. When he goes to the synagogue to hear God's Word read, he is among those who pray "O Lord, God of their fathers ... "
Act 10:1 Sezariye'de Kornelius adında bir adam vardı. "İtalyan" taburunda yüzbaşıydı.
Act 10:2 Dindar bir adamdı. Hem kendisi hem de bütün ev halkı Tanrı'dan korkardı. Halka çok yardımda bulunur, Tanrı'ya sürekli dua ederdi.
One quick note on Turkish grammar. The verb korkmak, to fear, requires you to use the "genitive" case ending to indicate the object of fear, rather than the usual direct-object case ending. To speak of one who feared dogs, you would say köpekten korkardı. To speak of one who feared God, you would say Tanrı'dan korkardı.[2]

Kornelius gets a visitor from a far country indeed, an angel of God:
Act 10:3 Bir gün saat üç sularında, bir görümde Tanrı'nın bir meleğinin kendisine geldiğini açıkça gördü. Melek ona, "Kornelius" diye seslendi.
Of course, Kornelius is terrified. That's the normal human response to angelic visitations. And attentive. He is told to cross an ethnic boundary, and invite a Jewish guy into his house.

So, this Roman invader receives a vision of God's angel. The Jewish guy also has a vision -- of a tablecloth filled with detestable and unclean beasts! And a command to party hearty on buzzards and snakes and lobsters and nasty stuff life that.
Act 10:12 Çarşafın içinde, yeryüzünde yaşayan her türden dört ayaklı hayvanlar, sürüngenler ve kuşlar vardı.
Act 10:13 Bir ses ona, "Kalk Petrus, kes ve ye!" dedi.
Act 10:14 "Asla olmaz, ya Rab!" dedi Petrus. "Hiçbir zaman bayağı ya da murdar herhangi bir şey yemedim."
Vs. 13 has short words. A voice to him, "Rise, Peter, slaughter and eat!" it said. Peter's response to God's command is emphatic.

"No way never, but Lord!" said Peter. "Nothing at any time vulgar or unclean whatsoever on thing did I eat." Dietary restrictions are part of the Jewish identity. When you have Muslim guests over for dinner, kosher food also meets their dietary code. This was, and is, a big deal. One of the books of the in-between testament, the Greek apocrypha, recounts the story of an entire family that chose painful death rather than tasting roast pork.

God replies to Peter's terrified reaction to this vision with a cryptic admonition:
Act 10:15 Ses tekrar, ikinci kez duyuldu; Petrus'a, "Tanrı'nın temiz kıldıklarına sen bayağı deme" dedi.
The voice again, a second time spoke; to Peter, "That which God clean has made you vulgar do not call," it said. Peter saw this vision three times, and was thoroughly puzzled. There was a knock at the door[3] ...

and we'll read the rest of the story in our next post.


[1] I just finished another romp through Augustine's City of God. One man, a porter, can guard a door, since he is a man. The Romans assigned three gods to the same task!

[2] Be sure to remember the k in korkmak, unless you wish to suggest that your Turkish friends smell (like) dogs! The verb kormak means to smell.

[3] A very short horror story goes like this:
The last man on Earth sat alone in his room.
There was a knock on the door ....

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Acts 9 -- Şam'a yolda

A common English idiomatic expression, "a Damascus Road experience," traces back to this chapter. This phrase describes a sudden and inexplicable change in a person's attitudes, allegiances, and actions. Synonyms are conversion,[1] and seeing the light.[2]
Act 9:1,2 Saul ise Rab'bin öğrencilerine karşı hâlâ tehdit ve ölüm soluyordu. Başkâhine gitti, Şam'daki havralara verilmek üzere mektuplar yazmasını istedi. Orada İsa'nın yolunda yürüyen kadın erkek, kimi bulsa tutuklayıp Yeruşalim'e getirmek niyetindeydi.
Act 9:3 Yol alıp Şam'a yaklaştığı sırada, birdenbire gökten gelen bir ışık çevresini aydınlattı.
Act 9:4 Yere yıkılan Saul, bir sesin kendisine, "Saul, Saul, neden bana zulmediyorsun?" dediğini işitti.
Act 9:5 Saul, "Ey Efendim, sen kimsin?" dedi. "Ben senin zulmettiğin İsa'yım" diye yanıt geldi.
Let's look at those highlighted phrases, a question and an answer:

  • Why, for what reason / to me / persecuting are you?
  • I / your / persecuting / Jesus am.
One of the most moving books I've read recently is Esra Özüryek's memoir of a nation's mood, Nostalgia for the Modern. In many parts of the world, the 20th century began with eager anticipation, and ended in nostalgia. Some of us, who grew up in the afterglow of "the golden age of science fiction" still feel cheated, since we don't have our household robots, flying cars, or excursions to the moon. Özüryek, however, describes the role played by Kemal Ataturk in the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into the Turkish Republic, and of the national mood of Utopian optimism that memory has imbued that era with.[3]

One thing Özüryek studied was the iconography of the era. The most common photograph of Ataturk, the one displayed in every classroom and public office, is a floating head looking directly at the viewer. This accurately portrays, she writes, the sense the Ataturk is the "head" of the body politic, the visible face of the Turkish corporate identity. He is the head, the nation is his body. A nationalist poem recited by school children goes Atatürk ölmedi yüreğimde yaşıyor – Atatürk didn’t die, he lives within my heart …).

Of late, however, a diminished Ataturk has become a more popular image. Homes are more likely to feature photos of the whole man, in a group, looking at someone else in the photograph.

Time has not, however, diminished the stature of the One who encountered Saul Şam'a yolda -- on the road to Damascus. Jesus viewed Saul's violent assaults upon Christians as a personal attack upon himself. Like many persecutors since, Saul discovered that he had taken on a bigger Adversary than anticipated.

The God of Christianity can destroy the enemies of His people. Sometimes, He destroys enemies by turning them into friends.


[1] Conversions typically have a supernatural component, a sense that one has been apprehended, and transformed, by a reality beyond oneself.

[2] A political maxim: most politicians see the light when they feel the heat (of voter concern).

[3] The Latin language has a phobia about putting propositions at the end of sentences. Since I'm writing English, not Latin, I'll put prepositions where they belong, rather than mangle my sentence in the interests of snobbery.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Acts 8 -- beyond the comfort zone

Our family owns a Welsh Corgi. Even though the herding instinct has been dialed back for the pet version of the breed, it's still there. Given certain triggers, especially time-related, Pippin erupts in a frenzy of barking, as he seeks to herd the family in the anticipated direction. Suppertime. Reading time. Whenever a time-word, like ready, or now, is uttered by the alpha dog (me). Then, when everyone is where they ought to be, a doggy grin rests on his countenance. All is right with his strange little world.

We all enjoy predictability. However, the God of the Bible is whimsical. We know what He will do -- over generations, reward the faithful and disinherit the wicked and unbelieving. The how, though, is another story. Or actually, a whole life filled with unanticipated events which add up, over time, to high adventure and rich satisfaction.

The Church in Jerusalem got pushed out of their comfort zone:
Act 8:3 Saul ise inanlılar topluluğunu kırıp geçiriyordu. Ev ev dolaşarak, kadın erkek demeden imanlıları dışarı sürüklüyor, hapse atıyordu.
Act 8:4 Bunun sonucu dağılan imanlılar, gittikleri her yerde Tanrı sözünü müjdeliyorlardı.
Ah, here are a few interesting words!
  • Ev ev -- House to house
  • dağılmak -- to scatter
  • her yerde -- at every place
On the one hand, we see a "great disturbance in the force." People are running for their lives. Escaping familiar homes and neighborhoods. Apparently, there's always been a lot of that going on in this fallen world. However, these people are also proclaiming the word of God everywhere they go. A disaster has become an opportunity.

For those with the right attitude, times of transition -- moving to a new city for a new opportunity, taking classes abroad -- are also times that create an intensification of life, and the most memorable pictures in the family scrapbook.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Acts 7 -- Treason is the reason

In this chapter, Stephen is on trial for his life, charged with "speaking against Moses and the Temple." The people who could not resist his logic now called in the heavy artillery, and leveled false charges of political (Moses) and religious (the Temple) treason against this bold deacon.

Stephen is obviously facing a hostile audience, a kangaroo court. The verdict has already been decided on, but formalities must be observed. Stephen addresses his hearers in Greek, and quotes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. He is obviously a gifted speaker, he engages his audience and holds their attention with one tale of betrayal after another. After all, treason is the reason he's standing before them that day! And there are so many accounts of people who were betrayed by family (like Joseph) and tribe (like Moses) who nevertheless ended up having in the last laugh.

Finally, in a brilliant turn of phrase that turns the tables, Stephen makes it plain who the real traitors are:
Act 7:51 "Ey dik kafalılar, yürekleri ve kulakları sünnet edilmemiş olanlar! Siz tıpkı atalarınıza benziyorsunuz, her zaman Kutsal Ruh'a karşı direniyorsunuz.
Act 7:52,53 Atalarınız peygamberlerin hangisine zulmetmediler ki? Adil Olan'ın geleceğini önceden bildirenleri de öldürdüler. Melekler aracılığıyla buyrulan Yasa'yı alıp da buna uymayan sizler, şimdi de Adil Olan'a ihanet edip O'nu katlettiniz!"
A key term here is dik kafalılar: the obstinate, pigheaded, bull headed, headstrong folks. You are like your fathers, always resisting the Holy Spirit. Your fathers[1], the prophets, which of them did they not persecute? Melekler aracılığıyla -- angels by the means of. buyrulan Yasa'yı alıp da buna uymayan the law you received, but have not kept.

Judges hate it when the defendant puts them on trial, and convicts them so convincingly. We know that Stephen's defense made a powerful impression on at least one hearer, since he remembered the details so clearly, and long enough to convey the whole story to Luke.


[1] In synagogues throughout the Roman Empire, when non-Jewish people came to worship the God of Israel, they addressed the Lord as the "God of their fathers."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Acts 6 -- in a strange land

Imagine being an American and a party in Sweden. The people around you speak flawless English, an English that is noteworthy for its lack of identifying regional accents. They graciously include you in the festivities. But, when they think you're not listening, among themselves they lapse back into their own foreign, unintelligible language. They don't mean to exclude you -- but it takes an effort on their part to include you, and it's easier to revert to their mother tongue at those moments when you're not "in the loop."

In the first chapter of this verse, we encounter the split that later threatened to destroy the early church. We meet the Grekçe konuşan Yahudiler -- "Greek-speaking Jews." These were the guests, the folks from other countries whose native language was the lingua franca[1] of that half of the Roman world. They were swept up in the excitement surrounding the birth of the church on Pentecost -- but they were starting to overstay their welcome.
Act 6:1 İsa'nın öğrencilerinin sayıca çoğaldığı o günlerde, Grekçe konuşan Yahudiler, günlük yardım dağıtımında kendi dullarına gereken ilginin gösterilmediğini ileri sürerek İbranice konuşan Yahudiler'den yakınmaya başladılar.
Act 6:2 Bunun üzerine Onikiler, bütün öğrencileri bir araya toplayıp şöyle dediler: "Tanrı'nın sözünü yayma işini bırakıp maddi işlerle uğraşmamız doğru olmaz.

Act 6:3 Bu nedenle, kardeşler, aranızdan Ruh'la ve bilgelikle dolu, yedi saygın kişi seçin. Onları bu iş için görevlendirelim.

Act 6:4 Biz ise kendimizi duaya ve Tanrı sözünü yaymaya adayalım."

Act 6:5 Bu öneri bütün topluluğu hoşnut etti. Böylece, iman ve Kutsal Ruh'la dolu biri olan İstefanos'un yanısıra Filipus, Prohoros, Nikanor, Timon, Parmenas ve Yahudiliğe dönen Antakyalı Nikolas'ı seçip elçilerin önüne çıkardılar. Elçiler de dua edip ellerini onların üzerine koydular.

In those days, it was a "no-brainer" for a godly community to take care of widows. The İbranice konuşan Yahudiler (Hebrew-speaking Jews) probably did not intend to neglect the widows from out of town -- but there were communication breakdowns. Perhaps, some of these needy ladies simply did not "get the message" when a charitable distribution was announced.

The inspired solution was to select "deacons," people who used church resources to help out the destitute members of the community. Every one of them was -- a Greek-speaking Jew. Many years later, we see the tide turning, and the Greek-speaking Christians providing aid to a desperate, isolated, and harassed community of Jewish-cultured Christians.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Acts 5 -- a puzzling miracle

Some ancient Christian writers took the position that Ananias and Sapphira served as good bad examples for the early church, and we can look forward to meeting them in the life to come. It is true that stuff that goes on early in the life of an organism, organization, or family has incredible power to shape future interactions. A former pastor counseled us to do all within our power to keep the wife home for those critical early years. Even if we had to go into debt. After all, parents don't mind borrowing money to send their kids to college, and the first 4 years of a child's life are far more crucial than his college years. Early in our marriage, we promised God and one another that we would not go to bed with unresolved offenses. There were some nights when bedtime came in the wee hours of the morning -- but today, that bed is still a place of refuge and safety.

Perhaps, sins that later Christians could take in stride were more dangerous to the church in its early, vulnerable, first few days. Ananias and Sapphira certainly found themselves on the wrong side of God's justice, when they tried to lay claim to unearned prestige.
Act 5:1,2 Hananya adında bir adam, karısı Safira'nın onayıyla bir mülk sattı, paranın bir kısmını kendine saklayarak gerisini getirip elçilerin buyruğuna verdi. Karısının da olup bitenlerden haberi vardı.
Act 5:3 Petrus ona, "Hananya, nasıl oldu da Şeytan'a uydun, Kutsal Ruh'a yalan söyleyip tarlanın parasının bir kısmını kendine sakladın?" dedi.
Act 5:4 "Tarla satılmadan önce sana ait değil miydi? Sen onu sattıktan sonra da parayı dilediğin gibi kullanamaz mıydın? Neden yüreğinde böyle bir düzen kurdun? Sen insanlara değil, Tanrı'ya yalan söylemiş oldun."
Act 5:5 Hananya bu sözleri işitince yere yıkılıp can verdi. Olanları duyan herkesi büyük bir korku sardı.
Act 5:6 Gençler kalkıp Hananya'nın ölüsünü kefenlediler ve dışarı taşıyıp gömdüler.
Act 5:7 Bundan yaklaşık üç saat sonra Hananya'nın karısı, olanlardan habersiz içeri girdi.
Act 5:8 Petrus, "Söyle bana, tarlayı bu fiyata mı sattınız?" diye sordu. "Evet, bu fiyata" dedi Safira.
Act 5:9 Petrus ona şöyle dedi: "Rab'bin Ruhu'nu sınamak için nasıl oldu da sözbirliği ettiniz? İşte, kocanı gömenlerin ayak sesleri kapıda, seni de dışarı taşıyacaklar."
Act 5:10 Kadın o anda Petrus'un ayakları dibine yıkılıp can verdi. İçeri giren gençler onu ölmüş buldular, onu da dışarı taşıyarak kocasının yanına gömdüler.
Act 5:11 İnanlılar topluluğunun* tümünü ve olayı duyanların hepsini büyük bir korku sardı.
In the previous chapter, we notice how Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus, sold his farm and donated the proceeds to the church. This was one, of many, reasons that Barnabas received honor and recognition among the leaders. Every one of us has a need for recognition, and faces the temptation to take short-cuts to achieve it. As this notable act of God demonstrates, however, short-cuts can lead to unanticipated dead ends.