Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Acts 22 -- and talking dogs

A Jewish guy from the United States became a devotee of Japanese martial arts. He moved to Japan, and learned to speak their language with native fluency. He had no problems communicating with people on the phone, but had to repeat himself when meeting people in person. "It's like listening to a talking dog," he explained. "You are too surprised by the fact that the dog can talk to understand at first what it is saying!"

Here's an old joke that my Turkish friends appreciate:
  • If someone who speaks three or more languages is poly-lingual, and
  • If someone who speaks two languages is bilingual,
  • What do you call someone who speaks one language?
  • American
At the top of the steps leading into the Roman garrison fortress, Paul, a Greek-speaking native of Anatolia, begins to speak to the mob that had just been trying to tear him to pieces. And, they listen:
Act 22:1 "Kardeşler ve babalar, size şimdi yapacağım savunmayı dinleyin" dedi.
Act 22:2 Pavlus'un kendilerine İbrani dilinde seslendiğini duyduklarında daha derin bir sessizlik oldu.
A "more deep a silence they made." (daha derin bir sessizlik oldu) In the last chapter, the Roman officer in charge of the garrison had been surprised when Paul addressed him in Greek, the administrative language of that part of the world.

Your language is a very deeply embedded part of your identity. When you make an effort to learn another language, you open the doors to friendship, since you are showing respect for something very near and dear to the other party. Here are some resources you may find helpful:
  • This newsletter from a friend describes his experience with a crash-course in self-taught Italian. You can do it -- very quickly -- if you simply make it the most important project in your life for an intensely focused season.
  • This web site, livemocha.com, is a free global community of people who are eager to learn, and eager to help each other learn, additional languages.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Acts 21 -- when in Rome ...

An old cliche goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." It's generally a good idea to conform to local norms. A political maxim holds that members of Congress should "Go along to get along." Vote for your fellow congress critters' raids on the public treasury, and they will help you dip into the pork barrel[1] as well.

Yet, is it always wise to cooperate? You're sitting in a park on a lovely summer night with new friends -- and you value friendship. Then, the bong comes around. Toke? Don't toke? The cop pulls you over, and politely asks, "Mind if I take a look in your car?" Cooperate? Resist? The customs agent asks if the trip you just completed was for "business or pleasure." Answer? Tell him it's none of his business? As this article points out, a cooperative attitude can cost you, big-time, far more than you gain in the short run.

Paul faced that quandary. He shows up in Jerusalem with a hefty chunk of change, collected at great personal effort and expense from gentile churches. He shows up with stirring testimonies of what God has done throughout the known world to bring people into allegiance with the risen King, Jesus. And the leaders of the church say -- "Well, thanks. That's all very nice. But what really matters is ... " And before you know it, Paul gets railroaded into a hare-brained scheme to placate his implacable foes.
Act 21:18 Ertesi gün Pavlus'la birlikte Yakup'u görmeye gittik. İhtiyarların* hepsi orada toplanmıştı.
Act 21:19 Pavlus, onların hal hatırını sorduktan sonra, hizmetinin aracılığıyla Tanrı'nın öteki uluslar arasında yaptıklarını teker teker anlattı.
Act 21:20 Bunları işitince Tanrı'yı yücelttiler. Pavlus'a, "Görüyorsun kardeş, Yahudiler arasında binlerce imanlı var ve hepsi Kutsal Yasa'nın candan savunucusudur" dediler.
Act 21:21 "Ne var ki, duyduklarına göre sen öteki uluslar arasında yaşayan bütün Yahudiler'e, çocuklarını sünnet etmemelerini, törelerimize uymamalarını söylüyor, Musa'nın Yasası'na sırt çevirmeleri gerektiğini öğretiyormuşsun.
Act 21:22 Şimdi ne yapmalı? Senin buraya geldiğini mutlaka duyacaklar.
Act 21:23 Bunun için sana dediğimizi yap. Aramızda adak adamış dört kişi var.
Act 21:24 Bunları yanına al, kendileriyle birlikte arınma törenine katıl. Başlarını tıraş edebilmeleri için kurban masraflarını sen öde. Böylelikle herkes, seninle ilgili duyduklarının asılsız olduğunu, senin de Kutsal Yasa'ya uygun olarak yaşadığını anlasın.
Act 21:25 Öteki uluslardan olan imanlılara gelince, biz onlara, putlara sunulan kurbanların etinden, kandan, boğularak öldürülen hayvanlardan ve fuhuştan sakınmalarını öngören kararımızı yazmıştık."
The 1951 book Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr considered several perspectives on the relationship between the eternal King of the Ages, and the everyday contemporary culture. Possibilities he described included:
  • Christ Against Culture
  • Christ Of Culture
  • Christ Above Culture
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox
  • Christ the Transformer of Culture
This is not a new conundrum. People who had actually spent years in the presence of Jesus, like Jacob, still blundered. Their attempts to appease the passionate devotees of Jewish cultural norms failed, of course, and only brought disaster upon the head of the guy who'd just showed up to do them good.


[1] The Pork Barrel,[2] in American political idioms, is taxpayer money directed to specific projects in the legislator's home district. This game can continue until the currency is destroyed. As Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings explains,
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selective Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: 'If you don't work you die.'

The the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four---
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man---
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:---
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
[2] In the days before refrigeration, meat could be preserved through various techniques that resisted the activity of decomposing bacteria. If you had time, you could hang the meat in a smoke house until it was thoroughly dessicated, or "cured." If you were in a hurry, you could cut up the pig, and pack the pieces in a barrel. Each piece had to be surrounded by salt, top, bottom, and all sides.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Acts 20 -- chiastic turn of events

The Book of Acts, like many pieces of ancient literature, was meticulously and carefully structured.[1] Today's fancy word, chiastic, refers to the Greek letter chi, which looks like our letter X. Let's say you have two plots going in your story. Character A goes from Point 1 to Point 2, while Character B goes from Point 2 to Point 1.

Luke liked to use geography as a technique for pacing his narratives. As the story moved along, its characters moved from point to point. One of the major moves in the Gospel of Luke was the last voyage Jesus made to Jerusalem, where he suffered, died, and was buried. After that, of course, Jesus rose again from the dead, and ascended to heaven, enthroned beside the Father and governing the universe.

Here, in the course of Paul's restless quest to take the gospel further and further afield, to places where it had not been heard before, we see a turn:
Act 20:16 Pavlus, Asya İli'nde vakit kaybetmemek için Efes'e uğramamaya karar vermişti. Pentikost Günü Yeruşalim'de olabilmek umuduyla acele ediyordu.
Let's look at that second sentence. On the day of Pentecost (Pentikost Günü) in Jerusalem[2] (Yeruşalim'de) to be able to be (olabilmek) with the hope of (umuduyla) diligence, zeal, energy (acele) he exerted (ediyordu).

Jerusalem, it seems, was the place prophets, and dreams, go to die. Like his master, Paul suddenly turns his back upon a successful and purposeful ministry life, to go back to Jerusalem.[3] He knew trouble awaited him, but "set his face like flint" to march directly into adversity. He was taking with him gifts collected from Gentile churches for the Jewish Christians, who were beginning to suffer ostracism and financial penalties for their faith. Perhaps, he hoped to avert irreparable schisms (fitna) between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Or, maybe he wished to strengthen the identity of the Jewish Christians with Christ, and hence with Gentile believers, in a culture that was suicidally and stubbornly insistent on pretending that Jesus had never happened, or in any case did not matter.


[1] That reminds me -- I took a one-semester course in aesthetics while pursuing a BA. The textbook was James Joyce's Ulysses, a book that maps the Bloomsday life of a Dublin man against Homer's Odyssey. The professor told us to re-read it in a few decades, when so many of our youthful dreams had failed, just to appreciate how robustly funny it is.

[2] I don't know how it happened. Once upon a time, an initial letter i in an English word acquired a little "foot." Somehow, the letter i with a bigger base to stand upon became our letter j, and acquired the same phonetic value as the Turkish letter c. The Latin names Iesus and Ierusalem became the English words Jesus and Jerusalem. I'm sure my Lord heeds those who call upon Him as Jesus today, even if He would not have recognized that name while walking the earth!

[3] The "back to Jerusalem" movement in China consists of Chinese Christians who wish to complete the westward movement of the Gospel by taking this message all the way back to its source. Many are studying Arabic, in the expectation of doing business with some of the intervening people groups ...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Acts 19 -- "Life, the universe, and everything."

In the farcical fantasy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe,[1] intelligent beings spend billions of years creating the ultimate computer to answer the ultimate question: "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?" And the ultimate computer gives them the answer: 54. They should have asked what the ultimate question was first, you see.

Does your message sell itself? Does it "have legs?"[2]

Once again, Paul goes to the synagogue, and presents the message of the King, the Messiah who has come. Once again, within a few months envious rivals cause trouble, so he goes somewhere else.
Act 19:9 Ne var ki, bazıları sert bir tutum takınıp ikna olmamakta direndiler ve İsa'nın yolunu halkın önünde kötülemeye başladılar. Bunun üzerine Pavlus onlardan ayrıldı. Öğrencilerini de alıp götürdü ve Tiranus'un dershanesinde her gün tartışmalarını sürdürdü.
Act 19:10 Bu durum iki yıl sürdü. Sonunda Yahudi olsun Grek olsun, Asya İli'nde yaşayan herkes Rab'bin sözünü işitti.
Contemporary records suggest that Paul taught for an hour or two around lunchtime, day after day. Since Ephesus was a commercial and banking center for Anatolia, people who came and heard his message took it elsewhere throughout the subcontinent. Within two years, the Good News of the Great King had reached everyone.

As a communications scholar, I have to wonder what Paul taught for those two years. Did he repeat the same "Four Spiritual Laws" day after day? Expound on John 3:16 every time he got up? Obviously, he didn't preach a long course of study over the course of the two years, since those who heard his message were able to run with it, taking it back home and applying it where they lived. My guess? Paul had a central point that explained everything else in a new and fresh way. King Jesus rules. Therefore ...

People probably came to Efese on business, stayed a few days, and returned home.[3] During this time, those who responded to Paul's message could pledge their allegiance to it, by accepting baptism, and watch Paul's approach to exposition.

I suspect Paul followed a liturgical calendar, a pre-existing series of specified readings from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. No need to re-invent the wheel. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.[4] His perspective on these readings, however, was different, now that the divine intervention they pointed to had happened. His new perspective was exciting enough to engage the passions of those who embraced it, and to transform them into ambassadors of the Great King, and agents of His Kingdom.[5]


[1] This was originally a series of half-hour radio broadcasts, that later became a series of books, losing something in the translation process, and finally audio files of the books being read, losing a bit more. Does anyone know where I can find MP3 files of the original radio series?

[2] Journalists say a story "has legs" if it has enduring interest, beyond the current day's edition or broadcast.

[3] If you travel through a rural area, you will normally find a crossroads village every 10 miles, and a somewhat larger urban center every 30 miles. If a country store is always within a five-mile distance, you can get there on foot and back in the same half of a day. For seasonal items, you can go to the county seat, stay overnight, and come back the next day.

[4] As a gifted Methodist profession rhetorically asked a class of aspiring preachers, "Do you find the text? Or do you let the text find you?" A successful American denomination, Calvary Chapel, has a policy of preaching through the entire Bible. Topical sermons tend to settle down into the half-dozen or so topics that excite a preacher. Expository sermons perpetually bring fresh insights, fresh challenges, to the pulpit.

[5] I love Turkish people, language, food, and culture, and hope to see that nation transformed into a globally significant center of Christianity. I think there are elements in the Turkish heritage that point in that direction. It is a courtly tradition with an imperial heritage. The idea of serving in the court of a majestic King fits both this tradition, and the message of the Bible, better than the American popular notion of Christianity being a religious experience, a nicer gnosis.

Acts 18 -- "May God bless and keep the Czar ... "

Even a powerhouse like Paul got discouraged from time to time. That may explain why God provided him with an encouraging vision: [1]
Act 18:9 Bir gece Rab bir görümde Pavlus'a, "Korkma" dedi, "Konuş, susma!
Act 18:10 Ben seninle birlikteyim; hiç kimse sana dokunmayacak, kötülük yapmayacak. Çünkü bu kentte benim halkım çoktur."
Act 18:11 Pavlus, orada bir buçuk yıl kaldı ve halka sürekli Tanrı'nın sözünü öğretti.
Let's unpack a few words here:
  • Bir gece -- one night (bir = one)
  • Rab -- The Lord (Turkish does not have a definite article, like that single hardest word to use in idiomatic English -- the)
  • bir görümde -- in a vision (bir also = a)
  • Pavlus'a -- to Paul
  • "Korkma" dedi, -- "Do no be afraid,[2] He said,
  • "Konuş, susma! -- "Speak, do not be silent!
  • Ben seninle birlikteyim; -- I / with you / I am united.
  • hiç kimse sana dokunmayacak, -- None / no one / to you / will touch you,
  • kötülük yapmayacak-- harm will do
  • Çünkü bu kentte -- Because / this / city in
  • benim halkım çoktur." -- My / my people / there are many."
This divine promise was fulfilled a year and a half (bir buçuk yıl) later, when Jewish rabble-rousers showed up again, as usual, to make trouble for the Christians. This time, they made the mistake of trying to get the government to do their dirty work for them, rather than just relying upon their own hired thugs:
Act 18:12 Gallio'nun Ahaya Valisi olduğu sıralarda, hep birlikte Pavlus'a karşı gelen Yahudiler onu mahkemeye çıkardılar.
Act 18:13 "Bu adam Yasa'ya aykırı biçimde Tanrı'ya tapınmaları için insanları kandırıyor" dediler.
Act 18:14 Pavlus tam söze başlayacakken Gallio Yahudiler'e şöyle dedi: "Ey Yahudiler, davanız bir haksızlık ya da ciddi bir suçla ilgili olsaydı, sizleri sabırla dinlemem gerekirdi.
Act 18:15 Ama sorun bir öğreti, bazı adlar ve kendi yasanızla ilgili olduğuna göre, bu davaya kendiniz bakın. Ben böyle şeylere yargıçlık etmek istemem."
And Gallio had sense enough to wash his hands of the whole controversy: Ben böyle şeylere yargıçlık etmek istemem. -- I / this / things about / judge / to be / I do not want.

Best-case scenario! I'm reminded of the exchange in the musical Fiddler on a Roof. When asked if there was a blessing for the Czar the village rabbi said there was. And what was it?

"May God bless and keep the Czar -- far away from us!"

In the West, nations with state churches have nations with weak, ineffectual churches, churches that lack influence and credibility and members. The American solution -- make the churches rely upon their own resources -- has generated a profoundly religious society[3].

[1] Frequently, when a Muslim takes another look at Jesus, it is because of a vivid dream or vision.

[2] Korkma -- do not be afraid -- is the most frequent command in the New Testament, I believe. In a world filled with things to fear, we serve a God who is bigger than our fears.

[3] Don't believe what Hollywood tells you -- most Americans do indeed respect God and love their families. The media magnates who generate popular culture -- many of whom have Jewish roots -- try to conceal this reality from their viewers.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Acts 17 -- the world turned upside down

When the surrounded British army surrendered to the upstart colonials at Yorktown, Virginia, the imperial Darth Vader was unhappy. Lord Cornwallis -- a strange guy with a harem of boyfriends who sometimes rode horseback through the troops in his altogether -- was mildly put out. Claiming illness, he sent his sword to George Washington by the hand of a servant. As the British forces stacked up their Brown Besses,[1] the musicians played a tune The World Turned Upside Down.[2]

Ah, but where does that phrase come from? Today's chapter of Acts, of course!
Act 17:6 Onları bulamayınca, Yason ile bazı kardeşleri kent yetkililerinin önüne sürüklediler. "Dünyayı altüst eden o adamlar buraya da geldiler" diye bağırıyorlardı.
Act 17:7 "Yason onları evine aldı. Onların hepsi, İsa adında başka bir kral olduğunu söyleyerek Sezar'ın buyruklarına karşı geliyorlar."
Interestingly enough, this riot happens in the birthplace of Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, Selanik. Paul and his team show up, and begin teaching at the local synagogue. People are excited by the message. The Jewish leaders are driven insane with jealousy, and haul several of the prominent members of the new faction before the city court. Their charge is intriguing:
  • Dünyayı -- the world
  • altüst eden -- they invert
  • o adamlar -- this men
  • buraya da geldiler -- here, indeed, they have come
  • Onların hepsi -- They all
  • İsa adında -- Jesus by name
  • başka bir kral -- another a king
  • olduğunu söyleyerek -- he is they say
There are several different ways to spin this story. A tradition in fundamentalist Protestantism "gets off on"[3] wallowing in guilt. The apostles turned their world upside down, you see, and if we were any kind of Christians, we'd be doing the same. Well, there might be something to that woeful plaint. Jesus assured his disciples that they could expect hostility -- and if life is too good, are we truly living our faith?

As I age, however, I tend to see things more frequently in holistic, whole-system terms. Yes, Paul was a dynamic, charismatic speaker who provoked strong reactions. To put an end to riots, the disciples had to ship Paul out of town, again and again.[4] Yet, would he catalyze such violent turmoil in normal times? The key issue was one of authority. The peace of Rome was brutally instituted, brutally enforced. Yet Caesar did provide a real peace by exterminating brigands on the amazing Roman roads, and pirates on the seas. Underneath this superficial tranquility, however, other trends were in motion. Resentments simmered. A sense that all was not well with the world needed only something concrete to crystallize around. In this case, the proclamation that another King ruled, one to whom even Caesar owed fealty.

It took a few hundred years, but Caesar did eventually bow before Christ. And the message of the gospel -- a Great King sits enthroned in heaven, and rules today -- still resonates with those who seek a better way.


[1] A .75 caliber gun fires a 3/4-inch diameter bullet. Since F=MA, it took a sizable slug to do the job at the relatively slow acceleration you get with black powder.

[2] Click on the link to enjoy the tune and read the complete ballad. The first verse is as follows:
If buttercups buzz'd after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way round,
Then all the world would be upside down.
[3] A little hippy lingo, an idiom that was contemporary 40 years ago. To "get off on" something meant to become affected by it, and usually referred to drug experiences. It might take repeated exposure to pot (marijuana), for example, before the desired effects happened. Before you got off on the drug.

[4] "Sooner or later, you have to shoot the engineers and start production," goes a manufacturing aphorism.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Acts 16 -- guidance by bloody noses

In the early part of this chapter, we see Paul floundering around Anatolia, looking for his missing mojo[1]:
Act 16:6 Kutsal Ruh'un, Tanrı sözünü Asya İli'nde yaymalarını engellemesi üzerine Pavlus'la arkadaşları Frikya ve Galatya bölgesinden geçtiler.
Act 16:7 Misya sınırına geldiklerinde Bitinya bölgesine geçmek istediler. Ama İsa'nın Ruhu onlara izin vermedi.
Act 16:8 Bunun üzerine Misya'dan geçip Troas Kenti'ne gittiler.
Act 16:9 O gece Pavlus bir görüm gördü. Önünde Makedonyalı bir adam durmuş, ona yalvarıyordu: "Makedonya'ya geçip bize yardım et" diyordu.
Act 16:10 Pavlus'un gördüğü bu görümden sonra hemen Makedonya'ya gitmenin bir yolunu aradık. Çünkü Tanrı'nın bizi, Müjde'yi oradakilere duyurmaya çağırdığı sonucuna varmıştık.
People who communicate the gospel recognize the spooky, supernatural element to the process. For some reason, it's not a job we can do on our own. When we encounter a receptive ear, we bow before the awesome God who has prepared that heart, and that ear, for what we have to share.

And sometimes, people just don't want to hear. Their hearts are either hardened,[2] or not ready to hear. The evangelist gets the sense that God isn't doing His work on the other end of the process, so it's time to move on. Let's look at a few words:
  • Ama -- But
  • onlara -- to them
  • İsa'nın Ruhu -- The Spirit of Jesus (Turkish has a "belt-and-suspenders" way of dealing with possessives. Both the thing possessing, and the thing possessed, have specific endings.)
  • izin -- license, liberty, freedom
  • vermedi. -- did not give.
Paul's example here is significant for job hunters and anyone else engaged in a frustrating process. He does not sit still and wait for something to happen. He is on the move, seeking to find the place where stuff is happening. And it is because he is on the move, that he receives supernatural guidance.

An old pastor of ours called this "guidance by bloody noses." You bang into a locked door, get a bloody nose, and pick yourself up to charge at another door. Sooner or later, something will "turn up."


[1] Mojo is an idiomatic American word, derived from voodoo, and refers to personal power, elan, virility.

[2] It is possible for a whole people group to do something so heinous that several generations of their descendants experience a judicial hardening of the heart, and tumble into eternal hell. Hitler came to power by popular vote, and had the approval of the German people for most of his programs, and their willingness to look the other way for the rest. Today, the percentage of Germans with active Christian lives is in the single-digit percentiles. The stuff we do changes the lives of our grandchildren.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Acts 15 -- trouble-shooting problems to their roots

Paul, the "viewpoint character" of so much of Acts, is back home in Antioch. He has enjoyed great success preaching a streamlined, culturally-sensitive Christian message. Because of what God did in Jesus, Jews and non-Jews alike can rejoice in divine grace and find power to live comely lives. Antioch, however, is too close for comfort to Jerusalem. Jewish Christians, born and steeped in Jewish culture, have a reflex to assume that Jewish ways are the right ways. In time, this love for their traditions will overwhelm their love for Jesus, and lead the vast majority into eternal damnation. That's still down the road. At this point, they are simply making nuisances of themselves:
Act 15:1 Yahudiye'den gelen bazı kişiler Antakya'daki kardeşlere, "Siz Musa'nın töresi uyarınca sünnet olmadıkça kurtulamazsınız" diye öğretiyorlardı.
Act 15:2 Pavlus'la Barnaba bu adamlarla bir hayli çekişip tartıştılar. Sonunda Pavlus'la Barnaba'nın, başka birkaç kardeşle birlikte Yeruşalim'e gidip bu sorunu elçiler ve ihtiyarlarla görüşmesi kararlaştırıldı.
Let's unpack a few words, here.
  • töre -- law. custom. accepted practice. customs. mores. ethics. morals. jurisprudence.
  • uyarınca -- in accordance with.
  • kurtulamazsınız -- you can not be saved. kurtula - to save. maz - subjunctive. a potential condition that exists in the minds of the speakers and listeners. sınız - you all (plural).
  • çekişmek -- contend. contest. dispute. haggle. quarrel. scramble. strive. vie. to pull in opposite directions. to quarrel. to argue. to compete. to contest. to contend.
This was a complicated moment in history. Jesus, a Jew, came to the Jewish people and preached a message rooted in the Jewish scriptures. He also rudely condemned some of the "bells and whistles"[1] that had entered Jewish life from outside sources. For example the Romans believed that salvation was a function of dutiful law-keeping. Their subject people, the Jews, thought that sounded like a good idea, and came up with a whole structure of "improvements" to God's law that allowed people to save themselves, apart from any need for a Savior. This is just one more appearance of the sin in the garden -- the desire for autonomy.[2] For being one's own law. For determining good and evil for oneself.

Yet, how do you dissect a living culture, determining what's useful, and what's toxic? American "freedom of speech" is wonderful -- but what do you do about pornography?

How do you make the good parts of Jewish culture available to the rest of the world, while leaving out the bad parts? Not an easy task -- many of them failed that test. Many of us fail the unique tests presented by our cultures. However, God gives us tests with the anticipation that we will eventually pass them. Or, serve as spectacular examples of how to get things wrong, so that others get then get things right.


[1] "Bells and whistles" refers to superfluous features added to a product that have nothing to do with its core purpose. For example, Windows Vista imposed such a heavy load of digital rights management (DRM) "features" that the core purposes of an operating system were overwhelmed. A plausible hypothesis suggests that Microsoft wished to get in bed with content providers -- movie studios, music publishers, etc. -- and shaped Vista to meet their concerns, rather than the needs of the end users. Apple Computers picked up a lot of business as a result, and the culture was enriched by a whole series of "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" commercials.

[2] Autonomy comes from the Greek words for self (auto) + law (nomos).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Acts 14 -- "they serve me tea."

What is it about Paul and his message that stirred up such strong feelings? No one seemed to be neutral where he was concerned. And the longer he preached, the more intense the feelings grew:
Act 14:4 Kent halkı ikiye bölündü. Bazıları Yahudiler'in, bazıları da elçilerin tarafını tuttu.
Act 14:5 Yahudiler'le öteki uluslardan olanlar ve bunların yöneticileri, elçileri hırpalayıp taşa tutmak için düzen kurdular.

The city is divided into two parties. To defuse the tensions, the Christians send Paul out of town. He preaches again, works a few miracles, and irritates the Jews again.
Act 14:19 Ne var ki, Antakya ve Konya'dan gelen bazı Yahudiler, halkı kendi taraflarına çekerek Pavlus'u taşladılar; onu ölmüş sanarak kentin dışına sürüklediler.
Act 14:20 Ama öğrenciler çevresinde toplanınca Pavlus ayağa kalkıp kente döndü. Ertesi gün Barnaba'yla birlikte Derbe'ye gitti.

An Australian bishop once said, "Wherever Paul went, they had a riot. Wherever I go, they serve me tea."

What was it about Paul that triggered such powerful antipathy? And profound loyalty?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Acts 13 -- manger dogs

It must be something in the water.[1] Anatolia seems to breed storytellers. A few centuries before Nasrettin Hoca showed up to delight and instruct, an earlier resident of the area, Aesop, created animal tales with morals. Including the one attributed to him that comes to mind this morning (short form):
There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either.
Here's the "dictionary definition," courtesy of Wikipedia: " Interpreted variously over the centuries, it is used now of those who spitefully prevent others from having something that they themselves have no use for."

Well, let's take a look at today's İncil reading:
Act 13:42 Pavlus'la Barnaba havradan çıkarken halk onları, bir sonraki Şabat Günü aynı konular üzerinde konuşmaya çağırdı.
Act 13:43 Havradaki topluluk dağılınca, Yahudiler ve Yahudiliğe dönüp Tanrı'ya tapan yabancılardan birçoğu onların ardından gitti. Pavlus'la Barnaba onlarla konuşarak onları devamlı Tanrı'nın lütfunda yaşamaya özendirdiler.
Act 13:44 Ertesi Şabat Günü kent halkının hemen hemen tümü Rab'bin sözünü dinlemek için toplanmıştı.
Act 13:45 Kalabalığı gören Yahudiler büyük bir kıskançlık içinde, küfürlerle Pavlus'un söylediklerine karşı çıktılar.
Act 13:46 Pavlus'la Barnaba ise cesaretle karşılık verdiler: "Tanrı'nın sözünü ilk önce size bildirmemiz gerekiyordu. Siz onu reddettiğinize ve kendinizi sonsuz yaşama layık görmediğinize göre, biz şimdi öteki uluslara gidiyoruz.
Act 13:47 Çünkü Rab bize şöyle buyurmuştur: 'Yeryüzünün dört bucağına kurtuluş götürmen için Seni uluslara ışık yaptım.'"
Act 13:48 Öteki uluslardan olanlar bunu işitince sevindiler ve Rab'bin sözünü yücelttiler. Sonsuz yaşam için belirlenmiş olanların hepsi iman etti.
Act 13:49 Böylece Rab'bin sözü bütün yörede yayıldı.
Act 13:50 Ne var ki Yahudiler, Tanrı'ya tapan saygın kadınlarla kentin ileri gelen erkeklerini kışkırttılar, Pavlus'la Barnaba'ya karşı bir baskı hareketi başlatıp onları bölge sınırlarının dışına attılar.
Act 13:51 Bunun üzerine Pavlus'la Barnaba, onlara bir uyarı olsun diye ayaklarının tozunu silkerek Konya'ya gittiler.
Act 13:52 Öğrenciler ise sevinç ve Kutsal Ruh'la doluydu.
You won't mind if we take your Messiah, will you? After all, you guys didn't want him.

The Christian message of salvation remains an acute embarrassment to people of the Jewish faith. If Jesus was who he said he was, and did what he said he did (died for our sins, then rose again from the dead) -- then the people who were right there missed the most important event in all of recorded history. They had the first chance to hear and believe, in Israel. Now, in Anatolia, Paul offers them the first opportunity again -- and once again, it is rejected. Let's look at one key sentence:
Tanrı'nın sözünü ilk önce size bildirmemiz gerekiyordu. Siz onu reddettiğinize ve kendinizi sonsuz yaşama layık görmediğinize göre, biz şimdi öteki uluslara gidiyoruz.
And let's take it apart word by word:
  • Tanrı'nın -- of God
  • sözünü -- His word
  • ilk önce -- first, formerly
  • size -- to you
  • bildirmemiz -- should be made known
  • gerekiyordu -- it was proper.
  • Siz onu -- You (to) it
  • reddettiğinize -- reject, deny
  • ve kendinizi -- and of yourselves
  • sonsuz yaşama -- endless life
  • layık görmediğinize göre -- worthy that you might not appear
  • biz şimdi öteki uluslara gidiyoruz -- we / now / other / to nations / we go
Hey, I'd love to see more Jewish people get with the program. After all, Jesus was Jewish, and their nation brought us the Old Testament, and our Savior. In the era described in this book, however, Jewish leaders were ferocious and implacable foes of the Good Tidings of the Great King's reign. They took special umbrage at the thought that this Gospel might let "human swine," the other nations, run to the front of the line they'd been waiting in for so many centuries.

Sadly, too many still wait, for what God has already done.


[1] The idiomatic use of this phrase is more focused. In an office filled with women, you frequently see several pregnancies in progress at the same time. The joke is to attribute the coincidence to "something in the water."