Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context by David Instone-Brewer, 2002 Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

David Instone-Browne has probably written the first book which seriously takes into account the socio historical context of the Biblical texts on divorce & remarriage. The subtitle, "The Social and Literary Context" says it all and may sound a little academic to some. This does not mean however that the material is geared only for academics. On the contrary I found portions of the book helpful to Pastors and lay leaders; the last chapter deals with the pastoral dimensions of ministering to divorcees in the process of remarriage.
Check out the chapter headings:

1. Chapter 1 The Ancient Near East - Marriage Is a Contract
2. The Pentateuch - The Divorce Certificate Allows Remarriage
3. The Later Prophets - Breaking Marriage Vows Is Condemned
4. Intertestamental Period - Increasing Rights For Women
5. Rabbinic Teaching - Increasing Grounds For Divorce
6. Jesus Teaching - Divorce On Biblical Grounds
7. Paul's Teaching - Biblical Grounds Include Neglect
8. Marriage Vows - Vows Inherited From The Bible And Judaism
9. History Of Divorce - Interpretations In Church History
10. Modern Reinterpretations - Different Ways To Understand The Biblical Text
11. Pastoral Conclusions - Reversing Institutionalized Misunderstandings

This comprehensive work traces the evolution of divorce and remarriage during the Biblical and post Biblical period. I found the chapters on Intertestamental Period, Rabbinic Teaching, Marriage Vows especially enlightening. The material in these chapters is not the sort Christian authors would normally tap into when putting forward their views on divorce and remarriage.

Most of us are trained to arrive at conclusions through a straight reading of the various Biblical texts and passages which mention divorce and remarriage. Instone-Brewer's contribution is to not only help us read the texts within their socio-historical context but to also nudge us to a place where the historical context influences our interpretation of divorce & remarriage. Did Jesus ignore 1st century Judaism realities and do away with divorce and remarriage? Or was his teaching an attempt to bring discipline into a liberal religious system vulnerable to easy divorce? Instone Brewer's responses are no to the first question and yes to the second.

The book is structured to make it easy for the reader to get into the author's perspective from the get go. And that's a help for busy pastors. Instone-Brewer states the conclusions of his work in the introduction. Here are his conclusions:

a. Both Jesus and Paul condemned divorce without valid grounds and discouraged divorce even for valid grounds.
b. Both Jesus and Paul affirmed the Old Testament grounds for divorce.
c. The Old Testament allowed divorce for adultery and for neglect or abuse.
d. Both Jesus and Paul condemned remarriage after and invalid divorce, but not after a valid divorce.

Although the book can be a bit heavy going at times - Pastors, theological students and lay leaders will not find it difficult to tackle issues the book raises. If you're a busy Pastor or a lay leader, read chapter 11 first (Pastoral Conclusions - Reversing Institutionalised Misunderstandings). The ultra- conservative will not agree with some of the analyses nor the conclusions; the centrist will find lots of material to boost their position and liberals will find stuff here that makes them wince.

David Instone-Brewer breaks new ground in this book. Its worth the money and time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Like Custer At The Little Big Horn, Opponents Of Cuban Style Social Collectivism Make A Stand.

General Custer fought Red Indians in the American west. His most dramatic test was when Sitting Bull, the Sioux warrior-chief swarmed all over him at a place called the Little Big Horn. Custer, hopelessly outnumbered, had no choice but to make a stand. Something similar is taking place in Bolivia's Constitutional Assembly where opposing historical forces, represented by the present government and a very vocal opposition, are locked in a fierce contest. The latter, a huge minority, are now making their stand. It was only a matter of time before the indigenous marginalized indians would confront, on their own terms, the dominating groups in Bolivian society with their claims. These groups, feeling threatened, have reacted against what they percieve as an all out assault on their values and regional interests. We are hopeful that good sense will prevail and that a compromise will be reached at the last minute.

Student activists, civic leaders - both male and female, the influential agricultural lobby and political parties opposed to the ruling party headed by President Evo Morales have put together one of the largest hunger strikes in the history of Santa Cruz. They are protesting against what they percieve as the government's attempts to push forward an agenda that will change drastically the socio-economic fabric of Bolivia. At stake are 2 big issues. The first is a controversial land reform Act which will effectively give away land in Santa Cruz to poor emigrants from the highlands. Secondly the government-backed representatives at the Constitutional Assembly passed a law which will give them the right to pass any article or statute of their choice by a simple majority vote instead of the required 2/3 majority. The government does not have enough representatives in the Constitutional Assembly to claim a 2/3 majority. Hence the push to pass the new articles of the proposed constitution through a simple majority.

Its amazing that the Constitutional Assembly has not passed a single article or statute after nearly 4 months of existence. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition groups have put forward a proposed constitution! Legally the Assembly has up till the middle of 2007 to table a new constitution that will be approved by a nationwide referendum.
Opposition groups within the Constitutional Assembly believe that a 2/3 majority ruling would force the ruling party to seek a consensus with them and rein in extremist elements. The middle class & urban populace are fearful that the present government has the authority now to re-create Bolivia as a socialist country a la Cuba! The massive non-violent protests against the government are attempts at trying to change the government's stance.

The leftist based indigenous movement in the government sees this Constitutional Assembly as a historic opportunity to frame a constitution that will not only satisfy indigenous aspirations but also give a voice to marginalized sectors of society. History has landed them an opportunity to undo past injustices and to ensure a fairer distribution of the nation's wealth. Its difficult to envisage them caving in to the demands and protests from the other side.

The business constituency, large sectors of Eastern Bolivia, local politicians and civic leaders have a different take on the Constitutional Assembly. They view themselves as the future of country and percieve the present government as retrogade and totally out of touch with the times. From their standpoint, the Constitutional Assembly, like Custer's stand at the Little Big Horn, is THE place to stop the unholy alliance of socialist collectivism and radical indigenous politics. Ensuring that proposed articles are passed with a 2/3 majority is the only way to safeguard their interests.

These are the 2 "Bolivias" in Bolivia: The "Bolivia" of the indigenous people and the poor, especially from the west, want a revolutionary new system responsive to their cultural, material and economic needs. On the other end of the spectrum is the "Bolivia" of the thoroughly urbanized, middle and upper middle class, who feel very vulnerable to changes associated with what they percieve as Cuban style social collectivism. Many of them are in the eastern lowlands and attend our churches in Santa Cruz.

Perhaps the Custer analogy, for the folk in the East, is not the most appropriate; He was slaughtered by Sitting Bull's armies!

God willing there will be no violence and a last minute compromise maybe reached.

Pray for Bolivia!!

Friday, November 24, 2006


A Hardened Taxi Driver Recieves Christ

The taxi driver picked me up at downtown Santa Cruz. Taxi drivers are a captive audience to anyone wanting to lead them to Christ. And so I decided to share the gospel with this particular driver. He was unshavened, looked tired, angry and his right eye was bloodshot. Nope he did not look like the sort that Jesus would want to save. And my hunch was confirmed when he launched into tirade against a particular racial group in Santa Cruz. He did not look or sound like a good church goer. I was not in the mood for a drawn out political discussion; I wish I had taken another taxi.
Then something happened. The Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost took over. His love began to purify my heart as he reached out to embrace this hardened taxi driver. A part of me wanted to share Jesus with him; a part of me was fearful. I launched out anyway; perfect love does cast out fear. He kept quiet as I shared with him about Christ's great love for him. He looked down and out; battered by what was going on in Bolivia. He needed Jesus more than anyone else. I sensed the spiritual walls falling apart before Calvary's love. As he stopped in front of my house, I asked him if he wanted to receive Christ. He said, Yes! I led him in a prayer where he asked Christ to not only forgive him of his sins but to also enter his life.
Is there anything more fulfilling in life than leading someone to Christ? No, not at all!

Thursday, November 23, 2006



The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope met in Rome; they released a statement which was full of general pleasantries except for the passage below in orange.

Certain realities cannot be glossed over; the unbridgeable impasse between Rome and Canterbury is one of them. Rome finds it hard, almost impossible, to renounce its marian dogmas nor its claim to episcopal and ecclesiatical supremacy. Rome has never renounced its call for us to return to her, the Mother church. Its hard to imagine a Pope ever making an ecumenical pilgrimage to Lambeth Palace!

Anglicans are also in holy disarray. The election of a practising gay to the episcopate in the US together with the consecration of women bishops in the Anglican Church have not only sunk any hope for unity between the Anglican and Roman ecclesiastical bodies it is also forcing the the Anglican Communion to re-draw itself within catholic and apostolic boundaries. No one has his finger on what the Anglican Communion will look like after Lambeth 2008. These are the new developments which are characterised as being divisive for Anglicans in the joint statement; they present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress. On a positive note, the divisiveness of the present Anglican drama could be the birth pangs of a biblically centred catholic and apostolic identity.

Here is the excerpt from the statement released after the meeting between the Archbishop Of Canterbury and the Holy Father:

"In this fraternal visit, we celebrate the good which has come from these four decades of dialogue. We are grateful to God for the gifts of grace which have accompanied them. At the same time, our long journey together makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, besides being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress. It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in the truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous".

The anglo-catholic parts of the Anglican communion will probably shake their heads and join the cry of the psalmist, how long oh Lord, how long. The low evangelical anglicans will shrug their shoulders and say, so what? Some might go into a state of shock to discover that Anglicans and Catholics have been talking about a visible union for many years. In Latin America, especially in many parts of the province of the Southern Cone, any talk of rapprochement with Rome, is akin to asking a Christian to converse with the unearthed remains of a dead relative convicted of paedophilia.

Until our Lord returns the only visible unity between Rome and Canterbury is our common baptism in Christ. Maranatha!

Monday, November 20, 2006


"...this movie... mirrors uncontrolled male genius gone amok"

Watching PRESTIGE it is like playing chess with an imaginary board in your head; the story line weaves its way through a series of overlapping events and invites you to figure out what's actually going on in the lives of the characters. The movie not only entertains it also makes you participate in the gradual unfolding of the plot. Prestige reminds me of that great Michael Caine/Lawrence Olivier classic, Sleuth. Coincidentally Caine is also in this movie. Hugh Jackman, Wolverine/X-Men and Christian Bale, Batman sneak in and out of the their plot with some impressive performances. And Michael Caine's deceptive simplicity never fails to deliver the goods. He once told Larry King that acting is like "being in a natural conversation". Very true. Scarlet Johannson and Piper Perabo (a stage name?) don't just provide the romantic interest; they provide a foil to the motif of the movie: obsession and its underlying sub themes of illusion, deception and revenge. Nope...this movie is not about male bonding; it mirrors uncontrolled & competitive male genius gone amok. This is a good movie; its worth the money!

There is a particular masculine tendency to diabolically mock, compete and destroy. Jackman's Angier and Bales Borden are men trapped in such a pathology. They are not easy to evangelise: too clever and hardened for their own good. Only divine regenerative power can break through. And when that happens, men like Angier and Borden sing their own Psalms of healing and redemption.

Children will sleep through the movie. No nudity or foul language in the movie.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


A Talk On Communism & Socialism From A Christian Perspective At A Local Hotel Draws A Big Crowd.

What sort of a talk would interest men to consider the claims of Christ? Bolivian men like politics; the country's swing toward the left has stirred interest; the press and the radio/TV talk shows have latched on to this story. Bolivia is also no stranger to communism and socialism. So the men's ministry decided to organize a talk based on a Christian perspective of Communism and Socialism. About 2/3 of the men who attended the talk were non christians. The speaker, Leopoldo Sceti, is an experienced christian radio talk show host; he spoke for about 4o minutes. After the talk we mingled with the newcomers and invited them to a fellowship meeting in a member's home where the theme of the talk would be further dealt with. We've never done anything like this; the results are very encouraging.

There is a stereotype of men as being anti church and not interested in spiritual matters. The men's ministry is trying to undo this false stereotype. Winning men to Christ is a top priority; setting a man on fire for the Lord has an immediate and positive impact on his wife and family!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


The guy on the right is a craftsman; he is also a prisoner; his works are on display at a special festival organized by, Palmasola, the state penitentiary in Santa Cruz. We normally associates prison with crime. This guy apparently has managed to get his creative juices flowing in prison. Jail is not an impediment for those who want to get ahead in life. Is it any surprise that he is my Bolivian hero? The language of rights does not exist in prison. Its easy to get bitter. Not this inmate. He is making the best of a "bad" situation. The Bolivian justice system is notoriously slow and inefficient. Judges can be bought. Some languish in prisons for months without having their cases tried.

The warden recently announced that they were opening a soap making factory in the prison. Most of these products are exported to the US and Japan. These initiatives provide great therapy for the prisoners and provide income for some of them. Prision should not only be a place for punishment but also a means to rehabilitate.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Last Sunday was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. No, I did not do anything. Others did! The Pastor who took my place in the mother church preached a powerful sermon; many responded to the altar call. He led the service with lots of anointing. At the extension centre, the deacon led a retreat for the leaders of that small work; his leadership is growing in that part of the vineyard. Its great to see, those that you've trained personally, moving into positions of great responsability. Both of them however are struggling with their theological extension courses; its not easy to study and serve at the same time. Its my responsability to not only help them finish their studies but to also mentor them in their new roles.

My dream is to raise dozens of empowered clergy filled with the Holy Spirit; some of them will be bi-vocational. This of course is a great challenge in Bolivia. Meeting needs, sometimes very basic ones, go hand in hand with a solid formation that helps one to look beyond themselves in the third world (actually thats true everywhere). People need to be fed, led and taken care of before they can go beyond their own needs and see the challenge of serving others. Configurating all this within an Episcopal church government requires a long term strategy that does not cave in to immediate demands. We are raising leaders who can lead their flock within a larger ecclesiological dynamic. Character formation, honing minstry skills and learning the bible/theology are the three basic components of our leadership training programme. The current leadership have some ways to go before they can raise leaders and project a growing a "self supporting" work. Missionaries like myself come in at this point and provide the necessary back up leadership. How to empower leaders without cultiving dependancy amongst the locals and fostering paternalism among missioaries remains the hot button issue!

Pray For Us!

Monday, November 13, 2006



Last Saturday I went to a follow up workshop on inductive bible studies. The speaker was a Pastor from Cochabamba, one of the major cities in Bolivia. He bought a large number of inductive study Bibles which sold like hotcakes. These special bibles are huge with no headings or a predeterimined outline of texts which make up the books of the Bible(yes, the Bible is actually a library of 66 books and letters). With these Bibles however you get to work on the text and do your own outlines. The method rests on three pillars: observation, interpretation, application. There are of course several sub points which undergird each pillar. The essence of the method is diligent and careful reading of the text. This simple discipline helps the reader to understand the message of the book. It would be however an error to ossify the results of the inductive study method. Biblical scholarship always challenges you to think afresh about a particular book or a text. Its as if the texts are growing organisms!! This of course means that our outlines need to be revised and upgraded.

In the last decade or so we've been "blessed" or assailed by all sorts of study bibles which basically spares the reader the hard work of reading slowly, examining the flow of the text and determing the structure of a given passage or a book. All this does is to help people see the bible in terms of someone else's viewpoint and does not really encourage the reader to dig deep into the word.

The inductive bible study helps one see the literary patterns and structure of the text and it is this seeing that helps one to dig the scriptures for its jewels.

I don't know of any method or system which gets readers into scriptures like the inductive method. There are no fancy books to read or a theologian's name to refer to. It requires work but the payoff is worth it.

One of the best motivational prayers for the inductive bible study method comes from an ancient collect in the Anglican Book Of Common Prayer. Here it is:

Proper 28 The Sunday closest to November 16

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be
written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise
hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that,
by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace
and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which
thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Christian witness is not morality in itself but an ongoing story of God's gift of redemption as we humbly embrace the brokenness of our sin.

Our efforts at salvaging a measure of integrity from the rubble of a scandal can sometimes sound truncated.

Rev Leith Anderson, is Ted Haggard’s replacement at the National Association Of Evanglicals (NAE). Haggard resigned because of a well publicised moral failure in Colorado. Anderson said in relation to the public perception of Haggard’s fall:

They will understand that if there are 45,000 churches (affiliated with NAE), that 44,999 of them have leaders that did not misbehave and that one person misbehaved and that that is an anomaly." (my emphasis)

Externally, he said, people looking from the outside at evangelicals may attempt to paint them all with one brush.

“There will be those that will think the worst of evangelicals because of this and I’m sorry about that,” Anderson said. “This is not who we are. This is not what we do. This is an exception.” (my emphasis)

eerrghh…does this mean that those 44,999 churches have faultless Pastors who don't misbehave?

My sympathies are with Anderson. He's back is against the wall and something needs to be said in order to put the NAE in a good light. His statement above however borders on spin. People these days can smell spin a mile away!

He may have also unknowingly painted an overly generous picture of Pastors in his attempt to convince people that the NAE is a network of mature Pastors who do not indulge in homosexual trysts. Anderson of course is empirically right. There are men and women in difficult pastorates who are exemplary. This is not to say that exemplary Pastors don't misbehave or do dumb things. There is nothing exceptional or anomalous about sin in Christian leaders. Church history does not exactly put a positive spin on the moral failures of Christian leaders. And yeah…read the Bible too…David, Abraham, Jacob, Noah and Peter - these guys would NEVER have made it to the Times list of the top 50 influential leaders of the decade.

The difference between Haggard and the rest of us? his sins were brutally exposed; ours are either hidden, tolerated or seen as Christian virtue. Most Pastors may not be involved in homosexual trysts. Several of us however lie on occasion, exaggerate in the pulpit, struggle with pornographic temptations, get angry, cuss and yell, don’t pay taxes; there are times when we say “God told us” …when in fact He did not. And let’s not forget all the prideful religious back biting. Pastors don't model political correctness but the terrifying and bloody work of Christ's redemption in our lives.

"whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Jas 2:10"

When people taunt us for our moral failings, lets repent and NOT take refuge in our own sense of righteousness and claim it was an exception or an anomaly. Suffering taunt and lampooning for our sins is good for the soul! The Psalmists and the writer of Lamentations saw God's hand behind the sorrow of their sins and it was to Him that they directed their cry.

The self deception and self denial that drove Haggard’s "misbehaviour" lurks in all Pastors and takes different sinful shapes and forms. And that, Leith, is neither an exception nor an anomaly!

Pray for your Pastor and his family.

Monday, November 06, 2006


The Bolivian Government Sucessfully Renegotiates Contracts With Oil Companies

President Evo Morales and his cabinet, through some pretty deft negotiations, have signed new contracts with major oil companies. With these new contracts Bolivia not only gets a higher percentage of income earned from the sale of petroleum products but also have a greater say in the production of their natural resources. We are seeing, perhaps for the first time in Bolivian history, a concerted and joint effort by petroleum companies and the government to work out a deal that will benefit both parties. In the past the country swayed from the extremities of nationalisation and privatization. Lets pray and hope that the increase in the national income will trigger more growth and social justice.

Lets give credit where its due. The Bolivian goverment served the long term interests of its people in these difficult negotiations. There was talk of nationalising the oil industry and the previous minister who led the negotiations resigned because expropriating foreign property was a non starter from the word "go". The new minister and his team however managed to put together a deal which the oil companies could accept.

Bolivia's problems will not vanish overnight but there seems to be some positive traction; the government appears to be bringing people together and some of the divisive rhetoric has diminished somewhat.

Thank You For Your Prayers.


A Youth Pastor Had The Opportunity But Did Not Share the Gospel With Che Guevara!

3 Ten Year Olds Sit Through A 40 Minute Adult Bible Teaching Without Fidgetting!

I had my hands full last Sunday. The Senior Clergy was on leave and I covered his duties which included lots of teaching, preaching, counselling and administrative stuff. The lay leaders were out in full force and did their part in ushering, preparing breakfast and helping distribute the wine and the wafers. We had a few newcomers. One of our members was weepy because she could not witness her son's marriage in the States; the US embassy had rejected her application for a visa (a very common outcome due to the illegal imigration)

As usual its the priestly task of preaching, teaching and celebrating the eucharist that gets my juices flowing. These days I try to not only evangelise through my messages but to also get christians to witness for Christ to non christians. Getting people fired up to do evangelism can be challenging, frustrating and rewarding. I closed my sermon with a story of a youth pastor who, although presented with many opportunities, did not share Christ with Che Guevara when Che was a youngster; the story is documented in a book written by Junior Zapata. Che Guevara has a hypnotic hold over the left and the dreamers in Bolivia (as well as in Latin America) partly because he was killed in the jungles of Bolivia. He is now part of the pantheon of heroes in Latin American. Zapata rhetorically asks, "What would have happened, to Latin America, if Guevara had become a Christian". The Lord brings people into our paths so that we can share Jesus with them.

At the nigth Service I taught on the Christian perspective of "Life After Death". I saw 3 ten year olds enter the sanctuary with their dad. He came to the night service because he could not come for the morning Eucharist. My heart sank because my teaching was going to be long and directed to adults. It was an interesting experience because the 10 year olds sat through the 40 minute exposition of the intermediate state, heavenly rewards, judgement, and the final restoration of creation without making a fuss or throwing a tantrum. Unbelievable. There were moments when they looked as if they were listening to the teaching! We have no Sunday School during the night services. One of the them actually responded to my prompting to read some of the Scripture passages aloud during the sermon.

After the service I went to buy a take-out for the family; I returned home, tired, and thankful for the day's experiences.