Monday, August 20, 2018

Structure and Message of Hebrews

Hebrews Chart color

Message of Hebrews

Don’t turn away from the superior revelation and ministry of Christ.

Just Jesus is Enough.

Knowledge and appreciation of Jesus Christ is essential to persevere in faithfulness

  • Prologue; Jesus is Superior as the ultimate revelation of God‘s image, power and authority. 1.1-3
  • Jesus is the ultimate king. Therefore we must be vary careful to listen to Him, submit and follow His example. 1:4-4:16
  • Jesus is the ultimate High priest with a superior ministry to bring us into the presence of God. We must respond by working hard to grow and using the access to God He provides. 5:1-10:39
  • The believer’s response to this superior revelation must be a life of faith, grateful worship, and service to God expressed in practical expressions of love toward one another. 11:1-13:25



Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reading Through First Letter of Peter

Letters WrightWe now continue in the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, in the First Letter of Peter, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Peter's letter calls believers scattered throughout this world to live the gracious life of the age to come in the midst of the very ungracious present world. This makes sense because God's promises guarantee that God will bring glory from the present oppression and persecution his people face. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

He introduces his main point in the introduction. God's people have a guaranteed inheritance because he has chosen them for holiness and glory Thus, they can joyfully serve God, despite trials, as the prophets did. This is guaranteed by by the Father’s choice, the Son’s blood and the Spirit’s work and all are sure because of God's power. Believers are called to live out God's grace now and the message of the gospel now, as Jesus did. The standard for this is the Word/gospel written and preached that grow us into the image of Christ. The proper response to the gospel is a desire to be like Christ, resist evil and love others deeply. The promise of God guarantees the ultimate success of his plan. 

The new world has in fact already come into being through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Through that sacrificial death on the one hand and the indwelling of God’s spirit on the other hand, God has set people apart to be living signals of this new world. They are therefore to be ‘holy’, both in the technical sense that God has set them apart for this purpose and in the practical sense that their actual lives have been transformed. The way they behave now reflects God’s desire for his human creatures. That – however daunting and unlikely it seems – is who we are as Christians. 50, 1 Peter 1.1-9

What matters now is to keep our eyes fixed on the one who has ‘bought us back’, has cleaned us up, and has already begun to put us to new use. That’s what it means, as Peter says at the end, for us to believe in ‘the God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory’, placing him in authority over all things. That’s what it means, in the present time, to have ‘faith and hope in God’ (verse 21). 55, 1 Peter 1.10-21

That is the controlling image of this section: the baby that has recently been born and now needs to feed, to grow, and to learn to live within the family. Becoming a Christian is about the new life within us first coming to birth, then being nourished and sustained, then growing to maturity. That last stage is marked, as it should be for a growing child, with the discovery that there are good ways and bad ways of relating to those around you. You have to learn to choose the first and renounce the second. 57, 1 Peter 1.22-2.3

Therefore, God's people should offer themselves to Jesus because He is the only sure basis for life and what he has done for us obligates us to set aside our lives to serve Him. Jesus will then build these diverse people into his unified body, the church. This means that believers should live lives of submission and harmony with each other and with the world. Their exemplary lives should draw unbelievers to God. This is seen as they respect and submit to all authorities, even harsh ones, in order to have a good reputation, promote stability, to live as a free servants of God who receive God‘s commendation. Jesus provides the ultimate example of submission as he endured persecution, insults and suffering without retaliation. By this means he accomplished salvation, defeated the forces of tyranny and darkness and, by the same means, believers will participate in his victory.

Peter believed that all God’s promises to Israel had been fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus himself, and that therefore all who belonged to Jesus had now been brought into that ‘people of God’, that true Temple. The one true God was now living in them! The ‘Temple’ had been rebuilt – not in Jerusalem but all round the world! That is the great truth on which everything else in the letter will depend. 63, 1 Peter 2.4-10

Make sure at the same time that, by your good behaviour, you shame those who, out of folly and ignorance, want to criticize you. That is how God is establishing his presence and his rule on earth as in heaven. Oppressive tyranny and violent revolution are not the only options. Serving the true God by living a peaceful, wise, visibly good life is, in the end, far more revolutionary than simply overthrowing one corrupt regime and replacing it by . . . well, most likely by another, as history shows. 67, 1 Peter 2.11-17

Peter isn’t simply recommending that people remain passive while suffering violence. He is urging them to realize that somehow, strangely, the sufferings of the Messiah are not only the means by which we ourselves are rescued from our own sin. They are the means, when extended through the life of his people, by which the world itself may be brought to a new place. 71, 1 Peter 2.18-25

This submission is especially seen in our closest relationships as they are transformed by the gospel. Husbands and wives imitate Jesus by submitting to, loving and serving one another as partners in salvation and ministry. They should live compassionately, humbly and in harmony with one another, trusting God to take care of personal interests because God’s protection and provision are guaranteed for those who live submissive lives. This may bring suffering, but suffering for doing what is right and good provides good witness to the world and brings blessing. Jesus is the ultimate example that suffering leads to exaltation, reward and benefit to others. We participate in Jesus' mission when we suffer in the same way and will share the same reward.

Left to ourselves, even (alas) in the church, we gravitate towards what women and men have always done, allowing social stereotypes and natural hormonal instinct to dictate to us. We don’t find it easy to go by the hard road of rethinking roles in the light (not of ‘liberation’ of this or that kind, but) of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. 74, 1 Peter 3.1-7

Here is the irony: Christians are supposed to stand out as distinctive, but when we do, and are mocked or criticized for it, we are tempted to mock and criticize right back – and then we are no longer distinctive, because we are behaving just like everyone else! 78, 1 Peter 3.8-16

What we need to know, when facing trouble or persecution, is this. Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the hope of Israel by defeating all the spiritual powers in the world, the ones who were responsible for wickedness and corruption from ancient times. It may not look like it to the little Christian communities facing the possibility of suffering, but their baptism places them alongside the Messiah in his victory. They must hold their heads up, keep their consciences clear, and trust that his victory will be played out in the world to which they are bearing witness. 83, 1 Peter 3.17-22

Thus, believers should expect suffering and welcome trials because they work out God's will to save, not only believers, but redeem the whole world. Just as Jesus’ suffering defeated sin ultimately, so our suffering overcomes sin in our own lives. So, we should respond to trials and persecution with acts of grace enabled by God‘s power. When we do this God promises fellowship with Christ, glory, blessing of the experience of the Spirit, bringing praise to God, purging of sin and completion of God‘s work of grace in our lives.

Peter is treading a fine line. He is not glorifying suffering for its own sake. He is not saying you should go looking for it. But, just as the crucifixion of the Messiah was at the same time the most wicked thing humans ever did and the most powerfully loving thing God ever did, so the wickedness of those who persecute God’s people forms the strange frame within which the power of God’s transforming love can shine through all the more strongly. 86-87, 1 Peter 4.1-11

From God’s perspective, the holiest, most loving person is still someone who needs to be rescued, and is still so weighed down with sin that without the grace and mercy shown through Jesus that rescue would not happen. This alarming reflection is not meant to produce panic, but rather gratitude. Those who are at present persecuting the church will meet their own judgment in due course, and God’s people are called in the meantime to faith and patience. 89-90, 1 Peter 4.12-19

Peter closes his letter with instructions to both the older and younger members of his congregations. The leaders should serve sacrificially as Jesus did, sharing in the sufferings of their people. They exist for the benefit of God's people, not their own, and serve to accomplish God's kingdom work, not their own agendas. The rest of the people in the church should live submissively and humbly, faithfully standing in God‘s grace despite trials. We are all called to faithfully live out God’s grace in the power He provides.

I would rather belong to a group or a fellowship where the ‘leader’ had no idea about ‘leadership’, but was out-and-out committed to God and the gospel, than one where the person in charge had done three or four courses on ‘leadership’ but had found it left little time for studying scripture or for praying. 92, 1 Peter 5.1-7

The actual, human opponents, even your fiercest persecutors, are not in fact the real enemy. There is a real enemy, and he will be using them. But if you resist him, staying resolute in faith and remembering that you are holding your bit of the line while your Christian brothers and sisters across the world are holding theirs, you will find that courteous and civil behaviour, acting with respect and gentleness, will again and again win an answering respect from outsiders, even if they still don’t understand what makes you tick. 96-97, 1 Peter 5.8-14 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Family Stuff 2018–San Diego #1

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We have been enjoying this week in San Diego with Matt’s family. We arrived last Saturday and we will be here another week. I thought I’d post a few pictures from our time there.

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We have been enjoying spending time with grand-daughters Ahni and Meika

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And watching our grandson Milo

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We also get live music every evening…

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Reading Through the Letter of James

Letters WrightWe now move to the last major section of the New Testament, the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, beginning with the Letter of James, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. The letter of James deals with the practical outworking of faith. James challenges believers to examine their daily lives, attitudes and actions to see if they display the qualities of biblical wisdom, true faith and godly character. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

James urges believers to joyfully approach life because God, who is always good, can take even the difficulties of life and produce growing faith which leads to growing wisdom, loving submission and endurance, which results in mature godly believers. Present circumstances are never the determiner of God’s blessing. Instead, God uses trials and difficulties in our lives in ways that lead to eternal blessing instead of eternal death. Trials produce in us the character of Christ, self-control by purifying us and driving us to read and apply God’s Word, and compassion for others who are in need.

How easy it is for us to imagine that God is stingy and mean. We project on to the maker of all things the fearful, petty or even spiteful character we meet so often in real life, sometimes even when we look in the mirror. Learning who God really is and what he’s truly like – and reminding ourselves of it regularly – is the key to it all. Without that, you’ll be double-minded, swept this way one minute and that way the next. You’ll just be another wave. With it, you will have a settled character. Wisdom. Patience. Faith. 5-6, James 1.1-8

None of us starts off with a pure internal ‘kit’ of impulses, hopes and fears. If you are true to ‘yourself’, you will end up a complete mess. The challenge is to take the ‘self’ you find within, and to choose wisely which impulses and desires to follow, and which ones to resist. 8, James 1.9-18

That’s what God’s law is like: by restricting your ‘freedom’ in some ways, it opens up far greater, genuine freedoms in all other ways. And the point is this: when you look into this ‘law’, the word of God, it is supposed to change you. The word must go to work. When that happens, God’s blessing – that is, God’s enrichment of your life in all kinds of new ways – will surely follow. 12, James 1.19-27

True faith is seen in a life that does things in God's way. God's way is to act toward others with the mercy and love God showed to us in the gospel as a guide. It treats others with the same dignity and favor with which one wants to be treated. Favoritism, or our own "pulling social rank," betrays a lack of trust in God and a poor understanding of what he values. True faith relates to others based on mercy, rather than judgment; produces acts of love and service in daily life; and acts in accordance with God's commands and character, no matter what the cost.

God’s mercy is sovereign. It will triumph. But the minute you say ‘Oh well, that’s all right then; God will forgive, so it doesn’t matter what I do’ – and, in particular, when ‘what I do’ includes discriminating against the poor – then, precisely because God is the God of mercy, he must act in judgment. He will not for ever tolerate a world in which mercy is not the ultimate rule of life. 16, James 2.1-13

What James means by ‘faith’ in this passage is not what Paul and others developed as a full, Jesus-shaped meaning; it is the basic ancient Jewish meaning, the confession of God as ‘one’. This, he says, needs to translate into action, into Jesus-shaped action, if it is to make any significant difference. 18, James 2.19

Translating belief into action, even when it seems impossible or downright dangerous. That is the faith that matters. That is the faith that justifies (verse 24). That is the faith that saves (verse 14). This is near the heart of the message of James: the challenge to make sure that faith is the real thing. 19, James 2.14-26

Chapter 3 focuses on God's wisdom which produces self-control (especially of one's speech) and peace with God and those around us. The ability to control one’s words is the supreme test of godly wisdom and self control. James contrast true wisdom, which is seen demonstrated by self-controlled words which consistently build up others and glorify God, with false wisdom, which is demonstrated by inconsistent,condemnatory and destructive words. Demonic, earthly wisdom produces lies, jealousy and strife in relationships, while Godly wisdom produces good behavior, peace and service to others. 

What James is after, then, is consistency. He wants people to follow Jesus through and through, to be blessing-only people rather than blessing-and-cursing people. It’s a high standard, but we should expect no less if the gospel is indeed the message of salvation. The danger, as always, is that people will take the bits of the message they want, and quietly leave the real challenges to one side. But it can’t be done. The spring must be cleansed so that only fresh, sweet water comes out. For this we need help. That, fortunately, is what the gospel offers. 22, James 3.1-12

The challenge then for God’s people is to be able to tell the truth about the way the world is, and about the way wicked people are behaving, without turning into a perpetual grumble, and in particular without becoming someone whose appearance of ‘wisdom’ consists in being able to find a cutting word to say about everyone and everything. There is still, after all, a vast amount of beauty, love, generosity and sheer goodness in the world. Those who follow Jesus ought not only to be celebrating it but contributing to it. 24, James 3.13-18

Chapter 4 emphasizes humility. True faith produces humble submissive people at peace with God and others. Selfishness, which is the foundation of the world’s value system, produces conflict, coveting and unanswered prayer and places one at odds with God and subject to judgment. In contrast, humility, which brings one into deeper relationship with God, submits its own plans to God’s and mourns over anything that displeases God, never assumes God’s place by making rules or judging others, and recognizes its own limitations and is God-reliant instead of self-reliant. To not display this kind of humility is sin. 

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you’. That is astonishing! God is ready and waiting. He longs to establish a friendship with you, a friendship deeper, stronger and more satisfying than you can ever imagine. This, too, will take time, as any friendship worthy of the name will do. But what could be more worthwhile? 29, James 4.1-10

Not to do what you know you should do is actually to sin! It isn’t enough to avoid the obvious acts of sin. Once you learn the humility to accept God’s royal law and to live by it, to accept God’s sovereign ordering of all life and to live within that, then you will see more clearly the positive things to which you are being called... But once you have had that nudge, that call, then to ignore it, to pretend you hadn’t heard, is a further act of pride, setting yourself up in the place of God. 32, James 4.11-17

Finally, Chapter 5 focuses on endurance. True Faith can endure oppression with prayerful joy because it takes God's long eternal view, rather than living for the pleasures of this life. Real faith uses money to serve others and sees it as an opportunity for investment in eternity rather than to indulge oneself. It is patient to wait for God’s reward and justice and does not grumble or complain. It never judges God’s compassion and mercy by present circumstances. It trusts God enough to be plainly truthful in all situations and turns to God first in honest, consistent, persistent. and compassionate prayer for one’s self and for others. It lovingly confronts sin and works with others for their long term benefit. True faith invests everything in God's kingdom, not this world.

In this new age one of the most inappropriate things you could do was – to store up riches. God is turning everything upside down, exalting the poor and humble and bringing the powerful and rich crashing down – and yet you are trying to make yourself richer! You are riding, says James, for an even bigger fall than you might have imagined. 35, James 5.1-6
 
God’s mercy is sovereign. That is the deepest truth about him. That was the truth glimpsed by the great prophets of old. Through long acquaintance with God himself, they had learned to see the truth behind the way things seemed, to see the heavenly dimension of ordinary earthly reality, to see the heavenly timescale intersecting with the earthly one...A hasty, impatient spirit is another form of pride, of the human arrogance that imagines it knows better than God. 38-39, James 5.7-12

Prayer isn’t just me calling out in the dark to a distant or unknown God. It means what it means and does what it does because God is, as James promised, very near to those who draw near to him. Heaven and earth meet when, in the spirit, someone calls on the name of the Lord. 42, James 5.13-20

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Structure and Message of the Letter to Philemon

Philemon Color Chart

Message of Philemon

The grace of Jesus Christ, and the gracious ministry of others to us, obligates us to give grace and forgiveness to others and to do what we can to maintain peace and good relationships with God‘s people.

God’s grace to us obligates us to treat people, not according to social conventions or based on what they can give to us, but instead to reach across all boundaries that divide us and treat one another as family, friends, co-workers and fellow-soldiers in the mission Christ has given us.

Family Stuff–El Dorado

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We’re in San Diego now, but the last two weeks we enjoyed having Jessie, Jonie and Jayna here with us in El Dorado. It was good to hear how things are going on Guam, and at our house in Yigo. We were able to get together with them a few times and have some good conversation. It was also a blessing that Jayna was able to get her medical procedure done and come through it so well. I wish we could have these family get-togethers more often, but every one of them is a blessing when family is spread all over the country and the world.

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The girls: Joyce, sister Jayne, niece Jayna, granddaughter Leila. Missy how did we miss getting you in this picture?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Reading Through Hebrews #4 (Chapters 11-13)

cornerstone tim to hebI am continuing my devotional read through of the New Testament. I am reading  the anonymous, but certainly Paul influenced, letter to “the Hebrews accompanied by The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. The Hebrews commentary is written by J. Ramsay Michaels. Chapters 11-13 close this written sermon by urging its listeners to make a better application of its truths by living lives of faith, hope and love.  I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 11 is a "celebration of faith." One thing that makes it amazing is that there are some pretty unsavory characters mentioned as examples of faith and all mentioned had serious flaws. What they had in common was a belief that God could be relied on completely and a trust that enabled them to press on steadfastly, despite present circumstances as they believed God's promises. It emphasizes the point that only a life based on faith is capable of pleasing God. Faith is the logical, reasonable response to a God who keeps his promises and is able to raise the dead. It is the only proper response to what Jesus has done for us.

If in fact God “brings the dead back to life,” then he could bring the child Isaac back from the dead, fulfilling his promise yet again! Abraham’s faith is not blind faith but is based on logic or “reasoning” 11:19). If indeed “God exists,” and if indeed “he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (11:6), how could it be otherwise? Hebrews 11.1-19, 439

“His point is not that Christian believers are “better” off than these heroes of faith but that the realization of the promises they received has to do with “us” and depends on “us.” In this author’s vision all the people of God, past or present, reach “perfection” together (at the last day); they could not be “perfected” without “us.” Consequently, their final salvation, like ours, is something hoped for but still unseen (11:1). At best, they “saw it all from a distance and welcomed it” as of old (see 11:13). Their salvation waits upon our own, and now, with them, we await what still lies in store for us. Hebrews 11.20-38, 446

Hope, the subject of chapter 12, is closely related to faith. The hope is based on Jesus' faithful life that calls us to serve others despite persecution and difficulty. So believers persevere by focusing on Jesus’ example, enablement and promises. The emphasis is not so much on winning the "race" as on finishing it. As Jesus did, we must endure trials and hardships as discipline from God prove his love for us and our relationship to him. Suffering and hardship will complete us and enable us to share in God's holiness. So the author encourages the recipients to strengthen themselves in faith and live as God's people so that they will receive their full inheritance. Finally, he warns them to pay better attention to the New Covenant because its inauguration, consummation, stipulations and eternality are much greater! So also are the consequences of rejecting it. Make use of the grace God has given you, be grateful and live a lifestyle that worships God.

“The effect of such a literary device (chiasm in 10-14) is to bind the two ideals of “peace” (eire¯ne¯ ) and “holiness” (hagiasmos) inextricably together. Neither is possible without the other. “Work at” is literally “pursue,” implying that these are the twin goals of the “race God has set before us” (see 12:1).” Hebrews 12.1-17, 452

"The grace of God” is, in its own way, an even more severe taskmaster than the ancient law of Moses. Because God is speaking to us not as he spoke long ago on earth (12:18–21) but now from heaven (12:25), the consequences of not paying attention and failing to receive the grace of God are that much greater (12:25–29).” Hebrews 12.18-29, 454

But Abel’s blood cried out for retribution, while the blood of Jesus cries out for “something better”—not retribution but forgiveness (12:24; see also 10:17–18). Hebrews 12.24, 459

The service that is acceptable to God puts faith into action and puts love to work. Love is expressed by family support, hospitality to strangers, service to the persecuted, fidelity in marriage, valuing people and their needs above possessions and money, honoring of Christian leaders and staying true to apostolic teachings. The "sacrifice" that pleases God is the one that is willing to risk one's honor and reputation to confess Christ and serve the outcast and needy. The letter ends with a greeting and a final exhortation to apply all the teachings it contains.

He now enumerates some specific things that do “remain” and belong to God’s “unshakable Kingdom.” First, “let brotherly love remain” (see note on 13:1), and then a number of love’s corollaries: “hospitality to strangers” (13:2), kindness to those in prison or in pain (13:3), faithfulness in marriage (13:4), contentment with one’s possessions (13:5–6), and respect for one’s leaders (13:7). Hebrews 13.1-7, 464

The public arena is a risky place to be, the author is saying, for it is where Jesus was crucified. Yet it is where we must be...These two things, faithfulness to our confessions of Jesus Christ and faithfulness to one another in time of need, are “the sacrifices that please God” (13:16), that “devouring fire” whom we worship “with holy fear and awe” (see 12:28–29). Hebrews 13.1-21, 466