Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Francis Chan, The Forgotten God

Forgotten GodOver the last couple weeks I have been reading Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, by Francis Chan. I have been blessed over the last couple years listening to his sermons on Youtube and I have read a couple of his other books and enjoyed them. One of the opening questions in the book really got to me, “If there was no Holy Spirit how would that affect you life and your church? How would it change?” Because we do (at least I do sometimes) often proceed with our lives without overtly thinking about what the Spirit wants or recognizing his work in our life, I think this is a good question to ask oneself periodically. Now, the Spirit is a sovereign person and works in our lives even when we are  not thinking about Him, but he wants us to “keep in step,” “be filled” and submit to His work in our lives and enjoy His presence.

One of the benefits for me of reading the book was a renewed emphasis on hearing what the Spirit is saying to me, or how He is leading me, if you prefer that language. I have always struggled in my life with a dedicated prayer life. Frankly it is hard to keep doing it when it feels like a one-way conversation. Since I have been sick I have been much more focused on listening for the Spirit and (why are we surprised when God keeps promises) and I have heard Him. Yes, there have been times of tremendous closeness with God, speaking into my life and definite proddings in my own spirit. In addition, I have been better able to recognize God’s voice and leading in the scriptures, in worship, and in the voices of His people. It is likely this was happening all along and I was just a little too busy to always hear it. That reminder in the book was more than worth spending the time in it.

Another thing I appreciated about the book was the balanced approach. All of us have been put off by “crazy excesses” or have been assaulted by someone with a “word from God for you”, that was obviously an attempt at controlling or a flight of megalomaniac fantasy. He deals with that in the book, but avoids the other extreme of throwing out all the sometimes strange and miraculous in the working of the Spirit. Again, as I listen, I find God giving discernment to recognize what is His voice and what is not. The Spirit will never draw you outside the parameters of scripture. We Christians believe in the supernatural. If we believe a man rose from the dead, it is not a stretch to believe that God can speak to us, as He did over and over to people in the Bible.

So, I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to focus more on “keeping step with the Spirit.” It is a well-balanced book which treats seriously the authority of scripture. God has given Francis Chan a way of stating things that brings new life and insight into truths we have known for a long time. A better awareness of what the Spirit is doing cannot help but draw us closer to God, grow us in our ability to serve and better accomplish what God is doing in our lives.

Reading Through Ephesians #1 (1-3)

witheringtonThis post begins the quick read through of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians accompanied by The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, by Ben Witherington III. Ephesians is written to defend the unity of the church. There is one people of God and they should not be divided by race, status or any other criteria. 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.

Witherington sees Ephesians as a sermon, rather than a standard epistle, which was circulated throughout the Asian region (the phrase "in Ephesus" is probably a later addition to the text). He would see it as a homily of Paul based mostly on Colossians. It is rhetoric designed to he heard and performed rather than just read. The big point of Ephesians is the unity of the church, based on shared means of entrance by grace through faith, being one "in Christ," one mission, and one Spirit, who enables the mission, with one destiny: to rule with Christ.

Paul has chosen to write such an epideictic masterpiece to Christians in Asia, using the style of Asiatic rhetoric...Though Ephesians is a general oration, it becomes a word on target by tapping into the rhetorical culture and predilections of the area. “You persuade a man only insofar as you talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his.” Paul has done this in Ephesians and done it well by his choice of style, form, and species of rhetoric. 222–223

Paul begins the sermon with a blessing on the listeners which recounts the work of all three persons of the Trinity in the salvation of all believers. Believers can have confidence in God's plan because he is the initiator and completer of salvation and thus guarantees all the promises of the kingdom.

The blessings that prompt the praise are election (1:4), predestination (1:5), redemption and forgiveness (1:7), revelation of the mystery (1:9), and being made God’s portion (1:11). This progression begins in the preexistent life of Christ and ends with the eschatological inheritance of the saints. In other words, this is a comprehensive presentation of the trajectory of salvation. Ephesians 1.1-14, 230

Christ becomes the locus of election and salvation because in Paul’s thinking the story of the people of God is whittled down to the story of Jesus the Anointed One and then built back up in the risen Christ thereafter. When Paul speaks of how a lost person gets “into Christ” he speaks on the more mundane level of preaching, hearing, responding in faith, not of God’s pre-choosing of our choices for us. This doctrine of corporate election in Christ is meant as a comfort for those who already believe, reassuring them that by God’s grace and their perseverance in the faith they can and will make the eschatological goal or finish line. Ephesians 1.1-14, 235

1.15-23 is a prayer that all believers will understand and apply what God has already done for them. The Trinity enables believers to know God and draws them into deeper relationship providing enlightenment about God's plans, ways and blessings. Christ has already defeated the powers of evil and rules over them, thus assuring believers of victory over sin and evil now and ultimately in the world to come. 

The proposition that is affirmed is that since God has placed Christ in the position of Lord over the powers, the world, and the church and since Christ is currently ruling all things for the sake of the church, the church is enabled to be the body of Christ in a dark world, fully manifesting the presence of Christ, who dwells in both the church and the world. Ephesians 1.15-23, 239

Paul is praying that God will expand and extend what the audience already knows. This is an understandable and appropriate prayer in an epideictic discourse meant to remind and reinforce existing realities and values. Ephesians 1.15-23, 241–242

He continues this idea in 2.1-10 reminding believers what happened to them at salvation. Believers were placed in "in Christ" and join him in his victory over sin, death and the powers of evil. This happened entirely by grace as we are made alive in the resurrected one, so that we could live out the lives God planned for us that include us in his kingdom. We all enter this only by faith in Christ. It is on this basis that all of us live our lives and serve in God's kingdom.

What Paul means is that by the Christian’s salvation experience we now have not only new life but power over sin which previously believers did not by nature have. He may also mean that believers have power over the powers and principalities. They can be resisted and will flee upon resistance (see 6:10–18). Thus figuratively Paul can say that “we” are already seated in the seat of power and authority in heaven, which likely means that believers have in part the power and authority “with Christ” that Christ exercises from that locale. Ephesians 2.1-10, 255

The logic is that “since God has already done so much for you, you should respond as follows.…” The language of realized eschatology is not meant to describe a fully completed salvation or even one predestined in advance. Paul is using strong language to persuade the audience of how much they have been blessed by God already, so that when he speaks of the not yet and of what they ought to do, he has a solid foundation on which to build. Ephesians 2.1-10, 256

Paul now gets to the main point of the sermon in the rest of chapter 2 and 3. The gospel's "secret" (the message that salvation is extended by grace without prejudice to the entire world through faith in Jesus Christ) places all peoples into the family of God and into one body of Christ. The dividing wall of the Torah has been broken down and fulfilled in Christ. All people are equal in their need for faith and in their status within the body of Christ. In chapter 3 he begins with his personal testimony of how he came to this understanding. God revealed to him this plan (along with the other apostles) to incorporate the Gentiles into the promises of Israel. This overcomes the desire of the dark powers to divide the world along ethnic and tribal lines. Thus, the key identifying trait of the church is unity across racial, class and status lines, and barriers broken by the love of Christ. Paul concludes the section with a prayer that Christians will trust in the Spirit to allow Christ to dwell in them through faith and that they will experience the kind of agape that Christ provides and live it out through the witness of their unity.

This entire Law, says Paul, has been annulled by the death of Christ, and the enmity and distance between peoples that it created has been destroyed by the death of Jesus in his own flesh. The purpose of this destruction was creation, creation of a new people of God composed of both Jew and Gentile, which here is called “one new person.” Thus both groups could be reconciled to God in one body of believers rather than having separate plans of salvation and reconciliation for Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 2.11-22, 260–261

This secret’s revelation spells the doom of all the plans of the powers of darkness to divide the cosmos on the basis of racial or ethnic prejudices. The overcoming of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles betokens the overcoming of all such human and cosmic barriers in this universe. Christ will reconcile and pacify all. The existence of the church heralds the victory of Christ over the cosmic powers. Ephesians 3.1-13, 267

Paul is praying for the continuing presence of Christ within the Christians through faith. The verb katoikeo signifies literally to make a home or to settle down and so has in view a more permanent presence. That Paul is praying for this for those who are already Christians means that this is not automatically the case for converts who have already experienced the presence of Christ initially in their lives. Rather this happens through faith. Indeed it is contingent on the exercise of faith, “that is, as they trust him he makes their hearts his home.” Ephesians 3.14-24, 274

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Joyce and the GK’s at King’s Island

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Wednesday Joyce took the three older grandkids to King’s Island amusement park. Samantha had won 4 free tickets and thought this was a good way to use them. (I agreed by the way – I have to be careful to not get too much sun and had already been out a bit too much) They were there all day and rode several roller coasters so it was a good day for all involved. Here are a few pictures.

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I think the roller coasters were the most popular. They were “fun,” “amazing,” and “Awesome!” according to Titus, Serenity, and Courage. Titus added, “Best rides ever!”

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Giant ice cream cones and Peanuts characters also added to the excitement

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They also got close to animals

Reading Through Galatians #2 (4-6)

galatiansThis post concludes the read through of Paul’s letter to the Galatians accompanied by Galatians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by G. Walter Hansen. Paul calls us, and the Galatians to live our lives by faith in Christ and rely on His Spirit as we discipline our lives to serve and love  others. 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.

Paul continues his rebuke from scripture of the legalists in the Galatian church in chapter 4. First, he compares the role of the law to that of a pedagogue - discipline of a minor son. Now he makes the point that the need for a pedagogue is gone with the incarnation of Christ and the redemption he has provided. To go back to the law would be like an adult son going back under a kindergarten teacher. Paul then points to his own example of living as a Gentile in order to preach and live out the gospel before the Galatians. Had he not done that the Galatians would never have come into the family of God. Finally, he uses the story of Isaac and Ishmael to counter the arguments of the false teachers in the Galatian churches. The law was temporary, and to go back under it would be to reject the promise embodied in Christ and go back into a slavery that never enabled people to live as they should. Paul calls people to a freedom to live as representatives of the New Jerusalem fulfilling the promises of God.

Christ is uniquely qualified to fulfill these two purposes. Because he is the Son of God, he is able to give the position and rights of his sonship to sinful people. Because he became fully human, he is able to represent and redeem all humankind. And because he rendered perfect obedience to God and bore the curse of God against the disobedient, he is able to redeem those under the law. Galatians 4.1-11

The same practice of identification is necessary today, if we are going to communicate the gospel effectively to people. We must put ourselves in their place, eat what they eat, dress as they dress, talk their language, experience their joys and sorrows, and enter into their way of thinking. If we want people to become like us in our commitment to Christ, then we must become one with them. Galatians 4.12-20

The freedom-slavery and Spirit-flesh antitheses which Paul has constructed in his allegory serve as the framework for his ethical instructions in the rest of the letter. The children of the free woman, who were born by the power of the Spirit (v. 29) must learn to express their freedom by walking in the Spirit. They must not submit to slavery under the law or gratify the desires of the flesh. Identity is the basis of behavior: a clear understanding of who we are in Christ guides our conduct in the Spirit. Galatians 4.21-31

In chapter 5 Paul calls believers to live out and defend the freedom that Christ has provided. To rely on one's own works or membership in an ethnic group or church is to be "cut off" from Christ and his benefits. Instead, Paul calls us to live by the power of the Spirit, trusting Christ's righteousness. We live by faith, worked out in our lives by loving God and others. Nothing else counts with God. Next Paul exposes the methods and motives of the false teachers. The main thing false teachers do is deemphasize the gospel. With persuasive words and emphasis on ritual, (they appear to be very spiritual) they spread confusion and lies within the church. As they try to control the church they destroy it. Instead Paul calls Christians to live a life of love empowered by the Spirit. The Spirit filled life enables God's people to live in a way that brings glory to God and serves the needs of others. The law is not really needed to show us what those actions are (5.19). Paul does not dwell on the obvious sins, but on the ones that religious people do (envy, selfishness, ambition) to control others, advance their own agenda or indulge their own desires. In contrast the indwelling Spirit inevitably produces "fruit" - attitudes and actions of love that honor God and others above ourselves. This fulfills the purpose of the law to produce the image of God in God's people.

Paul does not appeal to his readers to fight to be free. Our Christian freedom is not the result of our long march. We have not liberated ourselves by our efforts. We are not able to do so. But now that freedom has been given to us by Christ, that freedom is our goal and our responsibility. Galatians 5:1-6

It is never pleasant to expose the deceptive, destructive tactics of the “false brothers.” But it is necessary to do so in order to protect the freedom of fellow Christians. Of course circumcision is not an issue today. But we are constantly faced with a choice between different religious options. They are not all the same; they are not all spokes on a wheel leading to the same hub. Some religious options lead to slavery and imprisonment. Only by obedience to the truth of the gospel of Christ can we protect the freedom that is ours in Christ. Galatians 5:7-12

The Spirit sets the line and the pace for us to follow. Keeping in step with the Spirit takes active concentration and discipline of the whole person. We constantly see many alternative paths to follow; we reject them to follow the Spirit. We constantly hear other drummers who want to quicken or slow down our pace; we tune them out to listen only to the Spirit. Galatians 5:13-26

Paul closes the main argument of the letter in 6.1-10 by emphasizing that real Christian spirituality and leadership are seen as we evaluate ourselves based on the standard of the self-giving love of Christ that took him to the cross and by fulfilling our responsibilities to serve other Christians and the corporate needs of the church. This especially includes gently helping to restore sinners within the church and supporting the church's leaders/teachers. The motive for this is that everything we do to serve Christ and love others is an investment in eternal reward. This is why we must persevere in doing good to one another as we build the church family together.  

All who are united with Christ and are led by the Spirit will also fulfill the high standard of love established by the life, death and resurrection of Christ: like him, they will love sinners and carry their burdens. Serving one another in love in this way expresses Christ’s love and so fulfills Christ’s law. Galatians 6.1-2

We are not victims of fate, bad luck or even predestination. Our destiny is determined by our decision: shall we sow to the sinful nature or to the Spirit? The old proverb is true: “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Galatians 6.3-10

Paul closes the letter with a greeting written in his own hand. First, he summarizes the main point of the letter. The false teachers are really only concerned about their own reputations, personal safety and ethnic pride. In contrast real Christians have "died" to those things and are concerned about following Jesus in self-sacrificial love for God and others. This is the way to real peace with God and with one another and is the way that God's people will share together in the blessings of his kingdom.

All prideful boasting is excluded by the cross of Christ, because identification with Christ in his death on the cross results in the death of all reasons for such boasting...The world is characterized by prideful boasting about national identity, social status and religious practices. When I live in the world, my life will inevitably be characterized by such boasting. But when I die, the way of the world will no longer govern my life. My belief in the cross of Christ includes not only the realization that he died for me to rescue me from judgment under the law of God, but also the constant awareness that I must reckon myself to have died with him. Galatians 6.11-18

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reading Through Galatians #1 (1-3)

galatiansThis post begins the quick read through of Paul’s letter to the Galatians accompanied by Galatians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by G. Walter Hansen. Galatians is written to correct the serious error of forcing Gentile Christians to adopt the rules and rites of the Torah to be part of the fellowship of the church. Paul calls this “another gospel” which is not a gospel. 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.

Paul writes the letter to the Galatians to address the issue that the churches there were adding Jewish law and restrictions to the gospel and requiring these customs to be part of the church fellowship. Paul counters this with his own personal example and scriptural witness that: Because God pronounces us righteous and to be part of his kingdom people by grace through faith alone, we must accept all people who trust in Christ and the gospel message without additional requirements as God's family, and we must live by God’s grace through faith alone in the power of the Spirit, free from the law and free from sin, to serve and love God in unity with people from all nations, cultures and stations in life.

In Galatians Paul develops his argument for justification by faith in order to correct a social problem: Gentile believers have been excluded from fellowship with Jewish believers because they did not observe the law. Paul demonstrates that justification by faith means that Gentile believers are included within the people of God; on the basis of this doctrine Gentile believers have the right to eat at the same table with Jewish believers. Intro to Galatians

We cannot attain moral perfection by trying to observe the Mosaic law (3:2–3), nor can we win moral victory over the sinful nature’s desires by submitting to the guidance of the Mosaic law (5:13–18). But what the law cannot do God does by his grace: through the cross of Christ he removes the curse of the law (3:13); by the Spirit he reproduces the righteous character of his Son in us (5:22–23) so that the ultimate moral standard of the law is fulfilled (5:14; 6:2). Intro to Galatians

Paul begins the letter with a short standard greeting and then launches right into a strong rebuke of the church. They have transformed the gospel into something that does not save by adding the requirements of Jewish custom and law to it as necessary for membership and fellowship in the church. To add anything to grace and faith, or to the work of Christ, for entry into or participation the fellowship of the church, is to negate the gospel and must be resisted without exception.

Grace is God’s unconditional, unearned acceptance of us accomplished through the love-gift of Christ. The experience of grace by faith results in peace, a sense of harmony and completeness in our relationship with God and with one another. To look for grace and peace from any person, organization or activity in the world is to forget that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the only source of these blessings. Galatians 1:1-5

We need to understand that Paul was willing to accommodate himself to differences in matters such as what foods to eat or what days to celebrate (Rom 14–15; 1 Cor 8–10), but when the central truth of the gospel was at stake, he drew a clear line and refused to compromise...While we should seek to maintain harmony in a context of religious pluralism by showing tolerance and respect for people of other religious persuasions, this should not lead us to compromise in any way the exclusiveness of the true gospel of Christ. Galatians 1:6-10

Paul defends his position, first, with an autobiographical argument in the rest of chapter 1 and 2. Paul's point is that he did not receive the gospel, or his commission to share it, from any person, including the apostles. He received it directly from Jesus and it carries the authority of God Himself. The gospel, not the law or Jewish rituals, changed Paul from being a persecutor of the church to being one of its leading spokesmen.

God’s revelation of his Son is a personal, inward experience of the heart, but it was not meant to be kept private. The purpose of revelation is evangelism. The fruit of true conversion is mission. Evangelism is not some optional extra, an elective course that may or may not be taken. It is the inevitable result of real conversion. Galatians 1:11-24

Paul then describes a confrontation with Peter and some Jewish Christians regarding this issue. Because of ethnic pressure, these Jewish Christians, including Peter and Barnabas had withdrawn fellowship from their Gentile fellow believers. Paul rebukes this as a denial of the gospel. The gospel is not just spiritual but has social implications. Paul was vindicated when the Jerusalem council did not require Titus to be circumcised. The bottom line is that Paul draws his identity primarily from his relationship with Christ and not from ethnicity or any other connection.

Whenever we identify ourselves as American Christians, or British Christians, or Chinese Christians, or German Christians, we must be aware that being American, British, Chinese or German may easily become more important to us than being Christian. Galatians 2.12-14

Paul’s confession of faith expresses his own experience that Christ, not the law, is the source of life and righteousness. The reason for his personal confession was his insistence that Jewish and Gentile believers should not be separated as the law demands, but united as the truth of the gospel demands. His new spiritual identity—I no longer live, but Christ lives in me—is the basis of his new social identity. Galatians 2.15-21

Paul now moves to his scriptural argument that inclusion in God's family does not come from becoming Jewish, but from faith in Christ. First he points to the reception of the Spirit and all his blessings that happened by faith alone. Then he points out that Abraham received the promise and blessing long before the law came into existence. He then explains the nature of the law: it was a temporary restraint on sin until Christ, the promised seed brought in the blessing. Thus, the key to blessing in God's family is faith in and identification with Christ, not ethnic identity or religious observance.

Whereas the law made a division between Jews and Gentiles, Christ, the promised seed of Abraham, is the center of a new unity of Jews and Gentiles. The people of God are no longer identified by ethnic origins, but by union with Christ. Galatians 3.1-18

But the giving of the law was not the final goal of God’s plan. The law was an essential step, but only a step,  toward the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. Christ is the beginning, end and center of God’s plan. Galatians 3.19-25

When men exclude women from significant participation in the life and ministry of the church, they negate the essence of the gospel. Some will argue that the equality Paul defends here is only in the “spiritual” sphere: equality before God. But Paul’s argument responds to a social crisis in the church: Gentiles were being forced to become Jews to be fully accepted by Jewish Christians. Paul’s argument is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews to participate fully in the life of the church. Neither do blacks have to become white or females become male for full participation in the life and ministry of the church. Galatians 3.28

A Day at Summit Park in Blue Ash Ohio

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Earlier this week we got to spend an afternoon in a beautiful community park. If you look closely (above) you can see that even Mike was with us by phone.

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The bench swings were my favorite piece of park equipment

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The kids enjoyed the playground equipment…

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And the natural grassy slide as well

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Structure and Message of 2 Corinthians

Structure chart 2 Corinthians

The Message of 2nd Corinthians

Christian leaders live out the cross in a ministry willing to sacrifice and suffer for the truth and for the benefit of God's people. They understand that it is internal character change, brought about through the Spirit, which is important and not external ability. Such leaders should be obeyed, honored and supported.

Contrast of Paul and the “Super-Apostles”

Paul and the Super Apostles compared

True Christian Leadership is Cross-Shaped