Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Day the Revolution Began, by NT Wright #2

WrightThis is my second week for reading through, for my New Testament devotions and study, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion, by N. T. Wright. This post will look at the first half of part 2 of the book which looks at the crucifixion through the lens of the Old Testament story of Israel. I am also posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals 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 4, The Covenant of Vocation, begins Part Two: "“In Accordance with the Bible.” In this section Wright says that we have taught an incomplete view of salvation because we have asked the wrong question. The issue is not just sinful acts which separate us from God, but a failure to live out the vocation for which we were created. Jesus’ death does not just provide us with Christ's good works/morality, but it restores humanity to its vocation and defeats the supernatural powers to which we ceded our position as the "image of God." Thus, Jesus' death begins this process of restoring all of creation to being the "temple" in which God dwells, and humanity is restored to being the "priesthood" whose "vocation is “image-bearing,” reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker." (76)

The “goal” is not “heaven,” but a renewed human vocation within God’s renewed creation. This is what every biblical book from Genesis on is pointing toward. 74

The book of Revelation says—shockingly, of course—that the ancient vocation had been renewed in a new and revolutionary way through the death of the Messiah. Once we get the goal right (the new creation, not just “heaven”) and the human problem properly diagnosed (idolatry and the corruption of vocation, not just “sin”), the larger biblical vision of Jesus’s death begins to come into view. 79,

The problem is that humans were made for a particular vocation, which they have rejected; that this rejection involves a turning away from the living God to worship idols; that this results in giving to the idols—“forces” within the creation—a power over humans and the world that was rightfully that of genuine humans; and that this leads to a slavery, which is ultimately the rule of death itself, the corruption and destruction of the good world made by the Creator. 86

In chapter 5, "In All the Scriptures," Wright insists that we must place the meaning of Christ's death "for our sins" within the story of Israel in the Old Testament. The Old Testament tells the great story of how God breaks into this sinful world, first through Adam and Eve, and then through the nation of Israel, the family of Abraham. The problem in each case was that the means of rescue also became corrupted and needed rescue. Instead of worshipping and serving the Creator, they worshipped and served idols and thus went into exile. The Old Testament ends with Israel in the land, but still in exile without a king, without the presence of God and without the blessings of the Promised Land. The hope that was held on to in the Old Testament was that God himself would come to rescue Israel and accomplish His plan through them for the world. The cross must be understood within this idea of God restoring humanity to its vocation of being the image of God and making the whole world an "Eden" and a "Promised Land," with all humanity as God's representative "priests."

Only when we give full early Christian weight to the phrase “in accordance with the Bible” will we discover the full early Christian meaning of the phrase “for our sins.” And this means renouncing the Platonized views of salvation, the moralizing reduction of the human plight, and ultimately the paganized views of how salvation is accomplished. The first blunts the leading edge of the revolution. The second treats one part of the problem as if it were the whole thing. The third produces a distorted parody of the true biblical picture. 94

Just as the Creator chose the covenant people to be the means of rescuing the human race, so now, with the chosen people themselves in need of rescue, God might do the same thing again. He might act in a new way to call from within exilic Israel a remnant, perhaps even a remnant of one, through whom he would deliver Israel. 97

The basic “sin” is actually idolatry, worshipping and serving anything in the place of the one true God. And, since humans are made for the life that comes from God and God alone, to worship that which is not God is to fall in love with death. 102-103

“Tubeless” Medical Update

20170626_092816 (960x1280)Well this was an interesting morning. I had my appointment with the urologist at 9 AM to see if I would be getting my nephrostomy tube taken out. My numbers were good and the situation looked okay so the doctor decided to do it. You can see the process in the picture on the right. It hurt a little bit but not too bad. The only problem was that my blood pressure dropped when he pulled the tube out and I got dizzy and passed out on the floor.The doctor said it was the first time he had ever seen that happen. So after about 15 minutes on the floor, (see below), the nurse helped me up and I was able to go on to my next doctor appointment for a blood test. The doctor says I will be sore for a few days but everything should be ok. I just have to watch out and make sure that the kidney is draining properly. It is really nice not to have a tube in my back. It feels very different.Thank you for your prayers for this process and please pray that it will continue to work properly. At least it wasn't a boring day.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Very Brief Medical Update

20170621_114003 (960x1280)Today is a somewhat significant date in my cancer treatment. With today’s dose of prednisone, I have ingested the last chemical of this 6 session round of chemotherapy (March-June) and move into the two week rest period. After the two week rest period I’ll be in a two month evaluation period that will include several tests that I have mentioned in previous posts. Right now my status is “Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma Stage 3 in partial remission.” I am in a much better situation than 6 months ago, but there is still a long way to go to being pronounced cancer-free. The tests will determine the next steps. The edema, in this round, has been quite annoying and I would appreciate you including some prayers for relief of that as you pray for my situation. In the picture you can see the puffiness and hot flash from the prednisone. Nevertheless, We feel very blessed and hopeful with the improvement we have seen. I continue to pray Psalm 31.5 every day, “Into your hands I commit my spirit;  deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.” Thank you for praying.

Resurrecting the Trinity: A Plea to Recover the Wonder and Meaning of the Triune God, by M. James Sawyer

TrinityWhen I was younger, teaching Sunday School, Bible classes at Christian high schools and, in my early years of teaching Bible classes at PIU, I dutifully taught the Trinity. God was “one what and three who’s” and that was that, because the Bible said it. But, as I began to use the tools for Bible study that a seminary education gave me, I began to see that the Bible told a story of the Trinity that was much more passionate and relational. Creation was an “overflow” of the love from within the Trinity, and God wanted us to have the same kind of relationship with Him that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for all eternity. As I saw this in scripture and began to apply it to myself, I wanted to teach it to my students.

That’s why it is so cool when you find a book that helps you refine these thoughts and says it in the way you wish you could say it. This is what my friend and colleague, Dr. M. James Sawyer, has done with his new book, Resurrecting the Trinity: A Plea to Recover the Wonder and Meaning of the Triune God. Over the last few years he and I have had some great theological conversations about the Trinity, (as in so long that we don’t notice that afternoon has turned into night and we are hungry because we forgot to eat dinner), that have challenged and deepened my thinking. This book incorporates a lot of what we talked about and puts it in a form that is accessible to most Bible students. Jim explains the Trinity from a base of scholarly work in the Bible and historical theology, but makes it real through his own experience along with examples from movies and stories.  I appreciated very much both the theological and relational emphases in the book. (The book is now available for purchase – just click on the cover picture above to go to the Amazon site)

This week I will summarize the first four chapters of the book and throw in a few quotes. Then next week we will cover the rest of the book. By the way, don’t skip the forward by Baxter Krueger. It is pretty good too.

The first chapter is entitled: The Trinity:Why Is It Important? Jim talks about how the Trinity has been deemphasized in Western Christianity because it is hard to understand and to explain. However, he also points to the central importance of this understanding of God…

Trinitarian theology is no less than a return to our theological roots and the basis of our faith. It
involves a commitment to make this foundational doctrine the lens through which all other
doctrines are understood

When it comes to seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament, I believe the most we can say is that the language used there allows for God’s further self-revelation as triune through the Incarnation and Pentecost. 16

In the 2nd chapter, “God and the Boxes He is Put Into,” Jim summarizes the wrong views of God throughout history that keep us from worshiping God “in truth.” We create inadequate theologies of God and build theological “fortresses” to defend them. Several of the common inadequate views, as seen in our culture, of God are discussed,

The goal of God’s self-revelation is not to give us information out of which to construct theological systems in any case. It is relationship with him. 24

I would argue that the lack of an integrated and vital trinitarian understanding of the nature and being of God produces an understanding that is at best a twisted caricature of who God has revealed himself to be in his fullness. 43

The 3rd chapter, Jesus: The Way into the Trinity, reviews the history of how this doctrine developed. From the beginning of the church Jesus was seen as the unique, 100% God, revelation of who YHWH is in this world. The theological development of the Trinity doctrine happened as the church fathers wrestled with the idea that Jesus was eternal God in human form.

We must understand how the New Testament authors did not see monotheism as an obstacle in recognizing the deity of Jesus. The fact that the Word and the Wisdom of God participate in the creative work of God and in God’s sovereignty while belonging intrinsically to God gives us the interpretive key allowing us to understand the way the New Testament texts relate Jesus to Jewish monotheism. 49

So, in the 4th chapter, God, Three–in–One, we get to the question of how to understand God properly. “God is fundamentally tri-personal, existing in self-giving love.” (61) This means that God is, in His essence, is relational and thus, human beings and all creation, reflect that. We must talk about the Trinity, not only in the abstract, but in the “personal and relational” spheres as well. God is best known through our encounter (in scripture, with God’s people and in our daily walk with him) with the crucified-risen, Jesus.

God is personal and relational! We no more learn about the personal nature of God by examining his attributes than we learn about the person and life of the murder victim on the autopsy table by his or her dissection. 68

God’s omnipotence must not be conceived of as what we think he can do, but must be defined by what he has done and continues to do in Jesus Christ. In other words, his almightiness is demonstrated in humility and condescension, particularly in the Incarnation. God’s almighty power is not demonstrated by coercion, by untold legions of angels and mighty armies conquering. It is rather demonstrated in self-emptying, the “foolishness” of the Incarnation and the cross. 75

Because the Father and the Son are eternally and inherently one, we can know God by looking at Jesus. In Jesus we see not just a part or aspect of God, but the totality of what it means to be God. 79

The idea of a hierarchy, where one of the divine persons is “in charge,” introduces the ancient error of subordinationism into our concept of God...If there is hierarchy in the Trinity, then hierarchy is at the foundation and ground of personal existence—inherent in the Godhead and therefore inherent in humanity as bearing God’s image. 85

Friday, June 23, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Ezra

EzraNehOver this week and next I will be reading through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah accompanied by, Ezra-Nehemiah, The College Press Niv Commentary. Old Testament Series, by Keith N. Schoville. Ezra and Nehemiah record the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple and wall and strengthening  of the faith of the returned exiles despite internal and eternal opposition. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Ezra and Nehemiah were compiled from the personal memoirs of these two men, along with several official documents from the period, maybe by Ezra or a later compiler. Ezra records the early returns to Judah from Babylon beginning about 539 BC and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The book of Ezra is also concerned with the purification of the people from the many pagan influences from the places where they were exiled and a renewal of the worship of YHWH according to the Torah of Moses.

Ezra-Nehemiah was a call to remember the struggles of the past that had made the Jewish community viable, a summons to walk in the old ways rather than be enticed away from God by the appeal of Hellenism. Ezra-Nehemiah, 30

Chapters 1-3 record the decree of Cyrus to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the first group of returnees under Shesh-Bazzar, and the laying of the foundation of the new temple. The purpose of the return is to reinstitute worship of YHWH in Jerusalem. Only a small remnant of the exiles returns. With opposition, the people begin building the temple. They begin by completing the altar so that worship can begin again and then begin laying the foundation. The temple will not be completed for another 20 years.

The author intends his readers to understand that the return from Babylonian exile is comparable in some respects to the departure of Israel from Egypt. It marks a new beginning for God’s people orchestrated by God himself. Here as always, God moves people to provide for his work and the fulfillment of his plans. Ezra 1, 44

The author of Ezra-Nehemiah...was not writing a minutely detailed history. He was sketching the way God was at work to bring about the restoration of the remnant community in Jerusalem and its environs. He was making connections between the community that had been eradicated and the reestablished group. He was stirring up memories of the more ancient exodus from Egypt and suggesting that those who came out of Babylon were involved in a similar exodus. Ezra 2, 47

Although their forefathers had placed their trust in the sanctuary rather than in the Lord of that sanctuary (Jeremiah 7), these, their descendants, had learned in their land of exile that God’s presence and God’s worship did not require a building. Ezra 3.6, 68

Ezra 4-6 describes the 20-year process of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, with God's oversight and despite great opposition from the surrounding peoples. The first phase of the opposition was an offer to help them rebuild, which was refused by the leadership of the exiles because they did not want to compromise with the hybrid religion of the surrounding peoples. The opposition continued with a protest about the temple to the Persian government and the work was stopped. 16 years later, with the prophetic urgings of Haggai and Zechariah, the work resumed. After more letters back and forth from the surrounding peoples and from the Jewish exiles, the Edict of Cyrus was found and the Persian king ordered the temple rebuilding to continue with Persian support. The temple was completed and dedicated 20 years after the beginning of the work. God had worked behind the scenes so that the exiles could accomplish what He had planned.

We can be thankful for the determination of the Jerusalem group of returnees to adhere strictly to the decree of Cyrus, that they and they alone were charged with rebuilding the temple. In the process, they were also responsible for rebuilding the community of the committed. It was this group, rather than the northerners, through whom we received the Hebrew Bible and who paved the way for the redemptive plan of God in Jesus, the Messiah. Ezra 4, 75

The stimulus of the prophetic word and the energetic response of the leaders of the community are a powerful example of what God’s people can accomplish when challenged... clear divine guidance powerfully proclaimed will move God’s people to action and accomplishment, to his honor and glory.  Ezra 5, 83

The God of Israel is in control to accomplish his will and purposes. His people are called to faithfulness to his worship and service even though they are subject to the political control of others. Revolution is not required in order to remain faithful to the God of heaven and of Israel. Ezra 6, 95

Chapters 7-8 introduce Ezra into the narrative. Ezra was a well educated priest and scribe whose life mission was to understand torah, live it out and teach it to His people. He was a man of deep faith and prayer who led the people to trust God's provision and obey His instruction. Ezra sees the very generous grant and authority given by Artaxerxes for the trip to Jerusalem and to provision the temple and its services as an example of God's hesed, His loving care for the people and he gives God public praise and thanks for it. Ezra also takes great care to be held accountable for the vast sum of wealth that they transported to Jerusalem. Ezra is a good example of how a faithful man leads God's people and administrates God's work.

(Ezra's) dedication to God’s call was threefold: to study, apply it to his personal life, and to teach its decrees and laws to others. No wonder he persevered. Ezra provides a timeless example for every generation of God’s people. The disciple, when he or she reaches maturity, will be like the master (Luke 6:40). Such maturity comes with personal devotion to study, application, and teaching. Ezra 7.10, 99

Ezra realized that the king’s generous arrangements were really due to God’s hidden activity at work in the hearts (minds) of the king, his advisers, and powerful officials. God’s people ought always to trust in God’s providence and loving kindness. Ezra 7, 106

The journey was a walk by faith. The safe progress each day was an assurance for that day of the hand of God. To trust in God is to experience each day as an adventure in faith, trust that the gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him. Ezra 8, 112

The book of Ezra ends by recording an incident in Ezra's ministry. Probably as a result of his teaching, some of the leaders confess to Ezra that they had married foreign wives. These would have been arranged marriages designed to improve the families' economic situations. This compromised the ability of this minority community to maintain faithfulness to God and was forbidden in the Torah. Ezra publically humbles himself and confesses the sin of the community which motivates the people to also confess and make this right. The leaders move first to put away the foreign wives and the community follows. Here allegiance to God must be chosen over allegiance to family.

Rather than force an unwilling community to do his will, Ezra allowed the word of God, which he taught, to reach fruition in the hearts of his hearers. At last his teaching was changing lives. Ezra 9.1-5, 118–119

Not only did Ezra identify himself with the people, all of them were bound up together in responsibility for the nation’s guilt. Unspoken but implicit in this final statement is that their only salvation in this situation was the grace of God. Ezra 9.6-15, 124

God is praised in the human act of confession, which acknowledges the righteousness of God in contrast to the guilt of the confessor. Doing God’s will, keeping his law will follow true confession.  Ezra 10, 130

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion by NT Wright

WrightThis past week, I began reading, for my New Testament devotions and study, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion, by N. T. Wright. I will be blogging through this book over the next few weeks. I think this is a very important book which brings the discussion of the meaning of the atonement into the 21st century with a solid biblical basis. I am also posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals 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 1, A Vitally Important Scandal Why the Cross?, begins the introduction to the book. In this chapter Wright discusses the amazing power that the story of the cross has had across time, cultures and places. It speaks to the shared experience of human tragedy and has provided light, hope and love to countless millions over the last 2000 years. Wright's purpose in writing the book goes beyond this though. His goal to show that the cross and resurrection of Jesus was the decisive event in God's plan for the world and that, it not only provides forgiveness and life to those who believe, but it starts the process of setting all creation right and calls all believers to play a part in making that happen.  

According to the book of Revelation, Jesus died in order to make us not rescued nonentities, but restored human beings with a vocation to play a vital part in God’s purposes for the world.  5

The crucifixion of Jesus is a plain, stark fact, etched into real space and time and, even more important, into the real flesh and blood of a human being. People today, in a wide variety of ways, simply intuit that it has powerful and profound meaning for them. Others, of course, see nothing in it except an unpleasant tale from long ago. 7-8

You don’t have to have a theory about why the cross is so powerful before you can be moved and changed, before you can know yourself loved and forgiven, because of Jesus’s death. 12

In chapter 2, Wrestling with the Cross, Then and Now, Wright discusses the importance of having a biblical understanding of the cross and some of the ways the church has understood this meaning through history. The NT is clear that, to the culture of the 1st century crucifixion was a scandal, but to the church it is the central part of the gospel and to an understanding of God. The Bible makes clear that Jesus died "for us" and "in our place." It also talks about the cross as a demonstration of God's love and the means to God's victory over evil and the re-creation of a new heaven and earth. Wright insists, and I would agree here, that the cross must be interpreted in terms of this eschatology and not in terms of getting me a pass to go to heaven some day. Personal salvation is included, but is only a part of what the cross accomplished. Wright also, rightly, dispels the notion of an angry Father God who pours out His anger on His Son. He will explain how Jesus is a sacrifice for our sin without going to this "pagan" idea of the satisfaction of an angry deity in a later chapter. The big point is that the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the way God deals with evil and brings about His "kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

But over against this downplaying or mocking we also see, from the earliest documents of the New Testament right on through the first five or six centuries of church history, the resolute affirmation of the cross not as an embarrassing episode best left on the margins, but as the mysterious key to the meaning of life, God, the world, and human destiny. 21

The New Testament insists, in book after book, that when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, something happened as a result of which the world is a different place. And the early Christians insisted that when people are caught up in the meaning of the cross, they become part of this difference. 39

My point is this: unless Jesus’s death achieved something—something that urgently needed to be done and that couldn’t be done in any other way—then it cannot serve as a moral example. 47

Chapter 3 places The Cross in Its First-Century Setting. In this chapter, Wright looks at the meaning of the cross within the Greco-Roman and Jewish worldviews. The Romans used crucifixion as a way to project power and to let subjugated peoples know who was in charge and what happened to rebels. It was a humiliating, shameful and painful death. It was an unlikely event to become a centerpiece of a world movement. The Jewish background was basically the feasts, especially Passover and the Day of Atonement, and the idea in the prophets, especially Daniel, that YHWH would return to His people and forgive their sins. However, the Jews would not have expected the cross would be the event that accomplished this.

Just as the resurrection of Jesus cannot be fitted into any other worldview, but must be either rejected altogether or allowed to reshape existing worldviews around itself, so the cross itself demands the rethinking of categories. 60-61

There was no template of expectations out of which, granted the crucifixion of Jesus, one might have anticipated the sophisticated range of interpretation that the early Christian movement in fact produced, understanding the death of Jesus as a messianic victory and connecting it with the long-awaited divine return. 65

Since sin, the consequence of idolatry, is what keeps humans in thrall to the nongods of the world, dealing with sin has a more profound effect than simply releasing humans to go to heaven. It releases humans from the grip of the idols, so they can worship the living God and be renewed according to his image. 68

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Last Round of Chemo

20170620_095538 (960x1280)I just arrived home after completing my last chemotherapy infusion session today. I began chemo in March and had one session every three weeks for a total of six. After infusion I then take prednisone for five days – which, for me so far, has been the hardest part. I’ll finish the prednisone this coming Saturday. After this I get at least two months of rest from chemo. That will be nice. My big prayers in this would, of course, be that the lymphoma would be completely gone from my body and that we would be able to deal with the edema that has been greatly annoying me for the last six months. Generally, my body swells with about 12-15 pounds of water weight after a chemo session and then I lose most of it in the two weeks between sessions. This last session I gained 14 pounds but lost only 7. I am hoping to get rid of that water weight completely in the next few weeks. 20170621_023524 (720x1280)

Without chemo sessions in July and August, we are looking forward to some other activities. We got accepted to a “cancer camp” at Mission Springs in Scotts Valley July 7-9. Joyce and I will be able to go to this with our daughter and grand-daughter. It should be fun. I will then get my bone marrow biopsy on July 12. My blood count numbers have been good lately and I am hoping that will  continue with the biopsy. This has been a difficult last six months for us, but we have seen God blessing us in many ways and I think we are learning a lot from it. I am thankful that Joyce has been there beside me through the whole thing. She is my driver and has been there for all the chemo sessions and most of the doctor appointments. She has studied about cancer and knows more about it and my treatments than I do. I am glad I don’t have to do this by myself.