Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Last March Chapel

Last March Chapel (3)

Last March Chapel (5)Last March Chapel (6)We have moved into the final third of the Spring semester 2016. Less than five weeks to go. This was referenced a couple times in yesterday’s chapel service. Our speaker was our librarian Paul Drake (left). He challenged the students from several passages, especially Romans 12.1-2 to focus on seeking God and his will first. I liked very much his challenge to the students to focus on what they can do at PIU that they cannot do at other places, over this last five weeks. A Christian college is a unique place where the students can meet God and be discipled in a way that is difficult to find in other environments. Please pray for our students that they can focus on their studies and bring the semester to a successful end. Juan Flores (right with the halo) also challenged the students to consider taking classes in our new emphasis on International Business in our Liberal Studies bachelor’s degree program. We are excited begin teaching those classes this summer.

Last March Chapel (1)Last March Chapel (4)

Our female students led the worship time and got the guys to join them for a beautiful Chuukese song.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 6

I am continuing to read through Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. I am making a post on each chapter as I read them. Previous posts are here, here, here, here, here and here. Each chapter is very long so what you are getting here is a very brief summary of this very important book. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Chapter 6 begins part 2 of the first book. While part 1 dealt with the background and environment of the apostle, this section deals with “The Mindset of the Apostle,” how he put all these influences together, built around the revelation of the Messiah to him. In chapter 6 Wright looks at how Paul reworked the defining symbols of his Jewish heritage around Jesus Christ.

Part of the genius of Paul was to bring together ‘theology as a task’ with this implicit Jewish ‘theology as a set of beliefs’, transforming (baptizing?) the task itself in the process while unpacking and explaining the beliefs in a radically new direction—though claiming, and trying to demonstrate, that this new direction was in fact a thoroughly Jewish, scripturally based exploration of the one God, his people and his plans. For Paul, the method and the means by which task and beliefs alike were transformed was Jesus himself, the crucified and risen Messiah, son of God and lord, and the ‘spirit of the son’ which the one God had poured out on his renewed people. 352

The temple, torah and land were the main identifying symbols of the Jewish people of Paul’s day. Paul (and I would say Jesus did this first) redefined the Temple to be Jesus and His people who are part of His “body.” The main identifier for God’s people would be allegiance to Jesus and the unity and fellowship of the Jesus community, especially noticed because they “eat with unbelievers.” 

The replacement of Temple with Jesus and, secondarily and derivatively, with his people remains one of Paul’s central worldview-revisions...And Jerusalem itself, the focus of the longed-for centripetal pilgrimage of the nations, has been replaced by Jerusalem as the centrifugal originating point of the world mission. The redeemer does not now come to Zion but from Zion, going out into all the world to ‘gather the nations’, not by their coming to the central symbol of ancient Judaism, but by their becoming the central symbol, as we shall see, of the transformed worldview. 358

The revised Jewish monotheism which he employs, almost effortlessly, at key moments in his discourse shows where his roots are, and they give him the ‘strength’, as he puts it, to look out on the world, not only of cooked meat but also of pagans of all shapes, sorts and sizes, and to see them, not simply as dark and dangerous persons who should be shunned, but as human beings with whom the Messiah’s people should be free to associate in ordinary human friendship. 361

Thus, the key marks of torah observance circumcision, food laws, holy days, Sabbath become issues of indifference to Paul. They were not bad. They had just been fulfilled and to go back to them was not profitable. The kingdom is expanded from the land of Israel to all the world. Paul’s mission to the Gentile world was thus part of this kingdom enterprise. The key issue is being in the Messiah and being part of his worldwide mission in fulfillment of God’s covenant promises.

Covenantal eschatology: in the Messiah God has unveiled his long-awaited purpose, all preparatory stages are rendered indifferent, and to insist on them is to deny the Messiah himself and his achievement. 363

For Paul, God’s kingdom—as we see clearly enough in 1 Corinthians 15:20–8—is not a non-material, post-mortem destination, but is rather the sovereign rule of the creator over the entire created order, with death itself, that which corrupts and defaces the good creation, as the last enemy to be destroyed. In other words, the final ‘kingdom of God’ is the whole world, rescued at last from corruption and decay, and living under the sovereign rule of God, exercised through the Messiah’s people. 367

Temple, Torah, Prayer, Land, Family, Battle and Scripture: a formidable array of symbolic markers, and none left untouched, all transformed, by the Pauline gospel...‘This is who we are: we are the transformed, messianic people of God.’ And, because the cross and resurrection were the key things that now redefined the Messiah himself, these transformed symbols said, ‘This is who we are: we are the cross-and-resurrection-reshaped people of God in the Messiah.’ 375

The real battle was not between the Jews and Gentiles, but it was between God and the forces of evil that are destroying God’s good creation. Thus, Paul continued the strong Jewish emphasis on resistance to idolatry. The pagan gods do not exist, but to worship them placed one in subjection to evil powers who had usurped the role of the true God who made people in His image.

Part of Paul’s radical and robust rejection of pagan idolatry was based on the clear belief that idolatry not only diminishes God; it diminishes, also, those who actually do bear God’s image. It steals their privilege and bestows it elsewhere; or rather, since it is these same humans who are doing it, pagan worship sells its own birthright for a mess of idolatrous pottage. 377

When Paul rejected so much of the symbolism of the pagan world, that was not because of any dualistic or world-rejecting tendency. Rather, it was precisely because he valued the world, and human life, so highly that he resisted strongly what he saw as destructive and dehumanizing worldviews and their resulting lifestyles. His engagement with the world of paganism was ultimately positive. He had in mind both the good original creation and the promise of creation renewed. 381

The pagan world was prone to all the same things our world is subject to: ethnic identification, tribalism, nationalism, racism etc. This was how community was defined. Paul refocuses identity to the new unified community defined by Christ…

What was central to Paul’s worldview was the fact of a new community, a community which transcended the boundaries of class, ethnic origin, location and (not least) gender, by all of which the pagan world in general, and the imperial world in particular, set so much store. 383

We are simply asking the question: what were the main symbols, and symbols-in-action, of Paul’s newly envisaged and constructed world? And we are about to find, large as life, on the basis not of a theological a priori but simply by asking this question, scratching our heads, and looking around, that the primary answer is the ekklesia: its unity, holiness and witness. 385

Thus, for Paul the main symbol for his worldview was “the ekklÄ“sia: its unity, holiness and witness.” (385) So it was the social practices of day to day life that identified God’s people. The inclusion of all classes, races, genders etc together into one unified group was the identifying symbol of who was in Christ.

Paul’s vision remained essentially Jewish...However, the unity on which Paul insists went explicitly beyond that envisaged within Judaism, since it emphatically included women, children and slaves as well as adult males. 387

Because the Messiah, who is now the lord at the heart of the reworked Shema, is the crucified Messiah, the community’s practice when faced with issues of conscience must reflect the fact that all who belong to the Messiah’s family are brothers and sisters for whom he died, and are called to put into practice the fact that their corporate existence involves a sharing in his death, and the renunciation of ‘rights’ which it entailed. 393

Paul does not want his addressees to see themselves as basically ‘Jews’ and ‘gentiles’ at all, but as Messiah-people. He wants them to learn, on the basis of theology, rather than to discern, on the basis of their automatic self-perception, what their most fundamental ‘identity’ actually is. 397

Jesus bound his followers together into one family and they were to treat each other as family.

Hospitality was expected to be offered and received readily, as would be the case within a geographically extended family...And it is precisely within this context that there grows that powerful imperative, springing up right across the Pauline corpus, for agape: not just a ‘love’ which is drawn instinctively or by emotion towards certain persons, but a practical and outgoing care and concern which displays itself in the concrete realities of money-sharing, project-sharing and life-sharing. 401

Theology is one of the binding factors for God’s family. Jesus and what he has done is the means by which the community connects with God in worship. The cross and the resurrection thus become defining symbols for Paul.

Loyalty to Jesus as Messiah, ‘the obedience of faith’ as Paul puts it, occupies the place within Paul’s new worldview-construct formerly occupied by the ‘loyalty to God’, or to Torah, or to the holy land, within just that zealous Judaism that we know to have been Paul’s own context. 405–406

The cross itself worked its way into the symbolic imagination of Paul’s successors, and from quite early on there is evidence of its use as a visual symbol. But it could become this because it already possessed a symbolic power within the narrative itself, the symbolic power of being seen as the moment above all when the rescuing purposes of Israel’s God were finally enacted and fulfilled. 406–407

Thus, the message of the gospel, that the resurrection shows that Jesus is LORD becomes the central message for Paul.

The gospel, the gospel, the gospel. It defined Paul. It defined his work. It defined his communities. It was the shorthand summary of the theology which, in turn, was the foundation for the central pillar for the new worldview. It carried God’s power.  411

Jesus had, as it were, reversed the normal direction of ‘mystical’ travel. Instead of the mystic ‘ascending’ towards either the throne of God or the place where cosmic secrets might be revealed, Jesus had himself ‘descended’, had come down, come near, transforming the practice of mysticism itself into a life of prayer in the spirit in which all could partake. 415

This new life in Christ was enacted symbolically in the church through baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Baptism became a “community-marking symbol,”  that one belonged to the family of the risen Christ.

Baptism, as part of the community-defining symbolic system of early Christianity in general and Pauline praxis in particular, is to be seen as rooted in the community-defining symbols of Judaism: which means, in particular, the exodus on the one hand and circumcision on the other—both of them, of course, seen by Paul as pointing forward to the dying and rising of the Messiah.  420

One might almost say that Paul appeals for a genuine, thought-out faith on the basis of baptism: now you are baptized, figure out what it means! The true statement that baptism makes is a statement about the baptized community in Christ, with the truth of the dying and rising of the particular individual who is baptized on this or that occasion being a function of that larger reality. The challenge to particular individuals is always then to make real for themselves that which their membership in this community would indicate. 423

The primary point of baptism, then, is not so much ‘that it does something to the individual’, though it does, but that it defines the community of the baptized as the Messiah’s people...Paul’s world of symbolic praxis centred upon the single family, the one community, rooted in the messianic monotheism shaped around Jesus himself and—a particular contribution of the present passage—energized and activated by the spirit. 426

The Lord’s Supper is a reworking of the Exodus story based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The “nation” is established as a family who should love each other and suffers together in the wilderness until the world is renewed as a promised land.

‘Love’ is for Paul a virtue...The fact that the list of ‘fruit of the spirit’ ends with ‘self-control’ gives the game away: this is no romantic dream of a ‘spontaneous’ goodness. Love, joy, peace and the rest are all things which, though indeed growing from the work of the spirit within, require careful tending, protecting, weeding and feeding. 430

Suffering is, for Paul, a major worldview-marker, precisely because the community thus demarcated is the community that belongs to this Messiah, the crucified one. Their sufferings are his sufferings. That is part of the way they are to be known. And if, in that process, the Apostle is called to take more than his own share, he will interpret that as part of his special, and privileged, vocation. 435

God’s people functioned in the world as little outposts of this promised land. The Spirit working through the church should be a preview of what the promised new world will be like.

As we saw in looking at the central worldview-symbol, the ekklesia itself, one of the ways in which Paul describes it is as the Temple. And this may indicate quite a different mode of ‘mission’. Paul seems to have believed that the individual churches, little groups of baptized believers coming together in communities of worship and love, dotted here and there around the north-east Mediterranean world, were each a living Temple in which the creator God, the God who had dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem, was now dwelling. They were, in other words, the advance signs of that time when the whole world would be filled with the divine glory. 437

The spirit’s indwelling enables the Messiah’s people to be a dispersed Temple-people, the living presence of the one God launching the project of bringing the true divine life into the whole cosmos. 442

The Spirit’s power to change his people into the image of Christ, of course, must be seen in the behavior of God’s people. The community should become the eikon of God. “The community is supposed to live in reality how all humanity is supposed to live in theory.” (447)

The aim is a personal mindset, nested within a community worldview, in which certain styles of behaviour will not even be named, not (of course) because they go on behind closed doors so that everyone lives in a state of denial and hypocrisy, as the cynic in the first or the twenty-first century will always suppose, but because the community, the family and each person have discovered what it means to belong to the crucified and risen Messiah. 445

The people of the one Jewish God, now made known (as far as Paul was concerned) in and through Jesus and the spirit, were to celebrate good examples of humanity wherever they saw them. They were to live in such a way that would commend itself to their pagan neighbours. But they were also to follow a strict way of life which would mark them out. 449

The bottom line is that Paul sees himself defined by the Gospel and his role in the plan of God to restore the world. In the power of the Spirit he continues the work of Jesus.

Paul’s account of himself is that he is ‘in the Messiah’...And, being a Messiah-person, he effortlessly and naturally understands himself to be living in the suddenly erupting new act of a much longer drama, the story of the one God, his people and the world. He assumes this scriptural narrative, its climax in Jesus as Messiah and his death and resurrection, and his own role in implementing what Jesus had achieved. 450–451

Why this worldview, with its central symbol of the united, holy and witnessing ekklesia? Because of this theology: the one God; the people of this one God; the future which this God has in store for his world and his people—all rethought and reworked in the light of the Messiah and the spirit. 455

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Reading in Judges This Week #2 (Chapters 11-21)

Judges Structure

This week I have been continuing to read through Judges accompanied by the commentary, Judges, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Rob Fleenor. Judges describes the descent into depravity begun by the generation following the Joshua generation, and continued through the time of Samuel. Last week we looked at the first half of the book here. I am 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, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

With chapters 11-12 the Judges narrative takes a sharper downturn into darkness and depravity. Jephthah, rejected by his clan, becomes a great warrior as a leader of a group of mercenaries and thieves. His clan returns to him and offers leadership when they need him to fight off an incursion of Ammonites. Jephthah accepts and vows a burnt offering of the one who welcomes him after the victory. He wins, but his daughter meets him and he offers her up as a burnt offering. The story turns even darker as the Ephraimites attack him and he kills 42,000 of his own countrymen. It seems that, though Jephthah seems to have faith in God for victory nobody knows or lives out torah and terrible things result.

How can a man sacrifice his own daughter in violation of the Law and still be held up as an example of faith? Jephthah is much more easily esteemed as a man of faith if he has shed no innocent blood. But Jephthah is only one of many imperfect men of faith. One need look no further than David, a man after God’s own heart who committed adultery and murder. Tension in Scripture is not problematic. It forces us to wrestle with our small, limited understanding of God and our relationship with him. Wrestling with paradox will always reveal that our actions and existence are much less significant and the grace of God far more vast than we ever imagined. Judges 11, 187

The minor judges are wealthy and powerful. Jephthah is neither. The minor judges have family, influence in the clan, and a proper burial place. Jephthah is an outsider who lives and dies without family connections. Jephthah is not the typical judge of Israel, but God powerfully uses him nevertheless. Judges 12, 195

Chapter 13 begins the story of the last judge Samson. No one in scripture is born with greater potential and squanders it so completely. Samson is called to be a Nazirite, yet violates every aspect of his status because he does "what is right in his own eyes." He lives by his passions and suffers the consequences. However, God continues to use him to fulfill the original task of fighting for freedom from the Philistines, which will be completed by David. Samson is another man, in the book of Judges, who is betrayed by his objectification of women and disdain for their abilities to hurt him. God works through him, but Samson receives very little of the benefit as he squanders God's gift on a passion for sex and revenge.

Few men in the Bible are singled out as chosen from their mother’s womb to become a pivotal character in the life of a people. Only Ishmael (Gen 16:7–16), Isaac (Gen. 17:16–21; 18:10–15), John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–25, 57–66), and Jesus (Luke 1:26–45; 2:1–7) are announced to their mothers and fathers in quite the same way that Samson is to Manoah and his wife. Judges 13, 202

In the early sections of the book, God’s eyes provide the evaluation of the people’s conduct. In the final section, the people’s eyes provide that evaluation. Samson’s use of his own eyes as a standard marks a turning point in the book. Samson is God’s man, and yet an extremely flawed character who pursues his passions. More than any other character in the book, Samson is double-minded, engaged in serving God while continually compromising God’s expectations. Judges 14.3, 214

Samson represents the beloved and classic hero of Israelite literature. He is an instrument of Yahweh, a supernaturally empowered underdog who will win any test of brawn that he encounters. And, like any great hero of classic literature, Samson is saddled with a tragic flaw. His muscles cannot give his heart the strength of wisdom it so desperately needs...God uses Samson in spite of himself. Judges 16, 246

Chapter 17 begins the final section of the book of Judges. It is characterized by the phrase, "because there was no king, the people did what was write in their own eyes." In other words the entire nation acted just like Samson. The story begins with Micah who basically creates his own cult, with himself at the center, his own Levitical priest, and an idol that is supposed to represent YHWH, despite the 10 commandments forbidding this. The author thinks that Micah is Samson's son, and Delilah is the unnamed mother here. This idolatrous worships spreads from one family to a whole tribe as the wandering tribe of Dan steals and adopts the idols and priests of Micah as they take out a city in a territory not allotted to them. The nation is degenerating very quickly.

The flaw with the Israelites is not that they desire a king per se, but that they desire the wrong one. God wants no human king for Israel because he himself desires to function in that capacity. Little has changed for the modern believer. The temptation to look to earthly leaders for spiritual solutions is a constant yet dangerous companion. One need look no further than contemporary political races to see followers of Jesus lining up to back a particular politician because they believe he or she will promote a spiritual agenda. Judges 17.6, 252

Several verses within the narrative suggest that the pluralistic religion practiced by Micah and the Danites is perceived as the worship of Yahweh (17:2; 18:6, 10). Nevertheless, the Mosaic Law tolerates no syncretism of religious forms and deities. While Micah and the Danites might be excused similarly to Jephthah for their ignorance of the Law, worship stemming from ignorance is not an adequate substitute for obedience...God seeks worshipers who are not only enthusiastic followers, but enthusiastically follow based on truth (John 4:23). Judges 18.19-20, 261

The final story in Judges also takes place at the beginning of the period and illustrates the moral degeneracy, violence, chaos and evil that characterize Israel during this period. The main characters of the story are an abusive Levite, an unfaithful concubine, a murderous, violent immoral city (Gibeah, Saul's home town), an evil tribe (Benjamin) and an Israelite response that almost destroys one of the tribes of Israel. The story is framed to remind one of the story of Sodom in Genesis 19, but, this time, God and the angels do not intervene implying that the actions here are much worse than that of Sodom. The expected victory of Israel does not happen without the original 40,000 Israelite troops being destroyed by Benjamin. It is not until the nation seeks God that the chaos is resolved. Even then the nation makes a vile decision, without waiting for God's answer, to repopulate the tribe of Benjamin through the destruction of Jabesh-Gilead and the rape of 200 young girls. Their moral compass is so off that they think this is a godly answer.

One symptom of decadence within a society is the combination of sexuality and violence. Further, the moral decay reflected in that combination is often reflected in a population indifferent to the evil expressing itself in its midst. Beyond any issues of sexual orientation, violence, or being inhospitable is the underlying narcissistic obsession with evil. Evil is destructive by nature, seeking to damage physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The men of Gibeah have willingly and wholeheartedly devoted themselves to evil. The way that evil is expressed in the text is secondary to their dark hearts that breed their actions. Judges 19, 273

The response against Benjamin, however, is not because of the initial rape, but because of Benjamin’s refusal to allow the guilty to be punished, which is interpreted by Israel as tacit approval. The roots of the war lie in the societal degeneration caused by years of spiritual and moral decay. Chaos is the natural by-product of a moral vacuum. By defeating the Benjamites, the rest of Israel hopes to restore societal morality. Judges 20.18, 286

The message of Judges is clear: Israel needs a godly leader who will eliminate the anarchy permeating society. Judges is followed in the canon with the story of God’s provision of just such a leader. David will unite Israel and become the model of righteous leadership. Judges 21 297

Judges shows the progression into depravity that happens in a society that takes its eyes off of God. Bad worship leads to bad morals. However, several characters from the book appear in the "heroes" of faith in Hebrews 11. While morality is critically important, it is faith in God that is even more important. These judges, despite their flaws which caused all kinds of problems for them and the nation, did exhibit trust in God and God honored that. Good morals produce good societies, but not necessarily faith. To please God it must be faith that produces the lifestyle.

No matter how imperfect their character and faith, the object of their faith—God himself—is perfect. The same is true for us. Faith is not as much about our ability to believe as it is about the object of our painfully imperfect and inadequate faith—God himself. Even great believers often blunder. But our blundering and meandering hearts don’t diminish us—they exalt our heavenly Father because of his grace and compassion. 300

Friday, March 25, 2016

Passion Week Chapel

Passion Week Chapel (3)

Passion Week Chapel (2)Passion Week Chapel (5)This week we only had one chapel service because we took the day off to attend services today for Good Friday. Many of our students are attending the Easter Rally for the Chuukese churches on Guam this week and others will be attending at various churches around the island throughout the weekend. Thus, our one chapel was a reflection on the Passion Week, ending with the burial of Jesus, in anticipation of the celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday. I especially enjoyed the singing of several rarely sung hymns led by the chapel team. At the end of chapel we had a representative from the Micronesian Resource Center (right) and ended the chapel with a birthday celebration (below).

Passion Week Chapel (7) (1280x720)

Finally we celebrated the “22nd birthday” of Mary Lou Carruthers with all the PIU family

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 5

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I am continuing to read through Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. I am making a post on each chapter as I read them. Previous posts are here, here, here, here and here. Each chapter is very long so what you are getting here is a very brief summary of this very important book. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Chapter 5 concludes the first part of Book 1, Paul and His World, which describes the historical, cultural and religious backgrounds of Paul’s world. He enters the world of Paul through the letter to Philemon insisting that the main point of what Paul is doing is redefining his Jewish world view around the crucified messiah who reconciles Jews and Gentiles into one group and through them, in the power of the Spirit, accomplishes His plan for the world. He then describes the Jewish, Greek and Roman backgrounds through and into which Paul applies this message.

Chapter Five is entitled “The Eagle has Landed: Rome And The Challenge Of Empire.” Rome ruled the entire ancient world in which Paul lived. The Jews were politically very weak but their influence and survival resulted mainly from the torah which kept them socially distinct and unique.

It is truly remarkable that the Jewish people survived as a recognizable entity, not only in Galilee and Judaea but in a diaspora that stretched from Spain to Babylon, taking in lands both north and south of the Mediterranean. That they did so is testimony to the cultural and social boundary-markers we discussed in chapter 2, and in particular to the power of their own controlling narrative, contained in their extraordinary sacred books. 282

Rome maintained the peace and brought prosperity to the world but at a high price: submit or die. Under Augustus the empire was established and Rome’s rule was more firmly established under a king who was seen as a god. The Romans saw the emperor and the empire as the goal of history, the proper end of all politics and religion. Rome was celebrated as the ultimate hope of the world., the bringers of the new age. The Jews and Christians provided an alternative view to that message.

Though Josephus does not specify which oracle he has in mind, he can only be referring to the book of Daniel, which offers two things in particular: first (in chapters 2 and 7), a prophetic sequence of four coming kingdoms, the last of which will be overthrown by a new worldwide kingdom which the one God will set up; second (in chapter 9), a specific chronology for when this is to happen. Ah, says Josephus, but this was not, as they supposed, a prophecy of a coming Jewish king. It was about Vespasian, who was in Judaea when he was hailed as imperator. 293

The reign of Augustus was celebrated in Rome and much further afield not only as a good thing in itself, but as the good thing for which a very long history had been preparing. 298

But the message of the Odes, and especially of the Carmen Saeculare, remains: Rome’s long story has arrived at its glorious climax with the victories, and the consequent peace, of Augustus. 301

The great narrative of Rome as in the Aenid was the inevitability of the arrival of Rome and its grand march to world power and through Augustus to a glorious future. The way toward this was war and the “son of god” would lead them to victory and to the golden age. Politics and religion were tied together. The “gospel” of Caesar provided the anti-story into which Paul’s gospel message would come.

The political agenda is obvious, but that doesn’t mean that the conception and execution of the Aeneid was any less than brilliant. It always was, I think, a mistake to see Virgil as a kind of pre-Christian prophetic figure. His prophecies lead us more directly to Pontius Pilate than to his most famous victim. But his grand narrative stands to the grand narrative of Israel’s scriptures, together with their putative final chapter, at worst as a kind of parody, at best as another altar to an unknown god. 311

We have to understand Paul and his message first within the cultural, religious, political context of the first century, not that of the 16th century or of our present situation. The imperial cult must form at least part of the background for Paul’s framing the message of an incarnated Jewish Messiah who would provide the real gospel – Jesus is Lord.

Just as Pauline scholars have had to learn that one cannot expect the categories of sixteenth-century theology to catch all Paul’s first-century nuances, so one cannot expect the political slogans of our own day to do justice to the challenges of his. 314

It would, after all, be good ([local rulers like Herod] would say) for everybody: for the people, to be at peace and enjoy Rome’s famous justice; for Rome itself, to know the contentment of a grateful subject people; for themselves, to stay in power. That was the kind of local elite that John of Patmos appears to have portrayed as the Monster from the Land, doing the will of the Monster from the Sea. 320–321

Beneath the imperial cult was a religious diversity which, in a way, united the other divinities under the Roman emperor, “the world of space and time was being reorganized around the emperor. (328) This would have been just as true in the provinces as in Rome.

The system in question—not just ‘imperial cults’ in a narrow sense, but an entire symbolic universe, in which the varied cults played a key strategic and symptomatic role—constituted the world, including what we call philosophy, religion and politics, in which the apostle Paul lived, worked, preached and taught. 323–324

When Paul speaks of the Thessalonians turning away from idols to serve a living and true god and to await the arrival of his son, it would be very strange if he had not meant to include Roma and the emperor among those false deities. N. T. Wright, 330

Though for the most part it was true that imperial cults took their place alongside, and sometimes blended with, local and traditional customs, there was always at least the veiled threat: whatever else you do, this one matters...As the followers of Jesus soon discovered, the easiest way for Roman authorities to get them to renounce Christian faith and profess their attachment to standard paganism was to force them to sacrifice, or swear by, the emperor. One could not with impunity opt out of showing such allegiance, an allegiance which more or less everybody else (except the Jews) was cheerfully expressing in terms of participation in one form or another of imperial cult. 332–333

The cults, in all their variety, and for all their blending of Augustus with other divinities and especially with Roma herself, came down to a focus on Augustus himself as the lynch-pin to the whole symbolic universe. 335

This began with Augustus but grew into full-blown emperor worship under Tiberius and subsequent rulers. A temple to the emperor was built in most major cities all over the Roman empire. There was even a legend of a dead emperor (Nero) returning to re-establish his kingdom.

Augustus and his family were the new, and powerful, gods to be faced in city after city. Including, of course, the ones to which Paul went, and to which he subsequently wrote. 339

By the end of the century, in the middle of which Paul came through the eastern empire preaching the message of Jesus, these developments had produced a new civic and religious reality. The highest honour a city could now hope for was to become neokoros, temple-guardian for the Sebastoi, the Augustus-family. Worshipping the emperors was well on the way to becoming a central and vital aspect not only of life in general but of civic and municipal identity. 341

There was opposition to this view of a Roman millennium under a Roman emperor-god. Most of the uprisings were completely crushed as were the Jewish rebellions in 70 and 135AD. Jesus would be the one who provided an alternative way to the Golden Age and Paul would become one of his most important spokesmen. As Wright would say “Jesus is Lord, Not Caesar.”

There was one Jew, born under Augustus and executed under Tiberius, who modelled, articulated, and eventually gave his life for a different dream of divine empire. The point remains inevitably contentious, but I persist in seeing Jesus of Nazareth as, among many other things, the spokesman for what he himself saw as a new movement which would fulfil the ancient Israelite prophecies, which would bring Israel’s strange, dark narrative to its climax, and would launch upon the world the new reality of which Augustus’s ‘golden age’ would be seen as a parody. 346

Saul of Tarsus, born and bred a Pharisee in a world shaped by the wisdom of Greece, the religion of the east, and the empire of Rome, came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord, and that this Jesus had called him, Saul, to take the ‘good news’ of his death, resurrection and universal lordship into the world of wisdom, religion and empire. 346

Last Week at PIU

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I think the main sound that one would hear on the campus early last week at PIU was “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Our spring break began with the PIU Days celebration and continued through last Wednesday. After the busy anniversary week, I think everyone wanted to rest up and rejuvenate during those three days to get rejuvenated for the rest of the semester. We did have classes on Thursday and Friday, making for a short week for the students and staff to ease back into the routine. Please keep us in prayer as we head for the finish run for the Spring 2016 semester.

2016-03-18 11.26.48 (1280x720)2016-03-18 11.26.58 (720x1280)We did have chapel on Friday. Our speaker was Greg Williams, from the Gideons International. Greg is the Director of the Pacific Islands area for the Gideons and came to us after spending time in the Marshalls, Chuuk and Palau, meeting with the Gideons in those islands. He shared with us several exciting stories about how the Word of God is changing lives all over the world, including the Micronesian islands. It is always inspiring and encouraging to be reminded of the power of the Word of God. We are blessed to be teaching it here on Guam and to be able to partner with the Gideons. We were also blessed to have several members of the Guam Gideons worshiping with us in the Friday chapel.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My Weekend

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2016-03-18 18.17.40 (1280x720)2016-03-19 19.32.02 (1280x720)I had a very important weekend appointment – taking two of my granddaughters to Jack in the Box on Friday night. They also helped me with my weekly grocery shopping and then spent Saturday with me before the whole family joined me for Saturday dinner. It was a nice way to end the week. I really enjoy having these four around (you can see Titus in the background behind Arie).

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Ok two more pictures of Arete.

PIU Days #3–Team Eikon

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The final night of PIU Days featured teaching games, songs, a Marshallese thank-you celebration and a Micronesian feast. Usually the final night is the biggest and best and this year was no exception. Team Eikon closed our anniversary week with a memorable night.

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The decorations were beautiful and incorporated all the week’s themes

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The entrance was well choreographed

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The MC’s were funny and the comedic impressions were pretty good

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The games were fun for everyone

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The groups and soloists did a great job

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I wish they had sung more

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My only complaint is that they made me drink soy sauce with lime juice

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The “Apostle Paul” read the scripture and the 1st president of PIBC/PIU, Roland Rauchholz, delivered the message

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The service concluded with Jele and Kaki Benejal leading the Marshallese group in a thank-you celebration. I am not sure how I missed getting any pictures of the Micronesian Feast that took place next.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Reading in Judges This Week #1 (Chapters 1-10)

51GLrgYiexL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_For the book of Judges I am staying in the same commentary series (I liked the Joshua commentary a lot) so I am reading through Judges accompanied by the commentary, Judges, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Rob Fleenor. Judges describes the descent into depravity begun by the generation following the Joshua generation, and continued through the time of Samuel. We looked at the second half of the book in the next post. I am 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, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Judges continues the story of the conquest and settlement of Canaan, but unlike Joshua, it focuses on the people's unwillingness to trust God and complete the settlement of the land. God had powerfully provided all they needed to do this, but, because they were "a generation that did not know YHWH," they failed to trust his resources and became no different than the Canaanites.

By capturing the attention and imagination of the reader, Judges powerfully provides an encounter with the God of Israel. The book of Judges is best read as a story with God at the center. Judges is not merely a skillfully told story. The author constructs the narrative skillfully in order to motivate the reader to interact with the God of Israel.  25

The story in 1.1-2.5 overlaps with the end of Joshua. The point will be that Joshua's generation was successful because they knew and trusted God. The next generation did not know God, relied on their own strength and ingenuity and did not trust God. Thus, they quickly degenerated morally and failed in their mission.

Much of the Christian life involves learning not just to exist, but to thrive living among a world that opposes the Kingdom. Living too close to the world has the potential to blur faith and undermine a believer’s identity as a follower of Christ (Jas 4:4). Isolation from the world, on the other hand, permanently dooms women and men made in God’s image to life and eternity without him (1 Cor 5:9–10). Judges 1.27-36, 57–58

God’s command to the Israelites has not been merely personal. He desires relationship with his people, and false worship interferes with that relationship. Intimacy with God is in the best interests of his people. God understood that the absence of that relationship would result in all kinds of consequences, not the least of which is the anarchy that is described throughout the remainder of Judges.  Judges 2.1-5, 60

Judges 2-3 goes on to describe the pattern of the rest of the story in the rest of the book. The people of Israel are unfaithful to God by worshiping idols, God allows them to be oppressed by their neighbors, the people return to God, and then God raises a deliverer who saves them. Then the process starts all over. But with each round, the nation is less sensitive to God, further from the lifestyle set out in the torah and less able to bless each other until, in the end, they are just like the Canaanites that God destroyed.

When followers of Christ lose the capacity to detect evil, they also lose the capacity to perceive good. The two are inseparable. Sensitivity to the Spirit of God decreases as indifference to evil becomes commonplace. Judges 2.18-19 66

God’s willingness to adapt and use the consequences of sin for the benefit of his people demonstrates his overwhelming love and grace...God meets us for healing and instruction in the midst of our sin. What is the Incarnation, except God coming in human form to engage us where we need it most: the depths of our sinfulness? Judges 2.23 68

Chapter 3 describes the first three judges, Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar. Each one has unique abilities that God's Spirit enriches and uses to save the people. However, the pattern is that, as we go through the story, each judge is a little less like Moses and Joshua, and the nation continues to descend into paganism and idolatry.

Ehud is a shrewd trickster. The clever deceit he demonstrates makes him an admirable hero for the reader. The custom-made and concealed dagger, his secret lefthandedness and warrior training, the enticement of Eglon with a promised secret, and Ehud’s sneaky escape all give the reader reason to cheer the underdog Israelite turned sneaky deliverer. The trickster theme is also seen in the narratives of Gideon and Samson. God is willing to utilize a diverse range of skills for his purposes, including cunning. Judges 3.12-30 78

Chapters 4-5 recount the victory God gives Israel through Deborah and Jael, and Baraq. The story is very entertaining and full of twists and surprises. The main point in the story is that, just like Moses and Israel crossing the Red Sea, God uses water to destroy the enemy. In this case the Jabbok river floods and turns the Canaanites superior weaponry, chariots, into a disadvantage. Another prominent feature of the story is the inversion of gender roles, Deborah and Barak, but especially in the story of Jael and Sisera. The story is full of sexual innuendo, but instead of the powerful male soldier raping the female victim as expected, Jael puts the tent peg through the head of Sisera.

The Deborah/Jael narrative avoids raising moral issues and instead concentrates on entertaining the reader. The story of Deborah and Jael certainly delivers. The reader’s expectations are twisted by gender inversion, innuendo, intrigue, and comeuppance. Like much of Judges, moral instruction is not the focus of the Deborah narrative; the sovereignty and faithfulness of God are. Judges 4, 92

Deborah’s song exalts God and his people at the expense of their enemies. Israelite women, who were considered weak in the ancient world, are still more powerful than the most powerful Canaanite men. God specializes in negating power with weakness (1 Cor 1:27; 1 Pet 5:5). Judges 5.28-31, 106

The story of Gideon is a turning point in Israel's descent into depravity. The only judge specifically commanded to combat idolatry becomes the judge who leads Israel into idolatry and immorality and produces oppression from within. Gideon will become a picture of where the future kings of Israel will lead them. He starts out well, as the weak one made into a mighty warrior by God, by tearing down the altar of Baal and learns that God is faithful to provide victory. However, Gideon quickly takes the power that God gives and abuses it for revenge, wealth, a harem, and personal honor and power.

Gideon’s immediate family is the smallest in his clan. He expresses his doubts to God that such societal insignificance can translate into effective leadership. God responds by again emphasizing that he will be with Gideon, providing a partnership against the Midianites. Judges 6, 113

Signs seem to have little ability to render permanent changes in the lives of observers. Scripture is filled with stories of women and men who have been faithless after seeing firsthand some of God’s most impressive miracles...The request of a sign often represents a test—a challenge—to God. After all, a person has to acknowledge God to demand a sign from him. If belief is present, then a sign is not needed. If a sign is asked for, it is often a subtle challenge to God rooted in a stubborn heart. Judges 6.36-40, 121

Human self-sufficiency, however, too often masquerades as God’s provision and has the propensity to interfere with our perception of God’s activity. While God is worthy of our best efforts at excellence, he does not need human achievements to fulfill his purposes. Judges 7, 130

Gideon’s overreaction tarnishes his image as a righteous follower of God and relegates him to the much more human status common in judges: a flawed tool used by God for divine purposes. Judges 8.17, 136

The Abimelech story provides the conclusion to the story of Gideon and shows the disastrous consequences of Gideon's compromise with idolatry and selfish rule. His son Abimelech rules as a Canaanite ruler with its attendant cruelty and abuses. The unfaithful people are getting the ruler they deserve. Here, Israel takes a downward turn which will not improve until the time of David.

Abimelech has created the very environment in which he can be resisted and deposed. Abimelech is the one who has taught Shechem that undesirable rulers are disposable. He is simply the next in line to be ousted by an ambitious politician. Judges 9.27-29, 152

The Abimelech narrative does not tell the story of a deliverer in Israel. If anything, Abimelech’s life reflects an ill-conceived attempt to be a king...The story of Abimelech is rightfully seen as both a continuation of the Gideon narrative and a reflection on the lack of righteous leadership within Israel. Evil leadership can be just as damaging as the absence of leadership. Judges 9, 156–157

Chapter 10 provides commentary on this downward turn of Israel. 7 different foreign gods are mentioned as a way of showing Israel's complete descent into idolatry and its resultant foreign oppression. Even when Israel is unfaithful, God still sends Tola and Jair to save and judge them, but any repentance is short-lived and without substance. The relationship is broken and remains unrepaired despite God's love and faithfulness. The rest of the story of Judges sinks into deep darkness.

Christianity easily makes the same mistake as the Israelites by relegating God to merely a discussion of his attributes or activities. God desires intimacy with his people rather than a mechanical exchange between a deity and his subjects, as was so often reflected in the religions surrounding Israel. And, like the Israelites, Christians seldom realize their capacity to wound God emotionally. Love cannot exist without a vulnerability to betrayal, and the immense love of God has often been cut deeply. Judges 10.13-14, 163

Friday, March 18, 2016

Day 2–Epignosis

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After the Field Day, Team Epignosis was up. I think the Saturday team has the most difficult challenge. After being out in the sun all day they have to decorate the stage and do their program. But they did a great job with a very creative presentation.

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They came in with an energetic entry dance

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Alum Esme sang and Celia read the team verses

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Then the whole team was ready to go

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The duet and quartet sang beautifully

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Mayson explained that his original song sounded like a “Barney Song” but it sounded more like an old style island gospel song to me. The group did a great job.

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The speakers for the evening were the Doctors Wood. Bill and Christel shared some stories about the old days and talked about the importance of the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.

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The evening closed with a group song by Team Epignosis and then Dr Juan Flores led us in the Lord’s Prayer in all the different languages represented at PIU and in the audience.