Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reading Romans with Stott #2

IRomans am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The sixth volume of the series, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, is also authored by Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from the commentary on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from Stott are in blue font.

The second half of the Book of Romans continues the discussion of the revelation of God’s righteousness in Christ and through the work of the Trinity in human beings. Chapters 9-11 explain why this is valid despite the seeming failure (at least within the majority) of the gospel to convert the Jews and then shows how it happens in a practical way in the church. Again, the amazing thing is that God is able to accomplish his plan to reveal himself through sinful people without violating what He created us to be.

As God’s image-bearers, we are rational, responsible, moral and spiritual beings, able to converse with God, and encouraged to explore his revelation, to ask questions and to think his thoughts after him. In consequence, there are occasions in which biblical characters who have fallen on their faces before God are told to stand up on their feet again, especially to receive God’s commission. In other words, there is a right kind of prostration before God, which is a humble acknowledgment of his infinite greatness, and a wrong kind which is a grovelling denial of our human dignity and responsibility before him. Romans 9, 271.

So in Romans 9:1-11:36, Paul argues that God’s Righteousness is vindicated despite Israel’s rejection of the gospel. First he shows in chapter 9 that Israel’s rejection of the gospel is not inconsistent with God’s promise, God’s plan or God’s justice. 9:1-29

So everybody has to decide how to relate to this rock which God has laid down. There are only two possibilities. One is to put our trust in him, to take him as the foundation of our lives and build on him. The other is to bark our shins against him, and so to stumble and fall. Romans 9, 277.

Secondly, Israel is responsible for their own rejection of the gospel. It is not God’s fault.  9:30-10:21

But between those who have been justified by faith and are now in Christ, all distinctions, not only of race, but also of sex and culture, are not so much abolished (since Jews are still Jews, Gentiles Gentiles, men men and women women) as rendered irrelevant. Just as there is no distinction between us because in Adam we are all sinners (3:22f.), so now there is no distinction between us because in Christ, who is Lord of all, all who call on him are richly blessed. Romans 10.5-13, 285.

So Paul concludes his second exploration into the unbelief of Israel. In chapter 9 he attributed it to God’s purpose of election, on account of which many were passed by, and only a remnant was left, an Israel within Israel. In chapter 10, however, he attributes it to Israel’s own disobedience. Their fall was their fault. The antinomy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility remains.  Romans 10.16-21, 289–290.

Finally, Israel’s rejection of the gospel is not complete or final because God always has a faithful remnant. That is there was a part of the Jewish community that had believed in Paul’s day and there would be a much greater acceptance of the gospel by the Jewish community in the final days. 11:1-36

The end of God’s ways will be ‘mercy, mercy uncompromised’, mercy on the fulness of both Jews and Gentiles, mercy on ‘them all’, that is, ‘on all without distinction, rather than on all without exception’. Romans 11.25-32, 308.

The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God. Romans 11.33-36, 311–312.

In the final section Paul argues that the righteousness of God is shown as believers respond to what God has done in their lives by living sacrificial lives that reflect their renewed minds and spirits, using their spiritual gifts to serve and love one another with the same spirit of acceptance by which God has accepted them. 12.1-15.13

The duty of the justified believer to the church is to commit his life to God, and humbly and lovingly use his spiritual gifts to serve God’s people. The Spirit enables the believer to live as Christ lived. 12:1-21

Our renewed mind, which is capable of discerning and approving God’s will, must also be active in evaluating ourselves, our identity and our gifts. For we need to know who we are, and to have an accurate, balanced and above all sober self-image. A renewed mind is a humble mind like Christ’s. Romans 12.1-8, 325.

It is good never to retaliate, because if we repay evil for evil, we double it, adding a second evil to the first, and so increasing the tally of evil in the world. It is even better to be positive, to bless, to do good, to seek peace, and to serve and convert our enemy, because if we thus repay good for evil, we reduce the tally of evil in the world, while at the same time increasing the tally of good. To repay evil for evil is to be overcome by it; to repay good for evil is to overcome evil with good. This is the way of the cross. Romans 12.17-21, 337.

The believer’s submission to God shows God’s righteousness practically by Christ-like relationships within the community as they act as good citizen in whatever state they live in and by loving their neighbors. 13:1-14

In this distinction between the role of the state and that of the individual, we may perhaps say that individuals are to live according to love rather than justice, whereas the state operates according to justice rather than love. This is by no means a wholly satisfactory formula, however, since it sets love and justice over against each other as if they are opposites and alternatives, whereas they do not exclude each other. Even in loving and serving our enemies, we should still be concerned for justice, and also remember that love seeks justice for the oppressed. And even in pronouncing sentence, judges should allow justice to be tempered by love, that is, mercy. For evil is not only to be punished; it is to be overcome (12:21). Romans 13.4-7, 345.

Romans 13 began with important teaching about how we can be good citizens (1–7) and good neighbours (8–10); it ends with why we should be. There is no greater incentive to the doing of these duties than a lively expectation of the Lord’s return. We will be rightly related to the state (which is God’s minister) and to the law (which is fulfilled in loving our neighbour) only when we are rightly related to the day of Christ’s coming. Although both the state and the law are divine institutions, they are provisional structures, relativized by the last day when they will cease. That day is steadily approaching. Our calling is to live in the light of it, to behave in the continuing night as if the day had dawned. Romans 13.12-14, 353–354.

Believers must act responsibly toward other believers who are at a different level of Christian maturity. God’s righteousness is clearly shown when we can live peaceably with other Christians who disagree with us on minor lifestyle and theological issues. 14:1-15:13

It is wonderful that the apostle lifts the very mundane question of our mutual relationships in the Christian community to the high theological level of the death, resurrection and consequent universal lordship of Jesus. Because he is our Lord, we must live for him. Because he is also the Lord of our fellow Christians, we must respect their relationship to him and mind our own business. For he died and rose to be Lord. Romans 14.4-9, 362.

There must have been some red faces among the strong as they listened to Paul’s letter being read out in the assembly. His gentle sarcasm showed up their skewed perspective. They would have to re-value their values, give up insisting on their liberties at the expense of the welfare of others, and put the cross and the kingdom first. Romans 14.17-21, 367.

In fundamentals, then, faith is primary, and we may not appeal to love as an excuse to deny essential faith. In non-fundamentals, however, love is primary, and we may not appeal to zeal for the faith as an excuse for failures in love. Faith instructs our own conscience; love respects the conscience of others. Faith gives liberty; love limits its exercise. Romans 15.1-13, 375.

In the final section Paul talks about his desire to visit the Romans and minister to them. He encourages them to be bold to minister because they have a mission from God by the power of the Spirit and to work together, pray together and support one another.

So prayer is an essential Christian activity, and it is good to ask people to pray for us and with us, as Paul did. But there is nothing automatic about prayer. Praying is not like using a coin-operated machine or a cash dispenser. The struggle involved in prayer lies in the process of coming to discern God’s will and to desire it above everything else. Then God will work things out providentially according to his will, for which we have prayed. Romans 15.30-32, 390.

His final argument for the power of the gospel to produce God’s righteousness is a list of people who are growing in and living out God’s righteousness. He is assured of the ultimate victory of the believer and church (despite all the diverse and seemingly opposing elements within it) because of God’s power and glory.

But heterogeneity is of the essence of the church, since it is the one and only community in the world in which Christ has broken down all dividing walls. The vision we have been given of the church triumphant is of a company drawn from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’, who are all singing God’s praises in unison. So we must declare that a homogeneous church is a defective church, which must work penitently and perseveringly towards heterogeneity. Romans 16.3-16, 397–398.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Senior Chapel

SAMSUNGYes, the semester has flown by and it is already the last week of the semester. Graduation will be May 2nd at 2PM at the Top of the Mar, and Baccalaureate will be at 6PM May 1 at Bayview Church. Last Friday was our traditional “Senior Chapel” in which the upcoming graduates share about their experiences at PIU and give some advice to their fellow students. Only three of the seven graduates were able to be at the chapel but we still did not lack for advice and laughs. Mike Owen conducted a lively interview of the three that were there: Lydia Lee (BiblicalSenior Chapel (1) (1024x768) Studies), Liann Stae (Liberal Studies) and Frankie Lake (Biblical Studies). All three urged their fellow students to have endurance and make it to the finish. There was a lot of laughter and a few tears as we prepared to send off another graduating class from PIU.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy Birthday Courage

SAMSUNGYesterday we spent most of the day celebrating the 7th birthday of my oldest granddaughter Courage Owen. Just for fun, here is the post I made when we first heard that she had been born. 2015-04-25 17.01.10 (800x600)Here is the post from the first time I actually met Courage. She is a very grown-up 7 year old now and we all enjoyed an all afternoon family party at the Pacific Islands Club Resort. Joyce and I were reminded that this is the same place we took our daughter Missy for her 8th or 9th birthday back in the mid-1990’s. It was a fun Saturday.


Titus enjoyed wrestling and tug-o-war in the pool

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Courage posed on the frog in the pool

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Courage “enjoyed” her birthday cake and having the restaurant employees sing to her


She rocked out with the birthday present we gave her

Sunday Reading: A Fellowship of Differents, by Scot McKnight #2

41EvRIDnBvL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_This is the second installment of blogging through Scot McKnight’s newest book, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together. Today I am looking at chapters 3 and 4 which are focused on the theme of grace.  One thing that I am enjoying a lot about this book is the many real stories, from different periods of history and different types of people, that illustrate how the theological ideas really work. Especially today it reminded me of my own experience with understanding that God was saying “Yes!” to me and how, when I was in seminary, I experienced the understanding that I was in God’s grace and was accepted by God only because he loved me through Jesus.  I am going through the book two chapters at a time every Sunday, posting some quotes on my Facebook page and a summary here on my blog. I welcome comments on my Facebook page. Quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 3 is entitled Space for Yes. The point is that the church must be the place where people can experience the fact that God fully accepts them in Christ Jesus. It should be the place where people experience the compassion, forgiveness and acceptance that God provides in Christ. God’s character is to always relate to people in love. (Even judgment is done in love.) It begins with Jesus…

Does the Father love Jesus? If God does, then God loves you. What God thinks of you is what God thinks of Jesus. That is the greatest Yes echoing back through the galaxies of time and forward into all eternity. That Yes is the only Yes that matters.

And becomes the basis for acceptance of all of us.

God’s Yes is not rooted in our performance, but rather in our areness. God loves us because we are made in his image. God’s Yes is this: “I love because you are you!”

This is also shown in the fact that the Spirit lives and works within us despite our shortcomings and differences. The whole Trinity is working with us! The bottom line is that, in Christ, God accepts and is for us. Thus, the church must be as accepting as God is and we should reflect this by fellowship with people who live differently than us and sin differently than us.

The revolution God creates in the church begins or ends with this first step: either we embrace that God’s Yes is for all or we don’t.

Chapter 4 is entitled Space For Grace. The point here is that God’s grace has space for all people, but does not leave them “in the space” where God found them. “In Christ” we are changed into the unique God image we were meant to be. The church must reflect the many different types of people that are in the different stages of this process. It seems to me that one of the biggest indicators that the Spirit is doing this in a church is when people who would not otherwise be together develop love and relationship with each other.

Grace turns a Christian-baiting, Torah-loving Pharisee such as the apostle Paul into a Christian-loving, Christ-following apostle.Read more at location...To do this, grace forgives; grace heals; grace transforms; grace ennobles; grace empowers. Grace makes people in the salad bowl comfortable with another. Only grace can do that. But grace can do that.

We can’t just make grace about God accepting “nasty sinners,” focusing only on our past BC life and conversion experience. Grace is what it is all about every day in the life of the church – a bunch of diverse people in progress in and toward Christ.

The church, if it is going to be the church God designed it to be, must become a space for the full story of God’s artistic grace — the story about where we were, where we are now, and where we will be someday.

McKnight concludes…

Let us remind ourselves that a local church shapes the Christian life. Let us remind ourselves that the challenge is to establish a grace-created and grace-creating fellowship of differents. But a Christian life shaped for that kind of fellowship will require not only grace but also love.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reading Through Romans with John Stott (1-8)

RomansI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The sixth volume of the series, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, is also authored by Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from the commentary on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from Stott are in blue font.

The letter to the Romans is Paul’s explanation of the Gospel. The kernel message of the Gospel that saves is “Jesus is LORD.” In the letter Paul explains how this works and what it looks like. The overall message of the letter to the Romans is “The Gospel is God’s power to pronounce and make righteous sinners who respond in faith (true heart acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus) to its message, and empowers and obligates believers to sacrificial, righteous Romans Chartconduct in the power of the Holy Spirit.” The righteousness of God is revealed in Jesus himself and in believers in whom the Spirit is creating the character of Christ.

First the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God and has the power to save all who believe. (1:1-17) The Gospel is the message that the God-Man is risen and calls people to faith in Him, is communicated in relationship with God and people and saves because it has the power to pronounce and produce God’s righteousness in human beings.

Here are six fundamental truths about the gospel. Its origin is God the Father and its substance Jesus Christ his Son. Its attestation is Old Testament Scripture and its scope all the nations. Our immediate purpose in proclaiming it is to bring people to the obedience of faith, but our ultimate goal is the greater glory of the name of Jesus Christ. Or, to simplify these truths by the use of six prepositions, we can say that the good news is the gospel of God, about Christ, according to Scripture, for the nations, unto the obedience of faith, and for the sake of the Name. 53–54.

The first major section shows why the gospel is needed. The Gospel is Needed because God is righteous to condemn all people because all have sinned. (1:18-3:20)  God condemns the unrighteousness of the pagan because it reflects his rejection of God and his destructive nature toward fellow human beings.

The wrath of God, then, is almost totally different from human anger. It does not mean that God loses his temper, flies into a rage, or is ever malicious, spiteful or vindictive. The alternative to ‘wrath’ is not ‘love’ but ‘neutrality’ in the moral conflict. And God is not neutral. On the contrary, his wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it...Scripture is quite clear that the essence of sin is godlessness...The converse is also true. The essence of goodness is godliness, to love him with all our being and to obey him with joy. 72.

The moralist (the nice unbeliever) is condemned on God’s principles of judgment, not on his own hypocritical standards. (2:1-16) Even if God judged us by our own standards we would fail.

This is not a call either to suspend our critical faculties or to renounce all criticism and rebuke of others as illegitimate; it is rather a prohibition of standing in judgment on other people and condemning them (which as human beings we have no right to do), especially when we fail to condemn ourselves. For this is the hypocrisy of the double standard, a high standard for other people and a comfortably low one for ourselves. 82.

The religious person (the Jew in Paul’s day) is condemned for reliance on externals rather than God’s inward transformation. The tendency is for the religious person to condemn others without taking a critical look at themselves and realizing that their hearts are just as dark.  2:17-3:8

If we judge others, we should be able to judge ourselves (1–3). If we teach others, we should be able to teach ourselves (21–24). If we set ourselves up as either teachers or judges of others, we can have no excuse if we do not teach or judge ourselves. We cannot possibly plead ignorance of moral rectitude. On the contrary, we invite God’s condemnation of our hypocrisy.  92.

All humanity is condemned because all are under sin and practice sin. Works cannot gain righteous standing. We all fall short of God’s righteous standards. 3:9-20

Our first response to Paul’s indictment, then, should be to make it as certain as we possibly can that we have ourselves accepted this divine diagnosis of our human condition as true, and that we have fled from the just judgment of God on our sins to the only refuge there is, namely Jesus Christ who died for our sins. 104.

The next section deals with Justification. That is God declares people to have his righteousness based on what Christ has done and He implants his righteousness in them. This is given to all who trust in Jesus. Any sinner who believes in God’s provision in Jesus acquires right standing (righteousness) before God. 3:21-5:21

It is vital to affirm that there is nothing meritorious about faith, and that when we say that salvation is ‘by faith, not by works’, we are not substituting one kind of merit (‘faith’) for another (‘works’). Nor is salvation a sort of cooperative enterprise between God and us, in which he contributes the cross and we contribute faith. No, grace is non-contributory, and faith is the opposite of self-regarding. The value of faith is not to be found in itself, but entirely and exclusively in its object, namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.  117.

From the beginning the Old Testament insisted that justification was based on God’s grace and mercy and came though faith. Abraham’s life and David’ forgiveness illustrate that justification is and has always has been acquired by faith. 4:1-25

The fixed point is that God is gracious, and that salvation originates in his sheer grace alone. But in order that this may be so, our human response can only be faith. For grace gives and faith takes. Faith’s exclusive function is humbly to receive what grace offers. 131.

In this chapter the apostle gives us instruction about the nature of faith. He indicates that there are degrees in faith. For faith can be weak (19) or strong (20). How then does it grow? Above all through the use of our minds. Faith is not burying our heads in the sand, or screwing ourselves up to believe what we know is not true, or even whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. On the contrary, faith is a reasoning trust. There can be no believing without thinking. 136.

The result is that the justified believer has peace and hope because the completion of salvation is sure. Jesus’ gift of His righteous life (justification, eternal life) overcomes the effects of Adam’s sin (death). 5:1-11

Here then is the logic. If God has already done the difficult thing, can we not trust him to do the comparatively simple thing of completing the task? If God has accomplished our justification at the cost of Christ’s blood, much more will he save his justified people from his final wrath (9)! Again, if he reconciled us to himself when we were his enemies, much more will he finish our salvation now that we are his reconciled friends (10)! 147.

Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression ‘the reign of grace’. For grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life. Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things. Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ. Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun. And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom. 157–158.

The next section shows how God reveals his righteousness in the changed lives of believers, Sanctification is God’s work of progressively producing His righteousness in the believer. (6.1-8.39) First, believers needs to realize that they are dead to sin and freed from it, but alive to serve God through Jesus Christ. Believers are free from sin’s domination because they were buried and raised with Christ and they are free from slavery to sin and are now enslaved to God’s righteousness.

So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing (6) that our former self was crucified with Christ, in knowing (3) that baptism into Christ is baptism into his death and resurrection, and in considering (11, RSV) that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God. We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. 180.

To be under law is to accept the obligation to keep it and so to come under its curse or condemnation. To be under grace is to acknowledge our dependence on the work of Christ for salvation, and so to be justified rather than condemned, and thus set free. For ‘those who know themselves freed from condemnation are free to resist sin’s usurped power with new strength and boldness’. 181.

The believer is also free from the law, its condemnation, its guilt, its domination and its shortcomings. 7:1-25

Legalists fear the law and are in bondage to it. Antinomians hate the law and repudiate it. Law-abiding free people love the law and fulfil it. 192

We need then to keep a watch on ourselves and others, lest we should ever slip back from the new order into the old, from a person to a system, from freedom to slavery, from the indwelling Spirit to an external code, from Christ to the law. God’s purpose is not that we should be Old Testament Christians, regenerate indeed, but living in slavery to the law and in bondage to indwelling sin. It is rather that we should be New Testament Christians who, having died and risen with Christ, are living in the freedom of the indwelling Spirit. 215.

The section ends with the hopeful message that The Holy Spirit gives the believer present victory over sin and assures ultimate victory and glorification. The Spirit has freed the believer from sin’s condemnation and is freeing the believer from the flesh and so the believer must reject living by the flesh and live by the help of the Holy Spirit. Then the believer can endure present sufferings with the Spirit’s present help and future assurance of victory and have security based on God’s unchanging love despite the circumstances of life. 8.1-39

The essence of discipleship is union with Christ, and this means identification with him in both his sufferings and his glory. This is our Christian dilemma... Caught in the tension between what God has inaugurated (by giving us his Spirit) and what he will consummate (in our final adoption and redemption), we groan with discomfort and longing. The indwelling Spirit gives us joy, and the coming glory gives us hope (e.g. 5:2), but the interim suspense gives us pain. 235, 242

Here then are five convictions about God’s providence (28), five affirmations about his purpose (29, 30) and five questions about his love (31–39), which together bring us fifteen assurances about him. We urgently need them today, since nothing seems stable in our world any longer. Insecurity is written across all human experience. Christian people, are not guaranteed immunity to temptation, tribulation or tragedy, but we are promised victory over them. God’s pledge is not that suffering will never afflict us, but that it will never separate us from his love. 259

We will take a look at chapters 9-16 next week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Library Week Art Seminar


Art Day (1)The culminating event of last week’s Library Week Events was an art seminar taught by local Guam artist Simeon Palomo. He takes local common plants and recyclables and converts them into beautiful tropical arrangements. The cover of his book is pictured above. He showed us how he puts these arrangements together, then broke them apart and had us rearrange them. I was amazed at how fairly mundane things can be creatively arranged into art. The PIU staff, students and several people from the Guam community had a very enjoyable learning experience. Thank you Simeon! And Thank you Paul Drake for making this happen!

SAMSUNGArt Day (7)Art Day (10)

Simeon shows us how it is done

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And we did it…

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…and posed with our creations

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sunday Reading: A Fellowship of Differents, by Scot McKnight

41EvRIDnBvL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Over the next few weeks I will be blogging my Sunday reading chapter by chapter. I have enjoyed reading many of Scot McKnight’s books and his blog is usually my first “theological blog” to read in the morning. So when his newest book, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together, came out I immediately “one-clicked” it. It is especially applicable for where I am at right now as the church I am part of is doing some serious thinking about our future direction. So over the next few weeks I will be going through the book one or two chapters at a time every Sunday, posting some quotes on my Facebook page and a summary here on my blog. I welcome comments on my Facebook page. Today I will look at the first two, introductory, chapters. Quotes from the book are in blue.

In the first chapter McKnight makes the point that “Churches determine the direction of our discipleship.” He talks about his experience growing up in a fundamental church which focused on separation, holiness and was organized around the Sunday morning sermon. I could relate because I grew up in a similar, though not quite as legalistic, church environment as his. (Growing up in Santa Cruz, CA, the hippie movement, and our reaction to it, was also a big shaper of our church culture in my teen years.) The kind of church we grow up in is important because

Everything I learned about the Christian life I learned from my church. I will make this a bigger principle: a local church determines what the Christian life looks like for the people in that church. Now I’ll make it even bigger still: we all learn the Christian life from how our local church shapes us.12

In the second chapter, A Salad Bowl, he compares the church to three different ways people eat salad:

 “The American Way”  - If the American Way is smothering the salad with dressing so that it all tastes like dressing, we have smothered all differences in the church so that everything is the same: designed for one gender, one socioeconomic group, one race, one culture, and one theology…We’ve made the church into the American dream for our own ethnic group with the same set of convictions about next to everything.

 “The Weird Way,”we separate all the difference and differents and scatter them across the towns and cities so that each group worships on its own.  And thus, The reality is that each of our churches has created a Christian culture and Christian life for likes and sames and similiarities and identicals. Instead of powering God’s grand social experiment, we’ve cut up God’s plan into segregated groups, with the incredibly aggravating and God-dishonoring result that most of us are invisible to one another.

“The Right Way” is to cut up all the diverse ingredients into one bowl “and finally drizzle over the salad some good olive oil, which somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest. Surely this is what God intended when he created “mixed salad.” Thus, The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. 15

We have tended to organize our churches to only attract people who are just like us. In doing that we have neglected the very people the church is called to help. We have also disobeyed Jesus’ call to love and unity as the defining marks of the church. McKnight says,

The reality is that each of our churches has created a Christian culture and Christian life for likes and sames and similiarities and identicals. Instead of powering God’s grand social experiment, we’ve cut up God’s plan into segregated groups, with the incredibly aggravating and God-dishonoring result that most of us are invisible to one another.  but…

God designed the church to make the previously invisible visible to God and to one another in a new kind of fellowship that the Roman Empire and the Jewish world had never seen before.

He closes chapter 2 by challenging us to think about who we have made invisible in our churches and communities. I have been convinced that God will not work through the churches here on Guam in a mighty way until we get past our ethnic divisions, minor doctrinal differences and other reasons we divide, and reach out with unified purpose and mission to ALL the people around us. Then we will fulfill…

The purpose of the church is to be the kingdom in the present world, and the Christian life is all about learning to live into that kingdom reality in the here and now.

Goldingay on the Old Testament View of “The Nations”

Goldingay2I am continuing to work through Volume 2 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Faith and posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. This chapter is the last for volume 2. We will begin working through volume 3 on Tuesday. There will be a link to the blog posts on my Facebook page where you can comment.

Chapter 8 of the 2nd volume of Goldingay’s OT Theology is entitled The Nations, and focuses on how Yhwh deals with the world as a whole and especially the political entities that surrounded Israel. Israel was the unique people of God but they were also deeply effected by the “superpowers” that arose throughout their history such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. They also interacted with smaller nearby nations such as Philistia, Moab, Ammon and Edom. God’s plan was to bless all the nations and the OT provides many lessons for both the superpowers and oppressed nations of our modern world so that they might experience the blessing of God.

Any nation can learn from Israel, though perhaps especially little nations that are insignificant in the world, as Israel was. But when great world powers claim this and see themselves as heirs to Israel's position in God's purpose, their posturing becomes demonic. There is much material in the First Testament that offers self-understanding to nations such as Britain and the United States, but it lies more in the way the First Testament talks about the nations in general than in the way it talks about Israel. 732

First, all nations are Belonging to Yhwh. Though Israel was chosen, the other nations were not rejected by God. In fact, the purpose of Israel being chosen was to show God’s love and bring his blessing to the rest of the nations. All nations were created by God, and allotted their territories by God, and they also had  mission to “worship Yhwh, to recognize Yhwh as deliverer, sovereign and provider.” All nations, powerful and weak, are to acknowledge that God is involved in their lives and that they are dependent on Him.

On the part of the earthly powers, such recognition of the power that Yhwh exercises in the heavens implies a yielding of their own power... But as the nations give it to God, they find their true selves in relationship to God. 734

The Psalm's (67) framework wish, then, is that God's demonstration of grace and blessing to Israel may be the means of the nations coming to revere God. 739

The way the nations acknowledge Yhwh is by Acknowledging God’s People. Psalm 2 calls on the nations to submit to God by submitting to his “son” the Israelite king who was to extend God’s benevolent rule throughout the earth. Of course this was never fully realized in the OT age because of the faithlessness of Israel and the arrogance of the nations. However, the prophets make it clear that God will put a righteous king on the throne of Israel and the nations will enjoy his just rule. His judgments, especially on the superpowers, will justly give them what they deserve, although they are also seen as restored alongside Israel in the final kingdom.

(Psalm 2) does confront the pacifist strand in Christian (and non-Christian) thinking. The First Testament consistently assumes that God does not abjure the use of force and violence and accepts the place of these in the affairs of the nations and thus of Israel as a nation. Perhaps it is a judgment call when we must love our enemies by lying in front of their tanks and when we must love the oppressed by taking to the tanks in order to put down wrong. 742

Back at the beginning Yhwh had announced the intention so to bless Abraham so that all the families of the earth would pray to be blessed as Abraham had been blessed (Gen 12.1-3). That had reached a form of fulfillment in David; it will now reach a fuller form in the experience of the community as a whole (Is. 55). That will be the way they fulfill their vocation to be witnesses to Yhwh's activity (e.g. Is. 43.8-13). 751

It is when the superpower is put down that its prisoners are freed...Putting down war-making peoples is still a condition of peace...Putting down the oppressors is part of restoring order in the universe... Faced with the faithlessness of different peoples, Yhwh does not favor either Israel or the other peoples. All are treated the same way. 757

God’s Judgment begins and mainly focuses on Israel but the OT also focuses on the judgment of The Superpower and Its Failure. The superpower was often raised up to be the tool of God’s judgment on his people and on the surrounding nations, but instead of acknowledging God’s sovereignty over them, they gave credit to other gods or, often at the same time, deified themselves. Instead of seeing themselves as God’s servant or agent they made their own plans and praised themselves. Thus, much of God’s judgment is putting the superpower into back into its place to give God glory and to save and protect his faithful remnant. God usually does this by raising up another superpower to put down the previous one. God’s intervention in this way is often called the “Day of the Lord.” Powerful nations are responsible to use their power to preserve life and justice. When they don’t do that they receive a more severe retribution.

The First Testament sees the superpower as Yhwh's servant, summoned by Yhwh, and having both a negative and positive role in relation to Israel and the world. The problem is that it does not see itself as Yhwh's servant, and it has to be put in its place. It thus finds itself on the receiving end of Yhwh's retributive fury, expressed via the next superpower; which at least means deliverance for its victims. 759

The superpower can easily think it is the Superpower, but it is not...In due course Yhwh will formulate a plan to put the superpower down (Jer. 50.45). That is Yhwh's plan for the world. Yhwh will declare it well ahead of time as a sign of determination to fulfill it and as subsequent evidence that events indeed issued from this plan (Jer. 50.45, Is. 46.10). 767

Yhwh is quite capable of making the policies of the superpower's leader serve the destiny of the people of God, for chastisement or for restoration. 784

What about the Ordinary Nations? The smaller nations also seem to have inflated views of their own importance and need judgment and correction but the prophets also hold out hope for many of them in God’s future kingdom. Goldingay points out that the greater part of the judgment that these smaller nations receive (and this is true for us as well I think) is just the natural consequences of their own stupid decisions. They don’t like the oppression of the superpower and complain about their injustices, but they really desire to be like them. Then they also participate in the cycle of violence which ultimately brings destruction and death to nation and people, rather than trust in God’s desire to bless them.

Egypt was a famous repository of insight. Israel respected and learned from it in the same way that Christians respect and learn from secular insight about philosophy or sociology or psychology. But when the world's insight leaves Yhwh out, it converts itself into stupidity. 789

"Scatter the people who delight in wars," Psalm 68.30 prays. Nations regularly provide rationalizations for engaging in war: it is fulfillment of a mission, or in defense of freedom. The psalm calls the bluff of these claims. 797

Yhwh (apparently) wails, cries out, moans, weeps... suffering with people such as Moab as well as Israel, and doing so irrespective of whether the suffering was deserved. 798-799

The result of this is that the present World of Nations will be Devastated. “Their rebellion and refusal to respond to God’s covenant could mean the day of Yhwh’s wrath falling on them.” Throughout history the wicked actions of the nations have polluted and wasted God’s world. They have failed to keep God’s covenant (preserve and respect life!) and have soaked the earth with bloodshed and violence. Creation “groans” and is under a curse because of the actions of human beings. Thus, Yhwh’s Day of wrath is just because the fury, devastation, and death they have dealt out will be returned to them, and mostly in the same way. But this will be good news for the righteous and for the world as the new creation will rise from the flames of the old one. We need to heed the often repeated warning in the prophets to be ready for the Day of the Lord.

Genesis presupposes that the world as a whole knows the fundamentals of God's expectations of it...It knows that God has made a commitment to the world and that it is expected to fulfill a reciprocal commitment to God. It knows that we should care for the world and for one another. It knows that things have gone wrong when humanity declines to live within the constraints God has set and when the world comes to be characterized by violence. 801

You do not need a special revelation to know it is wrong to engage in slave trading or ripping open pregnant women or forbidding someone a decent burial. It is the kind of thing that is built into being human. We are hardwired that way. Amos' condemnation of Edom makes the point vividly: Edom "destroyed its compassion" (Amos 1.11). It had the natural human compassion that members of a family have for one another, and in order to act as it did, it had to "kill" that compassion. For failing to behave in accordance with the way they are wired, the nations will suffer calamity. 813

The world is building up to one final day for Yhwh, but Yhwh's day keeps coming for different peoples as decades and centuries pass. It came for the United States in the Civil War and twice for many European nations and some Asian nations and others in the two great twentieth century wars (it is typical that the so-called victors suffer almost as much as the vanquished). The horror of such events gives us a little idea of what the final day will be like, as the prophets describe it. It will be an even more frightful expression of divine anger at the sin of human tyranny. It will bring desolation and massacre. 817

But there is Hope for the Nations. All the nations are invited to enjoy God’s kingdom banquet along with the faithful of Israel. Isaiah's invitation to Babylon and Jonah’s preaching to Assyria are typical of the prophetic theme that God will forgive even the worst oppressor who repents. They just need to listen to and learn from God’s messengers. Ultimately, life triumphs over death and good over evil and all nations share in Israel’s kingdom blessings. The picture of all nations assembled to worship and praise God in Revelation agrees with the picture of the end in the OT prophets.

It is clear here (Is. 19.24) that Yhwh has in mind not merely that Israel will be a standard of blessing to which the world will aspire, but a standard of blessing that Yhwh will apply to these other nations. They will be treated in the same way as Israel is treated, and that because they have analogous status to Israel. Israel is "my people," "the work of my hands," "my possession." Here those terms are applied equally to Egypt and Assyria.  829

To that end - the fact that all nations will come to worship and that Yhwh intends to reign over the nations and that the Christ event is a further guarantee of that - the nations need to be appraised of the good news about Jesus so that they can start becoming his disciples. (Mk. 13.10, Mt. 28.19). 833

Goldingay’s conclusion to Volume 2 of his Old Testament Theology….

What emerges (from the OT) is an account of a God who is sovereign but flexible, faithful but tough. It is an account of a people chosen by God to enjoy a special relationship that will also make it possible for God to reach out to the rest of the world. It is an account of a nightmare future that lies ahead of this people because of its relentless refusal to walk God's way. It is also an account of the glorious renewal of this people in all aspects of its life because God is never finished with it. 834

“Psalms” Chapel

2015-04-14 11.17.32 (800x600)Tuesday’s chapel at PIU was led by the Exegesis in Psalms class taught by Dr. Bill Wood (left). Because Psalms is the song book of the Old Testament, and Bill loves to lead music, the class presented their exegetical and interpretive efforts in the forms of various styles of praise songs,2015-04-14 11.15.46 (800x600) hymns and other forms of musical expression. The audience was encouraged to sing along. I think for most of us it was a nice encouragement in the middle of the day. In addition the Bible Translation class, taught by Peter Knapp (right), presented their class project: a story about the Passion of Jesus translated into Yapese.

2015-04-14 11.22.33 (800x600)SAMSUNG

Bill led from the piano as the class presented several Psalms to us

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

PIU in the News

Last night PIU was featured in the evening newscast of Pacific News Center Guam. The focus of the news report was our new lowered “1991 Plan” tuition costs for the upcoming semesters. There is some good video of the campus, our chapel, and interviews with staff and students. I have embedded the whole newscast. If you want to see the PIU part go to the 12.55 point in the video. Thank you PNC for helping us get the word out on the island!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Reading Through Acts #2 (Chapters 13-28)

I am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The fifth volume of the series, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, is also authored by Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from the commentary on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from Stott are in blue font.

Chapter 13 of Acts begins the stories of Paul’s missionary journeys and how the church began to reach out to the Gentile world. It records the history of how the church spread from Antioch through Asia Minor, into the Greek world and ultimately all the way to Rome through Paul and his missionary team. It continues to make clear that this expansion was ordained by God and driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit (despite the shortcomings of the mission team). Paul’s strategy was to go to the Jews first and focus on Christ’s fulfillment of the OT. From that base he would expand his ministry out to the Gentiles. The tendency seemed to be widespread acceptance or ignoring from the Gentiles and very limited acceptance and persecution from the Jews.

Would it not be true to say both that the Spirit sent them out, by instructing the church to do so, and that the church sent them out, having been directed by the Spirit to do so? This balance will be a healthy corrective to opposite extremes. The first is the tendency to individualism, by which a Christian claims direct personal guidance by the Spirit without any reference to the church. The second is the tendency to institutionalism, by which all decision-making is done by the church without any reference to the Spirit. Acts 13.1-4, 217–218.

It is very striking, therefore, that he brings together here at the conclusion of his sermon five of the great words which will be foundation stones of his gospel as he expounds it in his Letter. Having referred to Jesus’ death on the tree (29), he goes on to speak of sin (38), faith, justification, law (39) and grace (43). Acts 13.38-41, 225.

Nothing could stop the spread of the Lord’s word; the whole region heard it (49). Yet at the same time persecution increased. Paul himself suffered from it... Notwithstanding the opposition, the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit, for, as Paul was soon to write to the Galatians, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is … joy’. Acts 13.42-52, 228.

Chapter 14 records the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Their ministry was characterized by bold preaching and miracles and was responded to with large numbers of conversions and intense persecution. Paul and Barnabas tried to leave functioning churches in every place they ministered. They returned to Antioch to report on the mission and to show that the endeavor was a ministry of the entire church. Chapter 15 records the validation, by the church leadership, of the work with the Gentiles. They did not need to become Jews to enter the church (no need for circumcision, Sabbaths, food laws etc). The Holy Spirit had shown that faithful response to Christ was the only necessary requirement and the walls that prevented fellowship were broken down.

We need to learn from Paul’s flexibility. We have no liberty to edit the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. Nor is there ever any need to do so. But we have to begin where people are, to find a point of contact with them...Wherever we begin, however, we shall end with Jesus Christ, who is himself the good news, and who alone can fulfil all human aspirations. John R. W. Stott, Acts 14.15-18, 232.

Although no fixed ministerial order is laid down in the New Testament, some form of pastoral oversight (episkope), doubtless adapted to local needs, is regarded as indispensable to the welfare of the church. We notice that it was both local and plural—local in that the elders were chosen from within the congregation, not imposed from without, and plural in that the familiar modern pattern of ‘one pastor one church’ was simply unknown. Acts 14.21-28, 236.

We conclude that we are saved by grace as they are (11). If only the Judaizers could grasp that God makes no distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, but saves both by grace through faith, they would not make distinctions either. Grace and faith level us; they make fraternal fellowship possible. Acts 15.7-11, 246.

After a “break-up” with Barnabas, Paul creates a new missionary team with Silas and Timothy and desires to return to the churches he has founded. The Spirit directs them into Greece and they plant churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. Paul also has the opportunity to present Christ in Athens. (16.1-17.34) In this section we get several sermons to both Jewish and Gentile audiences. Though Paul is quite flexible in his approach depending on the group he is preaching to, he always, eventually, gets his message focused on the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for his audience.

A strong conscience gives us liberty of behaviour, but we should limit our liberty out of love for the weak. Again, though free, Paul was willing to make himself a slave to others. To those under the law he was prepared to become like one under the law, in order to win those under the law. Was that not exactly what he was doing when he circumcised Timothy...'Paul was a reed in non-essentials,—an iron pillar in essentials.’ Acts 16.1-5, 257

We too in our day, Pierson concludes, ‘need to trust him for guidance and rejoice equally in his restraints and constraints.’Some important principles of divine guidance are, in fact, exemplified in the experience of Paul and his companions. God led them by a combination of factors, over a period of time, ending when they pondered their meaning together. Acts 16.6-10, 261

It is wonderful to observe in Philippi both the universal appeal of the gospel (that it could reach such a wide diversity of people) and its unifying effect (that it could bind them together in God’s family)...The wealthy business woman, the exploited slave girl and the rough Roman gaoler had been brought into a brotherly or sisterly relationship with each other and with the rest of the church’s members... We too, who live in an era of social disintegration, need to exhibit the unifying power of the gospel. Acts 16.11-40, 270.

Luke obviously admires (the Bereans') enthusiasm for Paul’s preaching, together with their industry and unprejudiced openness in studying the Scriptures. They combined receptivity with critical questioning...Ever since then, the adjective ‘Berean’ has been applied to people who study the Scriptures with impartiality and care. Acts 17.10-15, 274.

The equivalent of the agora will vary in different parts of the world. It may be a park, city square or street corner, a shopping mall or market-place, a ‘pub’, neighbourhood bar, café, discothèque or student cafeteria, wherever people meet when they are at leisure. There is a need for gifted evangelists who can make friends and gossip the gospel in such informal settings as these. Acts 17.16-34, 281.

Many people are rejecting our gospel today not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. People are looking for an integrated world-view which makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without the creation, or salvation without judgment. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture. Acts 17.16-34, 290.

Acts 18.1-19.41 focus on the ministry of Paul’s missionary team in Corinth and Ephesus. In both places Paul was opposed on both a spiritual and physical level. He also made his longest stays in these cities. Significantly, in both cities, Paul is cleared of all misdeeds political and religious and Christianity is declared to be legal by Roman officials. Ephesus will become the center for the spread of the Gospel through the rest of Asia Minor.

The cross undermines all human pride. It insists that we sinners have absolutely nothing with which to buy, or indeed contribute to, our salvation. No wonder that not many wise, influential or upperclass Corinthians responded to the gospel! Acts 18.1-8, 295.

Once Paul had been liberated from the attempt to be justified by the law, his conscience was free to take part in practices which, being ceremonial or cultural, belonged to the ‘matters indifferent’, perhaps on this occasion in order to conciliate the Jewish Christian leaders he was going to see in Jerusalem. Acts 18.18-23, 301.

To be sure, there is power—saving and healing power—in the name of Jesus, as Luke has been at pains to illustrate (e.g. 3:6, 16; 4:10–12). But its efficacy is not mechanical, nor can people use it second-hand. Acts 19.11-20, 307.

When we contrast much contemporary evangelism with Paul’s its shallowness is immediately shown up. Our evangelism tends to be too ecclesiastical (inviting people to church), whereas Paul also took the gospel out into the secular world; too emotional (appeals for decision without an adequate basis of understanding), whereas Paul taught, reasoned and tried to persuade; and too superficial (making brief encounters and expecting quick results), whereas Paul stayed in Corinth and Ephesus for five years, faithfully sowing gospel seed and in due time reaping a harvest. Acts 19.23-41, 314.

The rest of the book of Acts is focused on getting Paul to the capital, Rome. But first, he had to return to Jerusalem to deliver the financial gift for the relief of the church in Jerusalem. One of Paul’s great desires was the union and fellowship between Jew and Gentile. He was so concerned to get to Jerusalem he cut short his time in Ephesus, Troas, Miletus and Caesarea. All along the way he was warned of persecution and danger but would not be deterred in his mission to unite Jerusalem and Rome through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What builds up the church more than anything else is the ministry of God’s word as it comes to us through Scripture and Sacrament (that is the right coupling), audibly and visibly, in declaration and drama. Acts 20.7-12, 321.

This splendid Trinitarian affirmation, that the pastoral oversight of the church belongs to God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), should have a profound effect on pastors. It should humble us to remember that the church is not ours, but God’s. And it should inspire us to faithfulness... If the three persons of the Trinity are thus committed to the welfare of the people, should we not be also? Acts 20.36-38, 329.

He (Luke) deliberately sets out to demonstrate the innocence in the eyes of Roman law of both Jesus (Luke’s Gospel) and Paul (the Acts), and to draw attention to the precedent which the outcome of their trials had established for the legality of the Christian faith. Luke’s purpose has shown the church of all subsequent times and places how to behave under persecution. Acts 21, 338.

The offering was important in itself, and an expression of loving Christian responsibility to the poor. ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’; but the use of money can be a tangible token of love. The chief significance of the offering, however, lay in its symbolism. It exemplified the solidarity of Gentile believers with their Jewish sisters and brothers in the body of Christ. Acts 21.18-26, 340.

In Jerusalem “Paul acts as a Jew to win the Jews.” It is important to understand that Paul was willing to give up his Christian freedoms in order to advance the Christian gospel. If we don’t understand this Paul appears to be self-contradicting. His acquiescence to James request to participate in Jewish ritual was misunderstood by the Jews and Paul was almost killed. The subsequent Roman trials would become the means Jesus would use to get Paul to his goal in Rome.

According to his (Paul's) conviction Jewish cultural practices belonged to the ‘matters indifferent’, from which he had been liberated, but which he might or might not himself practise according to the circumstances. As F. F. Bruce neatly put it, ‘a truly emancipated spirit such as Paul’s is not in bondage to its own emancipation’. Acts 21.18-26, 342.

(Paul) made two major points. The first was that he himself was a loyal Jew, not only by birth and education but still...He had not broken away from his ancestral faith, still less apostatized; he stood in direct continuity with it. Jesus of Nazareth was ‘the Righteous One’ in whom prophecy had been fulfilled. And Paul’s second point was that those features of his faith which had changed, especially his acknowledgment of Jesus and his Gentile mission, were not his own eccentric ideas. They had been directly revealed to him from heaven, the one truth in Damascus and the other in Jerusalem. Indeed, nothing but such a heavenly intervention could have so completely transformed him. Acts 21.37-22.22, 348.

Paul was a Pharisee, however, not only in the sense of his parentage and education (6), but also in the sense that he shared with Pharisees the great truth and hope of the resurrection, on account of which he was on trial. Acts 23.6-10, 352.

So in this moment of discouragement Jesus comforted him with the straightforward promise that, as he had borne witness to him in Jerusalem, so he must also bear witness to him in Rome. It would be hard to exaggerate the calm courage which this assurance must have brought to Paul during his three further trials, his two years’ imprisonment and his hazardous voyage to Rome. Acts 23.11, 353.

The source of (Paul's) courage was his serene confidence in the truth. He was well aware that the Romans had no case against him. He was convinced that the Jews had no case either, because his faith was the faith of his fathers, and the gospel was the fulfilment of the law. And above all he knew that his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was with him and would keep his promise that he would bear witness, some day, somehow, in Rome. Acts 23.23-35, 357.

The rest of Acts records Paul’s trials before Felix and Agrippa, his appeal to Caesar, his harrowing sea voyage to Rome and ends with his audience with the Jewish leadership in Rome as he waits for trial before Caesar. He is accused of being a troublemaker and desecrator of the temple but Paul maintains that "I am a good Jew who believes in resurrection.” The Roman leaders again exonerate him but his appeal to Caesar necessitates the trip to Rome. Paul is compelled by the calling of Jesus which the trials give Paul a chance to witness to. It also gave Paul a chance to share the gospel in “high places.”

(Paul) recognized that the authority given to Rome came from God and that the privileges given to Israel came from God also. The gospel did not undermine the law, whether Jewish or Roman, but rather ‘upheld’ it. To be sure, the Romans might misuse their God-given authority and the Jews might misrepresent their law as the means of salvation. In such situations Paul would oppose them. Acts 24, 358–359.

Paul never proclaimed the good news in a vacuum, however, but always in a context, the personal context of his hearers. Acts 24.22-27, 363–364.

Surely, when the heavenly voice declared, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ at least two truths must have registered instantly in Saul’s consciousness. The first is that the crucified Jesus was alive and had thus been vindicated, and the second that the Jesus who identified himself so closely with the Christians that to persecute them was to persecute him, must regard them as being peculiarly his own people. Acts 26.1-23, 372.

Conversion includes a radical transfer of allegiance and so of environment. It is both a liberation from the darkness of satanic rule and a liberation into the sphere of God’s marvellous light and power. In other words, it means entering the kingdom of God...The promise of forgiveness was part of the apostolic gospel from the beginning. So was belonging to the Messianic people (2:40–41, 47). For the new life in Christ and the new community of Christ always go together. Acts 26.1-23, 374.

Further, as the gospel centres on Christ’s atonement, resurrection and proclamation (through his witnesses), the resurrection is seen to be indispensable. Paul kept on referring to it during his trials, not in order to provoke the Pharisees and Sadducees into argument, nor only to show that he was faithful to the Jewish tradition, but because the resurrection of Jesus was the beginning and pledge of the new creation, and so at the very heart of the gospel. Acts 26.1-23, 376.

Finally, Luke ends Acts with a “passion narrative” that takes Paul to Rome. The difficult journey shows that God is orchestrating Paul’s appearance before Caesar. God works mightily through Paul’s circumstances – trial, shipwreck, imprisonment – to bring the gospel into the emperor’s court in Rome, produce the prison letters of Paul and provide the gate through which the gospel would go to the rest of the world.

Although the journeys of Jesus and Paul differed from one another in their ultimate direction and destination, they also resembled one another in their pattern, for both included a resolute determination, an arrest, a series of trials in Jewish and Roman courts, and even death and resurrection. For Paul’s descent into the darkness and danger of the storm was a kind of grave, while his rescue from shipwreck and later springtime voyage to Rome were a kind of resurrection. Luke’s ‘highest apology for Paul’ was to portray him as ‘so conformed to the life of the Lord that even his sufferings and deliverance are parallel’  Acts 27, 385.

He is no longer an honoured apostle, but an ordinary man among men, a lonely Christian (apart from Luke himself and Aristarchus) among nearly three hundred non-Christians, who were either soldiers or prisoners or perhaps merchants or crew. Yet Paul’s God-given leadership gifts clearly emerge... Yet it was more than mature experience at sea which made Paul stand out as a leader on board ship; it was his steadfast Christian faith and character. Acts 27.21-38, 389–390.

Here then are aspects of Paul’s character which endear him to us as an integrated Christian, who combined spirituality with sanity, and faith with words. He believed that God would keep his promises and had the courage to say grace in the presence of a crowd of hard-bitten pagans... What a man! He was a man of God and of action, a man of the Spirit and of common sense. Acts 27.33-38, 392.

Luke intends us to marvel with him over the safe conduct of Paul to Rome...Since Luke concentrates on the storm, we need to remember that the sea, reminiscent of the primeval chaos, was a regular Old Testament symbol of evil powers in opposition to God. It was not the forces of nature (water, wind and snake) or the machinations of men (schemes, plots and threats) which were arrayed against Paul, but demonic forces at work through them... And now through the storm at sea he attempted to stop Paul bringing his gospel to the capital of the world. Acts 27-28, 402.

So then (the Holy Spirit using his custody to clarify and enforce this truth), the three main prison letters (to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians) set forth more powerfully than anywhere else the supreme, sovereign, undisputed and unrivalled lordship of Jesus Christ... Was it not through his very confinement that his eyes were opened to see the victory of Christ and the fullness of life, power and freedom which is given to those who belong to Christ? Paul’s perspective was adjusted, his horizon extended, his vision clarified and his witness enriched by his prison experience. Acts 27-28, 404.

Just as Luke’s Gospel ended with the prospect of a mission to the nations, So the Acts ends with the prospect of a mission radiating from Rome to the world. Luke’s description of Paul preaching ‘with boldness’ and ‘without hindrance’ symbolizes a wide open door, through which we in our day have to pass. The Acts of the Apostles have long ago finished. But the acts of the followers of Jesus will continue until the end of the world, and their words will spread to the ends of the earth. Acts 28, 405.