Archive for July, 2012

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The overarching theme of this book is the recognition of being outsiders. What it feels like on the outside looking in. Gire states that we are the marginalized; the disenfranchised. Sin is what puts us there. Sin is what keeps us there. There are times in our lives that we feel alone. We feel as though even among friends or in a crowd that we are immersed in a sea of strangers. But, Gire concludes…there is good news for those who are believers in Christ. God relentlessly pursues those who are the loners of the world. He tirelessly seeks after us; to relate to us; to love us; to befriend us.

So, what does this look like? This whole idea of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe spending countless hours pursuing unworthy humans to have an intimate relationship with seems so out of tune with the earthly reality that we witness on a daily basis. In our daily experience, we certainly may be the beneficiaries of the loving patience of those who will forgive us for minor offenses. Even then, normally, those whom we offend do not actively pursue us to restore the relationship. Normally, they don’t run after us if they do not see any sort of remorse from us. And that is exactly the point of contrast that Gire is attempting to paint for us in this book. Jesus does exactly that. Similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son, we take from God whatever we can for our own selfish purposes and evil devices naively believing that a hedonistic life of pleasure and “freedom” await us when we turn away from God and exchange it for a life of debauchery and sin.

Normally, we give credence to the fact that God seeks the lost. We know in our heads that God is in the business of pursuing those who are far away from Him to bring them into the fold. But, Gire brings up the novel notion that His relentless pursuit doesn’t end there. Even once we are safely within the fold, we still often succumb to the tasty treats from Egypt. We long for the sweet, savory delights of our old lives. We see our lives with Christ at times as burdensome and restrictive. We wander. We run. We get lost. Even during those times God runs after us just like the one lost sheep who loses his way, God leaves the flock of 99 to make sure that we return safely back into His watchful care. He sees us as worth the pursuit. He loves us just that much.

What I appreciated about the book was the way Gire wove illustrative stories throughout which pulled upon my emotions and drew me deeply within the reality of how much God truly loves us. We are introduced to people whose lives were so chaotic and tragically sad, or hopelessly lost (such as Francis Thompson or C.S. Lewis). Gire does not attempt to paint pretty pictures of people who are living the good life now and who have their lives all together and basically deserve God to pursuit after them at a stallion’s pace. He vividly reveals the details of the way in which God actively pursues. The steps that are involved are faithfully portrayed in what cannot be denied to be anything less than the sovereign hand of God especially as he narrates the details of his own salvation testimony as to just how God relentlessly pursued him. Gire unapologetically cuts to the chase and clearly diagnoses the cancer and time and time again demonstrates the remarkable ways that God is able to intervene in a person’s life to completely change a person’s mindset and submit to this relentless Pursuer.

One particular note of disagreement I had personally lies in the observation that Gire makes regarding that God’s plans radically changed following the Fall. He notes that when Adam and Eve were sent to dwell East of Eden that this was “Plan B.” I am not sure if Gire intended for this conclusion to sound as though somehow this caught God off-guard and He had to edit His playbook to accommodate this “surprise.” But, that is the conclusion that I drew from his observation. I don’t believe this was a Plan B at all. I am certain from the broader context of Scripture that God understood this all along and that He had a redeeming plan in existence throughout eternity. The relationship that existed with Adam and Eve with God was certainly different than it was prior to the Fall. And, yes, it would affect humans throughout eternity. There would no longer be the perfect communion between man and God. Yet, to call it a “Plan B” I believe is much too strong of a term since I believe it taints an attribute of God; His immutable nature.

One note of caution as I read through the book. It does appear that Gire does seem to overemphasize the role of God as Pursuer. In comparison, I don’t believe that Gire gives a balanced evaluation that, yes, indeed, God does pursue those who are lost as well as those who have been found, yet are prone to wander. But, there is an important element of human responsibility. He seems to focus primarily on the undeniable fact that the father does in fact pursue the son. Yet, he overlooks the context of the parable that the son did come to his senses first and was on his way back in repentance.

I received a free copy of this book to do this review from Bethany House Publishers.

My review of Darrell Bock’s “A Theology of Luke-Acts” will focus on Chapter 15, “Discipleship and Ethics in the New Community.” The overall emphasis on this new series of reference works is to explore “a given New Testament writing, or group of writings, within the context of the theology of the New Testament, and ultimately of the entire Bible.” Bock does an admirable job in maintaining the goal of the work with his corpus on Luke-Acts within the sub-topic of discipleship and ethics.

Within this chapter Bock aggressively fleshes out what the marks of authentic discipleship look like as it is developed within the Lucan writings. His arguments and developments are easy to follow and arrive at understandable conclusions not leaving the reader surprised as to how he landed where he did. It is absolutely no surprise to learn that the author of this work is a respectable scholar who has had decades of experience digging into the texts of Luke-Acts and has published extensively on these works previously. The work now being considered is undeniably the fruit of many individual works.

Bock breaks his subject matter down into several sub-points for the purpose of making the density of the topic much easier to digest and manage. The overall umbrella deals with the whole notion of what exactly is meant by biblical discipleship as it is described in Luke-Acts. I will attempt to summarize most of the main points Bock develops from this chapter. Bock goes on to define and describe this in these particular sub-points:

The New Community’s Activities

Bock develops a key component of what marks authentic followers of Christ by illustrating them as active in living out their faith. They are ones who not only possess knowledge of what Christ has accomplished for them, they express it by how they interact and engage with others. They no longer see themselves as hoarders of material things and are merely fixated upon themselves and how they can build and maintain their own empire. Rather, they truly see themselves as a body with a wide variety of members. They recognize and are quite sensitive to the needs and struggles of other members. Not only that, but they reach out and meet those needs. They enjoy gathering together in a corporate setting to give thanks and worship the Lord who redeemed them and baptized them into the Body of Christ. They are not merely satisfied with maintaining the status quo. They are also very interested in building up the Body both numerically as well as spiritually.

Functions in the New Community

Bock lists five church functions which are organized either as offices or some other roles. The first one he mentions is that of apostle since it is the role that is mentioned most often. It is a temporary position being that one of the key requirements is that one needed to be witness to the Lord as well as to have seen Him following His resurrection. Their responsibility was to provide foundational oversight for the newly developed community of Christian assemblies. Once the original 12 have passed on, the office passes away in its most technical sense. Yet, it is also interesting as Bock points out that other individuals are called, “apostles” after this time, such as Paul and Barnabas. This looser use of the term expresses a nuanced description of those who were in the ministry of planting local churches in the area and providing leadership within these new communities.

A second function is that of witness. This describes the testimony given of Christ’s miracles, resurrection, crucifixion, and resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances.

A third function is that of prophets.

A fourth function is that of servants. This is a supportive role to the apostles in that they met the needs of a specific problem. Bock here disagrees that they were probably not deacons listed in Acts 6 since this connection is not made elsewhere. This is a point of disagreement with me personally. I believe that the Acts 6 account is where we first are introduced to the office of deacon (http://bible.org/article/deacons-and-leadership-church).

A fifth function is that of leaders/elders. These individuals were given the responsibility of oversight of a particular area. Included with that is to serve other believers. This includes proper doctrinal instruction.

Descriptions of Community Members

The most common title that Luke uses to effectively describe followers of Christ is “disciple.” This is a very descriptive term that Luke uses since it pictures one who is following, learning, and walking with Jesus.

Another term that Luke uses to describe followers of Christ is “believers.”  Followers of Christ were termed “Christians” initially by outsiders of this new sect of Judaism. The final title of these believers were called “The Way.” Pointing the way to God and to salvation.

Disciples in Luke-Acts

Bock associates “disciple” as a descriptive term here to those who follow Christ in the midst of heavy controversy. As Jesus was noted for associating with the “sinners” of the world as judged by the religious moguls of His day, those who followed Him in a very real sense fellowshipped with them as well. This was part of the mission of Christ to go to those who were sick and offer the only cure possible. Therefore, as we are looking at how Luke describes and defines what a disciple is, one way in which to properly understand it is to see what some of the components are in following Christ.

Another key element to gain a clearly understanding of what made a true biblical disciple according to Luke’s accounts was to recognize what disciples did not do. They were judged for not following the “normal” Jewish customs such as keeping the Sabbath, fasting and the daily prayers.

The disciples become pupils of Christ by having constant contact with Him. They observe Him in a variety of different contexts and learn He is who He claims to be.  The disciples gain a clearer understanding of what it truly means to be a disciple. It is significantly different than being a leader in the world. A disciple is one who follows. A disciple is one who suffers. A disciple is one who serves. Discipleship is a singular focus. Christ is at the very center of all things. Nothing usurps His priority.

Luke describes that being a disciple of Christ is much different than merely being a pupil of a rabbi. The pupil of the rabbi would merely learn the teachings of his teacher. He would live with his teacher. The disciple of Christ would learn to live and walk as their Teacher lived and walked.

Luke focuses on the cost of discipleship. It involves a complete trust even though from a human perspective things in this life may not make sense. A disciple is committed to trusting the Lord and holding fast to Him. Discipleship demands a stripping away of one’s personal identity and identifying oneself with Christ.

As the account in the Gospel of Luke clearly displays, the disciples had good intentions of faithfully following Christ. Yet, they lacked the power and inner enablement and desire to carry it out when it became difficult. They needed something that was glaringly missing in order to faithfully carry out what Christ desired them to do. Enter the account of Acts. Luke recalls the historical account of exactly what God provided in order for the disciples to carry out their mission: the Holy Spirit.

The Ethics of the New Community

Total Commitment

Discipleship as described in the Lucan accounts involve a total commitment to Christ. Even though one immediately becomes a disciple once he is saved, he still possesses the sin nature which must be restrained by faithful fellowship with Christ on a continuing basis throughout the rest of his life.

Love for God and for One’s Neighbor

Jesus’ charge to His disciples could be simply boiled down to loving God and loving others. This unusual love is what is to truly distinguish a disciple. Outsiders will recognize the difference.

Prayer

A key element to being a faithful disciple is prayer. Prayer reveals a disciple’s dependence upon His Lord. It reflects a humble dependence. It reveals a communication with the Lord and the ability to be able to discern God’s direction, leading, and will.

Perseverance in Suffering

Jesus taught His disciples to expect suffering and persecution as a result of being identified as His disciples. He calls on them to persevere in the face of it. It calls for a deep-seated trust in the Lord in such bitter opposition.

Watchfulness, Patience, and Boldness

Prepare to give up all for the sake of being identified with Christ. Sacrificial living. As such, disciples are reminded to remain faithful since they will indeed be held accountable to how they remained steadfast in the midst of their persecution and sufferings.

Faith and Dependence

As a result of their being delivered of their condemnation for their sins since they have been adequately removed from the believer’s list of crimes, he can now rest assured of His eternal destiny. He does not need to be anxious any longer. He is guaranteed a place with the Father for all eternity.

Wealth and Possessions

The poor have a more natural sensitivity to what it is like to be dependent for outside sources for one’s needs. Therefore, they are more naturally inclined to better understand being dependent upon God for all things. The wealthy on the other hand have difficulty distancing themselves from their assets. Many times money and the things that can be bought with money become an idol and demands top priority over all else. A disciple of Christ cannot have competing affections.

Hindrance to Discipleship

Failure to take adequate consideration regarding the cost of discipleship can lead to spiritual ruin. It takes great patience and sacrifice of self and dedication to an authority who demands all from you. If one is unwilling to humbly depend upon Christ and follow Him wherever He leads, that individual is unfit to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He must be willing to sacrifice self and commit himself whole-heartedly to walking with Christ and being identified with Him.

Commitment to the Lost

Another key element of being a disciple of Christ is his focus on reaching out to those who are groping around this fallen world in darkness.

Luke and Empire

A steep contrast is clearly evident when one considers the ethic of the disciple with the one of the Roman Empire. What the Roman Empire considered priority such as elevating the haves, Christ’s disciples reached out and served the have-nots.

The valuable lesson we can learn from Luke’s theology of discipleship is that it is outwards-oriented. It is aggressively looking outwards; serving and ministering to those who do not yet understand and who personally do not possess a reconciled, redeemed relationship with Christ—who are still serving the god of this world, groping around in darkness.

Overall, I believe that Bock’s case for the marks of true, authentic discipleship as it is clearly laid out in the theology of Luke-Acts is a very solid one. He clearly evaluates and draws principles directly from the text in order to gain a clear, crisp, and rich understanding of what Scripture is clearly teaching regarding Luke’s understanding of what the Lord desires for us as we seek to faithfully follow Him.

My thanks to Zondervan for providing a copy of the book to critically review and share on their Blog Tour.

The True Center

Posted: July 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 Do you ever feel lost in attempting to figure out why particular things happen in your life? Do you ever struggle with understanding how God is going to use this particular thing for good? Are there things in your life that just plain don’t make sense? Plans, I mean, really good plans, which failed? Job promotions that went sour? Relationships that fade away? A routine doctor visit that ended up not being so routine? Random? Useless? God couldn’t possibly use these things for any kind of good…

 

Really… Is that really how God works? Is that really how God operates in the lives of His children? Is God capricious in His workings of His Creation?

 

I believe the best answer we can find is how we see God’s character lucidly portrayed in Scripture. The advantage that we possess as we read Scripture as it describes the lives of its characters is that, for the most part, we get a glimpse of the whole story. Take Job for example. We know a whole lot more about the details of this story than poor Job does. As such, if we were viewing the storyline from Job’s perspective, we may possibly believe that God was absent. Possibly, that God didn’t care at all what was happening in his life. Yet, we see a very different view of God from the reader’s perspective. We see not a distant God, but One who is faithfully present. A God who cares about every detail. A God has an ultimate purpose behind those details. A God who is sovereign.

 

So, how does knowing more of the character of God build trust in our life of faith in the here and now? How does knowing that God is not capricious in His dealings with us help us in our time of need? How does it assist us when it appears that nothing in our life makes sense? Trust. Faith. Understanding who God is and how He has responded in times past brings builds a foundation and a standard. We have experienced and witnessed how God has brought us through and deepened our relationship to Him historically. We can therefore place our hope and faith in Him that since He does not change (His attribute of immutability), He will continue in the present to do the same thing in this particular circumstance.

 

Yet, even though we experience such a wide variety of adversities and we in our finitude cannot wrap our minds around it, we must trust that God does have a purpose behind it. Mostly, the reason we cannot understand why He is doing what He is doing is a direct result of our self-absorption. We are under the impression that the world revolves around us. Therefore, if pain comes our way, our natural response is to avoid it at all costs. We cannot recognize the fact that this circumstance could possibly use pain to help us. But, you know what, He can and He does.

 

Something further to reflect on. Have you ever thought that there is even a bigger story being told here? I mean sure God is definitely attempting to grow us through our hardships. But, is that the ultimate big picture? I don’t believe so. I believe there is an even deeper root cause for it. I believe that He orchestrates trials in our lives to grow us, as well as to ultimately grow us to bring glory to Himself through it. The trials are a mere thread in the beautiful tapestry. The magnificent tapestry itself is the glorification of our Lord and King. As we struggle through a difficult situation, going to the Lord in prayer, seeking earnestly His guidance, direction, His will, His course of action—we grow dependent upon Him. We grow more like Him. We testify to a lost and dying world that God is real and that He does indeed care about His children. We are reflecting Him glory. We are signifying that we are not at the center. God is.

 

This is a great little book. I would recommend using it as a tour guide when reading through the Bible in a year to remain focused. It would also be beneficial especially when going through the Old Testament to see forward as the hope of Christ is progressively revealed.

I would not recommend this volume for those looking for an exhaustive explanation of each book of the Bible. It only highlights the themes of the books as well as gives explanations as to how each points to Christ. Williams also develops some good thought-provoking questions for further reflection as well as “hook” questions to give the reader the necessary nudge he/she may need to reflect upon a passage a little more before pursuing onward.

Williams does a great job developing a theology of Christology throughout Scripture without voiding progressive revelation. Although there are rare occasions where the author does seem to stretch his theory a little thin.

The author also does a great job in helping readers look at Scripture through a contemporary perspective. Giving interpretive insights into the books and maintaining their historical integrity, he accurately issues forth principles from the text which can be spiritually beneficial for contemporary readers.

One really nice element of the book is that Williams gives a very detailed, yet concise introduction to each book highlighting the essential composition of the book. He also densely compacts the thematic element of each book in a nice summary sentence. This can assist the reader in keeping a simple theme in mind as they read the book looking for how that theme develops throughout the book.

My focal point was the book of Genesis. I chose to review the book in light of Genesis because I believe there lies the foundation of Scripture. The beginnings. We note from this book that God’s creation was created perfect. Man fell yet God still desired to have a relationship with him. Even as man did not pursue God after his initial sin, God sought after him. Even though He was the One offended, He went after man. The love of God is so evident in the book of Genesis. It was an incredible experience to look at how this points to Christ.

As we look into this ancient book through the Jesus lens we are able to earmark certain narratives which deliberately pinpoint forward to Jesus. As we do so our hearts are pricked to recognize the certain fact that nothing takes God by surprise. It did not surprise Him when Adam and Eve succumbed to the wicked lure of the enemy in the Garden. God did not have to resort to a Plan B to take these new turn of events into consideration. No, by His sovereignty, this was all part of His plan. He is well aware of all the things that go on throughout history before they occur. Therefore, He had the plan worked out before the actual events came into the actual historical narrative. There is no, “well, if this occurs, then I will respond this way.” No, it is all taken into His consideration and the conclusion has already been planned.

I really appreciate this perspective of interactive reading. Sometimes it can become easy to get wrapped up in the narratives and lose sight of God’s overall purpose behind Scripture. All Scripture is to point us to our need for a Savior. The accounts of the Israelite’s following with reckless abandon and in the next sentence brazenly disobeying God give us a mirror in which to see our own fickleness in our relationship to God. It points us to promise. God has promised to make way for a Savior. We in our sin have no good quality in which to offer God to accept us. We have nothing in which to barter with. Yet, even as we carefully read in Genesis as to how God carefully plans and coordinates the various historical events, He is coordinating the way in which we can still maintain a relationship with God. And He is pointing us to the Savior through the workings of many complicated plots and sub-plots which also provides evidence of His grace, love, and mercy.