When It Gets Hard, to Whom Shall We Go?

I had gone back to medicating myself and chasing weekends. I was lost in a spiritual wilderness.

The passage from the Gospel of John reproduced below was the subject of a sermon recently where I attend church. It is also the catalyst for one of the most important turning points in my life.

Jesus had just finished telling the crowd, “I am the bread of life….” (John 6:48); “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51); and, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6: 54)

The Romans called the early Christians cannibals because of words like these and “the Lord’s Supper” that Christians observed ritually when they met. The crowd didn’t understand what he was saying either. The apostles also didn’t understand, as is evident by the following interchange in John 6:

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Emphasis added)

These words Jesus spoke were allegorical of course. In the sermon on this passage the pastor developed the principal that we feed on what we follow.

Paul says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) “Garbage in, garbage out”, as “they” say. It’s biblical, and it’s common wisdom, but this passage is about much more than an adage for life.

Continue reading “When It Gets Hard, to Whom Shall We Go?”

How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?

If we have to ignore Scripture and the character God desires to work in us, we are moving in the wrong direction!

I come back to this with a heavy sigh. I started it yesterday as the news unfolded of people breaching the Capitol building as the Trump rally changed gears. I know there were people there peacefully gathering, but a good many of them crossed the line.

As I watched the events unfold, I struggled to find some solid ground to stand on as I see people who call themselves Christians continue to support Trump regardless of what he says and does. At best, he sent mixed messages that were ambiguous enough to encourage what happened. At worst he incited insurrection, and stood by watching it happen, saying nothing until it was too late. Even then, it was a poor excuse for what he should have said.

The thing that troubles me most as I think about these things is the way Christians who support Trump and this “resistance” at at all costs ignore Scripture that is inconvenient. Paul defined the way followers of Jesus Christ should act regarding authority:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Romans 13:1-2

Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build his church, said the same thing:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him….”

1 Peter 2:13-14

If anyone thinks insurrection is justified because Democrats are “bad” today, consider that Peter and Paul said these things at a time when their world was ruled by Nero.

Nero was a bad leader, even by pagan, Roman standards. He considered himself God. He persecuted Christians and had them publicly killed, setting them on fire at night to light the City. Peter and Paul were both martyred under the rule of Nero.

Democrats are not nearly as bad as Nero. Peter’s and Paul’s words were spoken at a time much worse than the political squabbling today. We can’t justify resisting authority because Democrats are bad – not when we consider the context in which Peter and Paul told believers to respect governing authorities!

At the same time, I am aware that people may justify their resistance on other grounds. Peter, himself, resisted the governing authority in the Book of Acts. Peter and John were arrested for preaching. (Acts 4:2-3) They were commanded not to preach about Jesus, but Peter and John refused to comply, saying,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

Acts 4:19

They were arrested again for refusing to remain quiet. (Acts 5:20) Again, they were commanded not to speak. Again, they responded, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:19) This time they were flogged and let go.

So which is it? Submit to authorities? Or boldly rebel?

It seems like a conundrum. Do we get to take our Pick?

Maybe those are not the right questions to ask. Maybe we need to be more careful to weigh the words of Peter and Paul together with their actions and divide the Word of God more accurately.

Continue reading “How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?”

How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured

God’s promise to Abraham was given 430 years before Moses

I have taken some time to reflect on the unity for which Jesus prayed in relation to the story of Peter & Cornelius and the tension that continued in the early church over extending the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews). The tension that persisted at the heart of the early Church threatened to unmoor the Gospel from its footing.

In previous articles, I reflected on the deeply ingrained nature of the belief that the Jews were God’s people. They were entrusted with the Law of Moses, and they had protected the Law God gave them for well over a 1000 years, painstakingly preserving it, passing it down from generation to generation.

They were instructed by God Himself to drive out all the inhabitants in the land God promised them, to avoid intermarrying and being corrupted by the influence of “Gentiles” to worship their gods. Thus, Hebrew descendants of Abraham avoided association with others – Gentiles. Like the plague.

So intent on sticking to the script were Jews in the First Century, that they didn’t recognize God when He shed his deity and came to them as Jesus from Nazareth.

John says that God came to His own people, and they didn’t recognize Him. When the Word through whom the universe was created, the Word who “was with God” and “was God”, became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), “his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:12) “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:11) John continues:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

“His own” were the Jews. The “all who did receive him, who believed in his name”, were Gentiles (and Jews) who believed in what Jesus said and trusted in him. They became children of God, not because they were born into it, nor because they or anyone else desired it, but because God Himself desired them to be His children.

But these things were far from clear to the early Church. Even Peter, who lived with Jesus and knew him intimately, had difficulty with the idea that the Gospel should be extended to Gentiles.

In the previous articles linked above, I summarized how God gave Peter a vision that occurred three times in a row for emphasis, an audible voice, and the voice of the Holy Spirit, directing him to go with men who appeared just then at the door to summon him. Peter’s experience was orchestrated with an angel that visited Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, who was directed to send those men to “a man named Simon who is called Peter”. (Acts 10:5) Then God poured out His Holy Spirit on the Centurion and his household to emphasize to Peter his intention to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But the tradition of shunning the Gentiles would not die easy. Despite the obviously divine orchestration of events to drive home God’s intentions to Peter, Paul had to confront Peter publicly in Antioch over the issue when Jews from Jerusalem came to visit, and Peter disassociated himself from the Antiochian Gentiles. (See Galatians 2-3)

Paul encountered the same issue in Galatia where people were insisting that the Jews continue to follow the Mosaic law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described his confrontation with Peter. More importantly, Paul explained why the Mosaic Law no longer applied to the people of God – who now included not just the Jews, but everyone!

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Tension Leads to Accord: Peter, James & Paul

The big issue that threatened to divide the early Church

Paul wrote to the Galatians to address a grievous error in their thinking. They were holding on to a belief that followers of Christ, even Gentiles, must continue to follow Jewish law. Though Jesus prayed for unity among his followers (John 17:20-23), it was a rocky start for his fledgling following. They didn’t last 10 years without division!

To emphasize the gravity of the situation, Paul recalled to the Galatians a time when he opposed Cephas (Peter the Apostle, himself) “to his face” over the Jew and Gentile. (Gal. 2:11)

Consider this: Peter lived with Jesus for 3 years. He was one of the closest people to Jesus during his life. He was there when Jesus died, and he was one of the first people to see Jesus when he returned, risen from the dead.

Paul was never around back then. He despised Jesus and his followers! He held the cloaks of the people who stoned Stephen to death, and he was hellbent on quashing the “rebellion” of the Jesus followers to the traditions of Judaism…

Then, Jesus dramatically revealed himself to Paul. Paul changed completely and became the boldest of proclaimers of the Gospel. Still, what gall to confront Peter of all people! Right?

First for a little back story. In my last post, I described Peter’s vision of animals on a great sheet and the encounter with the Roman Centurion that convinced him Gentiles can be saved from their sins, the same as Jews. It was no small revelation. It took quite the orchestration of visions, angels, voices and a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit to convince Peter to accept the fact that God wanted to share the Gospel with Gentiles.

Peter experienced his own change, though not as dramatic. He went from being concerned that he should be not associating with Gentiles to baptizing the Centurion and his entire household and welcoming them into the family of believers!

I also wrote about this story in relation to the theme of the unity of believers: Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius. The great shift from the following law to faith, was a change to beat all changes.

It took a nothing short of a divine appointment of Peter, the Apostle on which Jesus said he would establish the Church, orchestrated by God with all the bells and whistles to provide clear direction. We might think that this encounter settled the score for Peter, once for all, right?

Not so.

Continue reading “Tension Leads to Accord: Peter, James & Paul”

A Story Demonstrating How God Works to Reveal Himself to People

The evidence for God is more often a string of improbable circumstances happening in the context of a message that is delivered with intimate, personal meaning.

As I have been reading through the New Testament, on my way through the Bible chronologically from start to finish, I have come to the Book of Acts. I wrote most recently about the prominence and importance of testimonial evidence for Christ. I continue to be struck by the key importance of this eyewitness testimony and the highly relational way in which God reveals Himself to people in Acts – and continues to reveal Himself to people today .

Jesus, of course, attracted people who gathered to him, joined him and followed him. Literally, they lived with him, ate with him, traveled with him, and followed him where he went. Thus, they became witnesses to everything he said and did.

As I continue reading in Acts, I have come today to the story of Peter, the apostle, and Cornelius, the Roman Centurion who lived in Caesarea. I wrote about this story not long ago, in Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius, but today I see a different twist that runs with the theme of eyewitnesses and God revealing Himself to people.

Continue reading “A Story Demonstrating How God Works to Reveal Himself to People”