Operation explosion

Saul and I grew up together as kids. We lived in the same village, went to the same synagogue, and played the same pranks on Rabbi Gamaliel for as long as I can remember. The one thing that stood out most about Saul was his propensity for controversy. It didn’t matter where he went, conflict always seemed to find him. And he didn’t back down easily from a fight. One time I had to rescue him from some of the other boys because he had attacked them after they questioned his understanding of the Shema. One against seven is never good odds, but Saul held his own. Somehow we lost track of each other after our training.

And then, while I was in Jerusalem, I heard rumblings that some of the followers of Jesus were back and claiming that He had been raised from the dead! Unbelievable. I wanted to find out more for myself. I came upon a crowd gathered outside the temple. Lots of shouting, but then a man named Stephen was thrust forward and began to address the crowd. I couldn’t catch all that he was saying, but it was evident that the crowd wasn’t happy. In fact, in an instant, everyone was grabbing rocks to stone him! And as I looked across the way, there was Saul, standing over the helpless body of Stephen. Somehow I wasn’t too surprised. I made my way over to talk to him, and it turns out that he was the Council’s new hitman against the so-called Way. I thought it was an appropriate choice.

Saul was on his way to Damascus, and we talked about catching up more when he returned. But when he came back, something was very different. In some ways he was the same Saul, stirring up controversy. But now he was a powerful proponent of the Way. He claimed that Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus and that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah that we had been waiting for. And not only that, but He was also the Son of God. I was both shocked and overjoyed because I too had become a follower of the Way. Saul’s zeal was impressive, but also deadly. He invited persecution from the moment he believed. He couldn’t help proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and facing down his opponents. It almost cost him his life, so he came to Jerusalem. And things were no different here.

After a tenuous meeting with church leadership, he was accepted in on the recommendation of Barnabas. But it didn’t take Saul long to stir up trouble and soon he was sent back home to our village. Saul had great zeal for the law and an aggressive personality that made him a dangerous opponent of the Way, but when he collided with Jesus he became a strong proponent of Christianity. God took the passion and the personality and the experience and the training that He had given to Saul and redeemed it to use for His purposes. How does God want to use you?

Until next time…stay salty.

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Church Discipline

Excitement is growing. Peter and John have done some astounding things. Performed some truly miraculous signs. And God is on the move. Last week there were about 5,000 of us gathered at Solomon’s Portico to hear Peter preach. What a transformation! I don’t even recognize the belligerent quick-tongued fisherman. He speaks with such insight and authority. It’s clear that his time with Jesus has brought huge dividends. It’s also obvious that the Spirit is at work in him. So many folks coming to faith. Most have to leave behind family and friends, businesses and social status in order to follow Jesus. But like me, they believe it’s worth it. Joe, a good friend of mine, was one of the first to not only recognize the need of some of these folks, but also to do something about it. He had prime real estate in the district just outside of Jerusalem that had been in his family forever. To everyone’s surprise, Joe sold the property and brought the proceeds of the sale to Peter so that it could be distributed to the folks in need. Talk about generous giving. And Joe thought nothing of it.

But last week a shocking thing happened. Ananias, a newer member of the Way, brought a similar offering to Peter, and then…he died. It was the strangest thing. There was some question over the money he received from a parcel of land he sold – apparently there was a discrepancy between what Ananias claimed was the purchase price and what the actual sale amount was. It looked like Ananias was trying to deceive Peter (and not just Peter, but also the Holy Spirit). And he just died. Later on, his wife showed up. I don’t think she was aware that her husband had already been there, and more importantly, that he had died. Peter asked her about the sale. Well it looks like she was in on the deception, and Peter called her on it, and she…died. Talk about church discipline. I can tell you, we were all afraid after that.

But why was this such a big deal that it carried the death penalty. As some friends and I were talking, we came to the conclusion that it went back to a refrain we had heard in both of Peter’s speeches before the religious authorities: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge…” Ananias and his wife Sapphira cared more about what the people thought of them than what God thought. Not acceptable in the fledgling church. Fast forward about 2,000 years, what would that look like today? What if God judged us as severely for giving heed to men rather than to Him. Hmmm. Food for thought.

Until next time…stay salty.

Family Feud

It’s a familiar scene. Younger brother runs in crying. “Dave hit me in the back!” And the rejoinder from Dave, “But he started it!” And back and forth it goes until finally a parent steps in and sorts out the details. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A question that has been asked by every big brother in a variety of ways from the beginning of time…or at least from the time of the first big brother-little brother episode in the Bible. Abel’s a keeper of flocks while Cain is a tiller of the soil. Two brothers. Both bring an offering to the LORD. The older brings an offering of fruit – he’s a farmer. The younger brings an offering from the flock – he’s a shepherd. So far the story is pretty straight forward. But then the unexpected happens. Cain’s offering is rejected. And worse yet, Abel’s is accepted. And still worse yet, God says, “Hey Cain, why so glum? If you do what’s right, then you will be accepted. But beware if you don’t, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you”, which Cain interprets as, “Why can’t you just be like your younger brother? If you were more like him, then we would all be happy.” Talk about salt in a wound. So Cain visits his brother Abel in the field and then, another shocking twist, Cain rises up and kills Abel. Cain is quickly found out when God shows up and says, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain lies and responds as if he doesn’t know, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” totally expecting a negative response. But God has different expectations and confronts him, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground…” And then God pronounces sentence; however, in a move similar to Genesis 3, God shows mercy in the midst of judgment.

On the surface it sure looks like Cain may have gotten a bad rap. How was he to know what kind of sacrifice to bring? He brought what he had. Shouldn’t that have been enough? Maybe, if the story started in Genesis 4.1. But the story begins in Genesis 1.1. And in Genesis 3.15, God revealed that the innocent Seed of the Woman would give His life crushing the head of the serpent to deliver folks from death, and that there would be constant enmity/warfare between those who follow God (seed of the woman) and those who follow the enemy (seed of the serpent). The animal skins provided by God to cover Adam and his wife after the fall illustrate the former, while the story of Cain and Abel illustrate the latter.

Now to the offerings. The two offerings reflect two different approaches to God. Cain brought fruit…his parents covered themselves with fig leaves. In both cases the respondents were coming to God on their terms. They did what was right in their own eyes. But then God corrects the parents through Genesis 3.15 and provided for their covering through an animal sacrifice. The blood of the innocent to cover the sin of the guilty. Now of course, the blood of animals cannot take away sin. But the picture of the death of the innocent was a reminder that the wages of sin is death. It was faith in God’s promise in Genesis 3.15 that took away sin and restored the relationship with God. Abel got it. He offered a blood sacrifice. He exhibited faith in God’s promise by employing the same picture that God had used to illustrate Genesis 3.15.

And going forward…you shall love your neighbor as yourself is the second highest commandment behind loving God with all that you are. So I guess we are our brother’s keeper.

Until next time…stay salty.

Paradise Lost

 

Everything was perfect. God’s assessment of all that He had made was that it was very good. The pinnacle of His creation was mankind – they would rule over the earth on His behalf. He created a garden paradise and gave the man the responsibility of cultivating and keeping it. He knew that man needed a helpmate and after creating the animals, He finally fashions a woman for the man who would correspond to him perfectly. God performs the first wedding ceremony, and everything is, well, perfect. Only one restriction. Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – violation carried the death penalty.

Not long after the perfect wedding, the perfect couple run into a problem. Walking through the garden together they had strayed a little too close to the forbidden tree. And the serpent begins a dialogue with the woman. He questions God’s goodness and His veracity, claiming that God is holding back. Eating the fruit doesn’t result in death, but in godlikeness. The woman falls for the bait, and her husband, instead of protecting her and stepping in to confront the lies of the serpent, acquiesces and takes some of the forbidden fruit from her hand and also eats. Being image-bearers wasn’t enough. They wanted to be their own gods. And death surely occurs…spiritual, emotional, relational, physical. The man and the woman lose their innocence. Naked and not ashamed becomes naked and very ashamed. They hide from God, and when they are confronted, they quickly begin a spirited round of the blame game.

The serpent, who knew that God was both good and veracious, succeeds in destroying God’s image-bearers. Then God begins to pronounce judgment. He starts with the serpent and ends with the man. All of creation will suffer God’s curse because of man’s disobedience. But don’t miss Genesis 3:15. It’s the key to all of Scripture. It’s the first gospel. It’s the promise of restoration and of a Messiah that will one day come in the Person of Jesus to set all things right. In Genesis 3:15 we see a couple of things…constant battle between those who follow God (seed of the woman) and those who follow the devil (seed of the serpent). We also see that One of these God-followers will arise to crush the devil, but will give up His life in the process. The innocent will have to die for the guilty. And then God provides a picture of this with the animal skins that cover Adam and his wife. In the midst of judgment we see mercy. And so the story begins, and so begins the hunt for the Messiah.

Genesis 3 explains the mess that we are in. When I read that God created a perfect world, that everything was good, I begin to wonder, “What happened?” That certainly is not my experience. Perfect enjoyment of work. Perfect relationship with my wife. Perfect harmony with creation. But Genesis 3 tells me that the good was made bad by my sin. I would have done just what Adam did. When I look at my heart, I’m no different. I, too, have the desire to call my own shots, to be my own god. However, Genesis 3 also tells me that I have hope that the bad will be made good again. That my sin has been covered because the Innocent One died for the guilty, so that I might be reconciled to God the Father who created me. I pray that you may know this same truth.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

What happened to you?

 

Have you ever met someone who totally blew you away, only to discover later that it’s someone who you knew in a long-forgotten time and place? Maybe it’s an acquaintance from high school that was an also-ran then, but now is a famous actor. Maybe it’s a former co-worker that somehow made it big. I had one of those moments the other day when I saw that a guy who used to work for me is now the Vice President of Finance at a multi-billion dollar company. Who knew? The “what-happened-to-you” syndrome. It’s as if you are meeting someone for the first time.

It reminds me of Peter. Peter was a big, burly fisherman who generally had foot-in-mouth disease. He was a ready-fire-aim sort of guy. There are some definite bright spots in his ministry with Jesus (his famous confession of faith, walking on water – briefly, etc.), but when it came to interaction with the religious authorities of his day, Peter was surprisingly silent. Not a word spoken. And the tail end of Jesus’ time on earth was particularly rough on him. He went from this marvelous confession of Jesus as the Christ and witnessing the transfiguration to the horrible events of Jesus’ death and denying Him three times. Even after the resurrection and Peter’s restoration, he has to get away to do some fishing. He’s gone through a roller-coaster of emotions. And then He sees Jesus ascend into the air. His hopes of experiencing the coming kingdom seem to vanish.

And then…Peter and a group of friends are in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and the Spirit comes like a rushing whirlwind distributing tongues of fire, and Peter is changed. The crowds who have come from all over the Mediterranean hear the disciples proclaiming the wondrous acts of God in their native languages and are confused. Someone stands up to speak, and behold, it’s Peter the also-ran. But something is different. His confidence and boldness are a far cry from the hot and cold, brashness and timidity of the gospels. This Peter is filled with the Spirit and is not afraid to bring a strong rebuke, not only against fellow countrymen, but also the religious leaders for their part in crucifying Jesus. This Peter proclaims the gospel in a mighty and fearless way. This Peter is one of the great pillars of the church. And the religious leaders are confused…they have the “what-happened-to-you” syndrome. And they recognized that he had been with Jesus. What an amazing statement! And for Peter, that made all the difference. So what about you, how has your life been impacted by the presence of the Spirit and your time with Jesus?

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Church in Transition

Have you ever tried to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples? They had grown up with the expectation that one day messiah would come and destroy the Romans, returning Jerusalem and the Jews to their former glory. They were looking for their nation to be returned to a place of prominence. Jesus shows up and blows up all of their categories. He’s so much more than a political leader and military hero. He does incredible, magical, powerful things that only God can do. Who is this Man? He challenges the religious establishment, recklessly and shamelessly pursues the outcasts, and then starts talking about His impending death – a death that is necessary to carry out His rescue mission. They hear rumors that He’s been resurrected and then they see Him. And they dare to hope. They dare to believe. Then He’s taken up into the clouds, and they are left behind.

What do we do now? Is this the time that the kingdom thing comes about? But they are told to wait…to wait for the power of God, the Holy Spirit, to come upon them so that they may be witnesses to this Messiah, to Jesus throughout the whole world. It’s the beginning of their mission…their part of the rescue mission that Jesus came to planet earth and laid the foundation for. Some friends and I are studying the book of Acts together. We just finished chapter 1. Can’t wait to see what God does with this group.

Until next time…stay salty.

Incredible Me

 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Has there ever been a more un-true statement? Ask any kid who’s been picked on by a bully at school, or any athlete that has been berated by a coach, or any spouse that has been belittled by her mate. They will tell you. Words hurt. And they hurt bad. Personally I would rather have the sticks and stones.

Now imagine that you are a part of a people group that has been subjugated for, oh say, 400 years. The culture around you worships a plethora of gods from the sun, moon and stars, to cattle, to crocodiles and everything in between, making your value to society at large, your worth as an individual, somewhere below the creepy-crawling things. Everything around you screams “Worthless, good-for-nothing, loser.” Your job day in and day out is to build the tombs of the Pharaohs. And then a guy named Moses dares to bring a spark of hope…

Some friends and I are beginning a journey through the book of Genesis. The whole book sets the stage for the story of man’s beginnings, his fall in the garden and God’s reckless pursuit of him to bring about his redemption. Yesterday we tackled chapter 1. I love chapter 1. It’s poetic in its symmetry, and I counted three primary takeaways: God is, God’s Word is magical/powerful, and man is God’s prized creation, created to rule the world in His behalf. But I think the most significant thing for me was the beautifully amazing fact that God created us in His image. Let that sink in… We have infinite value because we alone of all His creatures have been made in His image. So the next time you hear words that hurt, or the next time you are tempted to say words that hurt…remember that the imago dei, although tarnished through sin, is still what gives each of us inestimable worth. Enough that God was willing to send His only Son on a rescue mission that cost Him His life that He might lead the way back to God the Father.

Until next time…stay salty.