CHASING THE WIND

wind-tree

Truth has a way of getting out whether we like it or not.  Years ago, there was a book written called “An Inconvenient Truth” which sold well and inspired a movie.  Something resonated from a marketing perspective that some of the more worthwhile truths are not convenient.  The marketing was that the inconvenience was epitomized in speaking truth to power and power being unreceptive.  

In the early years that Christianity began to flourish, there was a 24-hour period that was crucial.  The high priest in Jerusalem had the apostles arrested and put in their temple jail.  But an angel set them free and they went back to teaching in the name of Jesus. The next morning the elite were deliberating what to do next when they got news of Christians acting very “inconvenient”.    

Then someone arrived and announced, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’  Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’  But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him’ (Acts 5:25-32).  

Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!– – -Christianity is not supposed to be promulgated on personalities of the message bearers.  The fulness of development of the Christian message was coming together but for then it had to be by those apostles.  Ultimately the preaching of the gospel and demonstration it is meant to be by all who believe.  

We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, – – – Orders are not bad depending on the context.  Later Christians would deal with the Roman Empire who said that “Caesar is Lord” but in a way the religious leaders acted as if religion is an end it in itself. Therefore they miss where their prudential judgment ends and what is intrinsic to God begins.  I would have to say that this can be seen replayed even within established Christianity when those in authority make the same mistake.  

yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching- – – The compliment to the Body of Christ from its enemies is that it is too influential.  What fills the culture is the proclaiming of Christ.  

you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us- – – This borrows from what Jesus said in how “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).  The correct expression of the gospel is not to shame the person.  To have shame is to be in a state of spiritual shock that immobilizes the person from having faith.  But when we are convicted of our sin with the love of Christ on the cross and the truth of resurrection the guilt turns to repentance.  When we resist that tug of conviction then what is equally immobilizing is our pride resisting the truth that our sin crucified the promised Anointed One (Christ).  

We must obey God rather than any human authority- – When confronted Peter declares a boundary but not in any way meant to be obnoxious.  Peter lays down how their priority is to live in obedience to God as the prime reality.  Caesars or fads come and go but God stays the same.  

 

God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior-   Ultimately there is the dual between the City of God and the City of Man.  Peter speaks not as a political revolutionary but a spiritual one and making a case full of faith and reason.  The calling for all Christians to declare Christ is to declare “Jesus is Lord” in place of “Caesar is Lord”.    When speaking to the powerful or the meek, we have the mind of Christ and propose Christ as the reason (logos) of the Father.  

so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins- – GK Chesterton was a Christian who wrote detective stories where evidence was collected and the guilty one was punished.  But as an apologist for Christianity he stated that the Church collects evidence and points out what sin is with the fullest elaboration to instead declare God’s forgiveness.  Obviously in scenes like this one and many others, the party receiving this word do not see it that way.  Peter gives emphasis to God’s mercy to that effect.  

we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit- – – Peter speaks as a symbol of the Church and knows the intertwining reality of the Holy Spirit with the life of the Christian community. “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church (St. Augustine, Sermon 267,4:PL 38,1231D).  Peter standing as a symbol personally is even emphasized when he deals with two liars in the Church saying,  “ ‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit’ ‘(Acts 5:3)? In short, while Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.

When the Church shares and lives the gospel there may be success, persecution or maybe a bit of both.  Exact paths of either is ultimately up to the sovereign will of God and the faithful are to trust Him along the way.  But hope remains the same if it is persecution with no immediate results. And thus right teaching and doctrine of what the Church is becomes practice.  

and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 5:40-42).  

Such faith and joy would be the soil for the martyrs.  And those martyrs would in turn be the seed of a harvest of souls.  

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FIRST COMES THE FIRST LOVE

Jenga 2I have long appreciated how we should not hate those small beginnings in faith that are paired with a desperate dependence on God’s direction.  In ourselves we may want to take our reason to the point of only of what we could do as a religious body in which we belong. But in faith and interaction with the divine is where it is best to to seek to know what we should do.  

That is the spot the small band of followers of the Way were.  They knew where they were coming from and knew for now generally what to wait for in the new Church being launched to the public which was a big detail.  But along the way, they were at a loss on what to do on the 12th slot of the apostles.  So, though there was some conventional wisdom, they do what they need to do: tell God they need him in the midst of their not knowing.  He is God and we are not.  On such a fundamental truth the Church could not go wrong on that.  

“So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1:21-26).  

What we have here is a replacement of Judas which supports the continuity of apostolic leadership and being organically infused with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, not on a hillside to the public, but to his apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them in right teaching.  What we have here are human beings that trust God to use their number despite their faults being clear to God since they say, “Lord, you know our hearts”.  They are fully aware both of the good and the bad they are capable of.  

With that being said, in a matter of days the Holy Spirit would come down and empower all of the church not only in its highest offices but the gifts of the Spirit.  This is where more foundation stones are placed for the Church to be, “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Both elements work through the ages as a sacramental sign and instrument of Christ’s grace. The word for office here is in reference to the role of the bishop  In the church founded on Jesus, the son of David, we see the spiritual Israel that is the Church that has a prime minister like David’s dynastic line had to provide guidance until the king returns.  From Christ, in that hierarchy, we have Peter as that prime minister.  At the time of this writing his name is Francis.  In addressing this issue, though lots were used, Peter initiated and presided over that process authoritatively.  This is consistent with what Jesus said to Peter the night of the Last Supper saying, “I have prayed for you [singular form] that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, confirm your brothers” (Luke 22:32).  At times there is an announcement in St. Peter’s Square saying “Habemus Papum” (We have a pope).  It is a cause of rejoicing because the gospel of the kingdom has a leader on earth to speak authoritatively to interpret and apply the public revelation (and under special conditions infallibly). It is with Peter presiding that the apostolic succession begins.      

Looking at this scene as the pre-launch stage for evangelization there are three points that should be noticed.  

First, if we don’t get the supporting points and how they are related to the doctrine and practice of the early church, we miss essential common threads through the other chapters of Acts, and at least the Ante-Nicene period of church history.  As to the Council of Nicea by which we get the Nicene Creed, we see in this chapter how Christ is the foundation  and how the Holy Spirit works as the soul of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed, 325).  

Second, and most importantly, we need to see this gathering hoping for the Holy Spirit to come as resting on the foundation of Jesus Christ in a devotional, passionate way since this time of prayer was waiting upon the personal intervention of Jesus. In even religious business we can forget that.  I recall a speaker I knew slightly named Don Miller who shared a story to Bible college students about a young man who got too much into loose living and lots of drinking.  In his story he felt guilt, decided to go back to church and now lives a good life.  He quizzed the Bible college students on if there was anything missing and they affirmed it was complete.  He then pointed out that he did not mention Jesus at all.  As a proud Catholic, would I say that to be a Catholic one is immune from forgetting Jesus in favor of the motions?  I would say definitely not because all Christians are works in progress.  For this, we should say that Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant believers should be in ongoing conversion in Christ to “accept the engrafted word which can save your souls” (James 1:21).   

Third, this kingdom- assembly marked by the Holy Spirit had history and a strong of continuity of sinners being present.  Returning to the situational backdrop, they had a traitor in their midst who betrayed Jesus.  Greed was that man’s agenda and death and despair was his end.  This ideally should not be for a valid apostle of Jesus Christ and betrayal to have happened.  Paul later warned of wolves rising up in the leadership which through the ages has also been true.  In fact,  American Catholics have referred to last summer’s priest sex abuse revelations as “The Summer of Scandals”.  To use the wrong lens is to be given to situational cause for hope and not the hope tied to faith in Jesus and his words that “upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not stand against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Our prayer should be like that of St. Faustina in saying, “Jesus, I trust in you”.  

Jesus is not part of the context of life.  He is the real context of life and our humanity best makes sense in him including on where in our humanity we need to partake of his divine nature in a spirit of penance.  

Though we can take on right doctrine and right church measures, we can miss Jesus in even priestly things and take for granted what it means that he is the High Priest.   Jesus being lifted up into the heavens was the proper position for his perpetual priesthood.  When there is talk of revival or renewal, Christians must remember that Jesus is always the same and his priesthood is current and powerful due to him being fully God and fully man.  If we bow the knee as Christians to that fact, to Him, we are ready to preach and actualize the gospel that infects the world with the message that saves wherever it goes “viral”.    

Since Christ came, there is a transforming gospel by his Church which always reforming while tied to the deposit of faith played out with Acts 1 as a template. These facts are among many that explain my entering into the Catholic Church after being a Protestant for 30 years.  There has been pope after pope who stand against heresies including some who lacked personal lives of integrity but God still used even some of those powerfully.  Whether in a big picture or a little picture, grace perfects nature day by day.  This has been how Christ has gone viral yesterday, today and forever in the Church.  

Heart of Conversion

seeing GodI have heard that Christianity rightly preached is preaching the whole gospel to the whole world one person at a time. 

But one awkward point of Christians, especially coming from a dominant culture, is knowing how to speak and act in a way that is universal all of the time and particularly inclusive.  

Inclusiveness is a key word in dialogue when the conversation comes to those that have vs. those who have not, the powerful versus the non-powerful and those “in the know” and those not.  

Where it involves the dignity of the person, it is there that Christianity is meant to esteem the person as a unique being.  Before Christ came one separation on access to God was in the temple due physical defects.  For example, if a man had been castrated he could not come into the fulness of temple worship. 

One such man, from another country no less, was grounded. But even then he worshiped God any way he could. His heart was still drawn to what he could not pinpoint with some pithy line.  

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.  Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’  He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:27b-39).  

He was in the middle of refreshing himself in the roots of those scriptures after worshiping to the extent he could in the fringes of the temple.  Jesus saw a day coming where such limits would not be there and spoke about the intent of the Father for many to worship in “spirit and truth”.  As the Church grew in numbers and understanding of the universal impact of the gospel,  here was a teachable moment.  And this moment is fueled first by the thirst of this man’s heart to understand whatever he could at least by himself.  It appears God saw that, was pleased by his faith and expressed his grace through Phillip.  

Also, God the Holy Spirit was about to build on the grace that Philip was already standing on.  It is fitting that once again in Acts we see a first for something with a deacon.  A deacon has one foot in the public life like a layperson and one foot on the altar.  His example as diaconos (servant) is an encouragement to all Christians that we can all be attuned to the Holy Spirit and share the gospel with anyone we are led to. If a Christian has been touched by the Spirit of God and is in union with the Body of Christ, congratulations, you are commissioned.  The audience is waiting whether they know it or not.  

He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home… he was reading the prophet Isaiah- – – A painful place to be in as a seeker of the kingdom of God would be in interruptions.  Without Christ, that is structurally par for the course because the blessing of God’s grace in Christ is not abundantly clear without a gospel presentation on the person of Jesus and the events of his crucifixion and resurrection.  The good news in the gospel is that now it can be. It is worth noting that Isaiah is referred to in Mark 1:1 as the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”.   This Ethiopian was blessed to have maybe the best of the Old Covenant to prepare him for the new.  As I often return to, “The New is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New” (Augustine).  

Do you understand what you are reading?– – Inquiry on where people are at is essential for initiating dialogue.  Whether is is the kingdom of God in the scriptures or the echo of God in creation as mentioned Romans 1, life is ripe for launching points in conversation to sesueway into the direct gospel.  Just the right question can trigger more awareness of even God’s hints.  

How can I, unless someone guides me?’– – Truth is not just to be popping in if it is revelation based.  Revelation knowledge is transmitted as a living tradition that comes with an infallible interpretation integrated in the story and person of Jesus Christ.  Yet the engagement in the gospel also is fueled by right anthropology that upholds the dignity of humanity and humanity’s needs.     

Who can describe his generation?– – There is some irony here on the transmission of life where Isaiah is quoted.  The Messiah referred to in that passage would seem for all intents and purposes to not get a chance to be a conventional father and see his life extended to the next generation since in that passage it is clear that he dies.  In a different context, this eunuch would also not see that happen.  But a short while in Isaiah, the same book the eunuch is reading from,  there is something relevant about eunuchs that can give hope.  

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; and do not let the eunuch say ‘I am just a dry tree.’For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters;  I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-5). 

 

With the eunuch having the scroll of Isaiah he would see in that same book that there would come a day that he would not be an outsider.  If something good could come out of this Messiah figure he is reading about, could that overlap with him who is both a foreigner and a eunuch? From the Christian perspective the answer is yes: Christ and his presence can be manifest no matter the suffering and we can complete his sufferings as well (Colossians 1:24).     

As they were going along the road,- – – There has been much talk since the pontificate of Pope Francis about accompanying those we evangelize.  We should know how to speak and be present with people in a way that we can be relevant.  

they came to some water- – From a sacramental point of view, one could say that the water was providential.  I would say it is both that and a metaphor for those conversion points.  There are some critical moments where the Christian invites that person to “come and see” in taking a step of faith.  This could be a further step of engagement in a more prolonged conversion experience or that which is the moment they are born again since, “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).   

the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away– – – This may seem strange because the normative hope would be that he gets to disciple this new Christian.  But we know from a few words later that “he went on his way rejoicing” because there was precisely some narrative from the Ethiopian eunuch alone that found its way to Luke the author.  Presumably this was a connection from the Church with whom he must have connected to in relationship and not just stayed in a corner touting “Jesus is just my personal Lord and Savior”.  

So what can the Christian learn from this passage for evangelization?

1: Be led by the Holy Spirit when called to engage in conversation with people for the sake of the gospel. The conditions do not have to be ideal but the Spirit blows where he blows.   

2: Ask the right questions of the person we are engaging with.  Enter into true dialogue on what they understand and what their needs are.   

3: Do not assume that someone who has scandalous or uncomfortable things in their life is inherently not going to be seeking after God in some way.  “All creation is groaning” (Romans 1).  

4:  It is not about us as individuals even though the gospel is meant to be communicated through us.  It is about Jesus.  

This is the whole gospel to the whole world one person at a time.  

Saying To Simon

now-you-see-meCorruption in ones faith community is never fun and is downright painful when it is exposed.  In 1987 there were three scandals that year for the Pentecostal area of Christianity which I was in at the time.  The names were Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker and Oral Roberts. All Christianity was being mocked at the time for scandals of greed and lust.  In this time in my life now I am a Catholic and recently it has been more of the same if not the exact names.  

But there is one context of corruption in the Church that is not so bad: being caught when it is in seed form.  Such was the case for Simon who was a magician in Samaria and baptized in the faith.  But to be a fully confirmed member of the Church was something else in a Chrisian’s faith that is good and free but he would assume the opposite on the free part.  Confirmation as a sacrament, like all of them, is a fruit and context of the meaning of the cross and resurrection of Jesus and therefore must be free.  It is not irony that through the ages of Christian history anyone trying to make the kingdom for sale is accused of “simony”which comes from this same Simon.  There have been too many days that this behavior has not been called out.  In the better days of Christianity it is called out for its ugliness like below on the quintessential man himself: Simon.  

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.’ Simon answered, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.’ (Acts 8:14-24).  

Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit- – What we now can see is the Sacrament of Confirmation which had not occurred. These apostles came up for that (Philip was a deacon and they have never had neither charism nor faculties for Confirmation).  There is a beautiful encounter a Christian has with all members of the Holy Trinity in baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20).  But this is is ones communion with the Trinity.  Confirmation is communion in the Holy Spirit as our Holy Spirit experience.  

he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power- – Any gifts of God that are passed on are in the context of sharing.  The gifts of God are supported in the context of love and not self-exaltation.  

You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God- – An emerging title for the successors of the apostles is important here which was bishop.  The Greek word is better translated as “over-scope” or overseer.  For vital things going on in the flock someone of that position has a weighty responsibility since it is integral to the kingdom of God and the gospel.  “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).  Peter is not being intrusive: his calling is to tend God’s sheep and watch over their souls including in the area of sin.  His candor is very fitting.  

I feel some irony here on two points.  First, I like to say that the truth does not need to be hid from or be defended.  But Jesus commissioned some to be in authority to guard the deposit of faith because where there are people in need of a savior there is going to be sin.  

Second, in the Catholic Church there are some who have risen up through the ranks with various fleshly agendas including men in the seat of Peter who fell far short of holiness.  It is not supposed to be that way regarding a pope’s prudential judgment on how the Church on earth functions.  Here is an ideal good example with the man later known as the first bishop of Rome standing for integrity.  

Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me- – In this moment he asks Peter for intercession that his hardness of heart not set in.  Some history indicates that he went on with his errors after all.  But this day he did what was right. He wanted to be forgiven and cleansed of unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).  

In later days more people would emerge with wrong agendas who did not seek holiness but sin, there were some in the Church who stood up to the task of rebuking (e.g. St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Peter Damian).  It is my prayer that in this modern day when there are “Simons” attempting to bring in rot to the Church, God will give wisdom and strength to the shepherds and laity alike to “lead and feed” along the way. With likeminded justice they can proclaim that the ministry for the faithful to grow in Christ by the Holy Spirit is not for sale and holiness is priceless.

Life and Death By Two Rules

In the history of the Church there are those in authority who make choices for how things are run.  There are some who speak profoundly and those who do quiet things only God and the saints in heaven notice.  But most basically Christians are called to make Jesus first in their lives, one day at a time, and sacrificially when needed.  To model the giving of ones self to Christ to the point of martyrdom is not so common in western Christianity but in all world it does happen.  Christian martyrdom is a beacon of the Cross and the Resurrection that can echo through the world starting with those who actually bring someone to martyrdom.  

The first Christian martyr was Stephen.  He did not have the position of an apostle and was in the lower hierarchy of the Church.  But he was not a layperson since he was an ordained a deacon.  It is fitting that he was a deacon since he had one foot in the hierarchy and one among the laity.  He serves as an example for both in giving ones all for the cause of the gospel.  

Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.  But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke……………. And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:9-10,15 ).  

Freedman (as it was called)- – There is a bit of holy sarcasm from Luke in that those who lack the gospel lack true freedom, think they have it, and are enraged when their construct is threatened.  One could say their blindness is ironic and sad precisely because of the title this group goes by.  Paul address spiritual blindness in humanity saying, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:3).  

Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia- – With evil fighting the good, evil wins some battles but it is a Pyrrhic victory they are about have where they lose the war.  These places that these devout Jews were from were from far away.  The gospel was preached to them by someone who spoke and acted out the gospel at the highest cost and even in their enmity they would be witnesses of this event.  

they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke– – – This line is pregnant with meaning.  First, we can see that Stephen is taking the initiative and putting them on the defense.  This is consistent with the words of Jesus saying of the Church that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).  We are not called to be offensive for offensiveness’ sake, but if spiritual light works as piercing the darkness, then darkness or  inconsistency is the movable object to the unstoppable force of the gospel when rightly articulated.  

Second we see acted out here that the integration of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is the “Spirit of truth” in dialogue (John 16:13).  The Church, including ordained ministers and the lay faithful, are the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  

they saw that his face was like the face of an angel- – We can assume that this was from Luke’s interview with the apostle Paul.  Here is where grace abounded in the face of hate and Paul must have worked hard to stuff that away. I should add that there is much to be said how Christians should not be beacons of intellectual light alone. Jesus did not say to “speak light to the world” but “you are the light of the world”.  

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts7:54-8:1).   

When they heard these things, they became enraged- – Stephen was successful in making an impact.  They were informed of the the truth of Jesus, their sin and need to repent to the point of making a fully informed decision.  The fullest expression of spiritual light gets some kind of reaction one way or another.  

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God- – – The active relationship of the Holy Spirit is in the believer to bring heaven to earth but to also prepare us for heaven.  Here Stephen has a toe on the finish line.  Stephen had a life towards Christ of seeing him rightly as Savior, listening to him as the Lord, joining to him in communion, rightly praising him, extending grace to the world and now seeing the end of all things in Christ fully glorified.  This is the hope of the resurrection on display in front of a not-yet repentant Paul. 

and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul….And Saul approved of their killing him- – Paul, going by Saul among the Jews, stood responsible or presiding of this as a supposed holy action.  He was a leader for this.  One can wonder what those coats meant to them.  Perhaps it was to show that the man was unclean and they did not want to be sullied by him. They were all “to good” for Stephen and his message.  In reading the book of Acts, it is no wonder that he wrote how he wanted to “know him in the power of the resurrection”.  He was within a few years of his own martyrdom.  

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit- – Stephen is loving God with his whole heart and by virtue of that of his whole person.  The highest commandment per Jesus. He is in a holy way mimicking the 7th saying of Jesus on the cross. “Into your hands I commit my spirit”.    

Lord, do not hold this sin against them- – He is loving his neighbor as himself and now working from the 1st saying of Jesus on the cross.  The second commandment that Jesus emphasized. 

When he had said this, he died- – Stephen as the first martyr testifies in action and words to the love of God in the cross of Christ.  He sealed his last breath returning evil with good and joined his death to Jesus on the cross.  There are martyrs for many causes including some which many can be sympathetic.  But there is a character in Christian martyrdom in that it touches by the shedding of blood, right teaching and action of the nature of God being love and in the flesh in Jesus (John 1:14) and the salvation that is meant for all humanity to all of human experience.  

Stephen was Christlike, as true Christians should be, in pointing to the commandments to love God and your neighbor as yourself.  Whether we live and die dramatically, this is the message our lives are to support.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be fleshed out in faith, hope and fully show the love of God.  It is the greatest gift.   

Justice And Hypocricy

JudasIn the history of the Church there are those in authority who make choices for how things are run.  There are some who speak profoundly and those who do quiet things only God and the saints in heaven notice.  But most basically Christians are called to make Jesus first in their lives one day at a time and sacrificially when needed.  To model the self-donation of Christ to the point of martyrdom is not so common in western Christianity but in all world it does happen.  True, Christian martyrdom is a beacon of the Cross and the Resurrection that can echo through the world starting with those who actually bring someone to martyrdom.  

The first Christian martyr was Stephen.  He did not have the position of an apostle and was not in the upper hierarchy of the Church.  But he was not a layperson since he was an ordained a deacon.  It is fitting that he was a deacon since he had one foot in the hierarchy and one among the laity.  He serves as an example for both in giving ones all for the cause of the gospel.  

Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.  But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke……………. And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:9-10,15 ).  

Freedman (as it was called)- – There is a bit of holy sarcasm from Luke in that those who lack the gospel lack true freedom, think they have it, and are enraged when their construct is threatened.  One could say their blindness is ironic and sad precisely because of the title they go by.  Paul address this spiritual blindness saying, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:3).  

Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia- – With evil fighting the good, evil wins some battles but it is a Pyrrhic victory they are about have.  These places that these devout Jews were from were from far away.  The gospel was preached to them by someone who spoke and acted out the gospel at the highest cost and even in their enmity they would be witnesses of this event.  

they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke– – – This line is pregnant with meaning.  First, we can see that Stephen is taking the initiative and putting them on the defense.  This is consistent with the words of Jesus saying of the Church that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).  We are not called to be offensive for offensiveness’ sake, but if spiritual light works as piercing the darkness, then darkness or  inconsistency is the movable object to the unstoppable force of the gospel when rightly articulated.  

Second we see acted out here that the integration of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is the “Spirit of truth” in dialogue (John 16:13).  The Church, including ordained ministers and the lay faithful, are the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  

they saw that his face was like the face of an angel- – We can assume that this was from Luke’s interview with the apostle Paul.  Here is where grace abounded in the face of hate and Paul must have worked hard to stuff that away. I should add that there is much to be said how Christians should not be beacons of intellectual light alone. Jesus did not say to “speak light to the world” but “you are the light of the world”.  

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts7:54-8:1).   

When they heard these things, they became enraged- – Stephen was successful in making an impact.  They were informed of the the truth of Jesus, their sin and need to repent to the point of making a fully informed decision.  The fullest expression of spiritual light gets some kind of reaction one way or another.  

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God- – – The active relationship of the Holy Spirit is in the believer to bring heaven to earth but to also prepare us for heaven.  Here Stephen has a toe on the finish line.  Stephen had a life towards Christ of seeing him rightly as Savior, listening to him as the Lord, joining to him in communion, rightly praising him, extending grace to the world and now seeing the end of all things in Christ fully glorified.  This is the hope of the resurrection on display in front of a not-yet repentant Paul.  It is no wonder that he wrote how he wanted to “know him in the power of the resurrection”.  

and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul….And Saul approved of their killing him- – Paul, going by Saul among the Jews, stood responsible or presiding of this as a supposed holy action.  He was a leader for this.  One can wonder what those coats meant to them.  Perhaps it was to show that the man was unclean and they did not want to be sullied by him. They were all “to good” for Stephen and his message.  

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit- – Stephen is loving God with his whole heart and by virtue of that his whole person.  The highest commandment per Jesus. He is in a holy way mimicking the 7th saying of Jesus on the cross.  

Lord, do not hold this sin against them- – He is loving his neighbor as himself and now working from the 1st saying of Jesus on the cross.  The second commandment that Jesus emphasized.  

When he had said this, he died- – Stephen as the first martyr testifies in action and words to the love of God in the cross of Christ.  He sealed his last breath returning evil with good and joined his death to Jesus on the cross.  There are martyrs for many causes including some that almost anyone can be sympathetic to.  But there is a character in Christian martyrdom in that it touches by the shedding of blood right teaching and action of the nature of God being love, God being flesh in Jesus (John 1:14) and the salvation that is meant for all humanity to all of human experience.  

Whether we live and die dramatically, this is the message our lives are to support.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be fleshed out in faith, hope and fully the love of God.  It is the greatest gift.   

The First and Last Points

Unselfie

In the history of the Church there are those in authority who make choices for how things are run.  There are some who speak profoundly and those who do quiet things only God and the saints in heaven notice.  But most basically Christians are called to make Jesus first in their lives one day at a time and sacrificially when needed.  To model the self-donation of Christ to the point of martyrdom is not so common in western Christianity but in all world it does happen.  True, Christian martyrdom is a beacon of the Cross and the Resurrection that can echo through the world starting with those who actually bring someone to martyrdom.  

The first Christian martyr was Stephen.  He did not have the position of an apostle and was not in the upper hierarchy of the Church.  But he was not a layperson since he was an ordained a deacon.  It is fitting that he was a deacon since he had one foot in the hierarchy and one among the laity.  He serves as an example for both in giving ones all for the cause of the gospel.  

Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.  But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke……………. And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:9-10,15 ).  

Freedman (as it was called)- – There is a bit of holy sarcasm from Luke in that those who lack the gospel lack true freedom, think they have it, and are enraged when their construct is threatened.  One could say their blindness is ironic and sad precisely because of the title they go by.  Paul address this spiritual blindness saying, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:3).  

Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia- – With evil fighting the good, evil wins some battles but it is a Pyrrhic victory they are about have.  These places that these devout Jews were from were from far away.  The gospel was preached to them by someone who spoke and acted out the gospel at the highest cost and even in their enmity they would be witnesses of this event.  

they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke– – – This line is pregnant with meaning.  First, we can see that Stephen is taking the initiative and putting them on the defense.  This is consistent with the words of Jesus saying of the Church that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).  We are not called to be offensive for offensiveness’ sake, but if spiritual light works as piercing the darkness, then darkness or  inconsistency is the movable object to the unstoppable force of the gospel when rightly articulated.  

Second we see acted out here that the integration of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is the “Spirit of truth” in dialogue (John 16:13).  The Church, including ordained ministers and the lay faithful, are the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  

they saw that his face was like the face of an angel- – We can assume that this was from Luke’s interview with the apostle Paul.  Here is where grace abounded in the face of hate and Paul must have worked hard to stuff that away. I should add that there is much to be said how Christians should not be beacons of intellectual light alone. Jesus did not say to “speak light to the world” but “you are the light of the world”.  

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts7:54-8:1).   

When they heard these things, they became enraged- – Stephen was successful in making an impact.  They were informed of the the truth of Jesus, their sin and need to repent to the point of making a fully informed decision.  The fullest expression of spiritual light gets some kind of reaction one way or another.  

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God- – – The active relationship of the Holy Spirit is in the believer to bring heaven to earth but to also prepare us for heaven.  Here Stephen has a toe on the finish line.  Stephen had a life towards Christ of seeing him rightly as Savior, listening to him as the Lord, joining to him in communion, rightly praising him, extending grace to the world and now seeing the end of all things in Christ fully glorified.  This is the hope of the resurrection on display in front of a not-yet repentant Paul.  It is no wonder that he wrote how he wanted to “know him in the power of the resurrection”.  

and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul….And Saul approved of their killing him- – Paul, going by Saul among the Jews, stood responsible or presiding of this as a supposed holy action.  He was a leader for this.  One can wonder what those coats meant to them.  Perhaps it was to show that the man was unclean and they did not want to be sullied by him. They were all “to good” for Stephen and his message.  

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit- – Stephen is loving God with his whole heart and by virtue of that his whole person.  The highest commandment per Jesus. He is in a holy way mimicking the 7th saying of Jesus on the cross.  

Lord, do not hold this sin against them- – He is loving his neighbor as himself and now working from the 1st saying of Jesus on the cross.  The second commandment that Jesus emphasized.  

When he had said this, he died- – Stephen as the first martyr testifies in action and words to the love of God in the cross of Christ.  He sealed his last breath returning evil with good and joined his death to Jesus on the cross.  There are martyrs for many causes including some that almost anyone can be sympathetic to.  But there is a character in Christian martyrdom in that it touches by the shedding of blood right teaching and action of the nature of God being love, God being flesh in Jesus (John 1:14) and the salvation that is meant for all humanity to all of human experience.  

Whether we live and die dramatically, this is the message our lives are to support.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be fleshed out in faith, hope and fully the love of God.  It is the greatest gift.   

CHASING THE WIND

REJECTION

Truth has a way of getting out whether we like it or not.  Years ago, there was a book written called “An Inconvenient Truth” which sold well and inspired a movie.  Something resonated from a marketing perspective that some of the more worthwhile truths are not convenient.  The marketing was that the inconvenience was epitomized in speaking truth to power and power being unreceptive.  

In the early years that Christianity began to flourish, there was a 24-hour period that was crucial.  The high priest in Jerusalem had the apostles arrested and put in their temple jail.  But an angel set them free and they went back to teaching in the name of Jesus. The next morning the elite were deliberating what to do next when they got news of Christians acting very “inconvenient”.    

Then someone arrived and announced, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’  Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’  But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him’ (Acts 5:25-32).  

Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!– – -Christianity is not supposed to be promulgated on personalities of the message bearers.  The fulness of development of the Christian message was coming together but for then it had to be by those apostles.  Ultimately the preaching of the gospel and demonstration it is meant to be by all who believe.  

We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, – – – Orders are not bad depending on the context.  Later Christians would deal with the Roman Empire who said that “Caesar is Lord” but in a way the religious leaders acted as if religion is an end it in itself. Therefore they miss where their prudential judgment ends and what is intrinsic to God begins.  I would have to say that this can be seen replayed even within established Christianity when those in authority make the same mistake.  

yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching- – – The compliment to the Body of Christ from its enemies is that it is too influential.  What fills the culture is the proclaiming of Christ.  

you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us- – – This borrows from what Jesus said in how “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).  The correct expression of the gospel is not to shame the person.  To have shame is to be in a state of spiritual shock that immobilizes the person from having faith.  But when we are convicted of our sin with the love of Christ on the cross and the truth of resurrection the guilt turns to repentance.  When we resist that tug of conviction then what is equally immobilizing is our pride resisting the truth that our sin crucified the promised Anointed One (Christ).  

We must obey God rather than any human authority- – When confronted Peter declares a boundary but not in any way meant to be obnoxious.  Peter lays down how their priority is to live in obedience to God as the prime reality.  Caesars or fads come and go but God stays the same.  

 

God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior-   Ultimately there is the dual between the City of God and the City of Man.  Peter speaks not as a political revolutionary but a spiritual one and making a case full of faith and reason.  The calling for all Christians to declare Christ is to declare “Jesus is Lord” in place of “Caesar is Lord”.    When speaking to the powerful or the meek, we have the mind of Christ and propose Christ as the reason (logos) of the Father.  

so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins- – GK Chesterton was a Christian who wrote detective stories where evidence was collected and the guilty one was punished.  But as an apologist for Christianity he stated that the Church collects evidence and points out what sin is with the fullest elaboration to instead declare God’s forgiveness.  Obviously in scenes like this one and many others, the party receiving this word do not see it that way.  Peter gives emphasis to God’s mercy to that effect.  

we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit- – – Peter speaks as a symbol of the Church and knows the intertwining reality of the Holy Spirit with the life of the Christian community. “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church (St. Augustine, Sermon 267,4:PL 38,1231D).  Peter standing as a symbol personally is even emphasized when he deals with two liars in the Church saying,  “ ‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit’ ‘(Acts 5:3)? In short, while Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.

When the Church shares and lives the gospel there may be success, persecution or maybe a bit of both.  Exact paths of either is ultimately up to the sovereign will of God and the faithful are to trust Him along the way.  But hope remains the same if it is persecution with no immediate results. And thus right teaching and doctrine of what the Church is becomes practice.  

and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 5:40-42).  

Such faith and joy would be the soil for the martyrs.  And those martyrs would in turn be the seed of a harvest of souls.