Charged Forward

wheat barnConversion is often thought as a one time thing.  And thank God, people say, because conversion can cost a lot.  But what if conversion is an ongoing process?  James wrote in his epistle to people who were already Christians that the engrafted word can save their souls (James 1:21).  A theology term used to signify this is ongoing justification.  This is the continual and active surrender to God’s grace.   The heart must be soft for conversion to happen.  Such and approach is then ready for the proposition of change. In the preaching of John the Baptis, he spoke truth to all for change whether they were political  or religious elites or common soldiers in a corrupt system.

I am reminded of a sermon that Abraham Lincoln heard.  The congregation thought it was elegant with lots of flighty words.  When it was over he was asked what he though to which he said it was the worst sermon he had ever heard since it did not challenge him to action.  A call to action was needed for freedom for the slaves but all the more for the world in slavery to sin.  Like Jesus to come, John know that the compassionate thing to do would be to call for hard change or the softness of heart would not be there.   The hope is that among each of those groups were at least some of the soft hearted ready to be challenged.  And maybe, in some cases, the hard of heart become soft.

 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12).

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance-  This could be getting a blank slate but without the understanding of what one is getting next.  A hard part is that those who went to the Jordan River knew the sins and their pleasures yet they acknowledged need for the kingdom of God.  Such humility had to come with a radical trust in God to handle what comes next.  But they had a reference to go by in the baptism of Moses.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

What Paul communicates about the experience of covenant in the experience of the Israelites is in part that God grants defining moments in relationship to his people through the senses like in the Red Sea.  It can be inferred that Jesus was inspired in part from this as a Jewish man who taught about how one needs to be “born again to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) but some translations say, “born from above”.  Therefore if one is baptized through Jesus into His community rather than the symbolism of John the material and the mystery come together as “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). To sum up, the baptism of John or any kind of honesty about ones sins is what you turn away from, which is honorable, but it is in the fulness of turning to Jesus that full salvation exists.   This baptism of John os to stop sin.  What comes in the gospel is that, the forgiveness of sin and having ones lifeline transformed by life that is eternally based.

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I-  John minimizes his personal power but points to the power in the Messiah instead.  Repentance with Jesus is turning from acts of sin but the freedom in obedience to lift up Jesus.

He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.-  The baptized at the Jordan did not know the theology one can have on the context of those words, but what one could surmise from these words that the Messiah would be a uniter and a purifier. It is interesting the role of the Holy Spirit is described in agricultural terms.  It is because non-life objects like chaff have no seasons but just are.  They are “as is” and not respondent to the ups and downs of seasons. But Jesus indeed gathers his wheat into his barn.  In those days, barns were not seen through an LLC lens but were part of the homestead.  The repentance with John is the blank slate pointing to the need to go home in some manner with this Messiah to come. To convert is to come home.

Not only does the baptized of that day confess sins as a people but confess a hope of belonging in some way and someday with a community. One could imagine that John proclaims the hope of this wheat gathering like an employee of an orphanage helping the children to be ready to be adopted by a good Father.  Wheat grows, consumes and reproduces if gathered in the right place as the living things they are.  Chaff is dead.  The time for repentance from dead works is now so that the wheat, or living works, would be unveiled of God’s sustenance.

This leads me to point to Hebrews 6:2 again on the reference of “repentance from dead works and faith in God”.  The opposite that can hold one back is a false sense of piety and overemphasis on individuality. Furthermore, it would be dependence in ones dead works and faith in self. In other words, ones “chaff”.  The best that could look like would be a form of godliness but not living it and thus denying the fully intended power.

Going forward, much can be attained in living out the knowledge of the difference by leaning on the grace of God as one can also see in Hebrews 6:2 with then “instruction of baptisms and laying on of hands”. These normative steps are the fuller expression of conversion in baptism and being confirmed by the Church in the laying on of hands.   The early Church and the ongoing Church are the wheat barn.  Gathered together  in the Holy Spirit and purified by Christ, we can walk fully in the life of Jesus and know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit in history, mystery and majesty.

Day 1- Humbled Together

The BeginningWhat is the classic conversion story regarding faith?  Is there such a thing?  Can it be run “by the numbers” like a formula?  In Christianity, there are patterns of surrender, but it is best not to see it through a mechanical lens.

An important factor is that Jesus never shamed anyone towards the surrender of conversion.  Shame does not work since it is sort of another flavor for fear and the scriptures teach us that, “perfect love pushes out fear” (1 John 4:12).  Shame and legalism complicate the search for Jesus in ways that take us from simplicity, or in other words, the basics of love.

There is a story I like about the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi.  His team lost a game once that he felt would not have got away from them if they had stayed rooted in the fundamentals of the game.  He then had the next several days full of drills that a high school foot ball team would do.  The re-rooting had to happen.  One can be refreshed on the mission by renewing their perspective of what started them on mission.  Love is the basics and at the heart of the mission.

Such was the case for Jesus the winter before the Cross.  He had been in Jerusalem twice in the last three months or so.  Shame and legalism were the themes of his adversaries and they rejected his love out of principle.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.  Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him (John 10:40-42).

The Jordan River was full of  the meaning of conversion for the Jewish people.  Just as Moses parted the Red Sea in leaving Egypt, Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.  It had been seen as a place of going from slavery to the full benefits of being children of promise.  Being children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob meant a context of covenant with God as a person.  To go from one level of relationship with God to a higher one is part of what covenant means.  It means more than “What I have is yours” but “I am yours”.  In the thoughts and feelings of Jesus one can imagine in this later stage of his public life something like nostalgia on how he began ministry before at the baptism by John.  That was where a model of Christian conversion began to be lived out and modeled in one fateful week in part by Jesus himself.

Three years before, the soil of John’s ministry was a prime place for Christ and the community he founded and would begin its foundation in an act and sign of repentance.  One could call the people being baptized as going to the “Church of John” in that with his baptism they were saying they loved God more than their sins and were ready for God’s kingdom to come in fulness. This was a hunger for God’s grace that they could come and receive while putting aside the dirt of the weary journey. The baptism of repentance is good in an admitted need for God.  It is like the 12 Step model in admitting that you have become powerless and cannot manage your life alone. It is even admitting your wrongs and their very nature.  Such admission is the beginning of wisdom but not conversion in fulness: a conversion of the heart.

For Christ and his followers, this had other contexts and those contexts were of fulfillment partly in experiencing the beginnings of the Church which Jesus would found.  Jesus was proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God and baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  Some who saw him being baptized heard a voice in the baptism that this was the Son of God.  It was in this scene that some began to believe in him and among them two who would become apostles.

Of the pilgrims mentioned above, it is worth considering what they were thinking.  John said that Jesus must increase and he would decrease.  That was significant but still lacked something.  There were no stumbling blocks in the crowd in Jordan.  They had not heard the harder truths yet.  They also did not know what it would be like to have a continued relationship personally with Jesus in tandem with such hard truths.  Does that make their belief in Jesus meaningless?  Not necessarily.  It just means that they believed with obedience to the point that they could with what they knew.  But the call of the price of discipleship would come soon enough like it does to anyone who takes the daring step of seeing Jesus as more than just a nice guy to believe in a savior like hero.  The core message of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord.

One can look at the epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the foundations of personal conversion, encountering God in His covenantal nature and eternal view.  Below is a general outline for salvation from ones conversion into eternity within in the context of community.

“Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

So what is it like to do those things in an experience that is ideal and clear?  One can see in other scenes in the gospels how a conversion to Jesus is murky with condemnation and cynicism.  What I will address next are ways Jesus can show up when the heart of the person is ready, the context is ideal and still have healthy skepticism come along for the ride.  With that in mind, I concentrate on the first 7 days  where Jesus sheds the garb of a carpenter and steps up in the public favor of the Father and models conversion for the world to follow.

To be clear on theology, Jesus was not a convert.  But Jesus made a point in these first days of going public to show what conversion looks like.  The unveiling of Jesus as the wisdom and power of God is not an enigma but a mystery that the humble can always at least get the gist of.  One such humble person was John son of Zechariah baptizing people along the Jordan River.  To a great extent, if one gets his lens, one greatly gets who Jesus is and offers.  It is that Jesus atones for the sins of the world.  Even the worst.

  In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” …… At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:1,5).

Repent- A wise man with a dramatic addiction recovery story said that if he meets someone like he used to be that has a history of bad character and cannot describe their own turning point then he hesitates to trust them.  Conversion is a choice and is a turning point.

the kingdom of heaven is at hand!–  Conversion is towards a constant relationship that it rooted in heaven.  It is not about politics, culture or any other schemas that humans conjure up.  God is above the fray and his purest state of kingdom starts and ends in heaven but can be grasped on earth.

baptized by him…. as they acknowledged their sins-  Conversion is a redemption process and is meant for a healthy community context.  The call to Christ, is a call to community.  It is no surprise that in many early Christian communities the norm was for some to stand up to confess sins and receive the grace of the forgiveness in the name of Christ at a church meeting.  Even looking at today in 12 Step meetings there is a confessional quality as someone says “I am…..and I am a(n)…. “  While 12 Step is an honest program, Christianity is more than that.

To know the call of Jesus is to have the norm of knowing that call from honesty into change.  In that, we can all be works in progress. Such is the beauty of the Savior’s work on all who seek him in a community of loved sinners coming out of the shame of our failings.  We are all hungry for that even if we do not know it.

Words for the Critically Priveledged

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Changing ones perspective at  a very basic level can be hard for anyone.  But there is a special angle to that experience when a person has a privilege in perspective that is head and shoulders above those of their peers.  In someone is at the pinnacle of the physical sciences then the bias could be what is called scientism in knowing much of reality but confining that which can believed in to only what is totally quantified.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on post-modern theories that lack meaning of the human experience to what a person or group defines as true or good.  The disciplines go on and on and much of the time good can come from them as long as there is humility to keep asking the right questions after hefty and good answers.  Mankind, after all, is a thinking being and that is why we use the term homo sapien.  The term is about the genus that thinks and reaches toward what is good, true and beautiful often with words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order.

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14) and the first prism to view Jesus in his time would be theology.  Such a man that had qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodeumus.  He was a decision maker and one who could influence what was defined as truth and order among the Jewish leaders.  But one night he had  an encounter with a man who was both a rabbi and an ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and left him with a choice.  Likewise, I will point out here that those things can happen today for the inquirer with all of those traits but yet be take only so far.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15).

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Even better, Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of that first spiritual hunger when one hears the introductory basics of the gospel.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom that is anchored in heaven.  But to accept that good news one must transition from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one and thus a spiritual birth.  No spiritual birth, no spiritual citizenship.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  Make no mistake, this is the theological normative of baptism.  Some say that the water reference is just giving credit to the physical birth and amniotic fluid which was referred to by the early church fathers and ecclesial writer— absolutely never.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Rabbi Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says “baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity.

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit—  This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to be in full yield mode to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.  This is like a childlike yielding of trust unto God.  An example is shown later with the apostle Paul.

It could be tempting to fight the implication that the call to discipleship under the power of the Holy Spirit could be that humbling.  With that, one may want to rationalize away this call saying that wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case.  Steve Ray covers this well in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  So, when we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the one word pneuma  (St. John’s Gospel, 2002).

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).

How can this happen?— Briefly I would say that Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit in his theological paradigm.  Jesus proceeds to challenge him to get over it.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40)

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to apprehend in faith or get the just.

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breaking, living and talking he offers something to the world that is incomparable.

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ and it is — as is.

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse in at least the Western Hemisphere.  It is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

This is a beautiful verse to now come to though likely now the words of John the apostle and not the words of Jesus yet rich in meaning in context of the chapter before and after it.  Before it we see in the set up that engaging with Jesus in the most freshest of Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, sacramental and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ.

But keep in mind what the “believe” part is in John 3:16.  In the Greek it is believing.  For salvation to happen in the kingdom there is a declaration of the righteousness of Christ, but the ongoing connection of that is in the context of onward holiness in grace and obedience.

And this brings me to how we are informed of the believe as ongoing and measurable in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, do you call yourself a Christian because you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid?  Great! —But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are hooked on a feeling and not walking by faith.

Many people out there think they have the right spiritual credentials about Jesus but too few have the connection that is of Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus.  The call to encounter all of us and our “spiritual privilege” still stands and that call is from Jesus.  He does not change but we do.  Our choice that is indicated whether we consider ourselves as a Nicodemus or not still is up to us on if we will follow Jesus unconditionally.

Pivot Point of Substance

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A fundamental wish we have at some point in our lives is to have a clean slate after something we have done that is regretful.  Some of us have had more than just a bad day we want to forget about but a bad year.  As of this writing I am a little over a week from starting as a counselor in a residential treatment program for substance abuse.  I will have clients that would like to have a clean slate where they do not have to wallow in shame.  

 

The nature of shame is having a fundamental view of yourself that is completely flawed to the core and lacking hope. If you are infected by shame, why try to improve?  You can always page Dr. Daniels, first name Jack, to bring you relief.  

To have a clean slate that gets us out of the rut of shame is a matter of a tangible turning point.  If someone just gradually phases out of a particular bad and compulsive behavior then they can phase it back in.  This turning point can not be entirely intellectual because if I can be talked out of that shameful behavior I can be talked back into it.  

A way to have that new reference point that works with the gut and is tangible is through baptism.  From the top of your head to the bottom of your feet there is a reckoning of yourself to be dead to sin and alive unto God (Romans 6:11).  Peter sees this to be a literal truth with literal application.  

1 Peter 3:18-22

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

There are several misunderstandings I used to have as a Protestant that would water down how effective and relevant baptism could be.  One, that baptism is a symbol of knowing Jesus but does not have any power to it.  There are several reasons that one should not read the Bible and come to that conclusion.  

First, just with this passage alone, there are many points that have to be taken literally but supposedly baptism is taken figuratively.  The direct baptism reference would have to be a symbolic island surrounded with many verses that must be taken fundamentally or there is no room for orthodoxy (Council of Nicea comes to mind). It would be wise to take either the entire passage literally or not at all.  Pull out one thread and whole passage falls apart with Jesus having figuratively suffered, resurrected, and interceding for us now.  

Second, the Bible does not show us prefigures of prefigures for figures.  It is relatively straight to the point.  Removal of dirt from the body is just a symbol.  By baptism we connect to Jesus being the literal Savior, Mediator and Lord.  

Third, baptism is not a legalistic work.  Legalism is a set of do’s and don’t’s that is founded by man and does not connect us to God.  Jesus founded it as a way to experience grace that changes us to the core (Matthew 28: 18-21). 

Along with the same vein of seeing baptism as a legalistic act is regarding infant baptism.  I can respond to this issue as a father.  In a few months my wife and I will see our three kids (5,3, and newborn) that we have together be baptized in the Catholic Church (I became a Catholic last year and my wife became a Catholic this past Easter). We are not under the illusion that our kids will have a free ride from sin but a reference point in knowing that they have been marked with an intrinsic point of reference of God’s love and saving grace.  When they stray that reference point will be that clean conscience or North Star to remember, be inspired by and find their way home. 

Another point is that the clean slate of baptism is a way to plug into God’s plan of salvation for the whole world  and even more so through what Jesus did.  An example is pointed out by Steven Ray (former Baptist minister turned Catholic).  He points out that if Simon Peter shared on the day of Pentecost that this new, superior covenant was for their kids but they had to hold off on baptizing their children until the age of accountability there would be a problem.  A Jewish elder would say, “Hold off! You say this covenant through Yeshua (Jesus) is superior but with what we have now our sons can be circumscised into the old covenant at eight days. You do not have a superior covenant”.  

So baptism is not only a tangible and holistic but it is also universal and at the hands of His called out community (ekklesia= Church).  When taken in context of all that Jesus is, it is not a hurdle to God’s grace but a channel of it.  He gives us an offer that we should not refuse.  

 

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

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Where we last left off, God spoke to Simon Peter, a Jew, and Cornelius the centurion, a Roman to get together. For this to happen, there was hardness of heart to get through but not in the Roman surprisingly. 

            So now Peter shows up as directed and is taking a step of faith.  Due to the deeply entrenched oppression by the Romans for a few generations  Peter may have longed for the leap of faith in walking on water to Jesus.  After all, the water never did anything to him personally. 

Acts 10: 34 “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

            Right here Peter talks about how God provides equal justice.  He will not tip the scales over any person over another by superficial standards in terms of His judgment.  Next, Peter recognizes signs of light in those that are different from him.  More than that, those who have faith and does what is right are acceptable to what he used to think was only a Jewish God. 

            Peter then brings in a serious drive to the point.  He quickly says Jesus is Lord of all.  This is not an authority trip.  Yes, authority is part of Jesus being Lord, but it also involves how he is personal and not a person on the other side of the universe.      

43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  If you remember from last post, Jesus tells Peter to not call unclean what He calls clean.  Forgiveness is there even for those people.

But the teaching and experience that Peter brings to these gentiles is not just an emphasis on what American Protestants called, “Confessing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”   If people come into Jesus, then it is meant to be lived out in a corporate context and on the other side of a solid, measurable dividing line. 

44 “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

            The Holy Spirit falling down on the gentile crowd is powerful.  Peter sees that grace of God on the people that confirms not only redemption but a call to communion in fellowship.  You see, in the Church, knowing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is a start.  But with the Holy Spirit active and crying from our hearts, we can call God “Daddy”.  Peter sees that they share the same Daddy.  I long for the day that no Christian fellowship on earth is an ethnic or racially based church! 

            The next part is about recognizing the grace of God in fellowship.  This is why the Catholic Church recognizes the coming of the Holy Spirit to enlighten one to be a fully active member in the visible body.  The gentiles received a touch of God’s grace in their hearts, but baptism would further enlist their experience as a solid context for their bodies too to experience the New Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 to see that passing through inspired water is covenential). It is baptism that seals the mark salvation (1 Peter 3:21). 

            So Peter has come a long way.  He swallowed his ethnic and religious pride. Further change is happening and Peter had to roll with it.  Do we?  Where is our prejudice?  Are we content to keep the Other, Other?  Or do we want to be like Simon Peter or the Good Samaritan and take our own part of being a bridge to those that are yet seeking God in their understanding.  

More Precious Than Gold

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I remember a joke about gold when I was a kid.  Goofy but educational.  A guy is walking down the street when a criminal rips off his watch and runs.  The guy says, “AU! Give me back my watch!” AU is the periodic table symbol for gold.  I got this from the Facts of Life.  

That occurred to me in a roundabout way, when I wanting to write this blog today.  Why is gold so precious?  It is not a small thing to appraise something as more precious than gold. 

Gold is shiny. It is dense.  But particularly it does not absorb outside material.  No stain, no muss, no fuss. 

 When it comes to the things of this world that bring us down, how easily are we stained?  The worries of this life?  Ways to objectify people?  I remember the words of John Paul II were something like, “Love people, use things.  Do not use people and love things.”  There are a lot of dirty things that can cling to us if we do not have a fundamental lean to something that really grounds us in what matters. 

Such is on my mind with Simon Peter here. 

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

There are two things at least we can get from this story.  First, Peter walked with something more precious than gold or silver: he had Jesus and kept Him in mind as his greatest treasure.  Based on some prior verses in Acts 8 we can guess that Simon the magician had bling since his magic show was popular.  

The next thing is “God’s gift” in this context.  Peter could not pretend to sell the gift of the Holy Spirit because it was not for sale.  Jesus defined the Holy Spirit as a gift to be received from your Father in heaven.  God is in the grace business, not in the profit-business. 

The rest of this interaction is profound and a bit complex.  Peter refers Simon the magician to God for forgiveness.  Maybe he knew Simon had been baptized as a believer or maybe no one had told him.  The bottom line is that Peter did not see him as having any “part or share” in the Church. 

This is important because of the response of Simon to Peter.  Simon is repentant perhaps further than Peter might have hoped for.  He asks for Peter to pray to God for the grace to not be cast out or be kept out of the Church. 

To see the full color of this, I should talk about the sacraments. When you are baptized there is a deep, indelible mark on you that saves or makes one whole (1 Peter 3:21).  You have received the good news of God’s love in Jesus.

The next sacrament that is important is confirmation.  Confirmation is for someone to be counted as a part of God’s orchestra called the Church and is infused with the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120, they were confirmed.  The Holy Spirit speaks to, and then from, our hearts Abba (Daddy), Father. It confirms a key perception by which we can walk in unity with the Head and the Body. 

What this reminds me of is a frequent saying of Dr. Scott Hahn that, “The good news keeps getting better.”  Simon recognizes where he was falling short and had a good idea about this new kingdom on how to fix it. 

Simon could have gone to any Christian, maybe Phillip the deacon and evangelist for this prayer.  But he responds straight to Peter.  There is a common misnomer in our culture of “Jesus and me”.  But Simon asks Peter instead because Peter was priest as well as an apostle.  Priests administer the sacrament of confession (John 20:22-23, James 5:15-17). In some way Simon recognized that as a newly baptized believer.  

If Simon perceived the Jesus and His Church as just another gig, he would have walked away.  But I believe that by some understanding of the witness of holy living in Peter and the power of Christ’s sacraments that he saw something more.  Simon was working in the wrong currency.  The first pebble he wanted was to be made whole. Since there is not a further comment from Peter I can assume that he showed God’s mercy.  

So in this journey of conversion, if we choose it, what are we wanting for this life that matters and how much do we want it?  Baptism saves us.  Confirmation joins us.  Confession renews us.  God wants us to have it all in at least some way.  Do we?