Sundays With St. Paul: What Happened At Antioch?

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

Our class discussion this week led us to the incident at Antioch as Paul describes in Galatians 2:11-14:

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”[1]

Our ultimate goal was to figure out what happened at Antioch, why Paul was so upset, and also figure out what Peter’s perspective might have been. Essentially, I said both Peter and Paul were quickly realizing they didn’t have a unified definition of what a Jesus follower looked like – whether they continue practicing the law and retain their Jewish identity or surrender it all (or certain elements) to intermingle with the Gentile Christians. For as Dunn highlights, “The point is that earliest Christianity was not yet seen as something separate and distinct from Judaism. It was a sect, like other sects within first-century Judaism. The first Christians had some distinct and peculiar beliefs about Jesus; but their religion was the religion of the Jews.”[2]

Dunn’s point is something I grew up not even knowing about. Instead, I was oftentimes confused as to why Peter would return to Jewish customs after experiencing life with the risen Jesus. I had assumed he became “Christian” right at the beginning of Acts. Of course, given Peter’s track record in the Gospels (e.g. rebuked by Jesus, failure to stay awake with Jesus, denied knowing Jesus, etc.), I simply understood the Antioch incident as another one of Peter’s blunders. Yet if we understand that there wasn’t much distinction between Christianity and Judaism in his time, then it actually seems quite understandable that he would return to Jewish customs.

And this leads us to the next point in thought: What were those customs? Was it circumcision? Or was it food laws that divided Peter from the Gentiles? If Acts 10:14 can be of any use here, it suggests Peter was still struggling in surrendering Jewish ways, but particularly regarding food; “But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’”

A scholar named Mark Nanos argues that “[a] change of diet certainly would be a less threatening option, and one that non-Jewish men should be expected to accommodate more gladly than the alternative of circumcision – but that is not what Paul states to be at issue.”[3] As Nanos states earlier in his article, he’s in direct disagreement with Dunn, who argued that it was dietary laws (as well as circumcision) that retained their Jewish identity – particularly in response to anti-Jewish riots and turmoil stirring in other parts of the Roman Empire.[4] It means those “certain people from James,” as Dunn argues, were on a mission in reaction to that rising anti-Jewish threat.[5]

Thielman says if Paul had withdrawn from the Gentiles (as Peter had done), he would have violated “the ‘law of Christ’ of [Gal.] 6:2, a law that incorporates the Mosaic injunction to love one’s neighbor.”[6] Given Paul’s strong focus on Christ, I find this stance most convincing – that whether it was dietary laws or circumcision didn’t matter. What mattered was fellowship through faith in Christ. Yet both Peter and Paul began to recognize consequences of such a new identity. However, Peter seemed to have erred on the side of what was comfortable to him (continuing on as a Jew) whereas Paul erred on the side of what he believed the gospel meant (unity in Christ).

What do you think the issue at Antioch was about? Do you think Peter was in the wrong as Paul suggests or do you sympathize with Peter considering his Jewish identity? What other elements do you think belong in the conversation?

[1] All Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 131, emphasis his.

[3] Mark D. Nanos, “The Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul Standing Between Christians and Jews,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations v. IV, Issue #1 (Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, 2009), 11-12.

[4] Dunn, J.P.L, 135

[5] Dunn, J.P.L, 136

[6] Frank Thielman, Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 142


No Strings Attached…

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds,” – Matthew 11:19

A few days ago, my brother had sent me a text asking how to, in the kindest way possible, tell the door-to-door evangelists that they’re wasting their time. I told him to invite them in to smoke pot or whatever else would make them extremely uncomfortable and walk away (you see, it’s funny because my brother doesn’t smoke pot).

I never heard back as to what happened next, but ever since then I’ve been wondering about evangelism and the typical ways we go about it. Door-to-door, handing out pamphlets or business cards on campus, or simply walking around town telling people to go to a specific church are all common ways we encounter (and maybe even carry out) evangelism. But is this the way Jesus wanted?

Many of my friends attend a church in town that did this sort of evangelizing; they walked around neighborhoods, campuses, or various parts of town handing out business cards. They’re now one of the largest churches in town with at least two different campuses and several services every Sunday. If the goal of the church is to multiply the number of believers, they most certainly succeeded. But what if the goal was relational development? What if Jesus cared more about His church growing emotionally and spiritually together as they grow with Him? Leaving such a thing to a business card, then, might not be what He wants.

Of course, I don’t see things from God’s perspective. And I certainly believe that many people have come to know the Lord because somebody handed them a piece of paper or told them about a specific church in town. But, as in the experience of my brother, I wonder if we’ve begun to trust more in the system of church rather than the personal, relational power of Christ? What I mean is how well do we know our neighbors? How well do we learn about the people we hand our business cards to? How deep does our love go for them?

I know. These are questions you can’t really answer with demographics and polls. But I find asking them to be important not because church-goers are wrong to invite non-believers to their church, but because trusting so much into a system could severely disable opportunities for relational growth with other people. I won’t learn much about them nor will they about me. We’ll all become plagued by comfort and security, trusting only in ourselves and the few closest to us (if our trust even extends that far).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” – Romans 12:15

Paul gives a difficult exhortation here. In my experience, when other people are happy and overjoyed by something, I might nod and say something like, “Good for you,” but I won’t share in their joy. Why? It’s because I haven’t trained myself to feel what someone else feels. Instead, I let their happiness be their own while I continue on with whatever is going on in my life. I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but there is a lot of room for improvement – improvement that would never happen if I hid behind my business cards.

How, then, are we to share the good news of Jesus without going door-to-door or handing out our church information in public? How are people supposed to know that we belong to God – that we worship Jesus?

Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard because He spent a lot of time in peoples’ houses sharing meals with them. How many parables did He share that talked about feasts and banquets and parties (ex. Luke 14:12)? What was His first miracle (John 2:1-11)? Jesus went door to door not to hand someone a business card or tract outlining His spiritual laws, but to have dinner with them, play games with their kids, and talk about unconditional love. He evangelized this way because that’s what His kingdom about: Kids playing, people eating and drinking, and unconditional love being shared.

As for how people might know that we follow Jesus; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” – John 13:34-35. The end of Acts 4:13 says, “And [the elders, scribes, and priests] recognized that [Peter and John] had been with Jesus.” Based off of how you act and how you treat people, can people recognize that you belong to Jesus? When I think about this for myself, I’m not sure people can tell by how I treat them.

Remember Matthew 25 and how Jesus says that if we do all those kind things to people that we’re really doing them to Him. Do we want to have Jesus over for dinner or simply hand Him a business card and hope He’s there come Sunday morning?

Jesus was slandered for His method of evangelism. And “yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” May we learn to interact with people with no strings attached – not expecting them to come to church with us (unless they really want to).

God bless.

Following a Potent God…

Perhaps this post would have been more appropriate on my blog’s third birthday, but for some reason, Jesus’ career has been on my mind. As the Scriptures say, it was roughly three years. We’re often amazed by how much Jesus actually accomplished in there years, but then again, He’s the Son of God, so of course He’d get that much done. And yet, there were twelve faithful followers who went with him nearly every step of the way: His disciples.

Of course, those familiar with the Gospel narratives know that Judas would eventually betray Jesus (right when it was most critical for him to remain a follower), but for most of those three years, these disciples never left Jesus’ side. They hung on His every word and, like good interns, put up with His rather odd and short-notice requests (i.e. Mark 6:37; thousands of people around them, Jesus asks His disciples to feed them). And when it was all said and done – when Jesus had fulfilled what He came to earth to fulfill – He handed the keys to the place, His church, to His disciples.

Can you imagine that happening in today’s time? I’ve been working for the Duck Store for a little over a year now and there is no possible way I could ever become CEO of the place in the next two years or so – let alone a supervisor. And yet, Jesus had fully entrusted His movement with the ones who stuck with Him every step of the way – even when they stumbled and faltered, which happened quite a bit (consider Peter’s life story). We can learn something beautiful about God in their story.

We can learn that it doesn’t take Him long to make a substantial difference in someone’s life. We can learn that such a process of internal transformation – a transformation of the heart – becomes smoother and smoother the closer one walks with Jesus. And we can learn that our lives aren’t about what we’ve left behind, but rather what God is bringing forward. These men started as fishermen, but ended as Apostles who laid the foundation for a faith we now inherit (and, sadly, take for granted).

As Thanksgiving Day draws closer and closer, I feel no other inclination than to thank God for His potency – that in three short years with Jesus, twelve men launched a movement that continues to this day, our day, so that I just might spend ten years trying to figure out exactly how Jesus wants me to live. If only I would be so bold as to follow Him as closely as they did.

The beauty of it all is that God has the same potency today as He did then. If I drop everything and follow Him just as they did, I might get a taste of what they saw and felt. And who knows, maybe I might be living a life that better resembles the life of Christ?

God bless.

Lent: Day One in the Books…

Every year there is a forty day season called Lent leading up to Easter. Colloquially, it’s a period when you give up certain, usually unnecessary things that take up a lot of your time. From what I’ve seen in the past couple of years, Facebook has been the number one thing given up for those partaking in Lent. I never thought I would be one of those people because I thought it somewhat impersonal to go along with everyone else to “sacrifice” something incredibly superficial. I just didn’t think God would really be pleased with me avoiding Facebook.

This year, however, I decided to give it a try. But, to be honest, it’s not just Facebook I’m giving up. Actually, of all the unnecessary things I do that evaporate my days, Facebook is lower on the list. Watching movies or TV shows takes the cake by far, but they’re closely followed by my Twitter time. All of these things I’m giving up for forty days not just to prove to myself that I can do it, but to learn how to do more productive things when I’m bored.

As is usually the case with publicly-declared commitments, the first day was the easiest. Instead of watching another three episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” – episodes I’ve already seen, mind you – I researched healthy meals that I could start cooking. Once I was done with that, I read several chapters of C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. And moments before I trekked over to Safeway to pick up some salad ingredients, a friend sent me a text to see if I wanted to hang out.

Before I knew it, I had prepared lunch for myself for the next three or four days, cooked tacos with Tyler, and got twice as much reading done as I normally might. Oh, and I also did some laundry in between all that. It’s safe to say that my boredom activities yesterday were way more productive.

What I’m more focused on, though, is what am I going to do when there’s nothing to do? If I’ve prepared all the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners I could possibly prepare or wash all the dirty clothes I could ever wash or do all the other necessary chores, what then will I do? You see, I don’t think the purpose of Lent is really to sacrifice one or two things simply to improve our productivity. I think it’s to get rid of our “easily-distracted” tendencies and return our complete focus onto God.

Over the past month and a half or so, one common theme has been rattling around my mind. On the Cross Training winter retreat back in January Darrin Ratcliff shared three messages out of the same chapter of Revelation. Every message dealt with the overall importance of worship, but focused specifically on various things. But what I came away with from that weekend was how in every thing I do or even think I can worship God.

It’s important here as it was in Darrin’s first message that weekend to highlight what it really means to worship. How it’s used throughout Scripture, it could mean serving, sacrificing, or laying prostrate before God. Or all of these meanings at the same time. Worship isn’t simply singing songs with other believers while some musicians play; it’s a constant, internal and/or external reverence of God.

A picture that comes to mind when I think of worship in this way is Matthew 17: 1-8:

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’

When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

God’s presence in His nature is too much for us to handle. At the mere sound of His voice everything that we would be doing or saying in that moment would stop and we’d take cover. Now granted, Peter, James, and John were terrified of what they were hearing, but the picture given in this passage emphasizes what’s most important in our walks with God: reverence, submission, and acknowledgement of the Holy One.

As it ought to be every Lent season, this is my focus. And as I said before, it’s really easy starting out, but I believe that if I continue to focus on the purpose of fasting from certain things (removing all hindrances to commune with God), then Easter will come and go before I know it. And heck, I might even get to a point where I won’t miss Facebook, Twitter, TV, or movies. I might be more enthralled with Jesus.

God bless.

Runnin’ and Tumblin’…

Grace has always been a difficult thing to grasp. Even before Jesus walked the earth, followers of God were very stubborn and flat out idiotic as to the depths of God’s grace and what it really meant. As we touched on last week, they started to believe that God would grant His grace to the people who upheld His law – the people who basically did the good deeds that God commanded them to.

In our modern day society, we have a general belief going around that if you do good things to others, good things will happen to you. It’s what is taught in the phrase “What goes around comes around,” or even in the simple term, “karma.” Many people believe that no matter how miserable their lives are now, if they continue to do good to others, then whatever future life they may have will be blessed. Essentially, you reap what you sow.

To a certain extent it’s true. Whatever we decide to do with our lives, there are always consequences. If I don’t show up to work, I won’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, I won’t be able to pay rent. If I can’t pay rent, I’ll end up on the streets. All of a sudden it seems like a good idea to show up to work.

What then is grace? It is the act of being given something we do not deserve – reaping something that we did not sow. Why is it important for today’s message? In the second half of Galatians 2, we see a confrontation between Peter and Paul about this very issue: Either sticking to the traditions of old that were very works-driven or to embrace the grace of God for all its ridiculousness.

Peter wanted to stick with the traditions of old, especially when his Jewish friends arrived, even though he understood full well what the grace of God is. This is not at all the first time Peter failed to act according to God’s teaching through Jesus. We see several moments of him running and stumbling through this new life in Christ.

In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus is telling His disciples what He’s about to go through. Peter, being the ever brash guy that he is, boldly tells Jesus, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” How does Jesus respond? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And yet again in Mark 14:29, Peter says He will never fall away from Jesus. But what happens in verses 66-72? Peter denies that he even knew Jesus 3 different times. And even in the story of Jesus walking on water, Peter fails to fully trust in Jesus. He steps out on the water for a while, but quickly begins to sink because he’s looking at the waves and wind and it’s scaring him.

What I have always found interesting about Peter’s story, though, is that no matter what, he’s still following Jesus. Like I said, he tripped and slipped throughout his entire life as a Christian. But the most important part is that he kept on going.

He didn’t quit. He didn’t give up.

What allowed him to keep going? Even though he fell countless times, what compelled him to get back up? It’s exactly what Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” As Paul says repeatedly earlier on (and later in the letter), Christ was only made able to live in and through each of us because of God’s limitless grace. We didn’t do anything to earn God’s favor; He just gave it to us.

My point this week is simple: Keep going – especially when you fall. Why should you keep going? Because one of the most prominent figures in early Christianity was one of Christ’s biggest failures. Time after time after time, Peter dropped the ball. And yet Jesus named Him, “The Rock,” which is what “Peter” means in Greek.

In your walk with Christ, you are going to fail, repeatedly. But such failure is not permanent because all our failures were put to death on the cross of Christ. Whatever power guilt and shame used to have has been rendered powerless by the blood of Christ. This life of faith is not a sprint – not even a competition we must beat everyone else at. It’s a race of endurance. We win because Christ gives us the grace and strength to continue on through our failures.

God bless.

“Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again,” – Proverbs 24:16

Silent Saturday: The Day In Between…

Surprisingly enough, I have tomorrow off. I don’t usually get Sundays off unless I request for them off (i.e. the last half of winter term due to homework), so to have Easter Sunday off is a pretty good deal. And with as much as I have been reflecting over what Easter really means (these last few days), I’m looking forward to celebrating it all with my church family and friends.

A couple years ago, on this day in between Jesus’ cross and empty tomb, I wrote a Facebook note about how the Disciples must have felt when Jesus was dead and presumably gone. Now that I think about it, it was much similar to yesterday’s post – imagining what it might have felt like to be one of Jesus closest followers, expecting Him to overthrow the Roman Empire single-handedly, and yet wrestling with His sudden and gruesome absence. This day in between is easy for us to deal with; we know Jesus rose on the third day. But from Peter’s perspective (or James or John or even Thomas), it had to have been a different story.

Shock was spiritually and physically felt when Jesus died – the Scriptures indicate us much. The earth literally shook and the Disciples were spiritually and emotionally rattled that their King was killed. But the day in between provided some time for the shock to settle a little; the Disciples probably didn’t get much sleep, but had plenty of time to think about other things. Should we go back to the way things were before? – they may have thought. Or do we just wait and see what happens tomorrow?

John’s Gospel gives an interesting story about Peter and what he decided to do – even after Jesus had been raised. Instead of carrying the movement on, he said to his fellow disciples, “I’m going fishing,” (21:3). No, there isn’t an indication that fishing was on Peter’s mind on this day in between, but with as quickly as he decided to revert back to his old way of life it’s difficult for me to think this wasn’t on the back of his mind while he wondered where Jesus was.

Our comfort zones are hard to detach from – especially when it comes to figuring out where our lives are heading. I’ve been thinking over this “What-do-I-do-now?” question with my graduation coming up. Formulating a plan has been difficult – so difficult in fact that so much of me wants to revert back to the lifestyle I had before college even began; working two part-time jobs as often as possible. It was simple, the jobs weren’t hard, and I liked the stability these two jobs provided me with. But God called me somewhere else.

This day in between is spent much differently for us in the 21st century knowing, or at least believing, that Jesus rolled out of His grave. We can’t ask what we’re supposed to do without Jesus because we know that tomorrow is Easter – the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. What then is the value of this day since we know that Easter is arriving tomorrow? As the disciples probably thought about their lives in the wake of Jesus’ death, perhaps we should think about our lives in the wake of His resurrection.

Do we merely take on the Christian title tomorrow by showing up to church with our annual or bi-annual commitment (can’t forget about our Christmas appearance)? Do we maybe send “He is risen” text messages to all our friends if we decide not to show up to church? Do we continue on with the stability of our old jobs? Or do we face the same, harsh reality that Peter faced in John 21; that, because of the empty tomb, our lives are never going to be the same? Do we spend the rest of our lives coming face to face to the reality that we weren’t meant to be the same person as we were before we met Jesus?

Paul’s testimony (or the testimony of any of the disciples) is evidence that we weren’t supposed to be the same. Jesus rose not so that we might have the same life we’ve always had, but that we’d have spiritual life – and have it abundantly. And while we might try to make the old life work, Scripture speaks clearly that Jesus wants all or nothing. Peter tried to make the old work and nearly had his boats sunk by the call of Jesus. We would be wise to take the implicit advice: Make the commitment.

Make it now, make it tomorrow, make it the next day, and every day thereafter until you breathe your last and are able to say, “I have run the race with everything I had.” Even though we know about Jesus’ resurrection, we still have other questions to mill over. We should not ask, “How do I go back to living my old life?” but rather, “How do I redefine everything about my life?” Paul was a violent persecutor of the church, but redefined his life as an Apostle because he met Jesus – because of the empty tomb.

Knowing Jesus was raised, how do you define your life now? Not having to work tomorrow, I hope to spend some quality time contemplating the answer.

God bless.

Editing My Life With Texts and Blogs…

Not having a job sucks. In many ways, I feel like a housecat; I just lay about everywhere all day and only move to either eat or go to the bathroom. But unlike a cat, I’m expected to actually do something. Knowing this makes me want to get a job if only to retain my sanity, but that hasn’t panned out at all. So instead, I’ve taken to editing my blogs; rewording some of them or tagging a bunch of topics and organizing them into categories. It’s been tedious for the most part. And yet, it’s given me a review over the last ten months.

I can see into the various trials and challenges and joys I’ve experienced throughout most of the last year and evaluate whether or not I’ve made any progress. From what I’ve seen from my blogs, I’m still wrestling with many of the same issues. In regards to temptations, the internet still remains a battle field. Boredom, an unfiltered computer, and being alone do not mix at all. It’s in those moments that the challenge becomes the greatest and thinking back through the last ten months, I haven’t done all that well. On top of temptations, though, I still wrestle with certain challenges to my faith in God.

Believing that God is real and that He is here isn’t so much of a struggle as believing that He will provide is. I have some major trust issues. My father never being there mixed with my mother being unable to take care of me has imbedded a small skeptical nature when it comes to trusting others. So when Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of heaven and all these will be added to you,” indicating that we need not worry about daily provisions, I naturally question it.

To be honest, my mother and I are on good terms. She lives in Wasilla, Alaska right now, working at Wal-Mart and fighting to hold herself up. She sent me a text message earlier today, asking how things were going. I said not well because I don’t have a job and it’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that I ever will have one. We chatted back and forth for a moment more and after I had asked her how things were up there, she said she didn’t like it at all. She said that making rent each month has been a strain and even getting to and from work on time was difficult. My reply was simply this, “Just keep working hard and make do with what you have. God’s always there with you and He’ll take care of you.”

Immediately after sending it, I realized it was the message that I needed to hear as well. Sometimes it isn’t enough to hear something just once. I’m very good at hearing someone’s words, but not actually letting them sink in. In the gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” If I had been Peter, I would have been really frustrated with Jesus by the third time. But thinking over this passage a while, I realize that I’m much like Peter even now; I hear the words of Jesus, the words of His promise, but I fail to truly understand and grasp their meaning. Essentially, I don’t allow His words to reach my heart.

As I wait for a job to turn up, I realize that now, more than ever, is the time to trust Jesus and what He’s doing with my life. The time I’ve taken to review and edit my blogs has been sort of a review and editing session of my own life. The difference between editing blogs and editing my life, though, is that one is easy while the other takes a lifetime to do. Reading through my blogs, checking my spelling and grammar is really easy to do. But changing my habits, my anti-trust nature, is hard. For God, this isn’t so much editing my life as it is developing my character. Unlike an editor to a novel, my past can’t be erased from my story. But the great thing is that my character can develop and change over time; it can gradually conform to the image of Jesus more and more. The only thing that’s demanded of me is what I’ve realized today: my trust. God is the perfect and loving Author. He isn’t going to write a story of depression and anxiety with my heart; He’s going to write a story of how He has helped me overcome those things.

Does this mean I’m merely a puppet in His story? I highly doubt it. Why? Because it’s as C.S. Lewis says regarding free will; it’s the only thing that makes true love worthwhile. While it involves a great risk on God’s part to give us free will, it is also the only way true love can be shared and be worth sharing. I in my free will have some options; I can either trust in myself or I can trust in God. Reviewing where I was even two or three months ago via my blogs, I can tell you that trusting myself has not paid off. Therefore, with every last bit of faith I can muster, I must continue to trust God with where I’m going and what He has planned for me.