Monday, April 07, 2008

Peter in Acts: Why God Uses Knuckleheads

This week was a very interesting and somewhat disturbing week in Federal Politics. On Thursday we heard the news that a sixteen year old video had found it’s way into the hands of national media that characterized a sitting member of parliament as being filled with contempt towards the gay community.

What struck me most about this story was the sincere and humble apology and request for forgiveness that Tom Lukiwski showed in subsequent interviews. He does not justify his hate filled comments, he merely says “I was stupid, I am ashamed, I am sorry.”

The outcry and condemnation of Mr. Lukiwski is loud and gathering steam. I have read several blogs and commentaries relating to this incident, many of which call for his immediate dismissal from parliament.

I believe that there are deeper questions to be asked here.

What I find interesting to watch in this video is the countenance of the same man, sixteen years ago, arrogant, flippant, contemptuous and mean spirited, to the man we saw sixteen years later, humble, contrite, sorry, matured.

His enemies claim his apology is forced and false. Made for political gain only and to save his own skin. The question to be asked here is whether or not the judgment of what is going on in Tom Lukiwski’s heart now, is any less hurtful than the judgment that came out of his mouth sixteen years ago.

What seeing this news story this week has done for me is to stir up the 'what ifs'-

What if God condemned as people do?
What if I was judged by every mistake I have made?
What if I judged others through my own self righteousness?

Stew has begun a series on the book of Acts. Coming out of the celebration of resurrection Sunday, we are going to look at what God did with the followers of the Jesus Way after Jesus ascended to heaven, and what that means for the followers of the Jesus Way today.

Acts 2:14 – 36

Peter, here is speaking with eloquence, passion and conviction. He is correcting the wrong thinking of the Jews in Jerusalem. He is powerful and visionary and he is commanding attention……. wow, what a guy! If we were to read this speech out of context, not knowing who Peter is…. or more importantly who he was. We could dismiss it as just another bunch of words. But what we realize as we learn to read our bibles that we have to understand the context and history not only of the times and teachings, but also of the person doing the teaching.

Paul’s conviction and insight that he displays in all of his letters to the churches would really be hollow words if we did not understand where Paul came from. Paul was a self-righteous religious man who knew the Hebrew Bible inside out and was arresting followers of the Jesus Way and persecuting them. Paul was a bully and had much contempt for those who did not conform, do the right thing or say the right thing. This is why his witness to his conversion to Jesus is so much more powerful. His word of love and forgiveness and grace that much more believable.

Peter on the other hand…..well,

Peter was a Knucklehead.

We see in the book of Acts that Peter did many great things in the spread of the gospel of Jesus. We see in his letters, 1 & 2 Peter, that he was wise and instructive on how faith should be lived out. If we were to just begin there, we might lose the message on what it means to be transformed in faith. As for Peter we need to know what he was transformed from:

Just like the unfortunate incident with Tom Lukiwski.

Peter had foot in mouth disease

We see in the gospel accounts that Peter is impulsive, outspoken, and if words were used to describe him we could imagine that he was pretty cocky. Throughout his journey on Jesus’ mission, we see Peter contradict, correct and even deny Jesus. He is somewhat petulant and always concerned about whether or not others will be receiving more than him. One of the most memorable blunders of Peter’s came more from his fear and lack of faith.

If we look at Peter's denial as just one instance of sin, we might say that Peter simply had a moment of weakness. Surely Jesus knew how difficult it is to face death. Surely he would not be surprised to see Peter fearing for his life. But if we consider this episode as part of a larger pattern, we might see it in a new light.

Earlier, Peter had rebuked Jesus for mentioning the cross-and received an even stronger rebuke himself (Matthew 16:21-23). Just one week later, at the transfiguration, Peter blurted out a proposal to keep Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on Mount Tabor, only to hear God tell him to listen to Jesus and not make his own suggestions (17:4-5). Then, when Jesus tried to wash his feet at the Last Supper, Peter tried to prevent him, but then turned around and said, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" (John 13:9). Finally, at Gethsemane, as Jesus was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest's servants (18:10-11). John 21:15-22- Peter saying “what about him?”

Over and over again, Peter came face-to-face with his impetuous, rash nature, and every time he had to confront his inability to change. We don't know how many more situations like this Peter had to go through, but we do know he ultimately was transformed and chose to put his old nature to death and submit to God's wisdom instead.

Throughout the history of the church God has shown that he can use rebels and sinners very powerfully.
Knuckleheads throughout the ages:

Augustine – Bishop of Hippo-St. Augustine in his “Confessions.” He is not afraid to confess his impetuousness, arrogance, lust, and rebellious lifestyle.

John Bunyan, famous writer of Pilgrims Progress, wrote of his knucklehead days in “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.” He was a wildman, drinker and womanizer he changed his heart and life to the grace of God.

St. Francis of Asissi- One biographer stated: In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice."

St. Mary of Egypt (circa 344 - 421) ran away to the big city of Alexandria at the age of 12, entranced by the prospect of a life of fun and sin. "I did free of charge what gave me pleasure," she told St. Zosimas, whom she met at the end of her life, "and ... there is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity" she could not lay claim to. But this life ended in Jerusalem, where she experienced a miracle that turned her life around. What was it?

St. Ignatius Loyola -prideful, gambling, womanizing

St. Pelagia – 5th century - actress, stripper, promiscuous – became a monk they called her the “beardless monk”

John Newton – slave trader, writer of Amazing Grace.

And more recently:

Steven Baldwin – Cocaine addict, alcoholic, womanizer one of the famous Baldwin Brothers.

Alice Cooper - The Marilyn Manson of the seventies.

George Foreman - heavyweight champ, at one time filled with hate and now with love.

Brian “Head” Welch – lead guitarist for Korn

The list can go on and on. One thing that they do have in common is that they are not fearful of recognizing that they were once knuckleheads, people who said and did some very stupid, hurtful, hateful, lustful things.

What happened to these people and why is it that God can use them in meaningful and powerful ways. The common denominator for them all lies in a true conversion.

This is what one writer said about Brian “Head” Welch: “Christians should be the people least surprised by this conversion. We know that in Mark 2:27 Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”

If our Lord walked the earth today, we’d more likely find Him at a thrash metal rock concert looking for the wounded rather than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning amongst the righteous. God went to that rock concert and apparently found a hurting soul on stage.

We have a tendency, however, to downplay our need for the grace of God. We downplay not only our capacity for sin, but also our capacity for sin.

We don’t want to admit that we can be knuckleheads.

We compare our goodness and our piety and our intelligence with others. A Tom Lukiwski, sixteen years ago cannot contain his contempt for homosexuals. In effect he is comparing his life and his righteousness against others. Sixteen years later a politician, or perhaps a gay or lesbian activist repay Tom the favor, pouring contempt out onto him. This comparison of ones own righteousness over another is nothing new.

Perhaps we, in our prayer life have prayed something like this:

God thank you that I’m not like so many other people who are doing evil things. Thank you that I live a clean life, that I am a good person not like………

Here is what Jesus had to say about this type of prayer:
Jesus told this story to some people who thought they were very good and looked down on everyone else:

“A Pharisee and a tax collector both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood alone and prayed ‘ God I thank you that I am not like other people who steal , cheat, or take part in adultery, or even like this tax collector…

The tax collector standing at a distance would not even look up to heaven. But he beat on his chest because he was so sad. He said “ God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I tell you, when this man went home, he was right with God, but the Pharisee was not.

All who make themselves great will be made humble, but all who make themselves humble will be made great.” Luke 18:14

Peter's compatriot Paul says this about righteousness
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

In comparison to God’s holiness, we are all knuckleheads. We should not be comparing our own righteousness to that of others. When compared to God we all fall short and are in need of saving.

What this means to us is that unlike many people in the world, we should not be comparing others actions to what we would or would not do. We need to understand that our right standing with God is by his grace only. It is not something we have done, it is not by our intelligence, it is not by our intrinsic goodness, it is not by our clean lifestyles. It is by Grace that we can only humbly say to the Tom Lukiwski’s, the politicians clammering for his head, the stripper or prostitute, the thief, the violent, the drunkard, the womanizer, the wretched and the wicked.

“Although my memories fading I know two things. I am a great sinner and Christ is a great saviour.” John Newton

With true conversion comes something much stronger that can overcome our past, our shame, our fear and that is the promise that Jesus gave to Peter and his other disciples. Jesus told them that when He is gone that his Father would send the Helper, the comforter. What is known as The Holy Spirit. (John 14)

Why did Peter go from impetuous and blundering to passionate and articulate and clear thinking. We see in the book of Acts that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came as Jesus promised. The Spirit then went on to provide the disciples with a supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages so that they may reach as many people as possible with the gospel message. Lets go back to the book of Acts just prior to the speech he had made.

This is how the Holy Spirit wants to work in our lives. He is less concerned with every individual sin we commit and more concerned with transforming us so that we can become more like Jesus. And to that end, he works very patiently and compassionately, showing us the patterns of behavior that he wants to change.

If we look at Peter after Pentecost, we see a man who still had a very strong, determined personality, but who was also humble and open to the Spirit. His impetuous behavior was transformed over time as he began to see how much of a hindrance it was.

The knucklehead became wise and righteous in his faith.

Acts 2
“So all the people of Israel should know this truly: God has made Jesus - The man you nailed to the cross – both Lord and Christ.”

“When the people heard this they felt guilty and asked Peter and the other apostles

“What shall we do?”

Peter said to them, “change your heart and lives and be baptized each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away. It is for everyone the Lord Our God calls to Himself.

As we leave here and contemplate our lives and the weeks and months ahead. I encourage us all to ask some tough questions about what we believe about our faith.

Has our understanding of our basic nature brought us to our knees to ask for God’s grace and forgiveness?

Have we allowed the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, or do we often revert to our own righteousness?

John 3
Don’t be surprised when I tell you “you must all be born again.” The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit.

Have I truly been born of the Spirit? by Bob Stenhouse


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