Tag Archives: Peter

God’s People, part 165: Petros

Read Matthew 4:18-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ApostlePeterPart 165: Petros. Petros’ birth name was Simon son of Jonah (Simon bar Jonah). Living in Bethsaida, a fishing town located at the place where the Jordan River enters into the Sea of Galilee,  Simon was a fisherman by trade and had at least a wife and ailing mother-in-law to feed and support. It is also likely that he had children and other extended family members to care for as well; however, the Bible only explicitly mentions his wife and mother-in-law.

Knowing Simon bar Jonah’s trade, we can actually ascertain quite a bit about him and his family. Simon would not have been very highly educated. His education would have been what was standard among the peasant population, which amounts to very little education at all. He would have been taught by his mother and by the Rabbi in his local synagogue the essentials of the Torah and what it meant to be a 1st Century Jew; however, that’s about it. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles reveals as much in 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”  (Acts 4:13, KJV).

The literacy rate in ancient Judaea was about 3%, with education reserved for the elite. Thus, folks like Simon would have been illiterate, unable to read or write. He would have grown up learning his religious and cultural duties by oral transmission. He more than likely became a fisherman because that was his father’s trade. Thus, Simon bar Jonah was not meant to ever amount to be more than what his father Jonah was: a fisherman.

Fishing itself was a part of the larger embedded agricultural economy of 1st Century Galilee. By embedded I mean that there was no free market that was separate and distinct from the other aspects of society. Fishing and agriculture (including production, processing, trade, etc.) were also linked to politics, religion, family and social life. There was no such thing as upward mobility. Most fishing families, Simon’s family being no exception, were poor and lived in survival mode. What’s more, in order to fish certain areas of the sea of Galilee, a fisherman needed to have a special license, which took away from the overall income of a fisherman and his family. They also needed to supply themselves with their own raw materials for their boats, nets and other tools.

This is the world that Simon bar Jonah was born into and was working in when Jesus of Nazareth came to him one day along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had spent the entire night fishing and hadn’t caught a single fish. Jesus invited him and his brother Andrew, along with John and James, sons of Zebedee to go back out and fish. Following that miraculous fishing expedition, Jesus provided them with the unlikeliest opportunity: to become a follower and, eventually, a leader in the Jesus movement.

To say that Peter was an unlikely candidate for such a role is an understatement. He was, again, illiterate and ignorant. He was rough around the edges, no doubt, and crude. He could be blunt and rash. What’s more, his ignorance led him to often times miss the bigger picture of what Jesus was teaching and doing. This led him into conflicts with Jesus and with other disciples. He was a VERY unlikely candidate for becoming a part of such a movement, let alone a chief leader of it.

Yet, Jesus saw potential in him that no one else would have. Jesus saw and drew it out of him. It was, after all, Peter who was first among the disciples to recognize that Jesus was “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). In response to Simon’s divinely inspired proclamation, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are [Petros] (aka Peter or Cephas in Aramaic), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (aka the place of the dead) will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17).

What Jesus started with Petros did not end there. He continued to assemble the most unlikely of students who would one day take over his entire movement when he was no longer around to carry it on. It is this vagabond group of misfits, starting with an ignorant fisherman from Galilee, that would go on, through the power of Christ, to transform the world.

The questions for us are these: do we see ourselves as being a part of the great Jesus movement that Jesus started with Peter? Do we see ourselves as underwhelming additions to this movement and, as a consequence, as to unworthy of being of any use to Christ? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves enough to realize that no one and nothing is beyond Christ’s reach and that Christ does not choose us because we are worthy; rather, we are worthy because Christ has chosen us. Let us be challenged by this and have faith that Christ is transforming the world in and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” – Justin Martyr

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see you at work within me. I am willing to serve you and trust that you have made me able. Amen.

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.

From Fear to Faith

Read Matthew 14:23-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

20090908_walking_on_water_lake_erie1When I was growing up, I knew from a very young age that I was called into ministry. At three years old, I used to use my mom and dad’s 8-track (yes…I said 8-track) cassette tower case as a make-shift pulpit. From that “pulpit” I would preach to my parents, “God tells you to lub one anudder!” From that point on, I kept growing in my faith and in my knowledge of the Bible. By the age of ten, the pastor of my church was retiring and he pulled me and my mom aside and gave my mom his entire set of commentary to hold on to for when I got older. “That boy is going to be a pastor and, since I don’t need these anymore, I would like him to have them.”

Yet, as bold as I was in my faith when I was young, things were about to change. Without getting into all of the details, which could fill up a book I am sure, I began to become a person who was filled with fear. For one, I had several close family members pass away and that caused me to fear what happens beyond this life. I never quite fit in at school and I feared not being accepted by my classmates. I never seemed to quite do as well as I wanted to in school and I began to fear the possibility of failure. There were many different varieties of fear that crept into me as I grew from boy to teenager to man. In the end, those fears put me on a decade long detour that took me far away from answering my call before I found my way back to it.

In the story of Jesus walking on the water, we see a bold Peter step out on to the water to meet his Lord. How boldly he put his feet out on that water, how boldly he took his first few steps of faith. Yet, as he began to look at the environment around him, things started to change. The wind was fierce, the waves were tall and crashing down around him, the lightning was flashing, and Peter’s bold faith began to melt away into fear. The more he feared, the more and more he began to sink down into the water.

How many of us live our daily lives in fear? How many of us go day to day fearing this or fearing that…holding back from doing things that we know we should be doing. How many of us, in the end, feel as if our entire purpose in life is sinking beneath the treacherous waves of our fear? We often mask our fears by justifying them in away that makes us feel better; however, the reality is that we find ourselves in paralysis, we find our lives have stagnated, because we simply have not let go of our fears.

Like he did with me and with Peter, Christ is reaching down to you right now. He is reaching out his hand waiting for you to clasp it. He is waiting to pull you up out of your fears and into the boldness of your faith. It was a leap of faith for me to finally say “yes” to God’s call and enter into a life of ministry, uncertain of where God will lead me. It was a leap fo faith for Peter to move beyond his fears to clasp Christ’s hand and be pulled back up to the surface of the waters.

God is calling you, the reader, as well! What is it that God is calling you to do? What purpose has God given you? And, most importantly, what is stopping you from doing it? God is calling you to move from fear to faith, from hopelessness to a world of hope and wonder! All you need to do is put your trust in God and take that first step forward. God has revealed, and will continue to reveal to you what your purpose is; however, you have to have move forward in faith before you will ever begin to live into it. Move from fear to faith and begin to TRULY LIVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Help me to move from fear to faith so that I may fulfill your purpose for me. Amen.

The Ordinances of God

Read Psalm 119

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7)

OrdinancesFor anyone who doesn’t already know this, I am a huge movie fan. What’s more, I am an avid collector of Biblically inspired films.  The most recent film added to my collection, The Bible miniseries, is perhaps the most epic Biblical film to-date. The series in its whole, runs ten hours long. Unfortunately, while ten hours seems like it would make a long film, it is not enough to accurately represent the entirety of the Holy Bible.

With that said, the series was a huge commercial success. In fact, it seems that anytime something related to the Bible is produced, people by the millions stop what they are doing to watch it. The first installment of the series drew in 13.1 million viewers, beating out American Idol and other shows.  Those are ratings that nobody can scoff at.  Yet, when looking at how many people read the Bible on a weekly basis, polls have shown that only about 37-40% of Americans read the Bible at least once a week (and I think that poll is probably more than generous). If we move beyond that to attending worship, or other spiritual disciplines, we will see even lower numbers.

John Wesley, in the third component of his General Rules, stated that it is vital for Christians to attend “upon all the ordinances of God.” An ordinance is a requirement set forth by an authority; therefore, an ordinance of God would be a requirement set forth by God.  Wesley believed that regular prayer, regularly studying scripture, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and being a part of a Christian community in fellowship with other Christians, all helped to not only bolster the Christian’s faith, but helped them to grow in it as well.

In fact, without those things, we often find ourselves dry, empty and lost. The fact is that, just like any other relationship we have, our relationship with God takes effort and discipline. We cannot grow in our relationships with people if we never see, spend time with, or talk with them. How can we, as Christians, expect to grow in our relationship with God if we don’t attend to all the ordinances of God.

Here is a challenge for us all: attend to all the ordinances of God.  Search the scriptures regularly, pray regularly, partake in communion regularly, regularly fast (this doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food) and be a part of the Christian community…not for the sake of “going to church,” but for the sake of growing in your relationship with God.  Find a community that is actively seeking to live its faith out in the community and join in the work of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those around you.  It may seem like work at first, as any discipline does (e.g., exercise, education, etc.), but I promise that through it your eyes will open wide to the grace of God that surrounds you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

How can we expect to grow as Christians, how can we expect to grow closer to God, if we spend our days avoiding the spiritual discipline it takes to experience such growth?

PRAYER

Lord, give me the motivation to spiritually discipline myself to attend to your Holy Ordinances! Amen.