“Being Perplexed”

Chameleon

Peter was perplexed. So says Luke in Acts 10:17

Not just “perplexed” but “way perplexed.”  Check out these definitions by Greek experts:

A.T. Robertson: “To be completely at a loss to know what road to take.”

Schaff’s Commentary: “to doubt within himself.”

Barclay: “At a loss in his own mind.”

What caused this bold, strong-minded “Rock” to be so fickle? Here’s what happened.

Peter is up on a roof praying and gets hungry. It happens in church services every Sunday. Peter goes into a trance – which also happens in church services every Sunday. In this trance, Peter sees a sheet, a very large sheet coming down from heaven like a sail. This sheet is overflowing with mammals, reptiles and birds – all of them “unclean” according to Leviticus 11. Everything in Peter’s religious education tells him that these things are off limits – “Can’t touch this!”

They are abominations.

Tasty? You bet.

But Peter wouldn’t know. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14).

Poor guy.

But there on the roof, with this delicious but unholy spread before him, Peter hears a voice say to him,
Not once,

Not twice,

But three times. “3” is big in literature – Three wishes, Three Bears, Three Little Pigs,. “3” is big in the Bible – Three temptations of Jesus; Moses was hidden for three months; Peter denied Jesus three times; Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days. Middle-School aged Jesus went missing for three days. Saul was blinded for three days… Well, you get the picture.

According to Jewish law, once something is done three times, it is considered a permanent thing. “Three” is big.

The voice said, “Pull up a chair and eat. Eat and enjoy.”

Peter’s response? “I don’t think so.”  Check out the different translations of Acts 10:14, “Surely not Lord,” “Absolutely not, Lord,” “Never Lord,” “Lord, I can’t do that,”

When we hear this story in Sunday School, we think, “Peter, you’re an idiot! What’s so hard about this? Can’t you hear what God is telling you to do?”

Yes, Peter heard.

There’s the conflict.

There’s the rub.

There’s the chaos.

That’s why he was perplexed. He heard loud and clear. But, what he was hearing now from God went totally against what God is recorded as saying before.

Here’s God in Scripture. “Don’t eat” (Leviticus 11:47).

Here’s God in a dream. “Eat”

Same God.

Different message.

“I’m so confused.”

Like a chameleon in a bag of Skittles.

Eat the very things you’ve been told not to eat. The things that were called “unclean” I now call “clean.” Whoa!

Peter obeyed the vision. He disobeyed Leviticus 11:47.

We know the event wasn’t about food. It was about people. An “unclean” man, a Gentile, was knocking at Peter’s door. God wasn’t just opening Peter’s eyes and taste buds to the flavors of pork. He was opening Peter’s heart and arms to a Gentile named Cornelious and all the Gentiles to follow.

What would have happened had Peter made a different call?

What does this event mean for us as we interpret and apply the Bible?

I really don’t have a clear answer to that last question.

I was raised with the belief that the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Bible – but it seems that wasn’t the case with Peter.

I’m a bit perplexed myself.

Maybe this event tells me that the Bible + the Holy Spirit + Reason + the Community past and present work together to reveal what God wants.

What do you think?

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What a Relief!

alka seltzer

Yesterday (Sunday November 9) was “National Chaos Never Dies Day” – where do they come up with this stuff – but I digress.

“Chaos,” according to the first entry of a Google search means: “disorder, disarray, confusion.”

So, if school is stressful, work is wacky, home is hectic, November 9 is your day.

A day to let it out, admit it, face it.

I’m teaching a series now in which we are facing, admitting the fact that one thing that causes us to experience chaos is – here it is – reading the Bible.

It takes a lot of guts just to admit that doesn’t it?   But it’s true. How could we not experience some chaos when we read this from Exodus 21:20-21

If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished.   But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property.

Who can honestly read that and not think, “What the …?!

“Oh, that must just be a record of what some guy said…” Sorry.  According to the Bible, it wasn’t just a guy. It was God.

Chaos. Confusion.

Here’s another. We’re justifiably horrified and disgusted with the genocidal attitudes and actions that we see from extremist Islamist. Like these words from a member of Isis. God willing, this generation will fight infidels and apostates, the Americans and their allies, God willing. The right doctrine has been implanted in these children. All of them love to fight for the sake of building the Islamic State and for the sake of God.”

Yep, Isis wants to wipe us out – all in the name of God.   “For the sake of God” “God willing.” We instinctively know that’s wrong. We know such a view and vision does not accurately reflect God. But then we read this:

They (Joshua’s army) completely destroyed everything in it (Jericho) with their swords – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua 6:21

“Well, that must have been Joshua acting as a rogue commander!” Then we see this:

So the Lord was with Joshua and his reputation spread throughout the land. Joshua 6:27

Hmmm.  So God was with Joshua through all of that?  Really?

According to Deuteronomy 20:16, Joshua was faithfully following the command given by God through Moses which said, “In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing.”

 

Chaos. Confusion. If it’s wrong for Isis to do that now was it right for Joshua and the Israelites to do that then.

How do we clear up the confusion? How do we find some calm in the chaos?

I got some help from one of my seminary professors – Yes, I remember a few things from my education.  He said, “If you thought God told you to do something, you would do it. Now, the question is, ‘What is Jesus telling us?'”

He answered his own question by quoting Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbors but hate your enemies, but I say,  Love your Enemies.”

Wow. RADICAL!   Is Jesus saying what it sounds like he’s saying?  Is he re-framing or even overturning Scripture?  Things like that can put you on a cross.

Hermeneutical principle here?

Jesus takes precedence over Moses and according to Hebrews 1:1-3, every other “revelation”: Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. Now in the final days, he has spoken to us through his Son…The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.

 

That is like a dose of Alka-Seltzer: “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh what a relief it is.”

I feel immediate relief – Jesus is the hermeneutical lens through which we interpret Scripture. He is the standard by which every other word is measured. We’ll unpack that a bit more in the days to come.