Saturday, June 30, 2012

Andrew, the quiet professional

The Quiet Professionals is a term usually reserved for the US Army's special forces soldiers. Men who never get to boast about their top secret missions. Men who spend their whole lives in the shadows doing the very dirty work that keeps us all safe at night. The more I think about the apostle Andrew, the more convinced I am that he was the ultimate Quiet Professional.

Not much is written about Andrew in the bible. Of the four members in Jesus's inner circle, (along with Peter, James, and John) Andrew is mentioned the least. He, alone, is only mentioned 9 times in the bible. And of the members in this inner circle, it is Andrew who appears the least argumentative and the most humble. Whenever he speaks, he always gives the correct answer. Whenever he acts on his own, he does what is right.

While his brother, Peter, preached to thousands; Andrew is never given credit for speaking to large gatherings. Andrew, it seems, preferred to keep things small. Andrew is seen leading individuals, not groups. It was Andrew who first met Jesus in the wilderness while following John the Baptist, then realizing he was in the presence of the Christ, ran and led his brother to Jesus.

In fact, Andrew seems something like a gatekeeper to Jesus at times. When a group of Gentiles wished to meet Jesus, they first met Phillip and asked to be introduced. Phillip, not knowing what to do in the situation, took them to Andrew who realized that Jesus would want to meet anyone who wanted to meet with him, not just other Jews.

Andrew often worked in the background, doing the necessary tasks, getting his hands dirty, so that others could do more important work. When Jesus fed the multitudes it was Andrew who introduced the child who had bread and fish to Jesus. Andrew had taken it upon himself to go find this boy and bring him to Jesus. Sure, 8 loaves of bread and 2 fish wasn't going feed all the guests, but it was a start.

I'm reminded of a story from the special forces. Eric Haney tells the story of Operation Eagle Claw and the disaster in the desert. One of the soldiers was asleep on top of a fuel bladder in the transport plane when it was struck by a helicopter and started to burn. That soldier, not realizing the plane was on the ground, ran to the door and jumped out, hitting all of his points just as if he was jumping from 10k feet. When asked what what he planned to do once out of the plane without a parachute, the soldier answered simply, "one problem at a time." Had he been in the air, he would have died jumping from the plane. Had he stayed in the plane though, he would also have died. His first priority at that moment was getting away from the flames.

If someone had bothered to ask Andrew what he was thinking bringing so little food to Jesus, I'm sure he would have given the same answer. "One problem at a time." Jesus was looking for food. So Andrew brought Him food. Once that was done, he could worry about whatever the next step was.

Andrew was an effective leader even though he is almost never in the spotlight. It wasn't Andrew holding the checkbook. It wasn't Andrew arguing about who among them was to be the first. He didn't crave attention or praise. But it was Andrew who we see time and time again working quietly behind the scenes making sure everything comes together.

At the end of his life, Andrew shared the same fate as most of his friends. He shared the same fate as his master, Christ. While in Greece, Andrew led the wife of a roman governor (yet again we see him leading individuals, not groups) to the Lord. When the woman's husband found out he demanded she recant her newfound faith and she refused. As punishment ,the governor had Andrew lashed to a cross (as opposed to nailing him. Lashing him would have prolonged his suffering) and Andrew is seen spending his last two days on earth tied to a cross, preaching to passersby and winning hearts up until his last breath. Even as he hung there dying, he was doing what was needed of him. Thirsty and in pain, he was taking the fight to the enemy right until the very end. And isn't that what we expect of all Quiet Professionals?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peter, the baddest man in all the land.

I think one of the most awe inspiring aspects of the bible are the apostles, who they were, and why they were chosen. Jesus didn't simply pick twelve people at random. He put thought into His decision. He prayed to His Father for guidance when making this choice. I believe He also prayed for those he would choose, knowing exactly what would face them once that choice had been made.

Not much is known about The Twelve. less than half of them had no listed occupations (four fishers, one tax collector). Only one was known to have been married (Peter, who's mother-in-law was healed by Jesus). But the things we do know about them lead me to wonder if modern churches would even allow the very leaders of the first churches into the building on Sunday morning.

Think of the first four. Peter, his brother Andrew, and their childhood friends and business partners, also brothers, James and John. These four grew up as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, working for Peter and Andrew's father, Jonah (no, not of whale fame)

Commercial fishing has changed a great deal in the past 2,000 years. The boats have become larger, the nets have become stronger, lighting and gps have allowed night fishing to be much less dangerous; lots of changes have occurred. One thing that has not changed though are the type of people who work on these boats in the middle of the sea. Men with skin like leather; scarred from countless scraps with hooks, nets, and fish; the toughest of the tough; willing to take on the sea at it's worst. These men had guts.

It's those very guts Jesus needed. He wasn't sending these men out to preach love and peace in a safe world. Jesus no doubt knew the violent end that awaited most of His Apostles before He even chose them. Of the 12, ten died violent deaths at the hands of the enemies of Christianity. Some were murdered, some were jailed and executed by Rome, some by other Jewish leaders.

What the church needed, what Jesus needed, were men who could stand up in the face of danger. Needed were men who wouldn't back down when confronted by the enemies of the Church. Nobody can lead a church by running from confrontation.

Simon-bar-Jonah, later renamed Peter (or "Petras" in Jesus's native Aramaic which meant "the rock" as he was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church) became the head disciple of Jesus. We know this for a few reasons. Not only is Peter listed first in all of the lists of apostles in the bible, but we are told directly that Jesus wished Peter to be the base of His church after His death. What a responsibility that was!

Just as I constantly preach that Jesus wasn't a quiet, polite, nice guy; neither was Peter. Peter was just as crass and headstrong as Jesus. Maybe more. He was always the first to question Jesus's motives, always the first one to try to answer questions, and always the first to run off and do something without thinking. (see previous post about jumping out of the boat) One of the most shocking stories of Peter comes at the end of Jesus's life in the garden the night of Jesus's capture.

When Jesus went to the garden to pray that night, He knew what would happen over the next few hours. I personally believe that He withdrew from the others to spare them from capture. The one man who refused to leave His side though was Peter. Even later that night when he would deny knowing Jesus over and over, he was still right there beside Him. After all the others had scattered, it was Peter who was there at the end.

Imagine the scene in the garden. It's dark, there are probably a few torches around, maybe the moon is out, but there isn't much light either way. Peter is alone with Jesus. He is tired. He has been up all night watching over Jesus, protecting Him from the fate he only thinks he can stop. Suddenly though, they aren't alone. Up walks Judas and the local priests. Behind them, Roman Centurians, the special forces of their day.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Here's where men can sit up and start to get a real glimpse at the type of man Jesus chose to lead His Church. What was Peter's reaction to Jesus's betrayal at the hand of one of his friends? Well, he pulled his sword and started swinging. Obviously, he hadn't thought this through. Did he expect to take on the Roman soldiers? Did he expect to live through this attack? I don't know. The few things I do know, though, are just shocking. First off, Jesus's closest friend carried a sword! Even more shocking though was that even after attempting to behead the servant of one of the leaders of Jerusalem, he lived.

Think about it. Standing in front of dozens of well armed soldiers who had doubtlessly been warned that they were going to be capturing a man widely believed to be the son of God and were therefore on edge like never before, an accomplice of the target pulled a weapon and attacked a member of the arrest team. We hear about this all the time actually. It still happens today. Only now when we hear about it the headline reads "armed suspect killed by police during early raid." It almost never reads "violent attacker allowed to walk by police after attempted murder during early morning raid." And yet that is exactly what happened here. For one reason or another these soldiers held their weapons back and allowed Peter to live. Was this because Jesus preformed a miracle by healing the man Peter had attacked? Was this because Peter had been stopped by Jesus already? Was it because Peter was filled with Holy Fury and was unstoppable by man? Personally I think it's some of all three. Peter was pissed! But he knew his place. Also, if I saw a man just stick a man's ear back on, the last thing I would do is mess with his sword wielding friend. I like my ears...

That's the story we're given about Peter. He's impulsive. He reacts without thinking. When he's pushed into a corner, hurt by the betrayal of a friend, he's violent; willing to stand up to dozens of armed soldiers to protect his friend. This is the man we have to thank for the churches we fill each Sunday. My question to you: Would your church welcome this man? Would you want him sitting beside your family? Would you greet him with a smile, invite him to lunch, and treat him as nicely as you treat the others you meet in church?

I can't say that I would. I hope I would. I hope I could see past his mouth. I hope I wouldn't be turned off by the scars, tattoos, or lack of wealth. I hope I would treat him as a brother no matter how he appeared. After all, if he's good enough for Jesus, isn't he good enough for me?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The bland leading the bland

I spent last night at a local homeless shelter listening to a young man from my church speak about Christ. Towards the end of the sermon he mentioned that he likes to think of Jesus riding a motorcycle. His Jesus was a "real" man who wore boots, had long hair, and even smoked cigarettes because he wasn't afraid of what other people would say about him.

Frankly, I like Cameron's Jesus. I'm not sure He would spend the money for an indian motorcycle, but Jesus on two wheels feels right to me. The personality I see reflected in the bible's words on Jesus is the exact personality motorcycles are created for. I don't know when the common perception of Jesus got so watered down and boring but Jesus was nothing of the sort. Loud, brash, even offensive are all words which would have been used to describe Him, but boring? Never!

I realize that the thought of Jesus being offensive is strange to a lot of people. Many people will even be offended by calling Christ offensive and brash. Well, those people can get over it... He was.

John 2:13-16

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”

Now I don't know about you, but if somebody came at me with a whip, I'd be pretty offended. I'm not saying that Jesus was a bad guy. He wasn't. The people who's sensibilities were offended by Jesus as he ate with sinners, healed on the sabbath, or spoke to the priests as someone above them needed to be offended. Just as when Jesus called Peter Satan (Matthew 16:23), he wasn't doing this simply to offend. He did these things to shock people into opening their eyes and seeing the truth.

One of the most often tools used by Jesus during His ministry was sarcasm. In Matthew 15 (21-27) We get the story of a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus asking for her daughter to be healed. When the apostles asked Him to send her away he asked her if it was right to heal her daughter as he was sent instead to heal jews. This is the conversation they had, slightly paraphrased as it appears in my mind:

Woman: Have mercy on me, Jesus, my daughter is posessed by a demon. Please heal her.

Jesus: I was sent only to the lost children of Israel. It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.

Woman: Yet even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.

Jesus: Well played, woman, well played. You have great faith! I will do as you ask.

At first look this is REALLY offensive. I believe I would have just broken down crying if Jesus had called my daughter a dog. But first looks can be deceiving. Did Jesus really mean that this woman's child was as a dog to Him? Certainly not!

What, then, was Jesus doing here? Jesus was being honest when he told the woman that He was sent here not fer gentiles, but for jews. His disciples knew this and they weren't going to let Him forget it either. Frequently we see disciples asking Jesus why he bothers with this lesser class of people and just as frequently we see Jesus ignoring convention and helping all who ask. This is what Jesus was doing here. He had likely already made up His mind to help the woman. He just wanted to get the attention of the disciples who had just asked him to simply send her away. He knew she had faith that He could heal her daughter, and He knew that she would fight for that help as would any mother. Jesus wasn't trying to offend the woman. He was lobbing one over the plate for her. He was trying to use this woman to drive in a point that was offensive it itself. That point was that He wasn't here simply for the Jews. He was here for anyone who would have Him.

Modern popular views on Jesus completely leave out these aspects of Jesus's personality. They ignore His frequent rudeness and near constant breaking of social norms. They place Him politely in the light brown cardboard box of blandness; and in doing so they create an uninspiring image of Jesus that men don't want to follow. So let's break the habit. When we speak of Jesus, let's speak of the man who pissed off the Jewish leaders so often that they had him killed. Let's speak of the man who wasn't afraid to assault sinners in church when they tried to take advantage of the poor. Let's talk about the Jesus who's only use for social norms was to break them in order to show his supremacy over the old laws. Let's put Jesus back on that motorcycle, riding through the desert on two wheels looking for the next town where He could start some trouble and win a few hearts.

Walking on water

I'm in the middle of reading a book entitled Twelve Ordinary Men about the lives of the apostles and a great point was made about Peter that I had never thought about before.

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 
23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 
24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 
33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God."

Before today, when I read this story I saw only the story we've all heard countless times before.  Jesus came to the disciples during the middle of a storm and Peter, upon seeing him rushed out to meet him only to lose faith and fall into the water.  It's always preached as a lesson in lack of faith and I think that's a disservice to Peter all together.  Peter didn't have a lack of faith at all.  Incomplete faith, sure.  But Peter had more faith than anyone else in that boat for sure.

Having grown up a fisherman with his brother, Andrew,  and fellow apostles James and John; Peter would have known exactly what happened to people who fell out of their boats during a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.  The closest land was 100 feet below him and he would doubtlessly be dead before he reached it. Storms on the sea were nasty and swimming would have been nearly impossible amid the waves.

In spite all of this, all it took was for Jesus to say one word and Peter was over the side of the boat putting his faith to the test.  Not only was he willing to step out in faith, it was his idea.  Probably in order to show the other disciples in the boat just exactly what they could do if only they believed.

Sure, Peter slipped and began to sink.  That's what happens when impulsive people do crazy things without thinking about the consequences first. He got a few steps out onto the sea and realized the severity and danger of what he had just done. I can't tell you what the Aramaic phrase for "Oh shit" is; but I'm sure at this point in his life, Peter could.

The fear of drowning is a pretty big seed of doubt and I'm sure when you're standing on top of the sea during a storm that seed grows pretty quickly if it finds it's way into your head.  I can't fault Peter for falling.  I don't doubt my faith in the Lord at all; but knowing me, I'd have been with the other 11, kept my mouth shut, and kept my feet in the boat at that point.