The Summing Junction

 

We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles.

 

But they yelled at [Stephen] at the tops of their voices, blocked their ears, and made a concerted dash at him. They bundled him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks down at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Now Saul was giving his consent to Stephen’s death.

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem…

-Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7 vs. 58 and chapter 8 vs.1.

 

The young man named Saul, born sometime 9-15 years after the birth of Jesus, lived in a first century milieu of Jewish tradition and Torah, of covenants and commemorating, of prayers and psalms and, of Sabbaths and synagogues. In such an environment Saul learned early on that it was God’s people against the goyim – the rest of the world (e.g., David vs. Goliath).

The Jews looked for and prepared themselves for the return of the Messiah who would save his people from world rulers – Rome in the immediate- and bring justice and restore God’s Temple presence among his people. Zealous for God and Torah, the Jews of Saul’s day were resolute in their desire to see this happen. Some of the zealous were “using force against force” zealous, recalling the zealous acts of Judas Maccabeus against the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes 200 years before. Jewish revolutionaries wanted to force change against Roman rule. Others, like Saul, sought to live pious lives in expectation of the salvation to come. They kept their simmering violent zealousness under lid until such time as needed.

Saul studied the Torah, every jot and tittle, under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Politically, Gamaliel was not eager to push an agenda. The Rabbi was more “live and let live” towards Rome. Young Saul was more how can one go on living like this when one knows these things?

We recognize Saul’s Rabbinic training from his letters written to new churches. As mentioned above, we first meet Saul of Tarsus at the onset of persecution of the truly revolutionary – the Christian. I find it interesting to wonder about what we don’t know about Saul in those times.

Before the stoning, did Saul hear Stephen speak as he stood before the religious council? (Acts 7) Did he hear Stephen recount Israel’s history as the people of God and God’s dealing with them, a stiff-necked people? Did Saul sneer when he heard those words? Did Saul hear Stephen proclaim, “Look! I can see the heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!” Did Saul gnash his teeth at such a claim? Was Saul one of the men who dragged Stephen out the door to the stone pit? We know from Dr. Luke’s account that Saul was the moral vestment check at the scene of Stephen’s stoning.

Where was Saul when Jesus was crucified? I would have little doubt that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, had heard about the sky darkening and about the Temple curtain being rent in two. Both ominous events were sure to alarm any pious Jew.

Where was Saul when Jesus was resurrected? I have no doubt that Saul had heard the reports from all quarters of Jerusalem. This news must have been unsettling for someone who knew the Law and the Prophets and wasn’t able to see such a scenario depicted in the Torah. Even more unsettling, Jesus declared himself equal with God and Stephen claimed he saw Jesus as equal with God, standing at God’s right hand!

And, where was Saul on the day of Pentecost when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard Galileans speaking words from the prophet Joel in their native tongue? (Acts 2) Such things do not go unnoticed by Rabbis.

From Acts, we know where Saul was on the day he encountered Jesus. Paul was riding a donkey on his way to Damascus. He was sent to silence the Followers of the Way forever. No Messiah, he was taught, would be crucified, die and rise again! And, certainly God would not be crucified, die and rise again!

I would consider it very likely that Saul, with a lot of time on his hands riding at 3.5 mph, thought about the events in Jerusalem. He would recall Jesus entering the city on a donkey. He would recall Jesus overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple yard and calling the Temple his Father’s house.

I ‘m sure with Saul’s’ connections that he had heard about Jesus standing before Pilate. And, about the Pharisee-swayed crowd trying to influence Pilate. Jesus had been given a thumb down by many of the same Palm Sunday crowd who waved Palm branches days before. Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, was given a thumb up. Jesus would be sentenced in his place. Jesus is crucified. Revolution squashed. But suddenly, there was news of the buried Jesus now walking the streets.

It is also very likely that Saul was also praying and meditating on scripture, perhaps on the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Almost certainly Saul meditated on the Temple and the return of God’s presence to Israel. Like all “zealous” Jews, Saul was very much tuned into the Temple prophecies and eschatology. Could he have also been meditating on 2 Kings (vs. 11)? 

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

For Saul the Damascus road event wasn’t a conversion experience as Evangelicals would describe it today. And, it wasn’t a turn from Judaism towards Christianity or from the Law towards love. Rather, it was a game-changing, name-changing encounter with a new reality input into his life. I would call this encounter and its result “a summing junction”. Saul met the living Lord on the road that day and came out of that encounter a new creation.

Saul’s zeal for God, Torah and the Temple was ‘summed up’ with the resurrected Jesus. Saul’s hopes for a Messiah to return and bring change was summed up in Jesus. Saul’s prayers for the salvation of the Lord were summed up in Jesus. The sum of charges God could bring against Paul, the Persecutor, were summed against the work of the cross. Paul came out forgiven. His record, once scarlet, was now white as snow.

 This is one of many summing junctions that are recorded in Scripture. As I read again Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road I thought of Jacob. Jacob at one time was going in the opposite direction from his father’s God with his life and plans. At the river Jabbok Jacob encounters the angel of the Lord and Jacob puts up resistance. Jacob wrestles with the angel. In the morning the sum of his encounter is a blessing.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Here’s what happened to Saul when he encountered a greater resistance, as told to King Agrippa:

“While I was busy on this work [of persecution],” Paul continued, “I was traveling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. Around midday, while I was on the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the light of the sun, and shining all around me and my companions on the road. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic.

“’Saul, Saul,’ he said, ‘why are you persecuting me? It’s hard for you this kicking against the goads.’

“’Who are you, Lord? I said.

“’I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘and you are persecuting me. But get up and stand on your feet. I’m going to tell you why I have appeared to you. I am going to establish you as a servant, as a witness both of the things you have already seen and of the occasions I will appear to you in the future. I will rescue you from the people, and from the nations to whom I am going to send you so that you can open their eyes to enable to turn from darkness to light, and from power of the satan to God –so that they can have forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are made holy by their faith in me.’” (Acts 26)

After each summing junction encounter with the Lord, whether Jacob’s or Saul’s, lives were forever changed. Jacob is given a new name: Israel. Saul is renamed Paul.

I wonder. Does the summing junction encounter happen at the point of a person’s most resistance to God?

Paul of earth was ‘summed’ with Jesus of heaven so that the riches of God’s love and grace would be declared to all of his creation, which meant beyond the Jews. Now, instead of avoiding the Gentiles and being at odds with them Paul was sent to minister to them.

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance—that is, our sins have been forgiven—through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king—yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.  The Apostle Paul, to the Ephesian churches, 1: 7-10

The cross is the ultimate summing junction. The Holy One of God took upon himself all of the world’s use of force against him and all of the powers of darkness. The outcome became multifaceted: Jesus gave us a new definition of power- dying to self; Jesus claimed victory over evil, Jesus’ resurrection claimed victory over death; there is a turning from darkness to light; we are forgiven our sins and are now able to forgive others. And, the Divine presence now fills temples of His creation.

While we are walking around on resurrection ground, we, like Paul, are to be witnesses of our own “summing junction”, both of the things we have already seen and of the occasions when Jesus will appear to us in the future. With a new name comes a new vocation.

 

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A summing junction symbol:

Pray it Forward

 

“I, Paul, am in prison because I am a missionary for Jesus Christ to you who are not Jews.” Ephesian 3:1 

 

 

1st Century AD. You are in a prison in Ephesus. You long to know how your young children are doing, your young children in the faith. You have been called to preach the Good News and announce the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. Seeds have been planted but they must be watered and fed and cared for in order for there to be fruit. But, here you are locked up. So, you write letters and pray and pray and pray.

 

“For this reason, from the day we heard it, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This means that you’ll be able to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and so give him real delight, as you bear fruit in every good word and grow in the knowledge of God. I pray that you’ll be given all possible strength, according to the power of his glory, so that you’ll have complete patience and become truly steadfast and joyful.

And I pray that you will learn to give thanks to the father, who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God’s holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son. He is the one in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 9-14

 

As I read these verses I envisioned Paul sitting in a dimly lit and damp prison cell. He is agitated and fretting. He is deeply concerned for those outside the cell, those surrounded by the power of darkness. Paul is not whining. He is not demanding. He is not writing his bio.

Paul is praying and hasn’t stopped praying for those beyond his cell. Paul is praying that they may be filled with knowledge and that they may be given all strength to use that knowledge to bear fruit. He prays that they will learn to give thanks for the One who transferred them into his Kingdom out of the darkness. The irony that Paul has been transferred to a dank dark prison cell because of the Kingdom does not affect his vision of the Kingdom or his prayer life.

This is Kingdom prayer. The prayer is for others. The prayer lifts others up and reinforces others. The prayer points away from self and toward the One who is able to do more than we ask or think on behalf of others. This is dark night of the cell prayer, where one is alone with God and unable to move but a few feet. Paul’s actions are distilled down to praying verbs: “fill”, “bear”, “grow”, “learn”.

 

 

There are many who are unable to move but a few feet. The elderly, who have been active most of their lives, now sit. Some may even think of their bodies as a prison cell. But, in that “cell” the “wisdom and spiritual understanding” that was prayer directed at them some two millennia before can be applied to their Kingdom prayer now. They can pray for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren just a Paul prayed for his children in the faith. The fact that they, two millennia later, have faith means that Paul’s prayer was effective. Some were “filled” with knowledge. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength and “learned” to give thanks.

There will always be situations beyond our control. I was reminded this past two weeks of how uncontrollable are the forces that surround me. The weather in the Chicago area has been frigid. I do not remember such cold temps and I have lived in the area for over 65 years.

At 65 years you begin to think about mobility later in life. You wonder, at least I do, about how long your legs will cooperate. So, I see it is time for me to exercise Kingdom prayer with action verbs. It is long past time for me to pray it forward.

 

More Kingdom prayer from prison:

“For this reason, I bow my knees and pray to the Father. It is from Him that every family in heaven and on earth has its name. I pray that because of the riches of His shining-greatness, He will make you strong with power in your hearts through the Holy Spirit. I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.

God is able to do much more than we ask or think through His power working in us. May we see His shining-greatness in the church. May all people in all time honor Christ Jesus. Let it be so.”  Ephesians 3: 14-21

The Good News and Capitalism All Under One Tent

tent-making

Over the past several months I have been reading several of the Apostle Paul’s letters. He wrote to churches he had planted and to those he intended to visit such as the one in Rome. 

 His two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica struck me, especially in light of the terms “social justice” and “fair share” being pandered today by so~called Christian groups (Sojourners & Jim Wallis, etc.) under the guise of helping others.

 What struck me within these particular letters is that Paul, without healthcare, without government subsidies, without insurance of any kind went about the business of the Kingdom of God, working with his own hands, as he states, making tents, paying his own way. 

 Paul said that he could have “entitled” himself to share in their “wealth” because he was a hard-working minister of the good news.  Instead, he chose to not become a burden to the people he was talking to and therefore not a burden or an impedance to the freely offered Good News of the Kingdom of God.

 “Here is a command we have for you, my dear family, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.  Keep away from any member of the family who is stepping out of line, and not behaving according to the tradition that you received from us.

You yourselves know, after all, how you should copy us. We didn’t step out of line, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  We worked night and day, with labor and struggle, so as to not place a burden on any of you.  It wasn’t that we don’t have a right; it was so that we could give you an example, for you to copy us. And indeed, when we were with you, we gave you this command:  those who won’t work shouldn’t eat!”  II Thess. 3:6-10

  

From a provocative post by R.J. Moeller:  “Hayek on Socialism,”  American Spectator

 “For my fellow Christians who are skeptical of free-market capitalism, I’m all in favor of having those internal discussions about the most God-honoring, effective ways to help the least among us. But if you’re a believer who takes the Bible seriously and you actively (or even passively) endorse government~enforced and funded “social justice,” you’re wrong. You may mean well, but you’re wrong.”

Today I see many young people wanting to help others “socially.” Social media impacts and drives a lot of this desire and also a lot of misinformation about Capitalism and the Free-market. One only has to look at the Occupy Wall Street “movement” to see that there are some who have angst and anger about Capitalism, angst and anger revved up by the main stream media pushing Progressivism’s socialist agenda.

But we need Capitalism more than ever to restore human flourishing to our country.  More importantly, we need Capitalism to help us Christians increase the Kingdom of God here on planet earth. Think fishermen, disciples, non-union community and fellowship, image-of-God creativity, Jerusalem~Christian-like charity, sparrow~like dependence on God ~ agape love feasts and more.

 Capitalism combined with a knowledge of God and the freedom to act, can enable an individual to freely share the Kingdom of God with others and to do this without the middleman of government and apart from the propaganda of the main stream media. Why else would the Evil One so push for a centralized government where he can consolidate his power?

 Here are some authoritative thoughts about capitalism’s creativity and information sharing that could have a positive impact on the Kingdom of God: 

In a recent book by George Gilder “Knowledge and Power:  Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World,”  he writes, 

 “In order for the entrepreneur to succeed, he must know that, if his creation generates an upside surprise, the related profits will not be confiscated or taxed away.  If they may be confiscated, his entire project will not be able to attract the necessary resources to bring it to market.” 

 “The successful entrepreneur has found a creative way to serve his fellow-man, and his profits are the measure of the extent to which he has been of service.  He needs to be able to keep those profits in order to be able to use what he has learned to bring other creative ideas to market to further serve his fellow-man.  When a government takes away the entrepreneur’s profits, it essentially takes away his creative lifeblood.”

 Also,

 “A leftward administration can destroy the value of the 1 percent’s property, but cannot seize it or pass it on….Under capitalism, wealth is less a stock of goods than a flow of ideas and entropy….Capitalism is a system that begins not with taking but with giving to others.”

 And,

 “All economic growth ultimately stems from innovations. …Innovation is always a product of individual innovators, a rare and dynamic breed not always appealing to the millions who depend on their creativity for their own comfort, health, and security.”

“In capitalism, “the givers or investors must be willing to focus on others’ needs more than on their own.  The difference between the value of an item to the giver and its value to the recipient is the profit.  Profit is thus an index of the altruism of an investment.”

Capitalism is the most effective way of expanding wealth, not because it offers the most powerful incentives…but because it links knowledge with power.  It gives control over resources and over the future flow of investment not to political bureaucracies of certified experts or to the most avidly self-loving pursuers of leisure and luxury, but to the particular entrepreneurs who manage successful experiments of enterprise.  It grants riches to those very individuals who have proved their ability to forgo immediate gratification in pursuit of larger goals, and who refuse to waste or to hedonistically consume their incomes.  …Under capitalism, economic power flows not to the intellectual, who manipulates ideas and basks in their light, but to the man who gives himself to his ideas and tests them with his own wealth and workThe greatest damage inflicted by state systems of redistribution and industrial policy is not the ‘distortion of markets,’ the ‘misallocation of resources’, or the ‘discoordination’ of producer and consumers, but the deflation of capitalist energy, the repression of new entrepreneurial ideas, and the stultification of wealth.” (emphasis mine)

  

And remember, there are those who seek to profit by selling the Kingdom of God message in exchange for “social justice:” 

 Judas held the disciples’ money bag. The other disciples suspected that Judas stole coins from the purse.  Judas likely decided that his “fair share” should come out of the donations received.  And then, horrifically, Judas decides that he would sell out the Kingdom of God for the “good” of his nation ~ for his take on “social justice.” 

 Judas received thirty pieces of silver for his socially “conscientious” efforts.  He then hanged himself (because you can’t invest blood money in good conscience).  And finally like all revolutionaries, a public site ~ Akeldama ~ was named after Judas to memorialize his “social work.” Now that is “social justice.”

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Recommended reading for those who need help understanding capitalism and the free- market:

 Defending The Free Market:  The Moral Case For a Free Economy

 Books by George Gilder:

 Knowledge and Power:  Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World, copyright 2013 (see above reference)

 Wealth and Poverty, 21st century edition

Recommended website:

The Acton Institute

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“Play is the exultation of the possible.” theologian Martin Buber

 

So God Gave Them Up

 valentin_paul_writing1800x1337

As you begin reading Paul’s letter to the house churches in Rome you clearly see Paul’s heart for the church and for the Kingdom of God now in place in this most cosmopolitan of cities:

 “This letter comes to all in Rome who love God, all who are called to be his holy people. Grace and peace to you from God our father, and King Jesus, the Lord.”

 Paul’s letter is tactful, spirited, full of information and pastoral.  He is excited and “not ashamed about the gospel” even though many outside the church are not eager to receive Good News of the Kingdom of God. Paul knew that Rome was the dominion of the “rulers of this age.”

 Paul clearly understood that by calling Jesus “King Jesus, the Lord,” that he was promoting another ruler above the Emperor.  This was seditious and dangerous for Paul.  But Paul knew the power of the Gospel.  Paul knew what God’s Good News had done in his own life and in the lives of others. He knew the cost of God’s mercy.

 Prior to Paul’s letter, Rome had gone through sweeping changes.  Pagan Rome didn’t much care for Jews and their purifying religious rituals.  They also didn’t very much care for the new “religion” in town, Christianity, which some of the Jews embraced.  Emperor Claudius had the Jews expelled from Rome.  The Jewish Christians left behind Gentile house churches. Some believe that these churches in Rome began with Gentile believers who were converted during Pentecost, while they were in Jerusalem.

 After Claudius died in AD 54 Nero became Emperor.  Under a new Emperor the Jews and with them the Jewish believers returned to Rome. It is then that Paul writes his letter, circa AD 58, describing the sweeping changes brought about by the Kingdom of God on earth.  He writes about God’s justification of all those who believe that God would keep His Covenant promise. That promise was completely fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

 Paul was deeply concerned for Christ’s church at Rome.  His “masterpiece” letter hopes to resolve conflicts between Gentile believers and Jews now returning to Rome. And, more importantly, he writes to give the church an overarching vision of God’s Covenant plan to save the world from itself.

 As you read Romans you sense that the church and the world system at that time are not so different from that of our world and our own times. 

 At the beginning of the letter Paul writes that he was under obligation to barbarians as well as to Greeks, that he was  obliged to the uncultured and the cultured. He was obliged to speak the Gospel to the wise and to the foolish.   These kinds of people are with us today, are they not?

 Paul begins God’s creation salvation story with the problem:  man’s brokenness and man’s unwillingness to turn from his sin.  To make the point, within the first paragraphs of his letter the phrase “So God gave them up” occurs three times:

 “So God gave them up to uncleaness in the desires of their hearts, with the result that they dishonored their bodies among themselves.  They swapped God’s truth for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen.

So God gave them up to shameful desires.  Even the women, you see swapped natural sexual practice for unnatural; and men, too, abandoned natural sexual relations with women, and were inflamed with their lust for one another.  Men performed shameless acts with men, and received in themselves the appropriate repayment for their mistaken ways.

Moreover, just as they did not see fit to hold on to knowledge of God, God gave them up to an unfit mind, so that they would behave inappropriately.”

 Keep in mind that Paul knew the Jewish canon.  He knew about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – God’s righteous anger poured out on the sexual perversion within those cities. Those cities had been warned.  Paul was again warning the new Christians in pagan Rome about God’s Righteousness and Justice and man’s hardheartedness. Is not homosexuality worshipping the creature rather than the Creator? But Paul was revealing a way out ~ a path made straight by the One Jew who fulfilled all of God’s desires for His rebellious people ~ Jesus.

 And lest we read Paul’s words and become smug and judge others keep in mind Paul’s words in his letter to the Corinthians:  “Some of you were once like that.”

 “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people–none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor 6:9-11)

 I don’t have to tell you that in our time the main stream media pours out filth and degeneration into our homes.  Our lives are constantly bombarded with TV programs, movies and advertisements that use sex or by political party advocates who call homosexuality a “right.”  Yet, a “right” does confer righteousness to the owner, only license and worse, in the case of homosexuality, licentiousness.

 The perversion and antinomianism now seems even more pervasive in our age than in Paul’s because of the ever-present media.  What can Christians do to heed Paul’s words today in our pagan world? It begins with worship.  So God will give them up – the people of this age – who follow in the footsteps of the pagan Romans but for us who believe we can give up to God what Paul writes later in Romans:

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

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Here is some helpful info if you choose to walk away from those chains:

http://www.narth.com/

NARTH 2012 Press Conference & Reparative Therapy

http://voices-of-change.org/