My church and I are going through Acts for a Wednesday night Bible study. The first four chapters of Acts give this incredible retelling of the earliest life of the church. God is at work, and he is healing people in the temple, tongues of fire are coming down, and the church is completely unified and are taking care of each others needs. God's mission is evident to everybody who comes into contact with it, and it is having a powerful effect on all those who it comes into contact with. I love those four chapters. God is at work. His church is being the church and are participating in what God is up to. But then comes chapter five. I could live in chapters 1-4. Tell me to be a witness. Tell me to heal the lame. Tell me to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Tell me to be as one mind with those in my church. Don't tell me about Ananias and Sapphira. Don't tell me about the human struggles and the consequences that come with them. Don't tell me that there were those in the early church were selfish. Keep me in chapters 1-4. Don't tell me about God judging quickly these two just like Achan. There is this tension in this new community, a tension that exists today. A tension between holiness and grace. The tension is there when I read Jesus. Richard Buridge writes about the tension in his book Imitating Jesus. He writes that the ethics that Jesus taught were incredibly conservative and radical for that day. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us. He teaches us that divorce is unacceptable (except for marital infedelity). Yet at the same time, Jesus is the friend of sinners. When everyone else was going to condemn a woman caught in adultry, Jesus doesn't. When no one else would talk to the Samaritan Woman with five husbands at the well, Jesus does. He heals the blind, the lame, and sets the prisoner free. Jesus not only lived the tension, he is the tension. The question I asked my church last night, and the question that I am still wrestling is how do we live the tension?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible occurs on the eve on which Jacob, who had run away from his past, was about to come face to face with his brother, the one who he cheated years earlier. Jacob, sitting alone on the banks of the Jabok, wrestles with a mysterious figure all night long. This mysterious man overcomes Jacob, but Jacob never lets go. At day break, the figure asks Jacob his name (which has all kinds of psychological implications when you read Jacob in context since the first time he was asked that question in scripture, he said he was someone else), and then changes Jacob's name to Israel, one who struggles and is ruled by God. It is a great picture of what it means to journey with God, what it means to struggle with a God who is interactive in his creation.
This past weekend I attended a Pastor's Conference at my seminary, Truett Seminary. The speaker was well-known Christian author and philosopher Dallas Willard. His books, especially Renovation of the Heart, have impacted my life and thought greatly, and so I was already looking forward to the conference before it starts. He argued at the conference that knowledge is more important and is the basis of faith (not surprising coming from a philosopher). That goes against much of what I have been taught. We are often taught to seperate knowledge and faith. Willard says that is where the church went wrong. Now, he does not use knowledge in a Fundamentalist sort of way, or legalistic sort of way. Rather, Willard defines knowledge as interactive relationship. In other words knowledge of God is an interactive relationship with God. It is not a statement of faith, or a leap of faith into the unknown. Rather, faith is rooted in the knowledge of an interactive relationship with an interactive God. In other words, we need to wrestle with God so that we can have an interactive relationship with God. That is what discipleship is all about. It is about interacting with the God who is interacting in the world so that we can get to know who God is and where God is in mission in the world. The scary part of this is maybe we will come away with a limp like Jacob.