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Name It, Claim It, Not So Much

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I’ve begun the Beth Moore study on the book of James, as of last Friday, and while I realize her studies are not to everyone’s taste, I am inordinately fond of “Blonder Than I Pay To Be” Beth Moore. I find her to be honest, humble, hilarious, and absolutely passionate in regard to her faith in God.

I am long overdue for feeding my faith, too. I’ve been diligently feeding my sourdough starter lately, but not treating my spirit with the same amount of careful nurturing attention. And if you are what you eat, physically, how much more is that true spiritually? A steady diet of overdosing on Facebook and social media garbage is not going to bring me the results I desire internally.

I’m excited about doing this study, and plan to periodically share things that my little brain thinks need sharing.

This is kind of a long post, but grab a cuppa, and go on this little journey with me, and I hope you’ll find it a trip worth taking.

The Creek in the Boonies: picture credit by Caroline Williams

So, I was reading today the story about Peter being imprisoned in Acts, chapter 12. The story takes place probably about ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jewish followers of Jesus had begun to welcome Gentile believers into their midst, a fact that angered strict followers of the Torah. In a public relations move, hoping to gain approval from those who most rigidly observed the law, Herod, who was half Roman, half Edomite, decided to persecute the Jewish believers in Jesus who were associating with Gentiles. This pleased the more strict followers of Jewish law, and helped Herod achieve his political goals.
Here’s the text of Acts 12:

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me, ” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly, the angel left him.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

“You’re out of your mind, ” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

Creek Reflections: picture credit by Caroline Williams

Don’t let the two different “James” confuse you. Apparently, it was a very common name. The first James who is mentioned in the text is the James that the gospels refer to as one of “the three”:  Peter, James and John.  They were the three disciples who were closest to Jesus during his life on earth. His “besties”. The night before he died, when he went to the garden on the Mount of Olives to pray, they were the ones he took with Him when He went off to pray by Himself, immediately before His arrest. James and John were brothers, known as the “sons of thunder” for their fiery temperaments.

So what has happened to Jesus’ best buds in the years following His resurrection? Well, this passage tells us that one of “the three” has been put to death by the sword. No special protection offered him. Peter, the subject of this passage in Acts 12, has been thrown into prison, and likely faces execution himself.

You know how anniversaries of deaths of loved ones stir up things inside of us? Don’t you imagine that every year when Passover rolled around, the memories of that last Passover with Jesus, when He was arrested, tried, and crucified, had to bring up traumatic memories for His disciples who were with Him that night,  when the troops approached, carrying torches and swords to arrest Him in the garden? We all know now that He was resurrected, that the story has a jubilantly happy ending, but at the time, the trauma of watching their best friend be arrested and hauled off by soldiers (who were accompanied by a mob), tried, convicted, beaten, and then executed publicly by a slow and brutal method of execution, had to have made a traumatic impression on His disciples. Maybe they suffered in varying degrees from  PTSD, after what they experienced that weekend. Who can say?

All I know is that Peter, even though he had been Jesus’ bestie, knew that being one of Jesus’ best friends hadn’t cut his good friend James any Divine Slack. James was executed, and there was no earthly three-days-later resurrection for James, either. He was just done, when it came to his life on earth. And here it was, Passover weekend again, with all its likely traumatic memories and associations, and Peter was chained up between two soldiers in a dank, dark prison, and very likely, about to face the same fate James had.

Weird though it may be,  I somehow find this set of facts comforting. (As well as cautionary.)

Why was this James, this extra-special bosom buddy of Jesus, allowed to be killed by the sword?
Why was Peter rescued?

It’s a mystery!

It was the will of the Father, who actually sent those angels to miraculously cause Peter’s chains to drop off, who caused the prison door to swing open, and who led Peter out into the street, only to disappear into the night.

When Peter realized it wasn’t just a vision, and ran to the home where the believers were earnestly praying for his release, and when he finally convinced dizzy little Rhoda to let him in, his words were to “Tell James and the brothers about this”.  The “James” he is referring to here is a different James than the one who died by the sword. The “James” he refers to here is the half-brother of Jesus, and the one who was the acting head of the church in Jerusalem. (And that’s how this story ended up in a study of the book of James, a book written by the half-brother of Jesus.)

Here’s how that story spoke to me, this morning.

I grow so tired of what I believe to be heresy that is prevalent among believers in the North American Protestant church today: the teaching that God wants you to be “blessed” – but in this brand of teaching,  “blessed” means to be financially successful and in perfect health, with every little thing your little heart desires. That if you name the blessing your heart desires, and claim it by faith in God’s power, that as God’s beloved child, you will receive it. And if you don’t get what you want, it’s probably a lack of faith on your part. Or it’s because there’s some sin in your life, that God wants you to repent of. Because obviously, if you’re not getting those blessings you want, then the favor of God is not on you.

If that is the will of God for followers of Jesus, I guess He really didn’t have it completely worked out when it came to one of His Son’s best friends, huh? Because He allowed James to be put to death with the sword.

I do believe God tenderly loves His children. But I don’t believe it guarantees us a life of ease, without struggle. Looking at the situations of James (the brother of John) and Peter in this story, I’d say if anything, that the implication is that in following Jesus, there are no guarantees of safety, ease, or personal comfort.

But, both James and Peter would tell you that knowing Jesus, and following Him, was worth anything, and everything.

Sometimes He rescues us from the immediate problem at hand.
Sometimes, He doesn’t.

But whether or not things go as we might wish, never does His love for us fail.

So to all my friends who are struggling in the midst of difficult situations: please, take heart. Your difficult situation does NOT mean that you are not holy enough,  or not special enough to God for Him to answer your prayers.

It just means that life IS hard, and full of struggle.
That sometimes, for reasons we may not understand, God allows that struggle to occur, without a miraculous, immediate deliverance.
But in the midst of it, as believers, we have the knowledge that He loved us enough to die for us, that we might be reconciled to Him. We have the knowledge that we were chosen by Him, to be His dearly loved children. (Col. 3:12) We have the promise of Immanuel, God with us, in our struggles.

Any thoughts you’d like to share?