As it just so ‘happened’, the day after I watched the video of the Iraqi Christians sharing their stories, I came to the book of Acts in my glacier crawl through the Bible.
I was reading The Message version, which has a brief introduction to each book written by Eugene Peterson. Here is what he says about the Acts of the Apostles:
“Because the story of Jesus is so impressive – God among us! God speaking a language we can understand! God acting in ways that heal and help and save us! – There is a danger that we will be impressed, but only be impressed. As the spectacular dimensions of the story slowly (or suddenly) dawn upon us, we could easily become enthusiastic spectators, and then let it go at that – become admirers of Jesus, generous with our oos and ahs, and in our better moments inspired to imitate him…
“The story of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him. The supernatural does not stop with Jesus. Luke makes it clear that these Christians he wrote about were no more spectators of Jesus than Jesus was a spectator of God – they are in on the action of God, God acting in them, God living in them. Which also means, of course, in us.”
In other words, Emmanuel.
As I read that, I was still deeply affected by hearing how some ordinary Christians in Iraq had gotten “in on the action of God”. (If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, I recommend you do so now as it will be more profitable than anything I’m going to say here.)
And as I read the first half of Acts, I realized what I had heard on the video had the same freshness as the story that Luke tells, especially when I came to chapter 4:
They couldn’t take their eyes off them – Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions Jesus…
Again, I thought of the people in the video I had watched. I thought that what was said of Peter and John could be said of many of these Iraqi believers who lived humble lives. They worked hard to put food, literally, on the table. No jet-setting plane trips. No exciting cross-cultural exchanges. No visits to corridors of power. I imagine they experienced a fair amount of subtle and not-so-subtle persecution from being a religious minority. Probably traditional rather than cutting edge. Perhaps not so theologically savvy. Guaranteed imperfect.
Our world values the opposite. Our role models tend to be sophisticated, clever, educated, wealthy people. [For a large part of history, you could add ‘warrior strength’ to that list.]
As a consequence, it is all too easy [speaking here from personal experience], to care more about appearing sophisticated and clever than being faithful to the gospel of Jesus. This isn’t a new phenomenon: see Jesus’ parable about guests at a wedding banquet in Luke 14. But as I watched the video and then read Acts, I was reminded that these are people who haven’t achieved the world’s definition of success or brilliance or intelligence.
And I remembered all the people I have worshipped with over the years here who have far less education than me [many, in fact, who are illiterate], who make a fraction or the US minimum wage, who don’t know the meaning of health insurance. Some come from countries where the average life expectancy is less than my current age, like Central African Republic where if you live to 50, you’ve beaten the odds.
But none of these grave–and deplorable–negatives have hindered their ability to encounter the love of God in Jesus Christ. Their lives have been transformed by His embrace. They are living witnesses to His power and care.
The kingdom of God belongs to fishermen who responded to the call.
The kingdom of God belongs to those who receive it like a child [Luke 18:15-17].
The kingdom of God belongs to the broken and the imperfect, to criminals and adulterers, to the simple and the unspectacular who have trusted the saving, amazing grace of Jesus.
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung.
I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it
Philippians 3:7-11 The Message