A Strange Tale of Suspected Intoxication

A group of drunks would certainly attract a crowd.

There is a pretty famous story, actually, of some suspected drunks talking in different languages. The suspected drunks did speak other languages, but they weren’t drunk at all.

It’s no surprise that intoxication was the original reason for the anomalous activity. The larger crowd just couldn’t tolerate the idea that anything supernatural could occur.

And humanity still seems to want to explain phenomenon that can’t, or won’t, be explained. I mean, what would you think if you saw a crowd of people inexplicably begin speaking in languages you had never heard before?

See.

We just don’t like the idea of seeing or hearing something we can’t explain.

Which makes Acts 2 seem more like fantasy than reality, more like inebriation than sobriety. That intolerance still keeps many believers stale and sterile, because there is something “more,” but it doesn’t look anything like our idea of “normal.”

This is the third post in Acts: The Aftermath of Redemption discipleship group conversations, by the way. You can read the previous posts here.


Acts 2:1-47

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

The Passover, by the way, was the celebration, fifty days earlier, when unleavened loaves of bread were eaten during their Aftermath of Redemptioncommemoration meal. Unleavened bread was the meal of the Passover because the Hebrews were required to eat unleavened bread, or bread without yeast, during their exodus from Egypt. They were told to make their bread without yeast because their exodus would happen suddenly, and they would have no time to wait for the bread to rise (Exodus 12:7-13).

But Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover, was the celebration when the Hebrews offered the wheat of their first harvest to God (Exodus 34:18-24). The haste of the Exodus, remembered with the bread of haste (the bread without yeast) during Passover, gave way to the feast of the promise, in Pentecost, which featured bread with yeast — because there was no need to escape anymore.

Pentecost, then, was the celebration of peace. Practically, they could wait for their bread to rise, because they weren’t going anywhere — ever again.

So, realize something as you keep reading. Pentecost was a celebration with lots of food, full bellies, laughter, joy, and celebration, because God had rescued his people and given them a bountiful harvest. There was no more need to escape, nor to eat in a hurry, because they were in the promised land, and God had rescued them. This small bit of information frames what happens in the coming verses.

So, let’s begin again.

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

There were 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), celebrating Pentecost, but also waiting, in essence, for the promise of the Holy Spirit. They had no way to know, though, that Pentecost would be the day they would also receive the only gift that would ever matter.

So, in the midst of their own celebrations, something spectacular happened.

A sound, like a violent wind, filled the house where they were — but it wasn’t wind. And what looked like tongues of fire filled the house and rested on each of them — but it wasn’t fire (Acts 2:2, 3). And all 120 people experienced this (Acts 2:17ff). They were aware that this was the moment the Holy Spirit filled each of them.¹

Outside, in the city of Jerusalem, perhaps 180,000 Jewish pilgrims from some 15 different nations — from the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) — celebrated Pentecost in the streets. Thousands of these pilgrims knew something spectacular happened to the small group of people, though, but these street-walking pilgrims couldn’t understand it. The only explanation they could offer was that Peter and his friends were intoxicated (Acts 2:5-12).

The first public response toward those filled with the Holy Spirit, then, was doubt and confusion. Perhaps it’s enough to wonder if people, filled with the Holy Spirit, still elicit this kind of response from others.

So Peter addressed the crowd, and the rumors of his intoxication (again, Luke 12:11, 12). And he did so with the Twelve Apostles, not Eleven. He spoke to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30; Acts 2:36), as they celebrated the peace of God during Pentecost, in spite of their own Roman occupation, and he told them that a new age had dawned (Acts 2:17ff).

And that this new age began with a countdown toward its own demise.

He quoted to this crowd a prophecy from one of their own prophets, Joel, who wrote at least 400 years prior to this moment in Acts 2 (Joel 2:28-32). I encourage you to click the link to Joel and read it. You should immediately notice that the introductory words are different from what Peter quoted.

Joel wrote “In those days,” while Peter said “In the last days.” And that, dear reader, is a pretty significant detail.

Luke, Peter, and the first-generation believers actually believed that the last days had begun, and had begun with cosmic events (events, by the way, not reserved for the “end of time,” but rather when the Spirit was given). The Holy Spirit — the very Presence of God — was given to the world, and everyone could receive this gift, from the least to the greatest, both women and men.

These were not the last days of their Roman occupation, though. Peter had no way to know that. Jesus had already said that specific times and dates were reserved for God alone (Acts 1:7). So these weren’t “the last days” of being occupied.

Instead, they were “last days” filled with the very Presence of God. The pilgrims weren’t losing anything, but were instead gaining everything.

So, obviously, Peter told these Jewish pilgrims that he and his friends weren’t intoxicated, but were filled with the very Presence of God, and this Presence would obviously produce things in their lives not necessarily described as “normal,” could even possibly be confused with intoxication, and would give anyone access to the dreams and visions of God.

But Peter wasn’t finished.

Having dealt with the rumors of his inebriation, he turned his attention, and his words, to Jesus. There are four notable themes to his speech.

  • First, Peter did not hide Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. He squarely dealt with any doubt that God would allow the Messiah of Israel to come from a dirt-poor, out-of-touch town like Nazareth (see John 1:46). Yes, Nazareth was an unlikely, even scandalous place, from which the Messiah could emerge, but Nazareth was also completely acceptable in God’s plan.
  • Two, Peter did not defend the resurrection of Jesus. He simply proclaimed it.
  • Three, Peter said that Jesus was, at that very moment, exalted at the right hand of the Father, where Jesus had received the Holy Spirit – only to give it to his disciples (Acts 2:32, 33). Jesus, then, was alive, even though he had been killed!
  • Four, God had made Jesus to be both Lord and Christ (v 36). He was both the Master and the Messiah of the world.

Peter’s message stunned and convicted the crowd (Acts 2:37), and three thousand of these Jewish pilgrims were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38) for the forgiveness of sins. But be careful here. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins has been traditionally interpreted as meaning that forgiveness can’t be given until baptism occurs. But it’s equally possible to see Peter’s statement as asking the crowd to be baptized because their sins had already been forgiven. The Greek word translated as for in English translations can also be translated because of, and, if done so in this particular verse, would change the way many of us have learned to understand Peter’s appeal.²

As Acts 2 closes, then, we find these believers sharing life together in a distinct form of fellowship. Most English translations list the word “fellowship” in v 42 as what this group enjoyed. In fact, the word could be better translated as “communal form of life,” and, once translated such, becomes Luke’s first description and title of the church. In fact, this is probably what early believers actually called themselves, before they called themselves “the church.”

This group also had an expectation of the supernatural (Acts 2:43).

And finally, we find the second of Luke’s accounting of the number of believers. The group had grown from 120 to 3,000, and continued to grow because of daily addition (Acts 2:47). Soon, though, mere addition would not be enough, and the Lord would begin to multiply the number of believers (Acts 6:7).


A Few Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Acts 2:1-4.
    1. Why do you think this happened on the day of Pentecost? What do you know about Pentecost, anyway?
    2. Imagine being in that room. How would you have described what happened?
    3. Why, exactly, did God choose to give the gift of the Spirit this way?
    4. Why do you think Luke had trouble reporting exactly what happened?
  2. Read Acts 2:5-6, 12-13.
    1. Does the gift of the Holy Spirit provide a physical change? All the time? Explain.
  3. Read Acts 2:14-21.
    1. Peter described this event as the beginning of “the last days.” Why? How did he know?
    2. What were the things that would happen in “the last days”?
    3. Are we still in “the last days”? If we are, do these things still happen? Should they? What happens if they do occur, but we don’t see them? 5.
  4. Read Acts 2:22-24.
    1. How did Peter describe Jesus?
    2. Did Peter defend Jesus’ resurrection? Why not? Should we need to defend the resurrection? Explain.
  5. Read Acts 2:42-47.
    1. How did the first group of believers live? Is this just a utopian society, or should believers still live this way?
    2. The early believers had a sense of awe. What does that mean?
    3. They called themselves “the fellowship.” That was an early title for “the church.” What does that kind of title imply?

A Prayer:

Father, it is no wonder that these people accepted, as fact, that the supernatural workings of your Spirit were accepted and expected. We pray for that same sense of awe. We pray for a renewed sense of wonder, that you are alive and are working in unbelievable ways.


¹It’s worth mentioning that no other New Testament writer mentioned this moment. Paul wrote of the gift of the Spirit (Gal 3:2; Rom 8:4-11; Eph 1:13), but said nothing about Pentecost. And John wrote that the apostles received the Spirit the day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:22), fifty days before Pentecost.

²For a much, much more detailed explanation, click here. Read, too, Acts 10:43; 13:38-39, 48; 15:11; 16:30-31; 26:18.

Three Years Without Cable TV

I cancelled my cable service three years ago.

And it still has been one of the best decisions I, and my family, have ever made.

After our first year, without cable TV, I wrote four posts to describe the process. They were great journeys in writing for me. They are raw, I think, but were certainly written out of passion and intensity. They are a little bit funny, a little bit satirical, and a whole lot serious. And in 2011, I wrote one addendum on what I believe to have been a spiritual battle, and my subsequent failure of such.

Here they are, again, for you. May they inspire you a bit today to think about what you allow your eyes to see.

Part 1 :: Television and Life: The Beginning of the End of My Cable Subscription

Part 2 :: Television and Life: The Philosophical Reasons We Cancelled Our Television Subscription

Part 3 :: Television and Life: My TV, My Movies, and Jesus

Part 4 :: Television and Life: What I’ve Done Since Canceling My TV

Part 5 :: Name: The Name of God and My Mistake

A Word for Ministers

There are some things that just need to be pointed out.

For a church in crisis, it was simple:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5; NIV84)

  • There will be a moral abandonment.
  • Those who lead this abandonment are hypocritical liars, with a seared conscience.
  • They preach intense spiritual asceticism, with abstinence from marriage and certain foods.
  • God is not interested in intense spiritual asceticism, though.

Well, that seems simple enough. But this is the twenty-first century, and how do we bring this teaching to today’s modern church?

The key, I think, has little to do with what was plaguing the Ephesian church. Each of our churches, to some degree, are infected with some degree of teaching that is not grounded in the gospel.

I think the key lies in the messenger.

Yet how are we to know who is an hypocritical liar, with a seared conscience?

I’m not real sure.

But I am sure that we have a moral obligation to ensure our own character is daily molded by God. Which would then keep us far from the category above.

1 Timothy 4 is an intense chapter, and it is some intense instruction to Timothy, as he leads the Ephesian church through this time of crisis. What makes it all the more fascinating is that this instruction is given by Paul. It’s safe to say that 1 Timothy 4 is how Paul lived his life as a teacher.

Look at these characteristics:

  • Point out heresy (4:6).
  • Avoid “godless myths and old wives’ tales” (4:7). In other words, STAY AWAY FROM DRAMA.
  • Train to be godly (4:7).
  • Command, and teach, that hope is found only in Jesus (4:9-11).
  • Do not let anyone look down on you because of your age (4:12). By the way, it’s safe to say that Timothy probably wasn’t a teenager, as has often been taught. It’s more likely that he was in his thirties or forties.
  • Set an example, for the believers, in your public life (i.e, “speech,” and “life”), in love, faith, and purity (4:12). Purity, too, probably refers to sexual purity, seeing that sexual impurity was plaguing the Ephesian church, especially in the immodesty of the women (1 Timothy 2:9).
  • Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture (4:13).
  • Devote yourself to exhortation (4:13).
  • Devote yourself to teaching (4:13).
  • Watch your life and your doctrine closely (4:16).

I despise “to-do” lists. I didn’t really want to present these things as a list today, but it helps me see them better. I hope it helps you see them better, too.

Look at the verbs alone: point, avoid, train, command, set, devote, watch. Those words, alone, define this as a constant lifestyle for those of us who are called to ministry.

It is also the very way Paul lived his life.

I see it this way. We never get “a break” from our life with God. It is a constant feat to nurture our side of the relationship.

It is intentional.

It is both public, and private.

It is drama (Facebook?) free.

It is an investment of all of our time.

It makes us check our doctrine. This doctrine, by the way, isn’t what you think it is. It isn’t the rote acceptance of everything your church believes to be truth. It is, rather, the very antithesis of everything that was plaguing the Ephesian church. Paul did not want Timothy’s belief system to be infected by all of the damaging things that were being taught to the believers. (If you want to see the list, click here.)

Ministry is not a job. It is not a career. It is not a stopping-place until the next position opens. It is a calling. It is the result of a prophecy, spoken into your life. Yes — prophecy. This is how Paul explained it to Timothy:

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

The moment that we, as ministers, start to think that our jobs are just jobs, and treat them as such, is the moment we neglect the prophetic gift given to us.

I highly doubt Timothy wanted to minister to a church in such moral and spiritual trouble. It was not the promised-land of churches, with big stages and bright lights. His calling was dirty. Gritty. Tough. Which was why Paul chose to spend one-sixth of this letter encouraging him. His calling there would not be easy.

So let’s just be real this morning, and bring 1 Timothy 4 to our current environment. Those of us in ministry do not have time to be consumed with drama, with culture, with sports, or with anything other than Jesus.

It is true that God expects us to find enjoyment in various avenues, but devotion is only reserved for the Word and it’s ability to teach others.

That’s it. And that’s enough.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Before you read this, I would encourage you to watch the testimony of Michael and Heidi O’Brien. Michael O’Brien, by the way, is an amazing vocalist. I own much of his music, when he was with the band NewSong, and from his solo venture since.

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1 Corinthians 4 through 1 Corinthians 6, deals heavily with sexual behaviors, and sexual attitudes.

The community of believers in Corinth suffered from their divisions. And every deviant behavior in 1 Corinthians stemmed from this division, so much so that their division prohibited them from holding each other accountable. Here is the deviance Paul specifically addressed in this passage: A man (unnamed), who was a believer in the Corinthian church, had an ongoing sexual relationship with his stepmother.

In order to understand this, it’s important to understand two things. The first is how sex was viewed in the Roman world. The second is how God viewed a community of believers.

In the Roman world, sexual behaviors, and attitudes, were much different than what was prescribed for both the Jewish community and the Christian community. If men could have sex with someone, anyone, and do so without public shame, then there was no taboo for sex. It was a man’s public duty, in the Roman culture, to vie for public accolades — so whatever he did for sexual pleasure didn’t really matter, unless it allowed him to achieve such accolades. Sex was just a social means to a social end.

So sexual behaviors, outside of marriage, were of little concern in Corinth, and thus, of little concern for these [new] Corinthian believers.

But … a community of believers is to be different, and to have a different culture. That was how Paul began this letter!

True, Paul had stern words about the man’s sexual behavior. But Paul also had some stern things to say about the entire community of believers. He was shocked at their complacency over this man’s behavior.

I wonder if we suffer from complacency, too.

A community of believers is designed, by God, to be a manifestation of his Presence (We find this out later, more specifically, in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Thus, if God’s Presence is manifested among the group, such behavior would be held in account. This, to me, is Paul’s biggest critique. Of course the man should have known better. But if the faith community had been filled with the manifestation of God, then they would have known better. Instead, they didn’t have a clue, and thus it was obvious that God had not manifested himself there.

In a Spirit-filled community, grace and forgiveness and mercy and even spiritual discipline is prevalent, because it is supplied by God.

So we see this being prescribed by Paul. He counseled the Corinthian believers to no longer have fellowship with this man, to release him and then to allow him to live without the blessing of the community of believers until he missed it and wanted to return.

We must realize, though, that the repentance Paul desired was as much about the community of believers as it was about the man. If God’s Presence isn’t in the community, then the man would never have any place, or any group, to return to. 

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So now, let’s talk about sex.

At the end of 1 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote this, concerning sexual sin:

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

So, a person is already one with God — filled with God.

Sex, then, is that spiritual relationship manifested physically.

So, being married, and then being sexually active outside of marriage, is disastrous. Attempting to become “one” with two different people is divisive and wrong. We can only “become one,” with one person at a time.

Which means that if we are engaging in adultery, we’ve forsaken the spiritual unity of our spouse.

But, let’s be clear that cleansing and righteousness and forgiveness can happen. Paul wrote as much when he said that those in Corinth were once involved in homosexual activity and adultery, but were changed.

If you are engaged in these behaviors, God can heal you! God can forgive you!

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So, believers, allow God to manifest himself among you. Become the Spirt-fueled, Spirit-filled community God desires. Until that happens, you will never have the spiritual discernment necessary to rescue those who are lost.

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This is my forty-ninth post of 90 blogs I’m writing in 90 days, while reading through the New Testament. Thanks for joining me today.

The Best Children’s Ministry Ever

Today is day seven of our reading through the New Testament. The reading is from Matthew 19 through Matthew 21 today. Thanks for joining me!

In Matthew 18, Jesus begins an interesting conversation about children. He tells his disciples that “unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Again, drawing on the Jewish idea of a coming kingdom, with royal guards and soldiers and servants and palaces and land and subjects and a king, the idea that a child can enter the kingdom is a complete paradox.

How can a child enter a vast, protected, walled kingdom?

I couldn’t help but think of one of Pixar’s short films, “One Man Band.” A little girl is ready to drop a gold coin in a wishing well, until two street musicians began to compete for that one coin. But her reaction is worth the time, and it’s the sort of stuff I think of when I think of a child. Take a look.

There are a few references to children and families in these chapters. Here are the two big ones from Matthew 18:

  • If you welcome a child in the name of Jesus, then you welcome Jesus. (18:5)
  • If you harm a child, then you’ll die a slow, awful death. (18:6)

In Matthew 19, then, a similar conversation takes place. We find some parents (presumably) bringing their children to Jesus, to “place his hands on them and pray for them.”

My, how cultures (and parents) have changed.

We now ask much different things from Jesus.

We ask for competitive children’s programs. We ask for monthly calendars with multiple events. We ask for retreats. We ask for trips. We ask for the most fun and adventure they could ever have.

Because we now think that an expansive program will be what lends a child’s attention to Jesus. We want them to be part of the most popular event in town, because we believe that’s what it would take to keep them faithful. Even while membership in the American church is proving otherwise. People are leaving in record numbers.

Yet all these parents wanted, in Matthew 19:13, was for Jesus to touch their children and pray for them.

They weren’t asking Jesus to take their children to an awesome convention or seminar or movie or swim party. They just wanted Jesus to speak words of prayer over them.

And if we want a model for an awesome children’s ministry, then we really need to look no further than Jesus’ reaction. He beckoned these children to come, and rebuked the disciples who thought these little ones had no place at the feet of Jesus, or in the kingdom.

Jesus’ most shocking action was giving the kingdom of God to these children. And not his disciples.

And then he touched them.

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In Matthew 19:20-28, the mother of James and John makes an unusual request. She wanted special treatment for her sons, and hoped that Jesus would offer them the two seats next to Jesus in the kingdom.

And, again, Jesus’ idea of kingdom isn’t quite what everyone else was thinking. While she thought of a palace and thrones, Jesus had no such intentions, and remarked that if they wanted the special place their mother requested, then they, too, must give their lives as a ransom for many (19:22).

James and John were probably teenagers here. Maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. They had grit and passion. But their mother still wanted special treatment for these two young men who were old enough to live on their own.

Jesus said earlier that entrance into the kingdom came through innocence. He said here that innocence leads to the willing sacrifice we will make in our lives.

And here we find the perfect model of a student ministry, which is not leading teenagers in awesome retreats and programs, but teaching them that suffering and sacrifice is the way of discipleship.

Jesus just doesn’t play around.

But that’s not all.

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He rode into Jerusalem, and people shouted praises to him. One of my favorite verses in Matthew comes in Matthew 21:10, when Matthew writes this:

… the whole city was stirred …

The entire city of Jerusalem, with a population of around 30,000 people, was shaken at Jesus’ entrance into their city.

He went straight to the temple, and in what may have been his first, and only, revolutionary moment, he overturned tables and angered the merchants. But Matthew wasn’t as concerned about this experience as he was about the reaction of the Jewish teachers who saw everything that happened.

Picture it. Tables are overturned. Lambs are running through the square. Doves have been let out of their cages and are flying. Lots of chatter and anger from these merchants. They kick the dust of the ground when they chase their rolling Roman coins. And while this scene erupts, Jesus leaves the hubris of his action to heal both a blind man and a lame man.

The “teachers of the law” who are there do not seem to be concerned with Jesus’ violent reaction to the merchants, though. Nor do they seem to be upset at the miraculous healings.

They were most upset at the reaction of the children.

There were children who saw everything, who were in the temple, and they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

These children praised Jesus. They couldn’t help it. Their immediate response was to worship.

But look at the scene through the eyes of these children. They just watched Jesus do some really crazy things. He chased merchants from the temple. He then healed two well-known, paralyzed men in the temple.

What they witnessed would forever change their lives.

And Jesus, probably sweating from overturning those tables, and still trying to catch his breath while he healed these two men — maybe wiping dirt from his forehead with the sleeve of his cloak — only answered the critique of the teachers by explaining to them that God had already ordained these very children to praise and worship. And I think he smiled when he answered them.

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I am a daddy. My life has been blessed beyond words by my daughters. All four of them.

I want their relationship with Jesus to be like what happens in the lives of the kids in Matthew 19. I want to bring them to the Word of God to be touched, and to be prayed over. I want them to make a decision that will transform them into people who are willing to sacrifice and give, even beyond what is expected. And I want them to see such radical transformation in the lives of people that they just can’t help but praise Jesus.

It doesn’t take any Americanized version of the gospel to make this happen.

It doesn’t require packed calendars and competitions and memory verses and perfect attendance in a Sunday school program.

It doesn’t require a week-long VBS.

And it shouldn’t require the most fun a kid can have in a day.

Because the kids and teenagers in Matthew 18 and Matthew 19 and Matthew 21 didn’t have any of those things.

It takes a relationship with Jesus. It takes parents who just want their children to be moved by Jesus. And it takes parents who want their kids to see, with their own eyes, how Jesus can heal the most broken.

Jesus loves the little children. He gave them his entire kingdom.

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Thanks for reading. You can find all the posts I am writing as I read the New Testament by clicking here.