Today, Kelly wants me to pick out my five favorite Bible stories for #FridayFive. Sure. Right after that, I’ll choose my favorite color, book, and kid. I love Scripture. I love Bible stories. They’re all good. (OK, maybe not all good. That one about Ananias and Sapphira, for instance, is a little troubling. And, well, the entire book of Judges.)
Just five. So in no apparent order, here they are.
The Tale of Cornelius
It’s complicated. Peter prays and has a persistent vision from God telling him to kill and eat a roof full of animals that Jewish people were not allowed by law to eat. Peter doesn’t get it. God, however, is more persistent than all of our self-justifications (which can be pretty persistent). He convinces Peter, who then discovers that the vision means he is to go to Cornelius’ house.
As Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”
So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”
They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.”
They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” (Acts 10)
Cornelius and all his household hear about Jesus from a man who had believed they could not be accepted by God because of their birth heritage. God changed the heart of a man given to prejudice. As a result, one extended and extensive family received salvation.
I love stories of barriers being broken and walls coming down. I love when God moves people to love and serve other people whose skin color, beliefs, or language are not like their own. It gives me hope, in these scary times when hatred and prejudice seems to be the new american flag, that God can make reconciliation happen.
Speaking of Peter . . .
Jesus’ Post-resurrection visit with the disciples
Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.
At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore (John 21)
First, Peter cannot wait for the boat to actually land. He jumps in, as he has characteristically jumped into most everything, before thinking. By the time he gets to shore, I am guessing he’s had time to remember that he and Jesus did not part on the best of terms. Would Jesus forgive him? Should he? I bet he swam a little slower toward the end there. I bet he considered turning around and going back to the boat. After all, he should help them with the catch, right? Fishing had been his idea.
And then, Jesus pulls impetuous, worried Peter aside and asks if he loves him. Three times. And gives him a job to do.
Peter gets a second chance. He gets to take his impetuous nature and redeem it for good. He is commissioned to use what he has for God, no matter what has gone before. Jesus simply does not care that Peter has failed often and completely. He knows that he’s also gotten it right, and that willingness makes up much for lack of perfection.
I am so grateful for this. For all my Peter-like moments,when zeal ha gotten the better of good judgment, I am reminded. God leaves our mistakes behind us. So maybe I should, too.
The Woman at the Well
Jesus meet a Samaritan woman and asks her to give him water from the well. She is a taboo person. Immoral. Foreign. Female. Off limits for noticing, let alone conversation and drinks.
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” (John 4)
When she begins questioning him about theological details, he answers her, honestly and thoroughly. I don’t love this story merely because he spoke to a woman whom no one else would give notice. I love it because he listened to her and took her seriously. He didn’t talk down to her. He didn’t belittle her. He didn’t say, “This conversation is too much for your pretty little head to handle.” He engaged her mind and respected it. I appreciate that a lot in a Christian culture that so often does not do that for women.
Jesus is just plain awesome.
Gideon was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? The Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”
“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”
The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (Judges 6)
I so relate to Gideon. His belief in his own inferiority is so real. He probably spit his grape juice when he heard the words, “Mighty warrior.” Yeah, right. Have you not noticed, God, that I am at this moment hiding from bullies who want to hurt me? Go in the strength I have? That would be none, God. Nada. Zero.
And God doesn’t even listen to that negative junk. He says, “Yeah, I know. We’ve got this. Go.” Gideon does. Happy ending.
I so often feel like the strength I have is little and my position to do anything is the least in the entire family of God. Yet God never feels that way about me. He sends, I go, and he delivers. This is the start of a beautiful friendship.
The Lame Man by the Pool
A man who has been lame for 38 years (yes, you read that right) sits by this pool every day. It is believed that if you gt into the water, you can be healed. But he has never gotten into the water. He has just sat by it for 38 years. 38.
When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
This guy has never actually tried to get in the pool! He has all kinds of excuses for Jesus. The lack of effort to get well is most certainly not his fault. Jesus asks if he wants to get well—and I love that. He forces an answer the man has been afraid to make. Then, despite the excuses and errors, he heals him.
I’m seeing a pattern in these stories. Someone is out of the center of society, for one reason or another. Unaccepted and unwanted. Someone feels unable, unprepared, or unequipped to do what he or she is called to do. Fear is winning. The lies that tell us we are not enough are winning.
And God pronounces that, with Him, we are enough. We are healed. We are accepted. We are capable.
Then he smiles and says, — “Go.”
I love when God tells a story and it ends up to be a part of us, as well.
Check our Mrs. Disciple for more favorite Bible stories.