Archive for the “the church” Category

About six months ago, the church Phil and I had attended for the past eight years closed when the founding pastor retired from ministry. (Sigh.) It’s hard having your family disbanded. We miss meeting together and celebrating the Lord with the friends we shared that privilege with each week.

The process of finding a new church home has given us an opportunity to see what God is doing in our community. But finding a new church is hard work. We feel like wanderers and in all honesty, as much as we love church, the temptation to sleep in on Sunday mornings and enjoy some leisure is pretty strong.

We resist most Sundays because we are committed to the local church. We’re committed to it because we believe it is God’s desire for each believer to be a part of a local fellowship. We grieve deeply at so many Christians who consider attending church optional. Writing about that will be the bulk of this blog, but first, I just want to share some random thoughts from visiting different churches over the past six months.

Random Thoughts About

  • There are many pockets of people who love the Lord. Each provides their unique expression of His love.
  • It’s so easy to be critical of those bodies we visit – after all, we’re evaluating each of them as a potential church home. Of course, none of them are the one we loved and can no longer attend. They don’t sing the songs we’re most familiar with. The people aren’t as loving as the ones from our church (or so it seems – I don’t really believe they are – I just don’t know them and they don’t know me so it doesn’t seem as if they are as loving as my friends). The preaching is a different style. You see, it’s so much easier to see what annoys us than to set our preferences aside and look for the good things God is doing.
    I know we’re not unique in this experience. We meet for Bible study with others searching for a new home and none of us has found a home yet. It seems there is something wrong with each church we visit. Of course there is. There’s something with every church. There were things wrong with our previous church. (“Get over it – quit looking for the perfect church” my brain whispers to my heart.)
  • The Holy Spirit regularly reminds me that we miss a tremendous opportunity if we’re not blessing the churches we visit and we do Christ a terrible disservice when we complain about them.
  • Each church we visited has at least three needs: More passion for the Lord, a stronger sense of purpose or vision, and committed believers who align themselves with that purpose or vision. The first two elements – passion for the Lord and a vision for the Church – were evident in some of the leaders, but rarely seen in the congregation.

I don’t write these things as criticism from the outside looking in. I count myself among those who need more passion for the Lord. God has been speaking to Phil and me about passion lately so I’ll be blogging about that in the future.

I grieve for the lack of vision I see in many churches, and for the lack of committed believers attending those churches.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Proverbs 29:18a (KJV)

And where there is no vision (or revelation) of her purpose, the Church perishes. She becomes filled with people who see no purpose and become complacent in their commitment…or simply leave altogether.

The Church in America is in desperate need of revival, and none of the churches we visited is currently experiencing it. Spotty attendance by members of the congregation is a symptom of our lack of passion. We visited a number of churches whose attendance varied as much as 50% from week to week because so many people who were regular participants in the congregation prioritized other things over church. Yes, we may all do that occasionally. But for many it is not the occasional or rare re-prioritization – it seems to be a weekly decision of whether or not to join fellow believers in worship and equipping. And for still others, it has become a decision to not attend regularly simply because…well, the best I can understand is that the Church isn’t doing or being what they want it to do or be.

I understand the Church not doing or being what you want it to be. I’ve been there. As we look for a new church home, I’m there almost every Sunday. What I don’t understand is allowing that situation to override God’s Word to you:

24And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25not staying away from our ?worship? meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (HCSB)

Christianity Today published an article online in August titled “The Promise of Church: Reasons we must go—and keep going.” The author, Jen Pollock, brings correction in the midst of hope:

No, we don’t go to church (and keep going) because it’s easy. We go because it’s necessary…When we declared our allegiance to Jesus Christ, like it or not, we became a part of his family, binding ourselves to the domestic responsibilities to love and to serve our spiritual fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. The Apostle Paul said church is like marriage, and in my estimation, that means there’s a lot of ordinariness to it (and not too few fights). And yet, as in marriage, there is great promise of transformation in church. When we dare the difficulty of abiding the promise to love unlovable people in the everyday, we are being formed into the image of Christ.
Christianity Today; “The Promise of Church: Reasons we must go—and keep going” by Jen Pollock Michel

No, we don’t go to church and keep going because it’s easy…or because it’s fun…or because we like the worship or the preaching or the people or….we go because it’s where we meet with other believers and are challenged to live out our faith – among one another and out in the world.

As we’ve been visiting churches, God has repeatedly reminded me of a favorite verse of mine:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
Jonah 2:8 (NIV)

Church – that is, the gathering for worship and teaching in the format and style that most appeals to me – church, the way I want church to be – can easily become an idol that causes me to miss the grace God has for me to embrace a church with a different style and personality from what I’m accustomed. As I write this, it sounds like I am an old stick-in-the-mud church member who isn’t open to new patterns of worship and new formats. I don’t think of myself that way. I don’t want to be that person.

No, we don’t go to church because it’s easy or fun. What a blessing when it is! Easy and fun and spiritually challenging and encouraging and worshipful should be the norm. But when it’s not, we shouldn’t quit going. Nor should we immediately begin looking for a new body to align ourselves with.

For it to be acceptable for a Believer not to attend church is a thoroughly modern day perspective. For hundreds and hundreds of years after Christ, one was not considered a Christian – a Christ-follower – unless they were participating in a local fellowship of believers. Christ didn’t intend for His children to be lone rangers. We need one another. And the Church needs us. And the world needs to see us attending church.

Friends, the Body of Christ needs you to demonstrate your faith, in part, by taking the place God has set aside for you in a local church – to be a believer committed to be a part of a specific expression of the family of God. Without you, there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. There’s a body with a missing arm or leg or hand or foot. The Body of Christ needs your time and your talent, your gifts and your finances. It needs your prayers and your encouragement. It needs your faith to be added to the faith of others, and other believers need your unique contribution to fellowship. The Body of Christ needs you.

And you need the Body of Christ. You need the regular encouragement that comes from gathering with other believers. You need the regular teaching from other believers. You need the discipline that being committed to a local body brings. You need the opportunities to serve that are available through your local church. You need practice in submission, which is a natural consequence of committing to a church through good times and bad.

We don’t love church because she is always lovely. We don’t attend church because she meets our immediate needs. We go in the promise Scripture holds out, that the goodness of God’s people gathered and unified is “as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head…as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting” (Psalm 133:2-3).
Christianity Today; “The Promise of Church: Reasons we must go—and keep going” by Jen Pollock Michel

Last but not least, the world needs you to join yourself to a local fellowship of believers. If you are a believer who is not regularly attending church, I can guarantee that there is at least one person (probably more) in your sphere of influence who is thinking and perhaps saying “Mary is a Christian and she doesn’t go to church. If she doesn’t go to church, why should I?” And perhaps there is the non-believer who is thinking “Even David quit going to church. He knows it’s just full of hypocrites. I don’t want to have any part of that.” Our actions impact those around us. Do you want your church attendance to encourage those around you to fellowship with other believers or to discourage it?

Friends, let me encourage you to be a part of the blessing described in Psalm 133 and a positive influence on those around you. Make a commitment to a local fellowship today. You, the Church and the world need you to take your place in the Body of Christ.

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There is so much in Ephesians 4 that could draw our attention today, and I’ve been reading it and listening to teachings about it and was beginning to despair a bit. So much good stuff, and so little space (and time, I’m afraid) for blogging. That’s when it occurred to me that what I needed to do was sit back and ask God what was most important for today. Yes, all of it is important, but what is on God’s heart for today’s blog? My attention was immediately drawn to verse 3:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)

Paul urges the Ephesians to “make every effort.” He doesn’t write “consider the benefit of.” He continues in the vein of verse 1 in which he wrote “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Part of living worthy of our calling is to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

It means that we make peace a priority. It’s more important than the person who is right winning. It’s more important than you winning or me winning.

The word translated “make every effort” could also be translated “be diligent”. The word translated “to keep” could also be translated “to preserve”. Be diligent in preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We are to be aggressively watchful to protect, preserve and maintain the peace. I like the word “preserve” because it has more of a sense of caring for something – nurturing it and protecting it.

Peace needs that kind of care. It doesn’t come naturally. Division and strife come naturally. Peace must be sought after and preserved. Paul explains why in later verses, but first let’s look at the unity we have. Paul continues in his letter:

4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV)

We may look different and we may act different, but we are part of one body (the church) and there is one Spirit who is alive in us. We have all been called to one hope – our glorious redemption in Christ with an eternal home in heavenly realms. We worship one Lord, share one faith and one baptism. Yes, we may practice that baptism ritual in different ways, but each baptism represents a dying to our old self and a raising up with Christ having been cleansed of our sin and made alive with Christ. We all serve one God and Father and He is sovereign over all, through all and in all. That’s omnipresence – He is everywhere at all times. That’s unity and when our focus remains on that unity and our spirit is sensitive to the Spirit which lives in us, we are held together with a bond of peace.

Still there’s a need to make every effort. Because while we have unity, we do not have uniformity. God has gifted each of us differently.

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:7-13 (NIV)

Christ has given each of us a measure of grace and a variety of gifts. The problem with this is that in our sinfulness, we tend to see things through our giftings instead of through God’s eyes. If we are gifted in teaching, we think that the church’s resources (for example) ought to be focused on teaching God’s Word to young disciples. If we are gifted in evangelism, however, we think the church’s resources ought to be focused on the lost. Throw apostles and prophets and pastors into the mix and you have a church board meeting that easily turns from keeping the bond of peace to keeping their portion of the budget intact (and growing).

But God has apportioned the gifts for a purpose – “so that the body of Christ may be built up”. All gifts are required for that to happen. If we become so focused on our own gift that we diminish others, we disrupt the unity of the body and we damage the body’s ability (and our own ability) to be built up, become mature and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We are no longer living a life worthy of our calling. Even if we are called as an evangelist, if we diminish the other gifts, we are no longer living a life worthy of our calling because that calling is first and foremost to mirror Christ, to become like him.

We have skipped over verse two so far. Let’s look at it now in two translations:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Ephesians 4:2 (KJV)

Although we are called to use our gifts, we are also to be humble (lowly) and gentle (meek), patient (longsuffering) and bearing with one another in love. The Bible describes two people as being meek – Jesus and Moses. Our definition of meekness and the historical definition must be radically different. We tend to think of meekness as timidity. Scripture uses the word differently. It has more to do with gentleness than timidity. It is a humility, not a fearfulness or shyness. When Paul encourages us to be meek, he is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

Patience means putting the needs of others before our own needs. It means that my agenda isn’t more important than your agenda. Longsuffering means we don’t expect or require that our priorities or needs be met instantly. We wait patiently. We don’t get angry quickly. We place love as a higher priority and bear with one another. Again, Paul is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

As we mirror the attitudes and behaviors of Christ while using the gifts He has given us, we maintain unity of the body.

Friends, let’s make every effort to reflect Christ to one another.

There is so much more in this chapter. In preparing to write this blog, I found this three-blog series that I wrote about this chapter about a year ago. Click on the links below for more on Ephesians 4:

Worthy. Who Me?

Live Worthy

Live Worthy, Part 2

Let’s live a life worthy of our calling!

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Top Ten Most Influential Christians Since the Apostles

Dan from Texas won a copy of the book Top Ten Most Influential Christians Since the Apostles.

Thirteen different authors came together to write about men who have shaped Christianity since the time of Christ. While coming form a wide range of theological backgrounds, vocations and life experiences, these authors agree on the core of the Gospel message. John 3:16 says it well:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV)

In the words of one reviewer, Pastor Fred DeRuvo, Th.D., the book rolls back the curtain so that the average individual has one more opportunity to see for themselves the names of those who have changed the course of church history for better or for worse.”

Hey, Dan! Let us know what your favorite part of the book was!

You can download an excerpt of the chapter I wrote here.

Click here to purchase the book. Enter “Top Ten” in the search box in the upper right corner of the screen and the book will appear below the search box. Click on the book and then add it to your cart.

If you want to purchase more than 10 copies, email for discount pricing.

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Top Ten Most Influential Christians Since the ApostlesLast two days to register to win a copy of the book
Top Ten Most Influential Christians Since the Apostles

Just a quick reminder, friends, that late tomorrow, July 1, we’ll be drawing to see who wins a free copy of Top Ten Most Influential Christians Since the Apostles.

Click here to download an excerpt of the chapter I wrote for the book and to register for a chance to win a copy.

The book is a compilation of chapters by thirteen authors from a wide range of theological backgrounds, vocations and life experiences. For more about the book, check out the blog I wrote announcing its publication.

Following is are excerpts from two reviews of the book. (You can find additional reviews and more about the book here.)

Top Ten Most Influential Christians Since the Apostles lives up to its goal of answering the question: “Which self-professed Christians have had the most influence on today’s Christianity? And what happened in their lives that may have earned them this honor?”

In a clear, down-to-earth fashion, [the authors] attempt to make sense of the messy business that is Church history by sharing the stories of those who have left a lasting impact upon the face of Christianity.

Designed to serve as a basic introduction to Church history, the authors have done a phenomenal job of presenting a fair, balanced picture of Christianity’s legendary figures, leaving individual readers to draw their own conclusions about the theology which they espoused…

I found the book to be a delightful read and can easily recommend it to anyone who is interested in Church history, but isn’t entirely certain where to begin.
Ben Umnus, host of the radio program The Christian Perspective

I was pleasantly surprised by what an easy read this was. Not one to love history or the boring details of things and lives, this was well done. It is easy to follow and you all certainly did achieve your goal of not being judgmental of the individuals but only reported on their actions and the resulting influences…

This is a great way to get an overview of the history of the people of the church….Well done!
Rev. Dr. Paul C. Hunsicker, Sr.

Click here to register to win a copy.

Click here to purchase the book. Enter “Top Ten” in the search box in the upper right corner of the screen and the book will appear below the search box. Click on the book and then add it to your cart.

If you want to purchase more than 10 copies, email for discount pricing.

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1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
Acts 2:1-4 (NLT)

Is Easter a distant memory? For most evangelicals, I suspect it is. In the more liturgical churches, however, today marks the end of the Easter season. And here you thought it ended with Easter when anything you gave up for lent was now fair game!

Pentecost represents the day the Church was born. The Holy Spirit fell, as flames or tongues of fire settling on each person, filling them with the Holy Spirit and empowering them to witness for Christ in a way that would have been unimaginable just a few moments before.

Pentecost is a day in which the presence of God became a part of believers’ lives in a new and dynamic way.

May it be so, today, Lord. Let Your fire fall upon Your Church. As your Church was born on this day more than two thousand years ago, let it be reborn today to greater reflect Your love to our dying world. Break down walls of division. Ignite passion for You and for the lost. Embolden us to live – live – in radical obedience to the only One worthy of our full allegiance.

Because that’s what it’s all about.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Watching the Church Grow & Develop and Reading some Poetry

As we Rest at the River’s Edge in May, we’ll spend most of our time doing two things:

  • Watching the church grow and develop as we read through the book of Acts
  • Enjoying poetry as we read some Psalms and the Song of Songs (often called Song of Solomon)

As spring develops, don’t lose focus on what’s important, but feel free to take your Bible and notebook outside and enjoy some spring weather!

Blessings, Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for May is below.

To download a PDF of May’s recommended reading plan, click here.


Watching the Church Grow & Develop and Reading some Poetry

As we Rest at the River’s Edge in May, we’ll spend most of our time doing two things:

Watching the church grow and develop as we read through the book of Acts

Enjoying poetry as we read some Psalms and the Song of Songs (often called Song of Solomon)

As spring develops, don’t lose focus on what’s important, but feel free to take your Bible and notebook outside and enjoy some spring weather!





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May you be blessed this Resurrection Sunday, friends!

I was so disappointed to be sick today and miss church – celebrating the resurrection of our Lord among my fellow believers and co-workers for the Gospel. As I sat covered in a blanket watching television preachers, I realized that I was not entering into worship and that I had a choice. I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself and wishing that God would meet with me. That’s when I realized that simply watching television was not likely to bring about my desired outcome. This is not a statement against television ministries. I have been greatly ministered to through television ministries. But today, this Resurrection Sunday, I was simply not engaging. Just laying here huddled under a blanket was the easiest thing to do and if I was more sick than I am it would have been the appropriate thing to do perhaps. But I have a little energy – not enough to get up and move around, but enough to reach for my computer (which is nearly always within arms’ reach) and go to YouTube.

I searched for the classic Easter hymn “Up from the Grave He Arose,” also known as “Low in the Grave He Lay.” I was so blessed as I listened to these four versions of the song. Not only did it turn my living room into a place of worship and adoration, it provided a simple message spoken in my spirit by the Lord as I listened and sang along with the recordings – as believers in Christ, we are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves and our congregation and our community and our country.

  • Our faith travels back in time to Christ’s resurrection, and before that His birth, and before that His working in our world through His Chosen People to bring about our salvation. His resurrection is the central event to that salvation; it is the event that makes it possible. We are connected to all believers who came before us.
  • Our faith is practiced around the world in all cultures.  We are connected to all believers celebrating this Resurrection Sunday – not just today, but every Lord’s Day when we meet for worship.

It was the variety of ways this single hymn was available on YouTube that spoke these things to my heart and spirit.

So if you’ve got 10-20 minutes, sit back and enjoy some of these recordings of the classic hymn hymn “Up from the Grave He Arose.” What a blessing it’s been for me. I pray it blesses you as well.

A traditional organ version

A Reggae/Hispanic version –  I love that it mixes a light Reggae beat and then throws in a verse sung in Spanish (most of the song is in English). This version had the most impact on me.

A very casual, “today” version – a young woman and her guitar

An Oriental orchestral/operatic version – I wish I knew enough about the cultures to be able to identify this to a specific Oriental culture/language but I do not, but this version gave me chills each time full orchestra, lead tenor with full choir backing him up went into the chorus –“Up from the Grave He Arose.”

Hallelujah! He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Thank You, Lord!



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I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Philemon 1:6

In my last blog, I expanded on the idea that sharing our faith with nonbelievers helps us to gain a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. What a great motivation for doing so!

As I was finishing the blog, God tickled my brain with another meaning. It sent me to the Greek New Testament dictionary to find out what word was actually used for “sharing.” I was surprised to find the word koinonia. I have never associated that word with the evangelistic sharing of our faith. I was running out of time, so I made a note to get back to it.

While visiting my sister half way across the country, and attending a church with a much different style than my home church, God continued to nurture thoughts about the koinonia of our faith and how it helps us gain a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. I now have the wonderful luxury of three hours of “free time” while I fly home and am doing some research. I’ve looked up all the passages with the word koinonia and read a number of commentary and dictionary entries related to the word. How fun! (Yes, I’m a bit of a word nerd.) Come along on the journey with me. While my trip took about 2 hours, yours should be much quicker!

The word koinonia means a number of things (as most Greek words do). It’s used seventeen times in the New Testament.

  • In only two passages does it mean “communication,” as most interpret it in the passage we’re looking at.
  • In two other passages it’s used in relationship to sharing materially with other believers.
  • All remaining uses of the word are translated “fellowship” or “communion.”

The fellowship or communion of koinonia is a very rich fellowship or intimacy. Ron Sider describes it this way:

For the early Christians, koinonia was not the frilly “fellowship” of church-sponsored, biweekly bowling parties. It was not tea, cookies, and sophisticated small talk in [the] Fellowship Hall after the sermon. It was an almost unconditional sharing of their lives with the other members of Christ’s body.
Ronald J. Sider

Since this is the overwhelmingly more common translation of the word, let’s apply it to our passage and see where it takes us:

I pray that you may be active in [the fellowship of] your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Philemon 1:6

Or perhaps:

I pray that you may be active in intimately living a life of faith with one another, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Philemon 1:6

There are many passages that make it clear we are not to live our faith in isolation. This passage goes a step further – it says we cannot gain a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ when we live our faith without koinonia relationships with other believers. Gaining that fuller understanding occurs as we share what God is doing in our lives with others to encourage and teach them, and they share what God is doing in their lives to encourage and teach us. It also occurs as they see us shrinking back from our first love and admonish us to stay faithful.

We Americans don’t like anyone in our business. We like our independence and like to live our lives the way we want to live them. This is the antithesis of the Gospel message and of koinonia. Koinonia requires a sharing of lives that makes independence obsolete.

We especially don’t like it when others are bringing correction to us. I would venture to say that most people quit attending their church because the pastor or another believer has attempted to bring correction into their life. How very sad. God has placed our pastors and fellow believers in our lives to help us gain that full understanding of every good thing He has given us. When we sever those relationships we cut ourselves off from the growth God has for us. That means we haven’t learned what God wanted us to learn, so the likelihood is that we will face the same or similar situation in the next church we attend. If we continue in our independent attitude, we eventually give up on church because it is full of people who want to be a part of our lives when we simply want credit for going to church.

God wants more from us and has more for us. He wants us to have koinonia relationships – intimate fellowship with other believers that allows them to speak words of correction and life into our lives. Without it we’ll never become the men and women God wants us to be.

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Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.
Matthew 24:12

This article by Francis Frangipane, titled Beware of the Stronghold of Cold Love, touches on the last two Let’s Be PC! Blogs I’ve written –

“A major area of spiritual warfare that has come against the church is the sphere of church relationships” Frangipane states. He cautions us to guard against unforgiveness saying “An earmark of this corporate, overcoming church will be its commitment to love.

His article is worth reading and taking to heart. Has a broken relationship (and lingering unforgiveness) caused your love for the Church to wane, and hence your church attendance to wither? Check out Frangipane’s article for encouragement to move beyond unforgiveness and lackluster church attendance.

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As I studied church history in grad school, I learned something that I hadn’t realized before. I suppose it’s pretty obvious, but it had escaped me – the early Church really were learning what God had in mind for the Church as they went along! Now I suppose that continues to be true for us today, but they were really just figuring it out – everything we take for granted today was birthday in that first century (well, at least everything that’s of God). It’s obvious as we read through the book of Acts.

Peter, the White Sheet & Cornelius
Yesterday, while Resting at the River’s Edge, we read about how Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles for the first time. God gave him a vision of unclean animals being lowered from the sky on a sheet. When told to “Kill and eat,” Peter objected because the animals were those considered unclean by the Jews – they’re the very same animals we’ve read about as we’ve read through Leviticus this month. God’s response would surely have shocked Peter: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15) Peter had learned all his life that these animals were unclean and now God was telling him they were clean!

As he considered what it might mean, three men came to the door asking for Peter to go to the home of a Gentile, something also against the Jewish laws. Peter made the connection between his dream and these visitors and goes to the home of Cornelius. Once there, he began to share the Gospel. Scripture records the result:

44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Acts 10:44-46

Praise God! As was His plan from the beginning of time, He has now opened the door to Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. Let’s celebrate, right?

Peter & the Jewish Believers
Well, not quite. As we read in Acts 11, Jewish believers who had not been with Peter when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit became critical of Peter:

1The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Acts 11:1-3

Although it is clear from the beginning of Scripture that it was God’s plan to save the world through Abraham (“and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3b), the Jews had gone off course a bit and believed that God only intended to be their Messiah, their Savior. God spoke to Peter and then demonstrated His expansion plan through Cornelius’ family…but those who were not present were skeptical. After hearing Peter’s discussion, the responded appropriately:

17So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
Acts 11:17-18

Peter & You and Me
If you’re reading along with us, why am I telling you the story? Because I find a couple of things interesting about it.

  1. It is fascinating to see how the Church came into being – it didn’t just spring up fully formed. The early believers were discovering what God intended as they went along. The Scriptural record we have demonstrates that. It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of reading Scripture – both the Old and the New Testaments – from a historical perspective instead of thinking about how it documents what was being lived out. When Acts chapter 10 occurred, Peter was doing a new thing, changing the way forever that the Gospel would be viewed – God had granted even the Gentiles repentance unto eternal life!
  2. These chapters demonstrate that obeying God brings criticism, even from fellow believers. The believers in Jerusalem criticized Peter for associating with Gentiles. We should never fall into the trap of believing that following God’s will brings peace. We forget how radical a God we serve. His desire is that all should come to a knowledge of repentance, and sometimes that requires radical obedience when God lays out a radical game plan. As believers, at least as believers living in the United States, I think it’s often our tendency to talk people out of radical obedience. Lord, forgive us and give us a radical faith!
  3. I love the way that Peter didn’t seem to get defensive when he was criticized by other believers. He simply “began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened” (Acts 11:4). It is difficult for me not to get defensive when I am criticized. I’m often not successful at it, but I think there are three primary components that help us not to become defensive: Being absolutely confident in God, walking in humility and loving those who are accusing you. Peter was absolutely confident that God had sent him to Cornelius’ home and he simply explained it to the other believers. He didn’t respond in an authoritarian way, although by rights he could have. After all, he was the apostle, they were not. But he chose to explain all that had happened so that they could also see the hand of God moving and shaping the new Church.
  4. Look how quickly the criticizing believers were willing to change their minds. After hearing Peter’s story, they immediately rejoiced. They didn’t feel a need to be right, didn’t raise objection after objection, didn’t seek even the smallest concession to save their own dignity. They celebrated that they were wrong! They celebrated that God had opened the door to the Gentiles.

There are probably other lessons in the story, but these four strike me.

How about you?
Did you get the same things out of reading the two chapters? Which of the above four points is most significant for you?

Points two and three hit me the hardest. I want to obey God radically and I don’t want to ever discourage someone else from doing the same. And I’m still working on losing all my defensiveness when people criticize me.

How about you?

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