Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 18

“Bridge Building – Part 2”

“Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:48

In my previous devotion (#85), I discussed the relational bridge built between two different sets of people. The first set involved a Roman solider named Cornelius and a Christ follower named Simon Peter. The second set involved an African American named Calvin and a police officer named Justin.  Only the first half of the encounter between Cornelius and Peter was included, so today, I will include the second part – from Acts 10:24-11:18. So also, I want to introduce a new set of characters, that built a bond of friendship during difficult days.

God used the encounter between Cornelius and Peter to break barriers. Jews were never to associate with gentiles. As the Good News about Jesus began to spread, the target audience of the early believers were fellow Jews. Jewish believers would never have considered sharing the Gospel with the gentiles because the Law directed them to never cross that line. But God, in His divine plan, had other ideas. God sent an angel to Cornelius, who we are told was a devout and God-fearing man. We are also told that he gave generously to those in need and prayed regularly. God revealed himself to this man of character and told him to send for Simon Peter who was staying in Joppa. The following day, around noon, servants arrived in search of Simon Peter. God has already prepared Peter for this encounter. God gave Peter a vision opening his eyes to the truth that nothing is impure which God has made clean. God showed him a sheet with countless animals in it and told Peter to, “Kill and eat.” Peter initially refused because the animals were considered, “unclean.” But after the third time, Peter began to understand the message. God was breaking down the barriers to Jewish dietary restrictions. Then God was about to lead Peter on a path to break an even greater barrier. Suddenly, three servants invite Peter to Caesarea, to the home of Cornelius, a Roman solder, but more than that – a Gentile!

Upon entering the house of Cornelius, Peter said to him, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objections.” (Acts 10:28-29)

Cornelius then told Peter the story about the visit from the angel and the directions to send for him. Peter then responded, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As Peter shared the Good News about Jesus with Cornelius and the gathered crowd, suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message. The Jewish believers who accompanied Peter were absolutely astounded that the Spirit had been poured out – even on Gentiles! Peter then said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)

God had just broken a barrier that had stood for centuries. As amazing a move of God as this is – it is even more amazing that Simon Peter could move with God, embrace his plan and welcome these new Gentile believers. When the word of what happened in Caesarea got back to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Peter was initially criticized for associating with Gentiles. But when Peter shared how the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon both Jews and Gentiles alike, they also celebrated God’s ground breaking action and declared, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”         (Acts 11:18)

There would be future battles between Gentile Christians and circumcised believers, but this moment between Cornelius and Peter would be a type of D-Day event. This would be a marker moment bringing down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. And the message that would be pounded out and carried forth is found in Galatians 3:26-28. The Apostle Paul states, “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Today, I would also like to share another example of a significant and ground breaking, bridge-building relationship. This relationship was formed in 1930, in New York City. An unexpected bond was formed between a German born, European theologian and an African American theologian born in Alabama. Their names were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Albert Franklin “Frank” Fisher.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is considered one of the foremost Lutheran theologians and arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. His books entitled, “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together” have left a lasting impression upon future generations. Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi dissident and a founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany. He joined the Resistance during WWII and was a participant in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Eventually, he was tragically killed only a few weeks before the end of the war at the young age of 39.

Long before the war, Bonhoeffer left Germany to study in America. While at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City, he met another seminary student, Frank Fisher. He was disappointed and disheartened by what he found within the American seminary. He stated, “In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.” The one notable exception was that of the “negro churches.” It would be in the socially downtrodden African American community where Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested. It changed his life. Eric Metaxas, in the book, “Bonhoeffer”, explains that Dietrich Bonhoeffer found, what he would call, a “theological feast” at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. brought the fire of a revivalist preacher with great intellect and social vision. Metaxas stated that Powell was active in combating racism and minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say, “For the first time, Bonhoeffer saw the gospel preached and lived out in obedience to God’s commands – he was entirely captivated for the rest of the time in New York.”

During this time, Bonhoeffer traveled with Frank Fisher and was given a front row seat to African American life, culture and suffering. These experiences would leave a lasting impression upon him and influence his response, in the coming years, to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer did not learn much academically during his time in the United States, but he received more than his share of invaluable experience in what it meant to “be church” from the African American community. He learned what it meant to live in a Christ-centered community. For the first time, he experienced the power of music through “negro spiritual” songs. He also came to realize that the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering.   

After returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer’s experiences within the African American community would be instrumental in formulating and articulating his views regarding discipleship and Christian community.

All this rich discovery came about from a friendship formed between two unlikely individuals. Two men who built a bridge of friendship in which barriers were brought low, and love grew deep. God knew what he was doing when Dietrich and Frank were introduced to each other. Just as he knew what he was doing when Simon Peter was introduced to Cornelius.

Perhaps there are people in our future, whom God knows, who will help us build bridges, bring barriers low and grow deep in Christian love. Holy Spirit, show us the way.

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

Cornelius Calls for Peter (continued) – Acts 10:23-11:18

 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” 27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

28 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. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

The Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,[a] 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public,[b] but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers[c] who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[d] and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Peter Explains His Actions

11 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers[e] in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers[f] criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles[g] and even ate with them!” they said.

Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me.

When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’

“‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.[h]

“But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.

11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[i] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 16

“Bridge Building – Part 1”

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony.” Psalm 133:1

 

I had a God moment this morning. As I rolled through the new feeds on my phone, I saw an article entitled, “Black man calls police…” The story was about two men, a black man and a police officer, from Minnesota who bonded amid growing protests. Calvin Matthew, a state health inspector for the Minnesota Department of Health met Sgt. Justin Pletcher on May 27th – two days after George Floyd’s death. After reading their story and since we have been inundated with so much social unrest, I thought perhaps their “bridge building” could be the subject of my devotion.  

I put my phone down and tuned into a time of worship. As the music played, I began to ask God to bring a Scripture to mind that would be an example of relational bridge building. Suddenly, the encounter between the Roman soldier, Cornelius and Peter came into my thoughts. I knew the story was in the book of Acts. And as I reflected upon the bridge that was built between this Roman gentile and this Jewish follower of Christ, I realized that this would be the perfect example. Then I sank into the music even more, knowing that I had the piece parts for the devotion of the day. After worship, I turned to my One Year Bible and opened the pages for today’s reading. What was today’s reading? Acts 10:1-23. The passage begins, “In Caesarea, there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment…” After all this time, you would think that I would no longer be surprised to see the hand of God. No one can tell me that this was a coincidence, you had to be here! I wonder if this is simply God’s sense of humor. Regardless, it reminds me that no matter what is going on in the world, He still holds it all in his hands.

After reading about Cornelius and Peter, my eyes moved on to the Psalm for the day. This reading was from Psalm 133:1-3.  It reads, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mt. Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.” Are you kidding me? Are you getting this? Our heavenly Father is looking down upon us right now with a huge grin on his face. Yes, he is that wonderful!

Be encouraged today. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) We worship an amazing God, and He takes pleasure in revealing himself to us. Let us continue to ask, seek and knock for His presence in every area of our lives during this trying time.

Below, is the Scripture reading and the commentary associated with the reading from my One Year Bible, and then the story about the two men from Minnesota living in harmony together. Enjoy.

May God Bless You Abundantly Today!

Love in Christ, Pastor Mark

 

Cornelius Calls for Peter

10 In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer[a] named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.

Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.

And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”

As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.

Peter Visits Cornelius

The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, 10 and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”

14 “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.[b]

15 But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” 16 The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

17 Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, 18 they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.

19 Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”

21 So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”

22 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.” 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

Today’s Study: Acts 10:9-23

The Jewish law prohibited certain foods from being eaten (see Leviticus 11). These food laws made it difficult for Jews to eat with Gentiles without breaking the laws, and Jews often viewed Gentiles themselves as “unclean.”

This is why Peter had difficulties embracing what God was calling him to do – it took a heavenly vision, repeated three times. Peter’s vision meant that he should not look upon the Gentiles as inferior people whom God would not redeem. After having the vision, he understood that it was his responsibility to go with the messengers into a Gentile home and tell them the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.

God sometimes calls us to put aside our cultural prejudices and traditions in order to reach out to people who are different from ourselves. When he does, we need to be ready to put aside our ideas of what is proper, polite, or acceptable. We need to be ready to reach out across racial, cultural, and socio-economic lines to love and accept others the way God loves and accepts us. Like Peter, we need to be ready to humble ourselves and show other people how God is reaching out to them.

 

Black man calls police to alert them he’s doing his job.

(Photo https://mix949.com/mn-police-officers-moving-story-of-reconciliation-goes-viral/

Two men from Minnesota who bonded amid growing protests against police brutality are sharing their story of friendship after a Facebook post recounting their meeting went viral.

Calvin Mathews, a state health inspector for the Minnesota Department of Health, met Sgt. Justin Pletcher on May 27 — two days after George Floyd’s death.

Mathews told “Good Morning America” he made a non-emergency call to the police while inspecting a mobile home park.

“I said, ‘Hey sir, I wanted to call and let you know I am an inspector just in case a citizen calls and says some strange black man is walking around,'” Mathews recalled. “He said, ‘I’m sorry you even feel the need to tell me this.'”

Pletcher, 39, of the Columbia Heights Police Department, said he took Mathews’ call.

“He said, ‘I’m a big black guy with dreads’ and he didn’t want it to become an issue,” Pletcher explained. “I said, ‘Hey man, I get it. It won’t become an issue, but if someone calls, I’ll squash it.'”

Pletcher met Mathews in the small city of Hilltop after Mathews asked if the sergeant could come check his credentials in case someone called dispatch.

Pletcher soon noticed Mathews’ Omega Psi Phi bracelet that he was wearing, which is the same black fraternity Pletcher’s college roommate belonged to.

After learning they had a mutual friend, Pletcher and Mathews spent an hour walking the neighborhood together.

“If you look like me and you run into police, you don’t know who you’re going to get,” Mathews said. “He agreed to walk around with me during my inspection and we talked.”

Pletcher said he and Mathews had a lot in common.

“We like to travel and we both love [musical artist] Prince,” Pletcher added. “[We] both have biracial children.”

Pletcher and Mathews snapped a photo together and shared it on Facebook along with a story of their meeting. The post garnered 218,000 shares.

“I honestly think people need to see there’s some type of hope out there,” Mathews said of the viral moment. “The fact is, none of my other coworkers would’ve thought, ‘let me call the police,’ and that’s the definition of privilege.”

He added, “I’m 49 years old. I have dreads. I’ve never smoked. I’ve been to prison 22 times but to inspect, not as an occupant. I think it all comes down to fear. People are afraid of something they saw on TV. It’s just ridiculous.”

Mathews said he’d like to see police reform.

“Several officers I know said nowhere in the book of training did it say to put their knee on that man’s neck,” Mathews said. “Maybe there needs to be a time limit [for police working] on and off the streets. Maybe there should be mandated counseling.”

“There’s tons of good officers,” he continued. “Something needs to happen with these bad officers.”

Following Floyd’s death, demonstrations began in Minnesota. Pletcher said his neighborhood was destroyed and looting was common.

“I’m not angry about the rioting, I’m angry that’s what had to be resorted to until people listened,” he said. “I’m angry about systematic racism, I’m angry about inequality. It won’t change unless we do something and that’s policing.”

He went on, “The thin blue line, the very idea of a line suggests segregation and if I’m not on the same side of my community, I’m failing them, I’m failing this badge — any officer that disagrees with me needs to think about doing something else.”