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 February Blog

Pastor Mark’s February 2020 Blog . . . 

“So. . . Who’s Telling the Truth?”

 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said,

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   John 8:31

 

Did you watch the Democratic debate on January 14? If so, you might have noticed something interesting on the hand of candidate Tom Steyer. There was a symbol crudely drawn in pen on his left hand. A closer look revealed a large cross with four smaller crosses drawn in each quadrant. So, what did this mean? Was the symbol a secret code or some subliminal message sent to our subconscious?

Come to find out, since 2017, Steyer has drawn, what is known as a “Jerusalem Cross” on his left hand each morning. (Yes, he is a Christian, but no, he did not know it was a “Jerusalem” cross when he drew it). When the media asked him what it meant he said, “It means to tell the truth no matter what the cost. For a while now, I have drawn it on my hand every day to remind myself to always tell the truth.”

Does Tom Steyer tell the truth? I don’t know. But the idea of telling the truth, what a novel idea.

Who do you trust to tell you the truth?

Do you trust the President, Congress, foreign governments, financial institutions, media outlets, Facebook or twitter? Perhaps you look to lawyers, doctors, educators, religious leaders, counselors. Will your plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, or financial advisor tell the truth?  It’s easy to become cynical when lies seem to roll off tongues as water rolls over the falls.

Do you think this growing distrust in humanity carries over into our trust in the one who declares,

I AM Truth”? Jesus declared, “I AM the way, the TRUTH and the life.”

Jesus declared that he embodied truth

and that if one would hold to his teachings,

they would come to know the truth and that truth would set them free.

Can this be true?     I absolutely believe this to be true!

But like any truth claims, they need to be vetted. As Christians, we need to test, try and press into these claims of Christ to see for ourselves whether they prove to be true. It should be crystal clear that we cannot simply trust our culture and the morals of the common man to lead us to truth. We must ask, seek and knock for deeper truth and come to know this truth for ourselves with a confidence that comes from personal investigation, experience, study and revelation.

Over the past few days, snow and icy roads have made travel difficult. But during this time, I have felt the truth of God’s Word spill over me in a refreshing way. I’ve been reading from my One Year Bible, in the midst of Matthew’s Gospel.

I want to share some of the truth that renewed my soul…

“Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor -sick people do.

Then he added,

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture,

I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.

For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous,

but those who know they are sinners.”    Mathew 9:10-13

“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd….

He said to his disciples,

‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few.

So, pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest;

ask him to send more workers into his fields.”   Matthew 9:35-38

“What do I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We play wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t mourn.’ For John (the Baptist) didn’t spend his time eating and drinking and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners?’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles,

because they had not repented of their sins and turned to God.    Matthew 11:16-20

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer:

“O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,

thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever,

and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!”   Matthew 11:25-26

Then Jesus said,

Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you,

because I am humble and gentle at heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.”    Matthew 11:28-30

So what truth can be found in these words of Christ? I will let King David clarify the truth from Psalm 14…

“Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race;

he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God.

But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt.

No one does good, not a single one.”    Psalm 14:1-3

The truth is, we are all sinners! We are all sick and who by nature do not seek after God. We need a Savior!

We are called to repent of our sin before God and turn to Him and live! We are to be “childlike” and out of our physical weariness and emotional fatigue, come to Jesus and He will give us spiritual rest. We are to walk in His ways. We are to know that Jesus is humble and gentle and will lift us up and will carry us when we are weak.

As we grow in His grace, God who is in charge of the harvest,

will send us into his harvest field to share this grace with others.

The world embraces a lie. The world believes that we are by nature good and out of our own goodness, we will seek to help others and improve the world around us. Because we are good, we need not God and/or to turn to one that does not exist. We are to be wise and clever in our own minds, and have the capacity to find all the answers to our problems on our own. We are to find rest within ourselves and discover our path for self. If there is a God, he is controlling, manipulative and angry. We need to be strong in and of ourselves and relying upon someone else shows weakness.

But, let not your hearts be troubled. Truth remains! And we are called to know Truth! Where is it found?

Not in a man with a cross drawn on his hand, seeking the power of the presidency. Rather, from the man whose hands were placed on a cross, seeking to give his life for all the broken sinners of the world, and in his human weakness and sacrifice, he empowers us to live an abundant life.  

If the faith you cling to seems heavy and burdensome or irrelevant and insignificant, perhaps you need a dose of deeper Truth….

Repent in prayer.

Turn to Jesus, come to Him and ask him to teach and reveal to you more of his Truth. Expose yourself to the teachings in his Word, and have him expose where you are holding on to legalistic religious tradition.

He is humble and gentle, a compassionate shepherd,

who in great power has a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.