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ACAD – Helper: Acts 11

Peter Returns to Jerusalem

The apostles and the believers in Judea heard that some who were not Jewish had accepted God’s teaching too. But when Peter came to Jerusalem, some people argued with him. They said, “You went into the homes of people who are not circumcised and ate with them!”

So Peter explained the whole story to them. He said, “I was in the city of Joppa, and while I was praying, I had a vision. I saw something that looked like a big sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. It came very close to me. I looked inside it and saw animals, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord! I have never eaten anything that is unholy or unclean.’ But the voice from heaven spoke again, ‘God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy.’ This happened three times. Then the whole thing was taken back to heaven. Right then three men who were sent to me from Caesarea came to the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to go with them without doubting. These six believers here also went with me, and we entered the house of Cornelius. He told us about the angel he saw standing in his house. The angel said to him, ‘Send some men to Joppa and invite Simon Peter to come. By the words he will say to you, you and all your family will be saved.’  When I began my speech, the Holy Spirit came on them just as he came on us at the beginning. Then I remembered the words of the Lord. He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Since God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I stop the work of God?”

When the believers heard this, they stopped arguing. They praised God and said, “So God is allowing even other nations to turn to him and live.”

The Good News Comes to Antioch

Many of the believers were scattered when they were persecuted after Stephen was killed. Some of them went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch telling the message to others, but only to Jews. Some of these believers were people from Cyprus and Cyrene. When they came to Antioch, they spoke also to Greeks,[a] telling them the Good News about the Lord Jesus. The Lord was helping the believers, and a large group of people believed and turned to the Lord.

The church in Jerusalem heard about all of this, so they sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and full of faith. When he reached Antioch and saw how God had blessed the people, he was glad. He encouraged all the believers in Antioch always to obey the Lord with all their hearts, and many people became followers of the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to the city of Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found Saul, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year Saul and Barnabas met with the church and taught many people there. In Antioch the followers were called Christians for the first time.

About that time some prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and spoke with the help of the Holy Spirit. He said, “A very hard time is coming to the whole world. There will be no food to eat.” (This happened when Claudius ruled.)  The followers all decided to help the believers who lived in Judea, as much as each one could. They gathered the money and gave it to Barnabas and Saul, who brought it to the elders in Judea.

Footnotes:

  1. 11:20 Greeks Some Greek copies read “Hellenists,” non-Greeks who spoke Greek.
New Century Version (NCV)The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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Seven-year itch: Where did my zeal go?

I can say this about them: They really try to follow God, but they do not know the right way.

This is what the Scripture says: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” That is the teaching of faith that we are telling. ~ Romans 10:2, 8, NCV

I’ve had to face some harsh realities recently. They came in the form of mental asides and afterthoughts, mild irritations and frequent frustrations.

Occasionally, my Facebook feed will display the rapturous updates of young Christians – early to mid-thirties, who have committed or re-committed themselves to Christ after having loads of fun in the world. The cynic in me remarks how great it must be to have been able to do everything they wanted to do in their adult life and still have the opportunity to return and declare their love for Christ. And the weary Christian in me remembers when I, too, was extremely passionate about my love for Christ.

I think my image of Christianity has gotten me down.

In the world the “church” is all about fellowship meetings – eating and singing – and telling your neighbor (the person or people standing next to you in service) that you love them or you’re glad to see them. “Church” is about ministry outreach to the poor, to the broken, the injured, the rejected, the spiritually lost. It becomes about missionary trips, church planting, fund-raising, and sister or satellite churches in far-flung locations. “Church” is about being seen and having the right friends or simply: fashion, socializing and getting a whole bunch of “Amens” for paraphrased scripture. It has become about obeying man or men who imagine they have a corner market on God’s Word.

In the world, “church” is about a network. A network of a group of people who will stick together as long as they have the same confession of faith and nothing is expected of them outside of the church walls that isn’t well-publicized far and wide for the effort.

“Church” mimics the world. Lights…camera…action! You’re on…now perform! Perhaps that’s why I’ve become so dissatisfied with the people I encounter in “church” and the “churches” I’ve attended and even in people who just claim to be Christian. What I’ve noticed is that people repackage worldly goods and try to sell it to Believers as godly fruit. Personally, I don’t want to use anything the World had first as an expression of my faith life. And before you think the world had Jesus first, I’ll remind you that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.

I’ve been looking for the Christ in Christians and as diligently as I’ve looked I’ve rarely encountered Christ in the “church” – but I’ve certainly encountered Him in many other places.

My “church” experiences have not been about showing love or being love. They haven’t been about openness, honesty or availability. I’ve experienced more rejection in the “church” and by “church folk” – through relationships and service in ministries – than any other area in my life (and I’ve certainly known great rejection in other areas). In my experience, church organizations choose to operate like businesses but aren’t nearly as conscientious with their human capital as businesses are.  I’ve had more difficulty trying to volunteer for various ministries in various churches than I’ve had volunteering for senate campaigns. Hillary Clinton’s 2006 Senate Campaign required a background check, a phone interview and an in-person interview. A bit much in my opinion at the time, but her husband was a former president. I got over it. However, that’s nothing compared to the steps required at my current church. We have to apply online (if you can’t apply online, dates are provided for when you can apply in person). We have to attend a monthly interview session and fill out a four page application on site. This session is followed by a new believers session the same night to hear about the “church’s” beliefs. Two references (of people “in the same church who know you well”) have to be provided; if the references pan out, we then have to attend an in-person interview within the next month or two. This can easily turn into a two or three-month process. That’s effectively as much or more of a process than I’ve done for any job I’ve worked on. Volunteering at church shouldn’t be so difficult or drawn out. I’m a seasoned believer and I felt like giving up in the process!

I feel like “church” is geared towards conversion and beginners in the Word. There’s very little focus or substance for the seasoned Believer.

Indeed, where is the church for the Believer with no intention of returning to the world? The person who’s just trying to get through a humdrum day, week or month? Where’s the church for the person who isn’t lacking in faith, but may simply be in an in-between time, waiting for the next assignment? Where’s the church for the Believer who simply needs a hug because it’s Wednesday? Where’s the community that actually reaches out within itself? To the Believers who are still hurt or newly hurt? To the Believers who need more than words, who need to be shown how loved they are? Need to know how much they matter in the chain of events that surround their life. Where’s that community that focuses on itself, embraces itself and then radiates itself to surrounding communities? If church folk actually took the time to get to know, and made the effort to appreciate, their neighbor, instead of just telling them that they’re glad to see them on Sunday morning, they would be a much more gracious people when they encounter the world outside of their community. They would be much more radiant in their workplaces, on their travels and in their politics.

I’ve been frustrated because after seven years of actively desiring and seeking a Christian community, I have nothing of substance to claim in terms of relationships with people. I attended my first church for about four years. I committed my life to Jesus Christ there and was baptized as an adult there. I was consistently active in at least four ministries at a time and attended nearly every monthly special event. I was there for most Sunday morning services and Thursday night Bible Studies. My life was the “church” for the time I was there, and boy did I grow! But I didn’t conform to every part of that congregation’s culture.

The best thing I learned during my time in that congregation was “to study and show myself approved.” I am a literal learner and doer. If the Teacher is telling me that everything I need for my life is in the Word of God, and all I have to do is study the Word, then that’s what I will do. So indeed, growth was miraculous when I went from not reading my Bible to studying it faithfully. Every word was the most succulent bite for me. It was a new world. That’s where the rapturous passion came from – breathing in the life of God’s Word was the source of my zeal. Experiencing God’s Word as refreshment sustained me and propelled me forward. {See Combating Spirits in the Church}

The second church I attended in New York was much smaller. I later looked at it as something of a cult. For six months I attended one or two small group sessions a week in addition to Sunday service. My take away from that congregation was an awareness of how important it is to maintain independent thought. The small group sessions became a forum for the leadership to exercise more control over the thinking (therefore, the beliefs) of the attending congregation members. I spoke up with questions, opinions and requests. I was shut down each time and eventually shunned from the groups. They thought my pointing out scripture was disruptive to their teachings. My simple response: If you’re mis-teaching the Bible, and I’m sitting in front of you, yeah, I’m gonna say something. After speaking with the pastor one-on-one (he also led one of the small groups), I decided that I needed to preserve myself and find another congregation. {See Some Thoughts on Challenges}

I’ve been with my current congregation for about three years. For more than a year, I just sat in the services and soaked in the teachings. I didn’t want to get involved. I greeted the people next to me and sometimes in front of and behind me. At the beginning of my second year, I went to Israel with a couple of other people from the congregation. {See Stand Bold Against the Spirit of the Anti-Christ.} Our small group was joined to other groups from around the world. I thought it would be the beginning of great relationships. Not. I speak in passing to the folks from my congregation when we see each other in service. Last year, I got out of my seat and volunteered for the children’s ministry. I can’t tell you how excited I was to teach the children! But the head of the children’s ministry needed to control my schedule and because I was only able to offer one Sunday a month later in the year, she took that as a lack of availability and told me I wasn’t a fit for the ministry’s needs. It took another year before I even considered applying for another ministry. Last month I applied for the wwpray ministry for the specific reason that I can do it remotely and won’t have to deal with people directly.

That’s where my zeal has gotten me in the “church”.

What a sad waste. I have a heart of light I want to share and it has been rejected at every turn by people who profess Christ. That’s a struggle for me. How much do I push back? How long do I sit out? How long do I just keep to myself?

I’m not interested in burying my talents, but I never thought that my biggest spiritual struggles would be within the congregations I consider myself a part of.

Over the last few days my musings have led to the beginning of a revelation. Stay tuned….

We believe with our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we declare with our mouths that we believe, and so we are saved.  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.”  ~ Romans 10:10-11, NCV

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Separation from the Unequally Yoked

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

“Therefore, come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,” says the LORD Almighty. ~2Cor 6:14-18 (NKJV)

He’s been at me. Again. Hitting me hard. Knocking me around. Forcing my eyes open. Each revelation is astounding. Mind boggling. Life changing. As always, He’s working His transformative power through you – through the people who choose to interact with me and share discourse. Through that power and obedience another stumbling block has been removed from my life. Thank you.

I’ve never considered myself to have many friends, but those I’ve considered to be friends have made a huge impact on my life in many ways. Those friends have come to me from around the world. I was proud of my international exposure and connections. Now it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I am not meant to have a friend in the world at all.

My Father God has been steadily stripping me bare. Removing friend by friend. Resource by resource. Shelter by shelter. Refuge by refuge. Crutch by crutch. I’ve just been divested of my last worldly friendship and I sit here in awe of his patience and fore-planning.

I’ve had a few conversations with a new friend in Christ (he prefers to go unnamed). He put some hard-hitting questions, comments and observations before me. After he read Trains, Planes and Automobiles he emailed the following: “What I want to talk about is your friend, aka spiritual sister. She treated you in a way that I read as very disrespectful. Just as in My God and Me you place (so I thought) a lot of emphasis about relationships and events in the lives of people who don’t appear to acknowledge Christ. We are of Christ and saved by his grave, Christ is foolishness to the world, a stumbling block to the Jew, and foolishness to the Greek. Our friendships with people in the world will always be strained because Christ divides because the world is anti-Christ.”

Since reading that email, I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of his words and the verse they brought to mind: Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Cor 6:14).

I will tell you truthfully, I never thought of any of my friends as unbelievers. They all have a faith. They all believe in God. None of them smoke or drink. They aren’t partiers. They’re hard-working and usually honest. We’ve shared confidences, pains, struggles, dreams, ideas, and hopes. I’ve stood up at weddings and held babies. I’ve traveled just to share a hug and some time. They’ve come through for me when the jobs were non-existent and family was scarce – offering space in their homes, food at their tables and money to get me through the night. And I clung to them like lifelines.

And that’s where I was wrong: clinging to people as my lifeline. I can appreciate that my God is jealous of any distractions stealing the glory and attention due Him. With that appreciation, I can appreciate His removal of all such distractions from my life.

But how great is our God that He blesses His children even through the unrighteous!

I admit to having several defensive comments and explanations for my new Friend in Christ in regard to the relationships I’ve written about. I explained my thinking, my feelings, my habit of holding on until I’m let go, etc. However, my defense didn’t sound substantive even to me. And I kept coming back to this one phrase within his comment: people who don’t appear to acknowledge Christ.

This one stumped me. His observation from my writing was that even my Christian and Catholic friends didn’t appear to acknowledge Christ. That got me to thinking about my broken friendships and how they were living. Again, nothing wild or outrageous, however the one glaring truth was: they were not living Christ-centered lives.

As Jesus started to leave, a man ran to him and fell on his knees before Jesus. The man asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to have life forever?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commands: ‘You must not murder anyone. You must not be guilty of adultery. You must not steal. You must not tell lies about your neighbor. You must not cheat. Honor your father and mother.’ “

The man said, “Teacher, I have obeyed all these things since I was a boy.”

Jesus, looking at the man, loved him and said, “There is one more thing you need to do. Go and sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” ~ Mark 10:17-21 (NCV)