Acceptance Can Be A Challenge

A  STUDY IN ACTS CHAPTER 10

Before we dig into God’s Word in Acts 10, let be back up to a Bible verse that most believers are familiar with in Acts, Chapter One:

We all have acceptable agendas to maintain.

Some agendas are open for others to see, and some are hidden.  They list what we want, why we want it, with whom and under what prenoted conditions.  They become necessary in helping us focus on our goals and more steadily and effectively toward them.  There’s nothing more crucial for individual Christians and congregations, asking “What is the Lord’s agenda?”

The early Church,

The members of the early Church were having a difficult time of getting on board with the Lord’s agenda.  He made it very clear prior to Pentecost and the birth of the Church what it was!

“You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria,

and the end of the earth.”

But the Church was reluctant to accept this agenda.

The prejudicial belief of the gospel was for the exclusive redemption of the Hebrew people.  They believed the Church’s agenda was limited to the conversion of Jews in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,  Their priorities were that salvation was through, from, and for the Jews.

Simon Peter is brought into the picture (Acts 10:9-16)

Wow!  It’s a weird story, isn’t it?

Peter’s up on the roof of Simon the tanner’s house in the middle of the day with intentions to pray and then gets hungry asking the cook to prepare lunch.  And while he’s waiting, he falls into a trance.

Maybe it was the heat of the day that got to him.  But he’s in this trance and has a vision.  A sheet or perhaps it’s a sailcloth being lowered to the ground by its corners.  All sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds are seen.

Then the strangest part of the vision happens.  Someone speaks and a voice says, “Get up Peter, kill and eat!”  Peter would have been used to killing fish, cutting them open to clean them, he was a fisherman by trade.  So it isn’t the idea of killing these animals that surprises him.  Rather, it’s the kinds of animals they are.  Animals declared unclean by OT Law (Leviticus 11 & Deuteronomy 14), are now okay to be eaten.

Naturally, Peter objects.  He’s a good Jew.  He wouldn’t eat anything unclean.  That would make him ritually impure, not to mention disobedient to God!

And there’s even a bigger surprise!

Peter is told that God has made these things clean.  And then the whole process repeats 2 more times.  Peter obviously needs time to process and accept what all this means.

The Lord was crossing Peter’s preconditioning and prejudices and the Apostle found it difficult to understand.  The Lord wasn’t altering the valid food laws that had kept His children healthy over time.  What the Lord had in mind wasn’t the foods Peter should now eat but the people he should accept and love!

Peter’s confusion was cleared up when there was a knock at the tanner’s gate.

Some men were there sent by a godly Centurion named Cornelius, asking Peter to come and tell their master the message he has for him.  Cornelius was a Roman, a Gentile, but nevertheless a God-fearer.  He too had seen a vision.  In his case, it was of an angel telling him to send men to Joppa and find someone named Peter.

I don’t know about you, but I find that amazing.  Here’s Cornelius sending for Peter, but he doesn’t know what Peter is going to say or do.  Peter has this strange vision.  And then Cornelius’ servants arrive with the message that they’ve been sent as a result of an angel appearing to Cornelius.

And suddenly it all becomes clear to Peter.  He isn’t as slow of mind as it first appears, given that he had to be shown the vision three times.  That’s what the vision was all about!  The Holy Spirit makes it clear to him, telling him that he should go with these men.  Now he realizes that this vision of the animals and birds were all about the prohibition on Jews mixing with Gentiles.

When he arrives at Cornelius’ house he explains it to Cornelius and his family:  (vs. 28)

[28]  “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile.  But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

I think it’s really hard to grasp just how radical this behavior of Peter is.  A Jew couldn’t associate with Gentiles, or even visit them, much less eat with them or stay with them as he ends up doing.

Now at last Peter understands God’s agenda.

In fact, that’s where he begins in his explanation of the gospel.  What I thought was interesting here to take note…Peter didn’t arrive at Cornelius’  bursting into the household by preaching.  He simply began the conversation with a question:  [29] “May I ask why you sent for me?”   

A sure sign that we are on the Lord’s agenda is our willingness to listen to people in order to communicate with a tender heart.  Peter knew the why’s but he wanted to hear it from Cornelius himself.

 

 

We need to read on or else we may jump to wrong conclusions for acceptance.

There are many today who’d stop there and say, “There you are!  It doesn’t matter what religion you are as long as you fear God.”  But Peter goes on to explain what he means by “acceptance” and its meaning, as those people gathered at Cornelius’ house learning what’s acceptable to God.  We need to be careful that we understand this as well.

There’s a certain exclusivity about the Gospel that’s difficult to accept.

It doesn’t come naturally to us in our “equality of all people” worldview.   It can come across as arrogant or rude, or even patronizing to suggest that we know the answers and others don’t.  But let’s take a close look to see what Peter says.

He begins with the historical facts about Jesus.

Cornelius most likely was familiar with those facts.  The stories about Jesus would have spread far and wide by now.  You couldn’t have lived in the region of Judea without hearing about the things Jesus did and said, let alone the things that people were saying about Him.

The first thing Peter reminds them of is that Jesus Christ was the One God had promised he’d send to bring us PEACE with God:

The second thing is that Jesus Christ is Lord of ALL!  That’s how He can bring PEACE!!

And finally, here’s the climax to Peter’s message:  Jesus “commanded us to preach to the people to testify that He is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.  [43] All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

Here’s the BAD NEWS/GOOD NEWS of the story.

There are two sides of the gospel coin.  Jesus has been appointed the JUDGE of the living and the dead.  That’s the bad news.

Everyone who has lived, living or will live is going to be judged by Jesus Christ whether or not they’re Christians.  “The living and the dead” is an all-encompassing description.  No one is exempt!

But here’s the good news:  “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

The RESULT of Peter’s witness.

Even while Peter is speaking, God works a miracle in the hearts of his listeners and they are converted.  Not before, not after, but ‘while’ he’s speaking.

But notice how this occurs.

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”

The Holy Spirit doesn’t just come.  He comes on them in response to them hearing the word of God with the message of the gospel.  This is why we need to keep emphasizing the importance of sharing God’s Word with people–the MESSAGE of The Gospel truth because words matter!

The gospel message is the power of God for salvation.  People need to hear it!

Christian behavior will commend the gospel but on its own, good behavior is just nice.  To be effective our behavior as Christians need to be accompanied by an explanation of the reason for it.  It needs to be accompanied by the WORDS of the Gospel!

Our Words don’t need to be clever.

It’s the Holy Spirit that does the converting, the filling, not our cleverness.  Don’t think you can debate someone into the Kingdom.  No, it’s the Holy Spirit that does the convincing.  The newest, born-again believer down the street who knows little more than the grace of God, can share the gospel with someone.  But nevertheless, it’s as they hear the words about Jesus that the Spirit is enabled to act.

In this instance (vs. 44-45), the Spirit fills them and straight away Peter baptizes them in the name of Jesus Christ as new members of the Christian Church.  No membership classes needed and no church board approvals!

Two More things to notice from this passage of Scripture:

The first I noticed has to do with Cornelius.  When you stop and think about it, he’s not all that different from the people we’ll come across every day.  He wasn’t a Jew.  He hadn’t grown up hearing about God or Jesus.  He wasn’t one of the dominant religious groups in the area.  In fact, he belonged to a group who were enemies of the Jews.

He belonged to a culture entirely pagan.  Again, that makes him not much different to the people you and I know outside the Church.  Yet having said that, realize his pagan mindset was a deep longing for salvation.

I believe most people we run across during the day have an awareness of a spiritual dimension to life.

Many are like Cornelius and aware of a lack in their lives, a need that’s longing to be filled; a need that could be filled if only someone would SHARE the good news about Jesus with them.

Don’t wait until you have a vision of a sheet filled with animals and reptiles and birds.

I want to encourage you to be ready for looking at and accepting the opportunities God has or will place in your life.  Those opportunities can be found every day in the course of conversation.  Perhaps to mention your faith to someone, or to mention your church community, or the love and care you experience, or the times when you’ve been helped through difficult situations by your Christian faith, by the presence of God, or whatever.  There are so many different ways to do it.  So be ready!

Finally, the second thing I noticed,,,

Although at first glance, Peter’s experience seems distant from ours, yet there are great similarities.  We may not be quite as closed to the acceptance to others as Peter appeared to be, but nevertheless, we have just as much difficulty moving outside our comfort zone.  We have just as much difficulty as he would have had in accepting change.

We can be sure that God will do His part.

The Holy Spirit is with us and will open people’s hearts if we ask Him to.  And just like Peter and Cornelius, we might discover when we move outside our comfy existence, amazing things can and will happen!

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CREDITS:

Getting on the Lord’s Agenda, Chapter 11, page 137; DRUMBEAT of LOVE by Lloyd John Ogilvie.

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); and as noted in images or text.

 

 

 

 

Where Has the REVERENCE and AWESOMENESS of God Gone?

 

 

I want to begin this study with a question:  Do you ever feel like something has changed in your life where maybe you used to get excited about something and then, it has just become part of the day in/day out a mundane living?

It seems the longer we are occupied with something, the more it becomes a part of our life and the more likely that we become less excited over it.

Before I retired from the mechanical contracting business, people would ask me if my job was exciting and typically I would answer that it’s a job like any other.

But it wasn’t always that way.  It always was a daily challenge with the responsibilities that came with the different positions I held, but there was the daily excitement of accomplishing and succeeding and new things.  Doing my best was always in place because of the way I was raised, but going beyond the best and succeeding was thrilling.

Looking at Marriage Relationships

Before I was married, the excitement of talking to my intended on the phone, seeing her in person, the getting ready to go on a date, putting on cologne and nice clothes, looking my best, the getting married, the wedding night and honeymoon, even the first couple of years.

Then you get into a routine and the excitement and awe seem to fade.  And even in our relationship with God, the routine can set in without notice.

When you first become a Christian you couldn’t get enough of the Bible.  You wanted to be talking to others about Jesus whenever and wherever you had a chance.

And right now you’re still enjoying being in God’s Word, but the same AWE and EXCITEMENT isn’t always there.

Hebrews 12:28-29 (AMP)

If we are truly going to worship God in Spirit and Truth–to be true worshippers, there needs to be “reverence and AWE”.

“AWE” – Definition: “Fear mingled with reverence and wonder” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – 1996)

“AWE” –  “a very strong feeling of wonder, reverence (or fear) caused by something grand or powerful” (www.Wordsmyth.com)

I asked myself the question over the last several months: Am I worshipping on Sundays and the rest of the weekdays with AWE as it’s defined?  I have reverence for the Lord, but sometimes, I confess, I don’t have that sense of awe and wonder.

And when we lose a sense of awe of God, the scripture tells us that we fail to worship God acceptably.  I don’t know about where you are right now, but I want you, us, to return to a sense of being In AWE of God.  Maybe you’ve never experienced that sense, but it’s available for all.

To do that though. I think it’s important to ask ourselves some questions.  We know that it happens, but why does it happen? Why do we lose our sense of awe?

I believe as we become all too familiar with anything, including our own faith in God, it starts to become commonplace.

There is a balance for us to maintain.

As we grow with the Lord, our understanding and relationship with Him will grow as well and we become closer and more familiar. 

We need to recognize that when we approach our heavenly Father with confidence and with closeness, as a child approaches his daddy (Abba), but at the same time, we need to approach with a sense of awe and wonder that we have God Almighty as our Father.

We need to avoid our faith becoming common, that we look at God as we sometimes look at our earthly fathers as someone who pays the bills and lets us borrow the car.

How do we do that?  How do we maintain or get back our sense of AWE for God?

I think it originates in our heads, in our thinking, or lack of thinking.

In my marriage, if I was thinking each and every day how blessed I am to have a wife who chose me to spend her life with, who is there making our house a home, and who cares for me and about me, I know I would have a better and more grateful attitude toward her than I sometimes do.

But it all starts in our minds.

And the same is true about our Godly relationship.

Our minds need to be focused on the relationship so that we can recapture our AWE for God.

Instead of just focusing on God, we need to be focusing on specific aspects of God and it starts by recognizing who God is.

I believe there are some specific things we need to focus on about who God is if we’re going to have that sense of excitement and AWE for God.

  1. RECOGNIZE GOD AS CREATOR.

The Scriptures support this approach as well.  Often when Awe is being discussed, it’s in context with Creation.

Job 25:2 (NIV)

[2] “Dominion and awe belong to God; He establishes order in the heights of heaven”

Psalm 33:6-9 

God has made all of Creation, sustains all of Creation and if we stop to think about it, it’s absolutely unbelievable and awe-inspiring.  The problem is, we often don’t think about it because we live here and this too has become commonplace.

With that thought in mind, I want to take the time here to refocus on this place where we reside that God has made and created for our benefit.

  • The Universe–the vastness of the universe.
  • The Body–the intricacies of the design of the human body.

We have 30 to 100 trillion (with a “T”) cells in our body that work independently, yet must work in coordination with the other cells.  I’ve worked in offices for over 30 years where 10 people couldn’t work in coordination with each other. And yet, the body is self-healing; it has reproduction properties.

Beauty of Creation

So often in our world, it seems we need to give up beauty and creativity for functionality.  Not so with the world.

Our world not only functions orderly, but the BEAUTY of what God has created is amazing! And if we can keep our minds focused on the awesomeness of Who God is as Creator and recognize the awesomeness of His Creation on a daily basis, then I think we will go a long way toward having an AWE inspiring view of God.

Each day we should seek to view the Lord’s creation in a specific way that recognizes this awesomeness.

Each and every day, even on the way to church on Sunday morning…make it a point in the car to point out God’s awesomeness,  And by the way, it’s a great lesson for our children as well.

But we need to not only be AWED by God as Creator, but we also need to realize and recognize God as Judge  (Hebrews 28-29).

God is a “consuming fire” and He will JUDGE the world in regards to His Holiness.

That brings to mind, that “If one receives Jesus Christ as Savior, then they won’t be judged, right?”

You will not be judged to your salvation.  That’s a gift from God.

But each one of us is going to face the judgment seat of Christ in eternity for what we do in terms of our rewards in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:10).

For we must all appear and be revealed as we are before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive [his pay] according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil [considering what his purpose and motive have been, and what he has achieved, been busy with, and given himself and his attention to accomplishing].  (Amplified Bible)

That’s for every one of us!

And because God is a JUDGE, we should stand in Awe of Him because of His JUDGMENT & AUTHORITY over us.

Just as we enter a courtroom we’re expected to show respect for the power and authority there and if we don’t we may be held in contempt and judged accordingly for those actions.

Therefore, with that premise in mind, should we show any less respect on Sunday morning worship–coffee mug in hand, baseball hats on our heads, Smart Phones checking out the latest sports scores, etc.?

We should always stand in Awe and respect of God for the One Who will JUDGE ALL of our actions and attitudes.  And as a Christian, even more so, we should stand in Awe of God as our Judge.

In addition to recognizing Who God is as Creator and Judge, which will help us stand in reverence and Awe, there’s one more thing I think is necessary for us to understand and focus on for standing in Awe and reverence of God, and that’s…

Recognizing who We  Are.

I believe it’s imperative that we have a proper view of ourselves for us to be able to have a proper view of God.

READ what the apostle Paul’s viewpoint regarding who he was and how it gave him a proper, awe-inspiring view of God:

1 Timothy 1:15-17What Paul is saying to me, perhaps to you as well, having a realistic view of our own sinfulness and how it should help us to be in Awe of God.

Are You Standing In Awe of God?

Maybe you have lost that Awe, or maybe you’ve never experienced the Awe at all, and in either case, you’ve been going through the motions of being a Christian and haven’t been feeling the Awe of God that you should be experiencing.  Here some suggestions that I’ve found to start with for all of us:

Open your eyes to God’s Creation and really see things around you.

  • Notice the sky and the Sun.
  • Notice the number of people driving our highways at all hours of the day and recognize God is the creation of each and every one of them and knows every hair on their head.

Think about God, the great and mighty judge of ALL MANKIND that will one day stand before us.

Be on Awe that we will stand in the presence of the greatest authority in the universe, greater than the Supreme Court of the land, with the Son Himself our mediator.

Recognize your own selfishness and the fact that God’s loves you and me anyway and still desires to use us even though we don’t deserve the privilege of being used in God’s plans in such an awesome way.

I want to pray for those who may be feeling a little unconnected from the Lord, that over these next days, weeks and months, that you might be awed by the Lord, God Almighty, our Savior and Judge, and find your self, standing in Awe of Him!

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CREDITS

YouTube Video:  I Stand In Awe Of You

Photo Images:  Google Images–Settings, advance search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version; Amplified Bible.