It Is Clean!

Read Acts 10 here.

“Are these dishes clean or dirty?” This is a common question in our house. Most of the time I can answer with confidence the dishes are clean. But there are sometimes I am not sure because I don’t remember running the dishwasher.

My kids are usually the ones who ask that question. Sometimes they will look to see if the “clean” light is on so they know if they could use a plate, bowl, or cup; other times, they ask as they’re rinsing their dish so they know where or not to put it in the dishwasher.

Knowing what is clean is important so we can be healthy. But, much of the time we tend to take this kind of thinking and apply it to people as well. This is not a new mindset: who is “clean” meaning who is like me that is worthy to be around me. All throughout the history of mankind, people have fought because deep down they felt the other side with inferior to them. As I write this in the morning, I automatically think of the historic feud here in America between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Prejudices and stereotypes have been developed because we still like to be with people like us and want to think others are not worthy to be near us, or us associate with them. This way of thinking about people has caused great harm to many families and causes distrust and hatred.

In the Acts passage today, a non-Jewish person (Gentile) who worshipped God has vision to have the Apostle Peter summoned to talk with him and his family about God. At the same time this was going on (and the servant was on his way to get Peter), Peter was hungry and had his own vision prompted by the Spirit.

This is one of those famous passages people tell a lot (in fact it is told twice in the book of Acts in two consecutive chapters so it might be important to pay attention to). A sheet has come down from heaven and Peter is told to eat the animals more than once. Peter sees there are animals that were forbidden by the Torah to eat. I think he felt like it was a test, so he answered like a good Jewish man would by saying he would not eat the animals that are unclean.

Can you blame Peter for this? All his life he was told to stay away from certain foods and now the Spirit was telling him to eat the animals he wasn’t supposed to.

Now, think about our lives today. How many of us have been told not to go around certain types of people simply because of x, y, z? Often times we’re told it’s because we need to stay safe.  We live in a world that is divided on so many levels and many groups of people will not associate with another group because of underlying prejudices and teachings.

But God told Peter not to call the animals “unclean” after God has called them clean. Just as he awoke from the vision, there was a knock at the door. He was asked to go to Cornelius’ house.

Had Peter not gone, the story would have ended there and we would not have found out anymore. But, instead, he chose to go to see what would happen and what was going on.

Imagine how different the world would be if we all did this same thing? How much division could be brought down by just talking with the other “side.”

Peter found out Cornelius and his family wanted to learn more about God. So Peter told them much more than they anticipated. He told them about Jesus Christ, God made flesh. Lives were changed because of the willingness to break down the barrier between Jewish and Gentile people.

Jesus Christ came for all people. Every person needs to hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Do not be surprised if (and when) God calls you to talk with a person you don’t like, flat out hate, or don’t like because of other reasons. You may be the very person God is using to break down barriers to spread his message throughout the world.

We do this because we love God and have had his transforming grace change our lives. Now, we get to go into the world and work with God to change and redeem the world and show what true love really is.

From 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

Life in Peace

One of the things I enjoy about Paul is how he can bring the Old Testament to life in profound ways. When we read his writings we can learn more about the Old Testament and begin to look at it as important to our faith today.

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Galatians 4:21-27 21 Tell me—those of you who want to be under the Law—don’t you listen to the Law? 22 It’s written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. 23 The son by the slave woman was conceived the normal way, but the son by the free woman was conceived through a promise.24 These things are an allegory: the women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, which gives birth to slave children; this is Hagar. 25 Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and she corresponds to the present-day Jerusalem, because the city is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 It’s written:

Rejoice, barren woman, you who have not given birth.
        Break out with a shout, you who have not suffered labor pains;
because the woman who has been deserted will have many more children
        than the woman who has a husband

I believe we can learn something from this passage today. The questions that come to mind is “How do we want to live?” and “How do we ask others to live?” I believe these are important for us to consider.

Paul is quoting Isaiah in this passage and also telling the story from Genesis about Sarah and Hagar and Abraham. I also think this is telling us that we have a couple of options when it comes to our faith: we can live legalistically (meaning we have to live with every rule and are not allowed to break any of them); or we can live as redeemed people from the rules and the Law because of Jesus Christ.

Life already has many rules, why would we want to try to add more rules to our life? I love how Jesus summed up the Law in two phrases. This is in Matthew 22:37-40

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[c] and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

He is telling us how we can live as free people in our faith. When we truly love God, we can love people more. (We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19). Then when we love people, we show our love of God. It’s almost too simple, really. The rest is just thinking and other things we want to add to our lives.

So we do not need to create rules (though we should follow the rules and laws we have); and we should not impose hardships on people. Paul fights this throughout his letter. He is making sure the motives for living the life Christ desires us to live is not done to earn any favor. Paul desires that the people, including us today, realize we are free. We should live our lives as redeemed, forgiven, Holy Spirit led people who live our life in peace because we are not trying to earn anyone’s favor or grace, including God’s.

#LiveFreeInChrist

Giving Thanks

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We have so many things to be thankful for. The Thanksgiving holiday is a time when we can slow our busy lives and simply give thanks and gratitude for all that we are blessed with.

When I look at my life, I am so blessed and thankful to have the family and friends I am surrounded by. Their comfort and love help guide me in my life so I can live the life God is calling me to. God certainly knows what he is doing when he places is in the care of caring people.

The comforts in life are also something we give thanks for. The talents, gifts and abilities God gave us enables us to achieve this lifestyle. Certainly we have more than we need. So basically, I give thanks for all God has blessed me with.

Many people this time of year do not have easy lives. There are so many people who do not have a healthy family or stable friends. I give thanks to The Lord for the ability to help and to show people, even though they do not know earthly Human love, there is a Heavenly Father who loves them unconditionally and will never leave nor forsake them.

When I look at everything I have, I am reminded how many people are going without basic necessities for life. I am thankful to God for this abundance to live but mostly so I can ease another’s live with a luxury or essential they may not have. Being able to give is a great blessing. I am so thankful to be able to give!

Sadly, we all know people who have way more than they need and still crave and covet more just to have the items. I give thanks for the opportunities to teach and show people they do not need more “stuff”, we just need to know the love of God. When we know this incredible love and live in it, we see the world as God does and we simplify our lives to make sure others can simply live.

Praise God for all blessings. Praise God for you!

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. God’s faithful love lasts forever! Give thanks to the God of all gods— God’s faithful love lasts forever. Give thanks to the Lord of all lords— God’s faithful love lasts forever. Give thanks to the only one who makes great wonders— God’s faithful love lasts forever. Give thanks to the one who made the skies with skill— God’s faithful love lasts forever. Give thanks to the one who shaped the earth on the water— God’s faithful love lasts forever. Give thanks to the one who made the great lights— God’s faithful love lasts forever. The sun to rule the day— God’s faithful love lasts forever. The moon and the stars to rule the night— God’s faithful love lasts forever! (Psalms 136:1-9 CEB)

Hardened Heart

As I was traveling to a meeting this afternoon, I passed several people on the side of the road asking for money or in need of some kind of help. To confess, I have to admit that I was thinking negative thoughts about them and tried not to look at them directly.

As a person who works in a church, I felt convicted, as I passed the people, that I should have stopped to help, or at the very least, acknowledge their presence.
That’s when I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me. It wasn’t an audible voice; but I clearly heard him say, “These are real people made in the image of God just like you. Why are you hesitant to even acknowledge their presence?” That convicted me and has given me something to keep in my heart.
I tell this not for any personal reason, except it seems like this is how most of us tend to go through our lives. While I was driving to my next destination, my single focus was where I was heading and what would be discussed. I believe if we are open to including more people from all over the human spectrum, we will be able to see God clearer in our day to day lives.
Even the writer of Hebrews, in the Bible, says “they entertained angels unaware.” Imagine what would happen and imagine how kinder the world would be if we noticed and showed hospitality to those people we feel are beneath us. So, as we go about the day ahead, the invitation is to look at people with non-judgmental eyes and see the person inside…the person that God created and loves. Just like you and I!
Lord, may our hearts become soft toward all you love.
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