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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ayn Rand Christians


One of the problems of being a follower of Jesus in today’s culture is trying to ascertain which of our ideas are from God and which are from various elements of society. This has always been a problem for the Christian, but it has gotten more difficult in an age of instant media bombardment. All too often Believers accept ideas as “Christian,” when in fact they are not. This is not only unfortunate, but it is also slothful, because we haven’t used the mind that God gave us to ascertain the truth.

The Bible teaches that we are to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16). Likewise, we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor.10:5b). It would seem to be really important for believers in Christ to test their thoughts and worldviews against Scripture. To do this, it is necessary to filter the world through “spiritual spectacles,” a term coined in the 15th century by one of the early Swiss reformers. This means to view all of our thoughts through the lens of God’s Word. Consider the fact that most of us run our e-mail through a spam filter to get rid of junk and malware; we ought to do the same with our thoughts. This, of course, means studying the Word of God, in order to become, “a workman that need not be ashamed” (2 Tim.2:15). For instance, in 2000, the Christian pollster, George Barna found that 70% of U.S. adults believed the aphorism “God helps those who help themselves,” is found in the Bible. Naturally, if you don’t know the Bible, you won’t be able to ascertain the truth from “cleverly contrived stories.”

I say this, because a while ago my husband and I attended a “Christian” writer’s conference. During a break, we had an opportunity to talk to one of the conference leaders. At some stage in our discussion, my husband casually mentioned the influence that Ayn Rand’s ideas were having upon our culture and especially among Christian authors’. He wanted to hear this “Christian” author’s thoughts about Ms. Rand. The woman’s reaction astonished us. Responding in a very intense manner, she informed us that Ayn Rand was a wonderful inspiration to all writers. I retorted by asking her, “How can you, an Evangelical Christian, support a writer who is – by her own admission – a militant atheist, a shameless public adulterer, an advocate for selfishness and thinks that being altruistic is a crime against humanity? To which she replied, “Those things don’t matter, she was a great writer and had wonderful ideas!” They don’t matter? Indeed!

Ayn Rand has had a profound influence upon U.S. culture and upon American Christians. Over 13 million copies of her books have been sold – and they are still being sold. Additionally, the Ayn Rand Institute gives away hundreds of thousands of Rand’s books to students in High School Advanced Placement classes. Her ideas are cherished by many contemporary political and Christian leaders.

What are some of these ideas? To begin, Rand has definite ideas about the nature of society. In it there are “creator” types who allow society to exist. They are plagued by parasitic “second raters” (bureaucrats and middle-management people) who interfere with the work of the creative people. Below the second raters are the masses and they are below contempt. In her book, We the Living, her protagonist proclaims; “What are your masses…but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” Rand calls the non –creative people, “parasites,” “looters,” “moochers” and other derogatory terms. This lesson has been well learned by many of her disciples, as our nation shows increasing contempt for those who are not the “creative” demi-gods she has championed. On the other hand, the Bible teaches followers of Christ to “not be respecters of persons” (Acts 10:34. Indeed, James 2:13, makes it clear that believers should not show favoritism toward the upper-classes.

Perhaps her most troubling thought centers on her insistence on selfish, radical individualism. In Journals of Ayn Rand, she says, “This point – no man exists for the sake of another man – must be established very early in my system. It is one of the main cornerstones – perhaps even the basic axiom” (p.266)

. In Atlas Shrugged, the hero, John Galt, is prone to make statements such as, “I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor will I ask another man to live for me.” Likewise, in The Fountainhead, the hero, Howard Roark, says, “I have come here to say That I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life….”

Rand truly hates altruism (unselfish sacrificial love): “Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes” (Ayn Rand, Philosophy, who needs it? p.61).

Thus in Ms. Rand’s scheme of life, every man is an (selfish) island! Christians should recognize the heresy involved in this. First of all, Jesus calls us to His Body, the Church: we are not radical individuals. Secondly, Jesus calls us to help our neighbor; broadly meaning those in need. We are our bother’s keeper. Recall, that God was not pleased by Cain – the first murderer’s – arrogant reply to God about his missing brother (Gen 4:9). Of course, we also have the very strong warning in Matt.25:31-46; where King Jesus comes as Judge and sends those who didn’t care about “the least of these,” to Hell. This passage ought to make Christians at least pause as they consider their response to the needy.

Thirdly, altruistic love, in the form of agape love is the basis of the relationship of God to us. Jesus commands us to love – he says;” Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Altruistic love is the basis of our faith! To act as Rand desires us to, would be antithetical to what that the Bible teaches and is an affront to Jesus Christ! Our thoughts determine our actions, and we will be held accountable for what we have done. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal.6:7-10).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On This Rock I Will Build My Church

On This Rock I Will Build My Church

Matthew 16:13-19

One day as the disciples were traveling near Caesarea Philippi with Jesus, He stopped and asked them what people were saying about Him and who they thought He was. “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Jesus asked them. (Matthew 16:13b) Several of the disciples answered back; “Some say You are John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say that You are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14) So the crowds who had watched Jesus heal the sick and listened to Him preach, still thought Jesus was just a prophet, (a superstar), and they still didn’t understand that He is Savior and Lord.

And then Jesus asked His disciples for their personal opinion about who He is. It is always important to Jesus that His own know who He is. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked. (Matthew 16:15) And then Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Jesus smiled and joyfully nodded his head. He was very pleased with Peters’ answer and He turned to Peter enthusiastically and pronounced: “Blessed are you, Peter, son of Jonah, for this truth was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)

Jesus has just said that His church would be built on the rock. And down through the last few centuries this statement that Jesus made has been the center of a controversy. The problem is, just what is the meaning of the rock that Jesus spoke of? Did Jesus mean that the rock refers to Peter himself or to Peter’s confession? Peter had just confessed that Jesus is “the Christ and the Son of the living God.”

Isn’t Peter’s powerful confession – that Jesus is Lord and Savior - the center (or rock) of our Christian faith? Isn’t it a supernatural (Holy Spirit) confession, since when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior we receive eternal life? Isn’t Jesus the Rock, the Cornerstone (rock) that we build upon?

In Hebrew there are three words for rock – sela, tsur, and keph. Each appears throughout the Hebrew Bible and each is used to refer to God. So Protestants believe that Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is Son of God and Savior is the solid rock that the church is built on. And Protestants believe that Jesus (who is God the Son) is the rock the church is built on.

But the Catholic Church believes that Peter is the rock and they take this scripture (Matthew 16:16) and use it in part to justify papal authority. Catholics believe that after Jesus ascended to heaven that Peter was the first leader of the first church, and thus Peter was the first pope. Scripture does tell us that the early church was run by apostles and elders and that Peter was one of them. When you listen to what Jesus said: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church…” it does sound like the rock could be Peter. So Catholics believe that the Catholic church is built on Peter, the first pope whose apostolic power has been passed down the line to each pope that has followed after him.

It is interesting to notice that Jesus said; “On this rock I will build My church.” Jesus didn’t say “On this rock you will build My church,” or “On this rock I will build your church.” We may think we are the builder and it is our church. But Jesus is the builder and it is His Church!

Jesus also tells Peter that he didn’t believe and confess this truth- that Jesus is Lord- on his own or by his own intellect or by human knowledge. (Matthew 16:17) But the truth that Jesus is Son of God and Savior is a spiritual truth that was supernaturally given to Peter (and to us) by God. We can not believe in Jesus on our own. Salvation (believing in Jesus) is a gift from God. We can only believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior when our hearts are open to allowing God to give us this faith.

When Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on the rock, He also added that the “gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) The “gates of hell” may mean “the powers of death” and perhaps Jesus was saying that His Church would not be at the mercy of physical death because the Lord’s resurrection would insure the resurrection of all believers. And also Scripture says that the Church (that’s us) at the end of the age will overcome every trouble through Jesus. (1 John 5:4-5) So Jesus will make His church victorious and the gates of hell will not overcome it. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

And Jesus said one more thing to Peter at this time. He said; “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) I don’t know the full meaning of this verse, but I think that Jesus is giving power to Peter here, and to the disciples and to us as believers. Spiritual power to carry on His work. We have Holy Spirit power through intercessory prayer to bind evil and to loose healing and love and God’s will on others. We have been told that through Jesus whatever we ask in prayer believing, if it is God’s will, we shall receive. (Matt. 18:15-20)

Since we are given the keys of the kingdom I believe that they can be used in spiritual warfare. We can lock (bind) and unlock (loose) with a key. I think that the keys of the kingdom are to be used to spiritually bind and loose. These aren’t just any keys but they are powerful Holy Spirit keys. What a responsibility and a privilege to be given this spiritual gift.

We can pray that a family member be reconciled to the family – bind the spirits that keep the loved one angry and apart and loose on that one a freedom and love and forgiveness in the Holy Spirit. If we don’t know how to pray, or what is holding the family member back, we can pray in tongues – and count on the Holy Spirit to use the right words. “The Spirit also helps us, for we know not what we should pray for, but the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:25-26)

If we are praying for a sick person we can bind the spirit of sickness and loose on them a healing and a loosening of the disease. If we are bound up and can’t pray in the Spirit we can pray for more faith and more freedom and pray to be loosed from the many things that bind us up and keep us from being free to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. And we can continue praying in the Spirit and believing until we see the answer come to fruition.

Jesus is still building His church and He comes to each of us and asks the same question He asked Peter: “Who do say that I am?” It is the most important question that you will ever have to answer. What will you say? Who do you believe Jesus is? Is He your Savior and the Son of God? Or do you know? Are you asking the hard questions? Have you taken a moral inventory of yourself? Wrestled with your own faith? Or are you just repeating what other people are saying about Jesus?

If we say that Jesus is just another prophet or just a superstar we make Him a liar. Jesus said that He is the Son of God. He admitted that He is eternal – “before Abraham was, I Am”. (John 8:58) That is why the religious leaders crucified Him. They accused Jesus of blasphemy for saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) We can never say that Jesus is just a special teacher. Jesus is either who He said He is or He is a liar.

Maybe you don’t want to know who Jesus is. You sense that He will change you if you know Him. A Door will open up in your heart when you confess that He is Lord. You don’t want to be changed,- to give up control. But you will never know who you are until you know who Jesus is.

Questions: What do you think Jesus meant by the “rock”?

What do you think the “keys of the kingdom” mean?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We Must Go Through Many Hardships to Enter the Kingdom

`We Must Go Through Many Hardships to Enter the Kingdom

Paul’s First Missionary Journey

The date was A.D. 46-48, about thirteen years after the resurrection of Christ, and a group of believers in Antioch felt that they should obey the Great Commission and go into the whole world making disciples for Jesus. Until now the church in Jerusalem had been the center for all of the early believers. But by now some believers had traveled to Antioch and a strong church had been formed there. It was in Antioch that believers in Jesus were first called “Christians”.

There were prophets and teachers in the Antioch church and they were praying about how they should go about spreading the gospel. One day while they were all together worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, probably through one of the prophets in the group. “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them,” the Holy Spirit instructed. (Acts 13:2b) The group had waited for God to speak and give them direction. Now they were thankful for this word. They laid hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off to the known world to spread the news that Jesus is Lord and Savior.

Barnabas and Saul left Antioch and walked to Seleucia, a seaport town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. John, Barnabas’ cousin, tagged along as their helper on the trip. The three men boarded a sailboat going to the island of Cypress and settled in. When their boat landed on the island, the first thing they did was to go to the nearest synagogue in the town of Salamis and preach. Because many Jews lived all over Asia and Southern Europe, there were synagogues in nearly every town. Saul felt that they should give the good news to the Jews first, so he wanted to preach about Jesus in the synagogues first.

Afterwards Saul and Barnabas and John walked all over Cypress preaching. Everywhere they went preaching the good news the people were believing in Jesus and being baptized. A man named Sergius Paulus heard about them and sent word asking them to come and tell him their message. Sergius Paulus was proconsul or governor of Cypress and his palace was in Paphos, a city at the other end of the island.

When Saul and Barnabas arrived at the governor’s palace and tried to tell Sergius Paulus about Jesus they were met with an obstacle. One of the palace staff was a man named Elymas, whose name means “false prophet” or “sorcerer”. Sergius Paulus listened to the Word and was beginning to believe in Jesus as Savior when Elymas rushed in and tried to persuade him against believing.

Saul (who was also called Paul) got angry and with Holy Spirit’s power looked straight at Elymas and said: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are filled with all kinds of deceit and trickery….You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see …” (Acts 13:10-11a)“Immediately mist and darkness came over Elymas and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him …” (Acts 13:11b) When Sergius Paulus saw what had happened to Elymas he stopped doubting and he believed in Jesus as his Savior. As you can see, Paul and Barnabas not only preached, but signs and wonders often attended their preaching. You might call this “power evangelism.”

`From Paphos Paul, Barnabas and John Mark boarded a ship and sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to Perga. For some reason John left Paul and Barnabas at this point and returned home. I think Paul was a bit irritated with him for this.

Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to the town of Pisidian Antioch and visited the synagogue there on the Sabbath. As part of the religious service it was customary to invite any visitor to stand and discuss the Scriptures. So since Paul was visiting he was invited to speak. And of course he showed them how the Old Testament scriptures foretold the coming of Jesus as Savior. This topic raised a lot of interest and Paul and Barnabas were invited back to speak again the following Sabbath.

Word got around that Paul had an exciting message to share and “on the next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” (Acts 13:44) Many Gentiles crowded into the synagogue to hear about Jesus but then something went gravely wrong. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” (Acts 13:45)

Many Gentiles accepted Jesus as their Savior. “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” (Acts 13:49) But the Jews became even more angry as so many were turning to Christ. “The Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.” (Acts 13:50) Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet and trudged on to the town of Iconium. And they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:51-52)

They did their usual thing and first went to the synagogue in Iconium to teach about the Savior. And the people of Iconium were divided when they heard about Jesus. Many Jews and Gentiles listened and believed in Jesus but many more were angry and even tried to kill Paul and Barnabas. Listen as Scripture tells the story. “The people of the city were divided: some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe…” (Acts 14:4-7)

How many towns are Paul and Barnabas going to be thrown out of? This seemed to be happening too often. When they walked into the town of Lystra they saw a lame man sitting out on the street who was interested in hearing about Jesus. Paul through the power of the Holy Spirit realized that this lame man had faith to be healed so he told the lame man to stand up in Jesus’ Name. The lame man stood up and began walking and the crowds went wild. The people of Lystra had known the lame man and they knew that he couldn’t walk.

Paul tried to tell the crowds that this man had been healed through Jesus but they wouldn’t listen to him. In frenzy the people began shouting: “The gods have come down in human form.” (Acts 14:11b) They tried to worship Paul and Barnabas, calling Paul “Hermes” and Barnabas “Zeus”. The priests brought bulls and wreaths to the city gate so that the crowds could offer sacrifices to them. Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and finally were barely able to stop the people from worshiping them.

Paul stayed and preached to these idol worshipers telling them to worship the living God and not their useless idols. But some of the Jews from Iconium and Antioch who had thrown Paul and Barnabas out of their towns earlier came to Lystra and worked the crowds into a rage. This time the crowds that had tried to worship Paul now grabbed him and in a rage stoned him. How dare he preach about Jesus and try to take them away from their idols! When they thought he was dead they drug his limp bloody body outside the city and dumped it in the dirt.

But some of the believers snuck outside the city in the dark and found Paul broken body. They all circled around him and prayed over him and miraculously he recovered. He crept back into the city that night and the next day he and Barnabas left. They went on to the nearby city of Derbe and preached and many believed in Jesus there.

And then Paul and Barnabas turned around and retraced their steps back through the towns where they had just been, Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. They were on their way home now but as they arrived in each town along the way they stayed awhile and tried to strengthen the new believers there and encourage them to be true to the faith. There were so many Gentiles who had believed in Jesus when Paul and Barnabas had preached in each town and now they needed help in growing in the faith. With prayer and fasting Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for each of the new churches in each of the towns they had traveled through.

And then they finally took a ship back to Antioch and back to the church group that had sent them out in the beginning. They had been gone maybe two years and now their first missionary journey was completed. They joyfully reported to the church in Antioch that God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And when Paul told the Antioch believers about all of the persecutions and troubles they had had along the way, he added, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom.” (Acts 14:22b)

What can we learn from this story from the Bible? Perhaps first we see that the believers of the church in Antioch arrived at decisions only after fasting and worship and prayer. While they all worshiped and waited on God, the Holy Spirit came and told them to set Barnabas and Paul apart to go on a missionary journey to the Gentiles. Do we need to learn to fast and pray and listen for God’s direction in our lives too?

Another lesson we take away from this story is that in every town where Paul and Barnabas preached about Jesus, they were either met with interested listeners and joyful converts or with angry threats, violence and persecution. And the same thing happens to Christians today who spread the gospel. Persecution is part of the territory. Jesus said that a person is either for Him or against Him. When we meet Jesus we can’t stay on the fence. We can either accept Him or deny Him.

Paul and Barnabas were rejected and thrown out of nearly every town they visited. And Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra after the lame man there had been healed. This was Paul’s very first missionary journey but he was already learning something. He was learning that a believer must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Angel Arranges for Cornelius to Hear About Jesus (Acts 10)

An Angel Arranges for Cornelius to Hear About Jesus

(Acts 10)

Cornelius was a Roman military officer, a Centurion, who was stationed in Israel around the same time the early Christians in Jerusalem were forming their first church. Roman centurions were usually disliked by the Jews. Cornelius and his family lived in Caesarea, a wealthy costal town on the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Herod had built a fancy palace on the beaches of Caesarea along with elegant gardens and an outdoor swimming pool.

Scripture says that Cornelius was a good man. “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” (Acts 10:2) Cornelius was kneeling in prayer one afternoon when suddenly a bright angel appeared in front of him and spoke his name. “Cornelius!” “What is it Lord?” Cornelius answered trembling in fear. The angel told Cornelius that his prayers and his gifts to the poor had pleased God. But he needed something more.

The angel told Cornelius that God had a special message for him that he needed to hear. A man named Peter was preaching nearby in Joppa and God wanted Cornelius to bring Peter to his house and listen to his message. Then the angel told Cornelius to send his men to Joppa (a town 30 miles away) and invite Peter to come back with them. The angel told him that his men would find Peter in Joppa at Simon the tanner’s house which was by the sea.

Cornelius was still trembling as he called three of his soldiers in and told them about the angels’ visit. He told them to go to Joppa and bring Peter back so they could hear what God had to say. His men set out the next morning for Joppa to find Peter.

The next day around noon in Joppa Peter stopped working and went up on the house roof top to pray. Houses back then had flat roofs and often families used the roof tops as an outdoor living area. While Peter was praying the Scriptures say that he went into a trance. “He saw heaven open and something like a large sheet was let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.

Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean..’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and the sheet was taken back to heaven.” (Acts 10:11-16)

Peter woke up and lay there on the roof top wondering what in the world this vision could possibly mean. Why had God given it to him? But he didn’t have to wait long to find out! A minute later there was a knock at the gate downstairs and Peter could hear several men asking Simon if a man named Peter was there. Peter jumped up and ran downstairs and asked the men what they wanted. And of course Cornelius’ soldiers told Peter the whole story of how an angel had come to Cornelius and told him to invite Peter to come to his house and preach Gods’ message.

Slowly it began to dawn on Peter why God had just shown him the vision of the sheet of unclean animals! In the vision God had instructed Peter not to call anything unclean that God had made clean! Was God trying to teach him that no person was to be thought of as unclean any more? Did God actually want him to go to Cornelius’s house even though he was a Gentile?

Peter would never have gone back with the soldiers to Cornelius’s house if he hadn’t had the vision. Cornelius was an Roman; not a Jew, but an unclean Gentile! As a good Jew, Peter had never associated with a non-Jewish person. Peter had never eaten food that wasn’t kosher and he had never eaten a meal with a Gentile! Jewish religious laws forbid him to ever go inside the home of a non-Jew. Peter had never questioned his Jewish religion.

But times they were a changing! The vision with the sheet of unclean animals and reptiles and birds seemed to be God’s way of telling Peter that Jesus’ death and resurrection had changed everything. The old ways were gone and the new Way was here. With Jesus even those unclean Gentiles could be made clean. It was almost more than Peter could take in.

Peter invited the Roman soldiers in to rest from their travels and he agreed to go back to Cornelius’ house with them the next day. Peter asked several believers to join him on the trip and the next morning they all started back to Caesarea.

In the meantime, back in Caesarea, Cornelius had been running around telling his family and friends that a shining angel had just appeared to him and had commanded him to bring Peter to his house to preach a message. What could this special message be - just from God? They all wanted to know! A large excited group of family and friends and friends of friends all rushed over to Cornelius’ house and gathered in anxiously waiting for Peter to show up and tell them what God wanted them to know!

Cornelius’ noisy house was buzzing with anticipation when Peter finally arrived. Cornelius met Peter at the door and fell down at his feet to worship him. “Stand up,” Peter told him, “I am only a man myself.” (Acts 10:26)

Peter walked inside and the first thing he told the crowd that had gathered was that it was against the Jewish law for him to be there talking with them since they were the un-clean Gentiles. But then Peter told them that God had just taught him a new lesson. – That he should not be prejudiced or call any person un-clean. That through Jesus people are put together that wouldn’t have been together otherwise.

Then Peter began preaching to the group in Cornelius’s house. This was the first time that Peter had ever preached to Gentiles. He told them how he had been a disciple of Jesus’ and had watched Him heal the sick. He told them about Jesus’ death and resurrection and how God had appointed Him to be judge of the living and the dead. But when Peter told them that those who believe in Jesus receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, everyone in the house was listening intently and every person there believed in Jesus as their Savior all at the very same time! Scripture says that “faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) And when this group heard God’s Word about Jesus, they all had faith!

Right then the Holy Spirit fell on all the people in the house who believed, and immediately they all began speaking in tongues together and praising God. (Acts 10:46) It must have been something to see! The Jewish believers that had come along with Peter were astonished that the Holy Spirit had been given to this group of Gentiles. The Holy Spirit had fallen on them and their fellow Jewish believers the same way with tongues when they had believed so they knew that God was accepting these Gentiles too! They had thought that God’s salvation was only reserved for the Jews. God was breaking down the barriers and prejudices between Jew and Gentile. It was almost more than they could take in!

“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” Peter asked. “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47) So Cornelius and his family and friends were all baptized in the name of Jesus by Peter. And they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days and give them more teachings. What an electric party it must have been!

The word got back to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem that Peter had visited in a Gentile house and preached to non-Jews. The apostles and believers were angry and called him in for questioning. “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:2b) So Peter explained to them how God had sent him the vision of the unclean animals and how the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles when they first opened their hearts to Jesus. The Jewish believers were amazed at this and tried to be open to where God was leading them. “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life,” they said. (Acts 11:18b) Until now all of the believers in Jesus had been Jewish. But the Jews were learning that God wanted everyone to have eternal life!

What can we learn from this story from the Bible? First we learn that when we are Christians the Holy Spirit teaches us to live differently. The Jewish believers learned that God didn’t want them to call any person “un-clean” or leave anyone out. The Holy Spirit opens us up to love other people who aren’t like ourselves. Are we open to follow where God is leading us?

We also learn that believing in Jesus is all important. Those in Cornelius’ house received the Holy Spirit the moment they believed in Jesus. We receive the Holy Spirit when we believe in Jesus too. Do we wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn’t fall on us and set us aflame with tongues like He did for those at Cornelius’ house? We do receive the Holy Spirit when we believe and He does guide us and change us even if we don’t have tongues. Just as God makes us all different, He gives the Holy Spirit to us in different ways. To some the Holy Spirit comes quietly as a Dove and to others the Holy Spirit comes as wind and fire and with fanfare.

Perhaps Peter and the other Jews would never have believed that these un-clean Gentiles were really believers in Jesus if they hadn’t had this evidence of tongues! The Jewish believers knew that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought salvation, but perhaps they needed a sign to fully understand that this salvation was for everyone and not just for the Jews. And these tongues might have been that sign to help them accept these “un-clean” Gentiles who weren’t like themselves.

Also Cornelius and Peter would never have gotten together if an angel hadn’t visited Cornelius and Peter hadn’t had a vision from God. Do we feel left out if we haven’t had visions or visits by angels? Perhaps God works in other ways to lead us where He wants us to go. Sometimes He puts ideas in our minds and perhaps we have seen angels unawares.

Scripture says that God sent an angel to Cornelius because he “prayed and gave to the poor.” (Acts 10:4b) Do we care about the poor? Are we open to hear God’s will in our lives? Are we trying to listen? If we hear God’s voice or read His Word are we willing to obey?

The angel came to arrange for Cornelius to hear about Jesus. Even with his good deeds and open heart, Cornelius needed something more. He wasn’t good enough without Jesus. And neither are we.