Acts 12 and Luke 22

Sunday, February 23 I preached from a David Fleer sermon with the main point that Fleer sees in Luke’s last portrayal of Peter in Acts 12 parallel lines to a flashback in Luke 22 of Peter’s worst moment.

So we looked at Peter’s last moment in Acts alongside his worst moment, when he denied Jesus. As Fleer points out, there are humorous moments, such as an angel treating Pete like a little boy, the servant girl Rhoda leaving Peter at the door. But these elements are similar in the denial story: servant girl in both, an angel who is telling Peter to “arise” sounds like the angel at the empty tomb! Why does Luke want to show us Peter’s worst moment again?

Again, as Fleer points out, it’s because here Peter gets a second chance. Why? Because God is the God of second chances, and as the flashback in Luke 22 shows, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat [crush you between stones, not sift flour, folks!], but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers!”

Imagine, Jesus prays for Peter! Imagine, could Jesus be praying for us? That was the major difference for Peter. He learned that Jesus truly was with him through the Spirit of Christ. Physically Peter was no longer with Jesus, but he had to have remembered this statement of Jesus, “I have prayed for you, Simon.”

How would your life change if you believed Jesus was praying for you in your worst moments? Forgiving you, praying that your faith would not fail? How would that change your life if you truly believed God is giving you a second chance like Peter had, and that Jesus is praying that your faith would not fail this time?

We had a baptism, Adam Josserand, who came saying he wanted to give his life to Jesus and though he had grown up in a Christian family, he never truly gave his life over and submitted to baptism. His mother and father were here for the baptism, his fiance, and others rejoiced with him.

It’s powerful to see the same things happen in our church today as were happening in Acts: the Holy Spirit moving people’s hearts, people being baptized, giving their lives up to the lordship of Christ, and submitting to starting or renewing their journey with the Lord toward Christ centered lives.

One important concept we talked about Sunday was how Peter had a second chance in similar situations as he was in before, but this time he did not fail in his faith. That’s what Jesus prayed would happen! And we know Peter went on to be a rock of the church, filled with the Holy Spirit, the first to speak the gospel to the Gentiles, authored 1 and 2 Peter, and according to church tradition was crucified upside down, because he did not want to be executed as his Lord was. So, Peter no longer denied his Lord, though one time as Paul recalls in Galatians, Paul called Peter on how he withdrew from Gentiles when Jerusalem brethren were around, because he feared what they’d think of him associating with the Gentiles. I kind of think that was early on in Peter’s journey, and that he did not stay in that moment long, because it’s clear from Acts 10-11 that Peter got it after his experience with a vision and a sheet full of “unclean” food that he was told to kill and eat. He understood that God was showing him to preach to the Gentiles, and he did.

So, here are the stages of Spiritual Growth and the way I related to this Sunday is that, like Peter, we go through similar situations in life over and over, but Jesus is praying for us, God is the God of second chances, so as we grow in Christ, so we have a chance to do better, for our faith not to fail. Jesus is praying for us!!

Stages of Spiritual Growth

Far from God we fail, we’re selfish [stick man far from God] . . . God is the God of second chances . . .

Exploring: we have turned away from sin and explore edges of Christ: “I believe in God but I’m not sure about Christ/Trinity, and faith is not a significant part of my life.” Here Jesus is praying, offering an invitation to follow Him.

Movement 1: From Self-Centered to Self-aware of sin, need for something else, but you just don’t know what or how. Tend to say things like, “I’m spiritual but not religious and I don’t need the church.”

Growing in Christ, we seek to serve others, practice prayer and Bible reading, and have mentors/preachers/teachers direct us. You believe in Jesus and you are working on what it means to follow Him.

Movement 2: From self-aware to self-sacrificing, giving yourself to the growth process and opening yourself to others. You believe you need to “get a little more God in your life.”

Close to Christ, your beliefs, life, work, relationships begin to align, and you begin to depend on Christ for daily guidance.

Movement 3: From self-sacrificing to self-less

Christ centered, you now understand you can’t get “more of God in your life.” You are no longer the center of your life. God cannot be contained in you, but you enter fully into His life. Your relationship with God is the most important relationship in your life and guides your decisions more than any other relationship. Now you are expressing your faith, blessed, and sent as a harvester/missionary.

Where are you in relationship to Jesus? Spiritual growth is not always linear but we continue toward Christ centered lives, our goal.

Where am I? I’m falling in love with Jesus all over again. I’ve wanted Jesus with a vampire Christianity, for His blood, for what’s in it for me, I’ve studied Jesus, tried to comprehend or attain Him intellectually, tried to discuss my way to him, coerce others into His life, debate His teachings, or even to make Jesus my poster boy for my social justice efforts but not really acknowledge my love and His Lordship of my life when in those settings.

Where am I now? I love Jesus and want to express that love to others in the most serious, real ways Jesus taught us how. We don’t express it like this: I want Jesus at the center of my life. No, we are moving to the heart, the core, center of Jesus’s life. That’s where I want to be. From self-centered to Christ-centered, and this takes time.

The only thing better than one person being centered on Christ is many being centered on Christ together. That’s this church.

Where are you in relationship to Jesus? 

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

Acts of the Church and Our Own Conversion

This week I asked our congregation to consider their own conversion, not in the way we traditionally think of conversion. Some people think of conversion as a one-time thing, a decision to turn away from sin, their baptism or a sinner’s prayer. But the New Testament doesn’t really use conversion in quite that way. Conversion in the New Testament is used to describe when someone changes from being pagan to following Judaism or from being pagan or Jewish and following the Messiah. There are just a few references to someone being a convert to Christianity. So one major way the word convert is used in the New Testament is to describe a change of belief and way of life, because changing your religious beliefs most certainly must lead to a different way of life.

Because this way of life means doing things differently over a period of time, conversion is not always simply a one-time event but a change of belief and practice. Could there be more than one conversion of our hearts? Last week I asked the church to consider what they think and feel about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, because if we believe in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, then this impacts how we invite and welcome murderers, adulterers, homosexuals, abusers, addicts into our midst. Are we willing to accept the conversion of Saul of Tarsus if we’re a church where Saul has dragged our people out in the parking lot and stoned them? Then that Saul wants to come up in here and become a member?! Are you kidding me? That’s what the early church thought. Check out Acts 9.

This week from Acts 10-11 we considered first our own conversion, and many wrote very moving short notes about their conversions, which I read during the sermon. Then I took on the voice of Peter, who I feigned had turned in a card describing his conversion. Was his conversion when Jesus borrowed his boat that day, or the day Jesus said, “Drop your nets and follow me,” and Peter and the others did. Was his conversion the day Peter shoved Jesus back when he said he must go to Jerusalem and die, and Jesus called him Satan, told him to get out of the way? Was it when Peter said he wouldn’t deny or betray, then that night denied he ever knew Jesus? Was his conversion when he swam 100 meters to the shore when he saw Jesus after his resurrection, or when Jesus re-instated him. Was Peter’s conversion finally when the 3,000 were baptized that day at Pentecost?

I claimed two things in the sermon: 1) That Peter had more than one conversion and so do we. 2) That perhaps Peter’s most profound conversion was in Acts 10 where Luke makes more of Peter’s change than Cornelius’s conversion. Our Bibles often head the chapter, “The Conversion of Cornelius” but if Luke was writing headings, he might have titled that chapter, “The Conversion of Simon Peter.”

Peter had been told by a voice when he was in a “trance” to eat stuff that would sound to us like “dog, cat, and national bird.” He refused three times, and finally the voice said, “Don’t call clean what I have called clean.” While pondering this some men had come from Cornelius’s house, because he too had seen a vision but it was more practical: go get Peter in Joppa and bring him back to Caesarea. So they walked down the coast about 30 miles, got Peter, walked back 30 miles to Cornelius’s house.

Peter got off on the wrong foot with the gathering at Cornelius’s house. He said, “You know it’s against Jewish law for me to enter a Gentile house and eat with them, right?” But something about the long walk with Gentile messengers and seeing an eager group of God-fearing Gentiles gathering at Cornelius’s house melted Peter’s heart, and he recounted the vision he’d received and said “I now realize God does not show favoritism.” He had made the analogy of the sheet to relate to the Jew-Gentile issue. Were the Gentiles included in this new kingdom by grace through faith or by the Jewish laws, and even then were they still second class citizens? No, don’t call unclean what I have called clean.

He watched as the Holy Spirit fell on the house of Cornelius, a huge sign that the Gentiles were included. Peter commanded they be baptized.

Peter had been converted, and you can tell by his explanations two different times to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 11, 15) that he believed with all his heart that God also had allowed the Gentiles to share in his Holy Spirit indwelling. Those who had been critical at first about Peter entering Gentile homes said, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” (11:18).

Peter had been converted.

What about your conversion? What do you think and feel about your own conversion. Did you think that conversion only comes once? Do we, like Peter, have multiple conversions, including profound ones that change our entire outlook on God, others, and our life’s work? Paul may have become the apostle to the Gentiles, but it was Peter who was first for the Gentiles to hear the gospel from his lips. His life’s work and mission were radically altered.

In the parlance of our church [we get this language from the idea that we continually grow in how we reflect the image of God, from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18) and language shared from the REVEAL study (Willow Creek)], we “invite all people to Christ centered lives,” and ALL PEOPLE means ALL PEOPLE, including ourselves.

We grow by conversions or movements from “one degree to the next” that Willow Creek calls, and we use the terms as well, “Far from God to Exploring Christ,” “Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ,” “Growing in Christ to Close to Christ,” “Close to Christ to Christ Centered.”

This process may take years, but as we grow we become increasingly prepared for mission in God’s Kingdom. We’re going to discuss this more Sunday, February 23, going through each phase and explaining what each of the movements includes in terms of beliefs, practices, and service.

See you next Sunday!

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

You walked up on me

My wife’s van battery died, so I pulled the battery there in the high school parking lot, and schlepped the dead cells back to Walmart and was proud of myself that I’d kept the receipt from nearly two years ago in the glove box.

When I arrived at Walmart just after 8 am, mechanics were busy and no one was at the counter in the automotive department. An associate nearby stocked shelves and hollered over, asking if I needed help. I understood him to say someone was coming, and he went back to his stocking.

I waited a while and he came around again.

“You need something?”

“Yeah, my battery’s dead, I have the receipt and it’s under warranty.”

“Right, but are you going to get a battery?” the associate asked, standing next to the new batteries and pointing.

“Yes, but don’t you need to test the old one or something?” I asked. I don’t know why I didn’t just go over and pick up the new battery, but we sort of had a standoff.

Then I walked over and showed the associate my receipt and he sighed and went over to get my old battery to test it.

I didn’t really know what was happening, why either one of us chose to be difficult, but I said, “You having a rough morning or something?”

“I’m having a fine morning, sir,” the associate said. He paused, then said, “Then you walked up on me.”

I was thinking, Walked up on me? What does that mean? I came over to him with the receipt, maybe he was saying I got in his bubble. 

“Wait a second, what?” I said.

“You walked up on me,” he said, and he started to elaborate as he walked around getting the battery tester.

“Whoa, time out,” I said. “Can we start over here.”

“You walked up–”

“Time out!” I raised my voice a notch. I was about to ask for a manager, but had I done that–I later learned–he was the automotive manager.

“Look, I’ll say ‘start over,’ then you say ‘start over,’ how’s that? Nothing else about it from either one of us, I don’t even know what happened,” I said. “OK, I’m starting over.”

The associate stopped what he was doing, then said, “Start over.”

We both got quiet, while he tested the dead battery. It was no good, and I would get a new battery for Jill’s van free. I was happy with that, but the product was never the issue.

“Sometimes we have to do this at home, you know, call time out, start over,” I said.

The associate stopped, looked at me. “Are you a Christian,” the man asked.

“Yes, are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m sorry if I was not acting like a Christian there,” I said.

“Look, we’re men, we bow up when someone walks up on us.”

Then I realized, I had marched over to him when he was trying to stock shelves, trying to show him my receipt, not getting my own battery. I don’t know why I didn’t just get my own battery from the shelf.  Since when was Walmart a General Store with Mr. Finnegan pulling dry goods from behind the counter for me? But in my stubbornness, I expected him to do something, so the associate went over and got the right battery, then he explained how Walmart put in an expensive computer that looks up batteries directly for the customer, and Walmart wants associates to encourage customers to use that expensive computer and get their own batteries.

OK, now I was understanding. I aggressively walked up on the man. I was supposed to get my own battery. I got it. He said in this day and time you never really know what people are doing when they walk up on you. I guess walking up on someone means walking up too aggressively and getting too much in their space and face, in their bubble as I suppose they say in school these days. I wasn’t really upset, wasn’t really thinking anything but trying to explain my situation, but I learned something about myself. I can think I’m acting appropriately but actually not be.

We talked a while about family, he said he’d moved from another state, had recently divorced, had no family in the area. We shook hands, exchanged names, and exchanged knowing glances that we’d had a real human moment at Walmart. He said he gets all kinds in here, so he just never knows at first what a person’s doing when they walk up on him, so in this day and age, he has to remain cautious.

I don’t think it’s a “this day and age thing.” Walking up and being too aggressive or threatening to someone is not a new concept for customers and employees in modern stores. Confrontations happened in ancient markets and through the ages. And many men could go their ways angry, blood boiling, hating humanity more, but all the same I now understand better.

I left with a free battery, and my new friend advised me about the warranty, wished me a good day, smiled, and said goodbye. My heart was not pumping from fight or flight but from the knowledge that I’d just experience a human moment in a place that deals in consumer goods mostly, but occasionally great things happen there, in the automotive section of Walmart.

Acts 7-9: What do you think of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus?

David Fleer preached a great sermon in which he repeatedly asked the question, “What do you think of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus?” I preached using this method and added some material, but the impact of the message was powerful and the Holy Spirit used this text and the feeling of re-creating the impact of the text to move the Garnett congregation to a wide variety of personal responses.

So, I want to refer you to the book from which I took this sermon idea so you can also order the book and learn from some of the powerful keys to preaching Luke-Acts.

Preaching from Luke/Acts (The Rochester College Lectures on Preaching) Vol. 1

Each Sunday we are also asking questions of the text in our adult auditorium Bible class. Here are some questions we asked Sunday.

  1. Did priests that were converted continue to do their duties? I say yes. Jewish Christians continued to follow Christ in very Jewish ways, and synagogue teaching continued. Don’t imagine priests doing extended sacrifices in the temple, but I’m talking about Jewish rabbis continuing to teach in the synagogues and even preach of the Messiah Jesus who came. In fact, even after continued signs that the Holy Spirit had been poured out “even on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45), some of the Jews who were dispersed after the persecution of Stephen were preaching only to Jews (Acts 11:19), and this was consistent with an earlier command of Jesus. But gradually, Peter and others learned to call no man or woman unclean who God has called clean. Others began preaching also to the Greeks (Acts 11:20). So, it’s a fact that the early church was very Jewish and continued in Jewish practices such as circumcision (controversy later discussed in Acts 15; Galatians), so this assumes priests were continuing their duties in the early church.
  2. Traditionally isn’t Acts 6 the precursor of how we view the distinction and choosing of elders and deacons? Yes, many people see analogies in Acts 6 with how we differentiate between elders and deacons.
  3. Is there any significance to them choosing seven? Yes, 12 is a significant number of tribes, apostles, and they wanted to keep the church leaders the same number (Acts 1), and seven is a number of perfection and a good number they liked, in much the same way we like 10. I don’t get into numerology as much as others, so you can take this a little further than I do if you want, but I see over-emphasizing numbers detracting from the impact of the story more than helping the meaning.
  4. As application of the class, we discussed the fact that leaders have been chosen in two ways in Acts (Acts 1 and 6). The first time, two leaders were nominated, they prayed for the Holy Spirit to decide, and they drew straws. The second method in Acts 6 was out of a problem with some of the widows being neglected, and we discussed that it was an ethnic problem as well as a problem of resources. So in choosing leaders, we need to remember that this problem arose out of the concern for not favoring Jewish Christians over Hellenized Jewish Christians or Gentiles. We applied this to our situation of choosing elders now. We have decided to choose seven elders total, and to re-affirm the three we have. We talked about how we ought to be sure to consider if the man “has been with Jesus” as the apostles had.
  5. We also gave homework for the congregation to read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to see qualifications of elders. Mike Davis of the elder selection committee exhorted the congregation to get nominations in by Feb 23 in writing and signed. He also said we ought to talk to the person we are nominating. Like another leader, I am convicted that even I ought to nominate. Sometimes we as leaders think we’re exempt because we consider this too close to home, but since this is a congregational process and not a “good old boy” process, we leaders too ought to nominate and send our suggestions through the process and talk to the person we nominate. My wife, Jill, modeled nomination by doing this early on, and I appreciate her love of Christ and the church and nominating leaders both for the committee and for eldership.
  6. Rebecca LeDoux recommended the movie, “The Grace Card.”
By Greg Taylor Posted in God

Remembering HUF

 

Firenze

Jill and I went to Harding University in Florence Italy (HUF) in 1987. Now, we enjoy hearing from our daughter, Ashley, not just what she’s doing in Italy, but also how she’s feeling and thinking about those learning experiences and new friendships. Here is her blog: The First Few Days.

Acts 3-6: “They had been with Jesus”

About 100 Christians gathered for a snowy Sunday to worship, communion, fellowship. We were to celebrate and say goodbye to Jonny Williams, but he got sick and was not able to attend his going away worship, so perhaps he and Makayla can come back for another time and Jonny can lead worship then. Another gathering is planned with mainly the praise team at the Erwins, and they plan to give the Williams a money tree, so if you’d like to give to that, please give money to the Erwin family.

We did get to pray for Ben and Beth West, who are heading to Uganda, Ben for a month and Beth for half of that. Ben is working with Kibo, and Beth is going to continue deepening friendships with the Garners, Ida, Ronald, Abraham and others there. We gathered around Ben and Beth and several prayed for them. Jacob and Jill Taylor had made chapatis in honor of Ben and Beth but because of snow did not make it with the chapatis, so they put them in the freezer and we’ll have them another Sunday.

So I preached on Acts 3-6 and the theme was “They had been with Jesus. I discussed four points, each beginning with “C” and all centering around a key idea, that the apostles had been with Jesus, and that’s what gave them the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to do the things they did. We learned that in order to do great things for Jesus, we must be with Jesus!

In Acts 3 the apostles cared for the lame and sick like Jesus did, and this led to what happened in Acts 4: they had conflict with the religious leaders, just like Jesus did. But in their persecution they greatly rejoiced, and there is a powerful prayer for boldness in Acts 4. I showed a great scene from the musical, Upside Down, where John and Peter are released from being held and threatened by the Sanhedrin, and they call the disciples together for the prayer for boldness.

In Acts 5 we see a great contrast to the Christians “sharing all things in common.” Ananias and Sapphira sell land and claim they are giving all the money to the church leaders, but they have secretly held some back. Separately the apostles question the couple, and both claim they’ve given the whole amount. It’s not that they had to, but it’s not right to act or claim as if they have given all when they haven’t. They both drop dead. This is the early church’s first burial. We learned that the apostles confronted disobedience and dishonesty and this brought great awe and fear among the early church members.

Finally in Acts 6, the apostles chose helpers to distribute food. Some Hellenistic Jews who had become Christians were being neglected in distribution of food. The “sharing all things in common” was again in jeopardy, and yet the apostles did not want to get sidetracked on taking up more of this responsibility, so they chose men and assigned them to this task to make sure all were taken care of, no one had needs unfilled, and they attended to the ministry of the word and prayer as they were called to do.

How did the apostles care for the sick, conflict with religious leaders, confront disobedience, and choose more servants? How did they have the wisdom and power to do these things. As we learned the first two weeks of our Acts series, the Holy Spirit is the star of Acts, and by the power of the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Christ — they did all these things. Christ had given them a monster task, and they prayed, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and one more thing . . .

In Acts 4:13 Luke records the thoughts of the religious leaders after seeing the courage of Peter, John, and the other apostles. They noted that these men were ordinary, not highly educated, some fishermen, and the one unique quality they noted was this: “they had been with Jesus.”

So I related this to our church. As we are choosing elders, we need to choose men who “have been with Jesus.” They have a relationship with Jesus. They have been with Jesus, are still, and continuing to deepen that relationship with Jesus. Maybe the person you are thinking about writing down as a candidate is a “good guy,” nice, a handy man, a good business man, wealthy and seems to handle his affairs well, seems to have good kids or grand kids. All these qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are important, but the sum of them is this: “Have they been with Jesus?”

I’m so happy that the elders selection committee had their first meeting Sunday morning, and so the process continues, and they will inform us soon what the next step is for selecting 4 new elders.

We had one new member, Charlene Calhoun, declare that she’d like to join the journey with us at Garnett, and we rejoice with her. The next step when you make this declaration by writing your information on a bulletin card is to meet with Greg Taylor and the elders. We want to share our church’s journey, our own faith journey, and learn what your journey is. The main way that we enter the church is to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, so if someone is already baptized, they do not need to be baptized again into our church. We try to keep the entry requirements of our church the same as entering into the Kingdom of God, in belief and baptism upon the name of Jesus Christ.

Welcome Charlene!

By Greg Taylor Posted in Acts