God’s People, part 248: Christians

Read Acts 11:1-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.”  (Galatians 2:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 248: Christians. The suggested Scripture above continues on with the account of the beginning of Gentile inclusion in the early church. While Luke didn’t have the time or space to fully recount the difficutlies in that debate of whether or not to include them, and the concessions that would need to be made to do so, it goes without saying that it was more difficult than the text lets on.

Peter’s reporting to the church leadership, of which he was a part, is a literary way of saying that eventually the church came on board, which is true; however, it would be more accurate to say that they did not come on board easily or right away. In fact, more than changed minds and hearts, circumstances are what led to the eventual acceptance of Gentile Christians.

The Apostle Paul’s own writings paint that picture all too clear. In Galatians 2, we learn that while Peter was eating with Gentiles when he was not in the presence of James, Jesus’ brother, and the other leaders, he kowtowed to them when they were around. According to Paul, he angrily scolded Peter and called him out publicly in Antioch. He basically called Peter a hypocrite and then argued the case that Gentiles should be included and that Peter was in the wrong. What’s more remarkable than what Paul wrote was what he did not write. Paul stated his case and then abruptly ends without sharing the conclusion to the big debate. The truth is that is probably indicative of the probability that the debate did NOT end there.

Peter and the rest of the Apostles, no doubt, continued to wrestle with this issue and Paul continued…FOR YEARS…to advocate for Gentile inclusion. In fact, his letter to the church in Rome shows us that his advocacy of Gentile inclusion led him to his eventual arrest, trip to Rome and, eventually, death.

This brings us to an important fact, the earliest church was distinctly Jewish and did not so easily want to blur the lines around that identity! The earliest Jesus followers were not known as “Christians”; rather, they were known as The Way. Make no mistake about it, they saw themselves as the The Jewish Way, meaning that they saw themselves as the fulfillment of Judaism as followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The term “Christian”, which means Christ Followers, was only later attributed to them by outsiders in Antioch. Like other great movements, such as Methodism, the Jesus followers did not choose their name; rather, it was given to them and it eventually stuck. These Christians would eventually go on include Gentiles, thanks largely to people like Paul, Luke, Timothy, Silas and probably Peter in the end; however, Christianity would eventually grow into a predominantly Gentile religion thanks the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Western Christianity’s center, from that point forward, slowly (or quickly in the grand scheme of things) moved from Jerusalem to Rome. Eastern Christianty moved to Syria, Egypt, India, and even as far east as China.

We should be challenged by these facts. We should, first and foremost, reflect on the fact that Christianity has never been a homogeneous group and that there was never that “old-time religion” where everyone agreed on everything in perfect harmony. That may be idyllic, but it certainly is not a realistic view of Christian history.

Whe should also be challenged by another fact: despite it’s bumpy history, Christians became known by outsiders as those who followed Christ and became like “little Christs”. In other words, despite human bickering and differences of opinion, God’s glory and self-revelation in Jesus Christ was still made known to the world through those Christians, which set Christianity on a historic and baffling rise to prominence and power. We can argue the pros and cons to such an assent, but there can be no doubt that Christians throughout the past two millennia have sough to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken world still very much in need of Salvation. For that, we should all praise God and be thankful.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is. Jesus Christ is LORD.

PRAYER
Jesus, you are our Lord, and I submit to you and your authority. Amen.

Episode 25 | Fear Not, More Cowbell!

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-kvfad-de3b87

In this episode, fellow POJCasters, Sal and Todd are joined by Sal’s better half, Alison, and their newborn son Calvin, for another special “social-distanced home edition”. Listen in as they sip on some amazing drinks and engage in conversation on fear and more shithouse theoloy, COVID-19 Edition.

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Other ways to Support: If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify. The more we get rated and reviewed, the higher up on the giganto totem pole we get on those respective platforms.

Also, interact with us on our social media, on our Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram. On Twitter you can also follow Todd and Sal on Twitter at @trlattig and @SalvatoreSeirm1 respectively.

EPISODE NOTES:

He Brews Segement:

Alison

Sal

Todd

Most Excellent Music Segment:

Alison

Sal

Todd

Episode 126 | God’s Fellow Workers

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-jzmzy-dd7c27

In this episode, the Rev. Dr. Eunice Vega Perez, Skylands District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church of Greater NJ shares a message.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.
  • If worship with us online and/or you would like to give to First UMC of Newton, your generosity will help us sustain with our mission and ministries during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are still paying our staff and we are ministering from home remotely. Your support is vital to us being able to do so. Thank you for considering giving at https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc.
  • Sign up for bi-weekly devotions at Life-Giving Water.
  • Subscribe to Life-Giving Water Messages, also on iTunes and Google Play Music.
  • Subscribe to the Party on Johncast, co-hosted by Rev. Sal Seirmarco and Rev. Todd Lattig.

Episode 125 | What to Do?, part 5: Celebrate God’s Grace

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-maini-dd7c02

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses God’s grace and the reason we ought to celebrate it. This message is based on Ruth 4:3-17.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.
  • If worship with us online and/or you would like to give to First UMC of Newton, your generosity will help us sustain with our mission and ministries during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are still paying our staff and we are ministering from home remotely. Your support is vital to us being able to do so. Thank you for considering giving at https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc.
  • Sign up for bi-weekly devotions at Life-Giving Water.
  • Subscribe to Life-Giving Water Messages, also on iTunes and Google Play Music.
  • Subscribe to the Party on Johncast, co-hosted by Rev. Sal Seirmarco and Rev. Todd Lattig.

Episode 124 | What to Do?, part 4: What to Do When You’re Not Okay?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-gsuu6-dd7be8

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses that it is okay to not be okay as well as the need to trust in God. This message is based on Ruth 1:11-22.

EPISODE NOTES:

  • First UMC of Newton, NJ streams online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Join us for worship on YouTube.
  • If worship with us online and/or you would like to give to First UMC of Newton, your generosity will help us sustain with our mission and ministries during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are still paying our staff and we are ministering from home remotely. Your support is vital to us being able to do so. Thank you for considering giving at https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc.
  • Sign up for bi-weekly devotions at Life-Giving Water.
  • Subscribe to Life-Giving Water Messages, also on iTunes and Google Play Music.
  • Subscribe to the Party on Johncast, co-hosted by Rev. Sal Seirmarco and Rev. Todd Lattig.

God’s People, part 247: Cornelius

Read Acts 10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, ‘Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?”’  (Galatians 2:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Centurion_Le_Centurion_-_James_Tissot-Wikimedia-CC2Part 247: Cornelius. As Luke wrote, Cornelius was the captain of a Roman cohort called, “The Italian.” While, that may sound like the name of a sandwich to us, Roman cohorts were no joke. They were made up of 480 men and were roughly the equivalent of a modern military battalion. Thus, Cornelius was someone who had worked himself up the ranks in the Roman military.

While we don’t know much more about Cornelius than that, we can certainly ascertain that he was not a person to be trifled with. He, no doubt, would have been much like the centurion that Jesus engaged with. That centurion said the following to Jesus, “…I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.’”  (Matthew 8:9, NLT)

There’s something else we know about Cornelius: he and his entire household were God-fearing people. Perhaps you are questioning what it actually means to be a “God-fearing” person. In the ancient word, a God-fearer was a Gentile who was supportive of Hellenistic Judaism. He or she would observe certain Jewish religious traditions and rituals; however, they were not fully converted to Judaism. To traditional, non-Hellenistic Jews, they were still unclean and not a part fo God’s people because they didn’t follow all of the Jewish laws, including Kosher dietary laws.

Cornelius, despite being a Gentile, was someone who lived according to the heart of the law. It is quite clear that he loved God with his whole being and he was clearing loving his neighbor as he loved himself. Luke attested to the fact that Cornelius was very generous and compassionate toward the poor; however, that clearly didn’t seem to initially change the Apostles’ opinion of him.

That is why God gave Peter the vision prior to sending him to Caesarea to visit with Cornelius. In the vision, God told Peter to kill and eat an unclean animal and Peter objected. Was this some sort of gotcha test? After all, Peter had been a devout Jew is whole life. Still, God commanded him to kill the unclean animal and eat it. In fact, God scolded Peter for his reluctance and said, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15, NLT).

It took Peter having this vision 3 times in a row for him to budge and agree. Sadly, the debate did not end there. Even after Peter did go in and eat in the household of Cornelius, the leaders in Jerusalem were not okay with it. Their reluctance caused Peter to live a double life, eating with Gentiles while James and the Jerusalem church leaders weren’t around, but avoiding such foods and table company when they were around. Eventually Paul called him out on his hypocrisy and Peter testified that God had declared the act of eating with Gentiles to be a clean and holy act.

Of course, while Peter’s reluctance to follow God did not end with his time with Cornelius, much good did come out of Peter’s engagement with Cornelius. He and his family were baptized, and they went from God-fearing people to being followers of Christ. What’s more, it wasn’t just Cornelius’ family that converted, but the Holy Spirit fell on many Gentiles during Peter’s time there.

This should challenge us. How do our ideas of God’s law keep us from seeing the working of the Holy Spirit in others? We look at different people as being “unclean” because of how we read Scripture and interpret God’s opinion. For instance, we look at people who are scantily dressed, or people who have tattoos all over them, or people who listen to certain music, or who have certain professions as being lost and foreign to God; however, today’s Scripture cautions us on our judgments and calls us to stop telling God what is unclean. That is for God to determine, not for us. Besides, even is something is unclean that does not mean it is outside of God’s ability to cleanse. Remember, we are not called to be judges but witnesses of God’s amazing Grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see people through your eyes rather than through my own. Amen.

A biweekly devotional