Committee Meetings - Acts 11
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Committee Meetings – 01.23.2022
Have you ever gotten in a fight with someone and halfway through the argument you realize you’re wrong and they’re right? But it’s too late, you’re already invested in winning the fight, and you cannot admit defeat so you actually end up making your life more difficult – just so you don’t have to admit someone else was right? When I was a kid, I was in the boy scouts. I’m not sure what the system is now, but we had cub scouts, wolf scouts, and then eagle scouts. But when I was little – I think I was still a Cub Scout one of the nights our troop was carving pumpkins. We were making jack-o-lanterns. And I remember it was a really big deal, because we got to use the big knives. And I remember having an argument, it was either with my dad or the troop leader. Someone told me I wasn’t big enough to use the knife. They said, you draw the design on with a sharpie, and then an adult will carve it out for you. And I said, “absolutely not, I get to play with the knives.” So I drew my face on the pumpkin, and I should mention – I am not an artist. I never really got much past stick figures. So I drew triangle eyes, and then I got to the mouth, and I just drew a big oval – just a big stretched out circle, and then I drew triangles down for pointy teeth. It was going to be a scary pumpkin. I spent about 30 seconds with the sharpie because I wanted to use the knife. And the leaders warned me, “be very careful.” And I shrugged off all their warnings – I knew what I was doing.
I took the knife and I started to cut the mouth. And I thought to myself, I’ll cut just like I drew it. I’ll cut the circle first and then I’ll cut the teeth. So I start to cut the circle, and the leader is watching me very closely. Which, by the way, is super annoying to a kid. Ugh, I don’t need your help – I can do this all by myself. And watching over my shoulder, the leader realized what I was about to do. Cutting the circle first, was going to ruin the possibility of having teeth. My pumpkin was going to end up with a big open circle for a mouth like a blue whale. And they tried to help me. They tried so hard to explain to me my mistake. But I thought they just wanted to take the knife away from me. No, I can do it myself – I don’t need help. And then I got about halfway around the circle, way too late to change course, and I realized my mistake. And even then I could have asked for help, and maybe salvaged my poor little jack-o-lantern. But my 7-8 year old pride would not let me admit defeat. So I spent the entire evening pretending that I really did want a pumpkin that looked like it had an invisible watermelon in it’s mouth.
Today we are continuing our study of the book of Acts, we’re up to chapter 11. And if you’re just joining us for the first time, this book in the bible is all about the early church, and the stuff the disciples did after Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s about the early Christian family, and the last couple chapters is all about community and our connections to all the other people who also claim Jesus Christ.
Now, last week we told the story of Peter and Cornelius. Peter was a Jewish man, Cornelius was a Roman Soldier – and in that culture they were not supposed to hang out with one another. These are sharks and jets, Crips and Bloods, UofM and State Fans, Jews and Gentiles. And yet last week God showed Peter that he will accept anyone from anywhere if they repent and believe in Jesus. Repentance is the key feature that unites the Christian family. There’s no nationalism, there’s no racism, there’s no special bloodlines. The phrase they used in chapter ten was that God would accept anyone “who fears God and does what is right” – those are God’s people. And it’s this huge moment for Peter and his buddies who are shocked to find out that God’s love goes beyond the Jewish circle. Just like, I’m sure it’s shocking for State fans to find out that God loves UofM fans too. So this was a huge moment for Peter that we looked at last week, and now in chapter 11 Peter gets in trouble for it. The chapter opens up, [read v.1-4]. So Peter has this incredible transformative experience where he learns that God’s grace is available to all who will repent and believe, and the first thing that happens is that they attack him for it. So the whole first chunk of the chapter if you’re looking at it, it’s basically Peter retelling the story of what happened last week. Now we’re not going to go and get back into that, but that’s basically all it is – the first 17 verses is just Peter telling the story. And then we get to verse 18. [read it]. Wait, what just happened? They’re mad at Peter, he calmly explains himself, they listen politely and then change their opinion. What? Where’s the cancel culture? Where’s the raking him across the coals? Peter did something they didn’t like, shouldn’t they be smearing him and talking bad about him and gossiping about him in a way that’s disguised as prayer requests, “oh, you know that Peter we need to be praying for him because he was hanging out with those gentiles.” Isn’t that how we’re supposed to treat people we disagree with? I don’t think these believers understand, they’re going to lose the fight! The believers challenge Peter, they listen to his story, they stop objecting and they start praising God. It’s not even that big of a deal, but in the modern world it feels mind-blowing because that is not how we normally treat people we disagree with.
You know just this past week I had someone come into my office. Some of you might know Preston Swigart, he volunteers with the worship band, and is the newest addition to the 150 Band. Now, for those who don’t know, Preston works behind the scenes with cameras, and lighting and audio professionally. He does breaking news for one of the major news networks. So he travels all over and he’s always setting up cameras and lighting and all that stuff. And he came into my office this past week and he started with a big list of disclaimers. Now I want you to know I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I don’t want you to think I’m criticizing you, I don’t want you to feel attacked, but I have some ideas on how we can improve our livestream quality. And I remember sitting there, sort of staring at him. I think the fact that I was wearing a mask helped, because it sort of covered my absolutely baffled face. Why would I be upset that you are offering suggestions to help us do a better job? Right, because Preston’s wealth of experience is so much greater than mine. I’m just an excited kid who really likes technology and I’m very committed to providing a livestream that is the highest quality we can possible manage. I would have to be an absolute moron to ignore the advice of a professional. I’m so glad he spoke up, because now our livestream will get that much better. This livestream thing is very new, there’s a lot of trial and error and so I love the feedback, it helps us grow. Why wouldn’t I be grateful for constructive criticism?
And then I think about Peter and the Jewish disciples who stopped objecting and starting praising God, and I realized this past week that we have lost the art of constructive criticism. I actually have a theory about this. The COVID-19 pandemic started during an election year. We all got locked in our homes and quarantined, and there was nothing on TV except COVID stuff and politics. And I think over the last two years, a lot of us have let the mentality of politics get into our spirits. Because there’s no constructive criticism in politics. In politics they never criticize to help someone, they criticize to destroy. It’s a completely win-lose structure, either they get your vote or they don’t. there’s no candidate out there trying to help the other side be the best they can be. There’s no debate where one candidate says, “Well, you know if you tweak your position a little bit you can really present your argument stronger this way.” No, it’s win/lose – they have to beat their opponent, because that’s how elections work. And that’s not new, that’s always been the way elections work. But that’s not how life works. There’s no beating other people. You don’t win or lose conversations. You don’t win or lose life. Constructive criticism comes out of a growth mentality. We have to remember that our goal is not to win or lose, our goal is to grow. You’re not trying to beat them, you’re trying to help them.
The chapter continues and we see that the Jewish Christians who had scattered under persecution. When they started killing Christians and dragging them out of their homes, a lot of them scattered all over the middle east. But what’s cool is that people all over the middle eastern world were having the same experiences that Peter had. Gentiles were coming to know Jesus. [read v.20-24]. I think right there we have the key to Christian community. Encouraging other believers to stay true to the Lord. It’s not about winning, or beating them or making them feel guilty. It’s about encouraging people to stay true to the Lord. Now take those two teachings and put them together. We want to help the people around us, we want to help people grow – but we have to know that most of the folks out there are still operating with a political mentality. They are still operating with a win/lose mentality. And so if we are going to reclaim constructive criticism – if we try to help people, they might think we’re trying to attack them, trying to win. So we have to show them that we have a growth mentality, we’re not trying to win – we’re trying to help. We need to be like Barnabas, and encourage other believers to stay true to the Lord. And encouragement starts by demonstrating that you’re on the same team. You will love people better and more effectively, when they believe that you are rooting for them. When they know you want what’s best for them – they can begin to come away from that win/lose political mindset and get themselves into a place where they can actually grow.
You see this sort of thing with kids all the time. My littlest one Ezra always panics every time I take food away. Like he brought me a banana one time, and he holds it up, and says “nana.” And he knows that inside that yellow peel is a delicious banana, but he needs me to open it. And so I take it, and he just melts down, “don’t take my banana.” It takes me like three seconds to get the peel open, but there’s this fear – you’re not on my side. You’re going to take away the banana and then I will have no banana. And one time I was struggling to get it open. I’m like mushing the top of the banana. You ever do that, where you just can’t get it open, and so you go get a butter knife and slit the throat of the banana? But the moment I turned away to go get the butter knife, “don’t take the ‘nana!” There’s a fear that I’m not on his side. There’s a belief that I’m against him and I don’t want what’s best for him. Based on no evidence, by the way. I don’t make a habit of stealing bananas from my children. He has no evidence that I’m against him. But in a world where people often assume you are trying to win, we have to show people we are in their corner. We start with encouragement, to show them we have a growth mindset.
The chapter finishes up with one final story. It says, [read v.26b-30]. Basically a prophet named Agabus told everybody that a famine was coming, and it did. But because they knew ahead of time, the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the affected area. I love this final story because Antioch was the first place where believers claim the name Christian. Before that they were just “followers of Jesus” or “followers of the Way.” But in Antioch they popularize the title Christian, and four sentences later they are working together to provide for people in need. This is one of the three primary functions of the Church. The church, by church I mean the people, the gathered body of believers is a social mechanism for loving your neighbor. As you all know, there are three primary thing we do in a church. We worship, we learn more about Jesus (that’s what we call discipleship), and we live out our faith in mission and service. We know Christ, we follow Christ, and then we share Christ. A healthy church, operating well, provides all of those things. Like I said a couple weeks ago, Christianity is a team sport. You can’t “Christian” alone. The church in Antioch gathered together some gifts (I’m guessing it was probably money) and they sent it to those in need. The church is a social mechanism for loving your neighbor, a place and a people where you can live out your faith authentically.
So I look at this chapter in the bible, and I wonder what it has to teach us today. I see Peter getting challenged by the other Jewish disciples, but I also see them listening and praising God. I see Barnabas encouraging others to stay true to the Lord. And then I see all the believers in Antioch working together to send to help and support to the people in Judea, and I see God moving in the connections of the people. We know as Christians that God pours out the Holy Spirit on those who repent and believe in Jesus. But what I’m seeing is that God also pours out the Holy Spirit on the guy sitting next to you. The good news for us today is that God pours out the Holy Spirit on the people around you in Christian community. If you have found an authentic community of believers, then the Holy Spirit is there among you. And our project, as the people of the church, our project is to find the Holy Spirit that lives in the Christians sitting next to us. If the Holy Spirit is a flame inside our neighbors heart. Our job is to fuel that flame. This is what it means to be in Christian community - if you think about our declaration of purpose – that quote from Hebrews, “let us consider how we can spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”
Alright, so I’ve got one challenge with two parts that I want you to work on this week. First, I want to challenge you to become people of growth, not people of offense. We need to shake off that political mindset, that win/lose mindset. It might work for an election, but not for life. When someone challenges you with something – when someone says, “hey, I think this could help you…” There’s two ways to respond. You can get offended – “how dare you suggest that I need to work on something” OR you can ask yourself, “how can I grow from what they are saying?” People of Growth over people of offense. We need to reclaim the constructive part of constructive criticism. When someone challenges us – see it as a chance for growth, rather than an opportunity to get offended.
And if we want to give someone constructive criticism – that’s the second part, the other side of it, if you want to help someone grow, you have to start with encouragement. We need to cheerlead one another’s spiritual growth. Like if someone comes in and says, “well, I’ve been trying to get into my bible more and I started my day in the word three times this week.” We should be busting out the pom-poms! Yeah! You did it, that’s amazing. Or if someone comes in and says, “you know I’ve been really busy, and I got some rough stuff going on in my life – I haven’t prayed in like 2 weeks.” If we had a competition mindset we could look at them with judgment or offense, “wow, you’re basically a terrible human being.” But if we are cheerleading one another’s spiritual growth, if we have this growth mentality we can say, “Oh man, I’m really sorry you’re struggling. I wonder, do you think we could pray together? I’ll call this week and we can pray together on the phone. I’m going to walk with you. I’m not better than you, but I’m with you. I am on your team.” Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if the Holy Spirit has been poured out into all the people around you – then we need to dive deeper into the church. Not the building but the people. We ARE the church. We need to connect as the body of Christ, to remember that we are all on the same team, we are all serving the same God and his son Jesus Christ. And if we can start to trust one another, to believe that we are all on the same team – that’s the moment we will start encouraging one another to grow closer to God.
When I was seven years old, I let my pride get in the way and I ended up with a really lame jack-o-lantern. In each of our lives, if we cut ourselves off from the people around us – we are cutting ourselves off from the Holy Spirit. But if we are the church, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on each of us – then we are on the same team. And if we can remember that, maybe we can trust one another and start to grow closer to God together. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you be like Peter’s friends, challenge one another – but also listen and praise God for what you hear. May you be like Barnabas and encourage one another to stay true to the Lord and finally may you find in this place a social mechanism for helping you get better at loving God and loving your neighbor every single day. Amen.