Solution to an Ageless Problem
Lincoln Steffens once
wrote, "Nothing is done, everything in the world remains to be done--or
done over. The greatest picture is not yet painted. The greatest play isn't
written. The greatest poem is unsung." Nothing is perfect, we can add.
There's no perfect airline. There's no perfect government. There's no perfect
church. Faucets still drip, as one did years ago in the Steffens household.
As he and his seven-year-old son tried to fix it, Steffens had to admit
that his generation could not make a fit faucet. "But," said Steffens,
referring to his son, "He may. There's a job for him and his generation
in the plumbing business, and in every other business. Teach your children
that nothing is done, finally and right; that nothing is known, positively
and completely; that the world is theirs--all of it. (Bits and Pieces,
April 1990, p. 7)
What would the world
be if everyone thought otherwise?
I wish that Christians
could develop this attitude about knowing and doing God's will. I wish
we could see the challenge of knowing God for ourselves rather than just
quoting the great theologians of the past. Sometimes we are like people
of the world, we become satisfied with what we know and we stop seeking.
Living for God becomes tiring and boring because we fail to recognize the
problems that could actually challenge us to greater heights. I think that
this attitude also causes people with real problems to hide them.
A group of doctors was
having lunch together. One of them quietly got up from the table and left
the room without saying anything. Moments later he was dead. Some food
had stuck in his windpipe, causing him to choke to death in a matter of
minutes. Probably any one of the other doctors in the room that day could
have used to Heimlich maneuver or even performed a tracheotomy to allow
him to breathe. The problem was nobody knew the man was having a problem.
He just got up and left. And he died.
Sometimes the same thing
happens in the church. A Christian has a deep problem with marriage, finances,
children, or with alcohol or depression. Feeling embarrassed over the struggle,
the person puts up a good front or else just gradually stops coming to
church without letting brothers and sisters in Christ know that the trouble.
Sometimes the person is crushed beneath the weight of problems--and no
one else knows until it is too late. ("Pulpit Helps," Nov 1991. Page 20.)
Too often we are afraid
to face real problems of living for God because we are afraid of the ramifications,
but it is only our fears that hold us back it's not the impossibilities;
for with God all things are possible. Do you know what makes God's Word
challenging to me? It is no fairy tail to be learned and forgotten. It
continually challenges the problems of real people in every generation.
God's Word challenges us to discover the solutions for the problems of
every generation. The Bible reveals to us that every problem is an opportunity
to prove God's power anew in each generation. The Bible challenges us in
that no problem God asks us to face is insurmountable.
Hearts Out of Focus
The book of Acts is
a marvelous book because it leads first century Christians through the
challenge of beginning anew in Christ new spiritual kingdom as they face
the old problems of an outdated belief system. On every page of the book
of Acts God is challenging the world with a new faith in Him as the old
religious orders are challenged.
In Acts 10 Luke deals
with the ageless problem of religious bigotry and hatred. God offers a
timeless solution. Here we see God leading both Jew and Gentile to face
the problem of religious bigotry and hatred. It is an eye opening experience
for Peter and Cornelius and for the Christian and non-Christian alike.
The dividing line between them was that one was circumcised and the other
was uncircumcised, one was a Jew and the other was a Gentile and one ate
pork and the other one didn't. Those things that defined the line of demarcation
between them seem so small today but the problems to them seemed insurmountable.
Amazingly though, the
line of demarcation is usually always drawn over such small matters, especially
in religion. It is not that little things are not important, but often
we focus on the little things so intently that we fail to see the bigger
picture that may very well offer a solution to the problem.
In the Jewish mind it
was unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another
nation. When Peter came into Cornelius' home he said, "You are well
aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile
or visit him . . ." (Acts 10:28a NIV) It was this perverted fact
that had kept Jew and Gentile apart. God led both Jew and Gentile to face
the problem so that salvation could be enjoyed by both.
Often religious folks
are good at "straining at gnats and swallowing camels." We strain so hard
at the gnats that we lose sight of reality. The Jews understood their need
to separate themselves from the world, but their efforts at being separate
resulted in exclusionary bigotry. God never meant for it to be that way.
Moses had commanded, "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how
it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9
NIV) He further stated, "When an alien lives with you in your land, do
not mistreat him." (Leviticus 19:33 NIV) Moses even uses the treatment
of an alien as an example of how they should treat their own brethren.
"If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself
among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he
can continue to live among you." (Leviticus 25:35 NIV)
Although Jesus said, "Love
your enemies . . . love your neighbor as yourself", sadly, the love of
self becomes the compelling force in many religious lives. If our desire
to be separate is so strong that we begin to exclude others, we will become
blinded to the obvious. The exclusionary practices of the Jews had blinded
Peter to the obvious truths taught by the prophets and Jesus Christ.
is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand
of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to
the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood
in this place. (NIV)
will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against
sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers
of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive
aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)
As Peter spoke to Cornelius
he reminded him of the message God had sent to Israel about Jesus Christ.
But notice that Peter had been blinded to the obvious truths that the prophets
had taught in the Old Testament. He was also blinded to the full message
of the gospel.
Then Peter began to
speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You
know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the
good news of peace through
Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after
the baptism that John preached--how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with
the Holy Spirit and power, and how
he went around doing good and
healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God
was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of
the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but
God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already
chosen-- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one
whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
All the prophets
testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness
of sins through his name." (NIV)
Peter acknowledges that
he had personally received the message. Jesus was Lord of all. He went
around healing all that were under the power of the devil. Peter recognized
that the prophets had foretold that all that would believe on Christ would
be forgiven. Peter had even quoted Joel's prophecy on the day of Pentecost,
"And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the
Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21 KJV) Peter acknowledges that the gospel
message received first by the Jews included "whosoever" but the prejudice
of the culture focus his preaching on the Jews only.
When we only look
at our differences our hearts lose focus and we will overlook the real
issues. Peter had been preaching the truth while his heart was
closed to the Gentiles. The beauty of Acts 10 is that two honest hearts
meet under God's direction.
We Need Hungry Hearts
If we will place
a high priority on seeking God our problems will be solved.
It takes more than God's power to remove bigotry. It takes a hungry heart.
God has a healthy respect for a person who fears him and seeks to do what
is right even if he/she is wrong. It doesn't matter whether the person
is a Christian or a non-Christian. Of course, just desiring to do what
is right doesn't save anyone, but it creates a heart that is conducive
to being led into Jesus Christ; while religious bigotry closes our minds
to being led. Cornelius was a man open to God's leading.
there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian
Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing;
he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day
at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel
of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius stared at him
in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers
and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now
send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.
Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no
partiality. "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness
is accepted by Him. (NKJ)
Sadly, for years
the only thing I saw in this verse was that since God is impartial, He
requires all men to meet the same conditions for salvation. Although this
is true, I believe the primary meaning of the verse is that God respects
all people who fear him and strive to do what is right. We must recognize
that God expects us to treat them with the utmost respect. It is only through
mutual respect that we have any hope of instructing.
Anyone, in any
circumstance, who comes to God with an honest heart, will find an open
door to the truth about Jesus Christ. That person will discover
God's solution of their problems. It takes more than fear of God and a
respect for what is right to be saved, but it is the only valid beginning
point. Keeping your heart open is dependent on a respect for God and a
desire to do what is right. These are the only things that will keep a
heart open to know God.
This story impresses
me in that God hears the prayers of non-Christian's who desire to acknowledge
Him and do what is right. We should never leave unbelievers with
the impression that God will not hear their prayers, for it is through
their prayers that they may be brought to God. In fact, God hears the prayers
of all who are in error and are seeking his solution to their problems.
Though in error, God
speaks to Peter.
noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the
city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something
to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He
saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being 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 impure that God has made clean." This happened
three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (NIV)
Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius
found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called
out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter
was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three
men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to
go with them, for I have sent them." Peter went down and said to the men,
"I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?" The men replied, "We
have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing
man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to
have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say."
Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day
Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.
Most of us have
discovered that it takes more than a vision from God or biblical teaching
to remove religious bigotry. It takes hearts that fear and respect God.
It is when we fear men that we lose our respect for God. When Peter came
to Cornelius he said, "God has shown me that I should not call any
man common or unclean and so I've come. What do you want of me?"
You can see the openness of Peter's heart for God's instruction in his
acceptance of this uncircumcised Gentile.
Peter was sent to give
the instruction needed, but he was also sent to receive the instruction
he needed. When Peter came into Cornelius house he ask him "What
do you want of me?" It is amazing what two honest hearts can learn
when both are seeking to discover the will of God together, even if each
is from different sides of the tracks.
It is easy to begin
to think that we have a special insight or knowledge that makes us a little
better than others. The beauty of a person that fears God and respects
what is right is that he/she doesn't think that they are better than others
day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called
together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius
met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand
up," he said, "I am only a man myself." (NIV)
It is each person's
respect for God that offers a possible solution to religious bigotry. Without
that mutual respect there is no power in God's arsenal that will resolve
the differences. Focusing intently on the little things often breeds such
contempt that we often fail to recognize the other person's respect for
Then Cornelius tells
his side of the story.
answered: "Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three
in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and
said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to
the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in
the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' So I sent for you
immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here
in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you
to tell us." (NIV)
Do you see the openness
of Cornelius to God and what is right? Do you see how easy it is for God
to speak to hearts that fear him and desire to do what is right? This is
the answer to religious bigotry.
The Heart Must Be
It doesn't matter how
honest and sincere a person is, he/she cannot discover the regenerating
power of God without proper instruction from God. Cornelius is a good man
in a worldly sense, but he needed redemption, he needed salvation, he needed
Christ. His open heart was ready for instruction.
Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show
favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is
right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel,
telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord
of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning
in Galilee after the baptism that John preached--how God anointed Jesus
of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around
doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil,
because God was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the
country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on
a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him
to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God
had already chosen-- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from
the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he
is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All
the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives
forgiveness of sins through his name." (NIV)
The amazing thing
about hungry honest hearts is that they eventually focus on the same thing--God.
When you focus on God and seek him, you find solutions to your problems.
Honest hearts will refuse
to oppose God.
Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard
the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished
that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,
"Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have
received the Holy Spirit just as we have."
So he ordered that
they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to
stay with them for a few days. (NIV)
The Challenge of
Keeping Our Hearts Open
thing about the Bible is that it is written for those with an open heart
and who are willing to keep it open for instruction for a lifetime. The
easiest thing in the world to do is to learn a few facts and close our
hearts to the rest of God's instruction.
Even when you
comprehend the obvious, it isn't always easy to practice. Fear
can close our hearts to the truth. Too often, our actions
have difficulty embracing the truth we know. Most religious people have
little trouble embracing the fact that God loves all, but we have difficulty
living out the facts in our daily experiences. Too often, we allow fear
of what others will say or do to dominate our minds. Peter knew the message
Jesus brought and he had had a vision where he understood exactly what
God was telling him. However, when Paul came to Antioch a few years later
he found Peter practicing hypocrisy concerning religious division.
Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly
in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat
with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate
himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to
the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy,
so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that
they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter
in front of them all, You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile
and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow
Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners'
know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in
Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may
be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by
observing the law no one will be justified. "If, while we seek to be justified
in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that
mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed,
I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so
that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer
live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith
in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside
the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law,
Christ died for nothing!" (NIV)
When it comes to
religious differences sometimes hypocrisy seems to be the easiest thing
to practice, but it sets aside the grace of God. Keeping our hearts open
is the biggest challenge of life.
I ran across a prayer
offered at West Point. "Make us choose the harder right instead of the
easier wrong, and never to be contented with half truth when whole truth
can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is
noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and
knows no fear when right and truth are in jeopardy."
Hardening of the attitudes
is the most deadly disease on the face of this earth. - Zig Ziglar
We discover God's truth
for our lives when we are willing die to ourselves and we do this spiritually
at baptism. When we fear God enough to die daily to our old way of living
then He can give us a new life in Christ as we follow his instructions.
The Christian life begins
with God fearing hearts being instructed by God. The Bible challenges you
to face your old self and come alive to Jesus Christ. It is the greatest
challenge that life has to offer. It will make Bible study exciting.