Spirit Led Change (Acts 11:1-18)

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”” (Acts 11:1–18, ESV)

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The early church members were furious that Peter, a circumcised jew, visited with uncircumcised men and ate with them. Peter wants so desperately for his people to understand why he did this so he goes through his vison and the vision of Cornelius and what the Spirit did to pave the way for the Gospel to reach the Gentile’s heart. Lets pick up at vs. 15 and read until 18.

You cannot argue with the work of the Holy Spirit, so why do we? Why are we content grumbling over changes in our churches? Let’s embrace the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our church. Beg that the Holy Spirit will fall down on our church. Invite him in.

I’ll warn you, when you do get ready to embrace uncomfortable change. The spirit will not, I repeat, will not let our lives or our church stay comfortable. He will not be confined to time lines, human experience or any other stipulations we place on Him. He will however cause change and we must humble ourselves and embrace the spirit in our church.

After all, church is not about us. So why do we make it about us? Why are our preferences elevated above the movement of the Spirit. Let our focus shift to living in a state of total discomfort. Let us put the needs of others above our own for the sake of the Gospel and allow us to stop suppressing the work of the Holy Spirit so that dead hearts my come alive to Christ.

When we do that, we will see the Lord bring the “unclean” peoples in. The people who look and act differently than us and he will even redeem them, set them apart and adopt them into the same family as ours, God’s family. The Holy Spirit can save even those whom we fear and those who look differently than us. Friends, let this be our prayer and our mindset before we walk into church each week. Step out and invite the spirit in!

The Spirit Falls on the Gentiles (Acts 10:34-38)

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:34-48 ESV)

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In Acts 10:34-48 we see the Gospel reaches the “unclean” peoples & The spirit falls down through Peter’s gospel soaked sermon, we are going to see the “unclean” gentiles embrace the gospel and the Spirit fall on them before baptism. The Good News was simply proclaimed that day by Peter to this group of Gentiles. Although this account was more than likely an abridged version of the sermon we know a few things:

  1. Peter humbly confesses again of his failure to grasp that God shows no partiality and that He looks for individuals who fear Him and does what is right and acceptable to Him.
  2. Peter’s sermon gets interrupted by the Holy Spirit (v.44) The Gospel was preached and before the alter call time approached the Spirit fell down on the gentiles. Which happens to be the only time in Acts where the Spirit falls on individuals before baptism.
  3. Their conversion was evident by their praises to God and speaking in tongues
  4. Peter baptized soon after their conversion.

Imagine with me, sitting in church one Sunday Morning. Everything seems as if it will be the same hour and a 15 min service and you are satisfied with that. Routine is important to our Baptist comfort zones. We pull out our bag of peppermints and leave our bulletin cracked open so we know the EXACT order of service. Nothing, is going to surprise us. Our pastor preaches the Gospel when suddenly people start praising God, LOUDLY! the Holy Spirit is evident and their conversions are genuine. How upset would we be that the spirit did not move in our programmatic timeline laid out so intentionally before us? Would it inconvenience us that the service went longer because dead hearts became alive to Christ? Friends, we have to surrender our flesh and allow the spirit to move when he wants. Exactly like Peter did here during his sermon. I am sure it threw him that he hadn’t even offered a time for repentance before the spirit moved and people came to know Christ, but he vulnerably put his timeline aside, he prejudices behind him and embraced the uncomfortable movement of the Holy Spirit. Friends, when was the last time we embraced the Spirit in our church? Do we wait eagerly for it?

Application Questions

  1. How would we as a Church look during the service if we put our agendas and time table aside and waited with eager anticipation for the spirit to fall down on us?
  2. How often do we pray that the Spirit moves in our church?

The Most Frustrating Thing About Being a Pastor

Shepherding a church can be an incredibly frustrating work. As a pastor you do your best to lead in accordance to God’s word. You seek his wisdom and his direction for his church. You preach your heart out week after week hoping to be catalyst for spiritual growth or even revival. Yet, the road to achieving that vision seems dark, lonely, and filled with bruises. Shepherding God’s church is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts, endurance, patience, and above all the work of the Spirit of God. I guess that is what I find the most frustrating thing about being a pastor. Despite all my efforts and all my labor, all I can do is plant or water the seed of the Gospel into the hearts of my people. I cannot cause the growth. In this since, the Pastor is impotent and unable to cause true revival and awakening in the hearts of his people, no matter how much he may long for it. The hardest part about leading a church is not the teaching, the meetings, the counseling, or the criticisms. The hardest part is waiting on the Lord.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastor stands before the people proclaiming the whole counsel of God to his people hoping that the seed scattered would take root and grow. Often God doesn’t work in our time table, but God works slowly over time. Revival is great and spiritual awakenings are wonderful but they are an extraordinary working of the Spirit’s work in a condensed amount of time. When it comes to revival in a local church, normally that revival comes slowly over many years of faithful Gospel teaching that exhorts, challenges, and admonishes.

The pastor cannot make spiritual growth happen anymore than he can direct the wind with a baton. The wind blows where it wishes, so it is with the Spirit. Perhaps God will move unexpectedly and profoundly in revival. Perhaps not. Yet, let us pastors not resort to gimmicks, fads, and entertainment in attempt to manufacture it. May we trust in those ordinary means of grace God has ordained to grow his church. Trust the Word to work and let the Spirit move in his time.

God’s sovereignty over the spiritual growth of our people can be so very frustrating, but so very hopeful. God’s work in our churches is not dependent upon our gifting, talents, or abilities, but rather on the omnipotent will of God. This truth brings us to our knees in prayer, trusting in God for growth not in ourselves. It gives us confidence to stand before our congregations each week and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ not knowing that at any moment the glorious light of God might pierce through the darkened veil over our peoples eyes and grant them to see the excellency of Jesus. In our frustration, may we humble ourselves before God in prayer trusting in His Word to pierce the hearts of His people, all the while having confidence in God’s ability to work in us and through us.

Pragmatism vs the Power of God

One of my greatest temptations is to begin to rely on pragmatism rather than on the power of God. In a day and age where efficiency and productivity are virtues, it is difficult to resist the cultural pleasure to begin to make pragmatism a god. Yet, the Christian must resist this impulse to rely on ourselves. God has freed us from the chains of self-sufficiency. To be a Christian is to be dependent upon God in everything. Yet the beast of pragmatism begins to sneak in our lives without our knowing. What does true dependence on God look like? Well lets look at three areas together: our sanctification, our work, and our church.

Dependent on God in Our Sanctification

What does pragmatism look like in the Christian life? Well it turns spiritual things into mechanical things. It takes the things of God and turns them into the things of man. If we are pragmatic in our personal spiritual lives we try to force spiritual growth by attending a conferences, reading a book, listening to a sermon, etc. Though there are nothing wrong with either of those things, in fact they can be powerful tools for spiritual growth. The mistake in our thinking comes when we begin to think that those activities are causative, meaning that they within themselves created growth and maturity. When we begin to adopt a pragmatic attitude in our personal spiritual lives we become content to grow in godliness apart from God’s help, as if there could be such growth!

In our personal spiritual life we are totally and wholly dependent upon God. He is the one who brings growth and conforms us to the image of Christ. We see this so clearly in Philippians 2:12–13 as Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Paul commands us to work in our sanctification. We must be disciplined in scripture reading. We must prioritize time in prayer. We might even choose to go to a conference or two. We work out our salvation into our daily lives like kneading yeast into dough. We want our new life in Christ to permeate into all of who we are. Yet, Paul says that in actuality as we are working it is God working in us through our works! In other words, our spiritual activity may seem to be causing our growth, it is actually the power of God working through our activity. God is not only the one justifies us but also sanctifies us. It all comes by his grace through faith.

When we adopt a pragmatism in our spiritual lives it breads within us a pharisaical mindset. In pride we become self-sufficient relying on our own strength and power to cause fruit to grow in our life. Yet it is God who gets all the credit! He is the one who is going to finish what he started in our lives (Phil 1:5). Therefore to try to grow in our personal spiritual lives apart from Christ is not only foolish, it is impossible. Do not let a spiritual pragmatism breed within your spirit a prideful self sufficiency. Be dependent on God.

Dependent on God in Our Work

Pragmatism takes place regularly in our day to day activities. We wake up to a buzzing alarm, put our wobbly feet on the floor, and hit the ground running with an impossible daily to-do list. I believe busyness is killing our spiritual vitality. In our busyness we spend all our energy working towards our own goals. Despite the convenience of modern technology, we seem to keep getting busier and keep getting more stressed. As a result a whole genre of literature has arrived to help us manage more and be more efficient in our work and in our lives.

For many Christians, the paralyzing demands of busyness stifle spiritual growth and spiritual fruitfulness. Rather than relying more on God in our times of busyness, we rely more on our selves. We become more self-sufficient in our productivity system and our tightly scheduled calendars. Rather than spending more time in God’s presence, we spend less and devout the extra time to the office. One of the ways we have seen this is with the extreme lack of prayerlessness in our lives.

John Piper writes, “Prayer is the translation into a thousand different words of a single sentence: ‘Apart from me (Christ) you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).” How right he is. Prayer is an expression of dependence. It fights within the mechanical pragmatic impulse we all have. To many prayer seems to be a waste of time. How can I spend an hour of prayer in the morning when I have so much to do? Yet busyness should not lead us to pray less, rather it should lead us to pray more. The great reformer Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” What is he teaching us in that statement? That prayer is not a waste of time, but prayer makes us more effective. We are dependent in all our lives on the very power of God. We must get on our knees and ask for his help. In our work and in our busyness, we need his power if we hope to be fruitful and truly productive.

Don’t let the pragmatic demands of efficiency keep you from relying on God for everything. Apart from him you can do nothing. Get on your knees and beg for his enabling strength and power.

Dependent on God in the Church

I cannot write about pragmatism and not address the pragmatism that is in the Church. If pragmatism has been harmful to our personal lives, it has been death to many churches. Many churches have placed more confidence in 21st century business practices than they have in the Spirit of God. We find ourselves creating program after program, meeting after meeting, activity after activity in order to fabricate a work of God. We live in a day and age with manipulative alter calls all to just increase baptismal numbers. Under the mantra of being a successful church we bring the ugly beast of pragmatism into the spirit-dependent people of God.

For many churches if the Spirit of God stopped working today, things would continue as usual tomorrow. What shame this is! If anyone should understand their dependence on the power of God’s spirit to save and grow, it should be the people of God. After all, each and everyone of us in Christ have experience the enabling power of God in our salvation. We know that it is only by grace we have been saved. Yet, the pragmatic impulse continues to breed great activity, but little prayer.

If church leaders would only get on their knees quicker before picking up the next book on church trends the Kingdom of God would be better for it. It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is no help at all! (John 6:63) Pragmatism is depending on the flesh rather than depending on the Spirit.

Pragmatism vs the Power of God

Christians are to be a dependent people. We don’t pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make things happen in our lives. We need God. We are poor in Spirit. We are broken. May God put to death all self-sufficiency in our lives and make us wholly dependent on Christ! How miserable it is to receive the Gospel, the power of God for salvation for all who believe, and exchange it for a power of our own making. Confess your dependence upon God this day. Fall on your knees in prayer and ask him to work in your life, in your work, and in your church. Ask, seek, knock. Persist and ask to see more of his glory. Pray to see more of his face and for his work to be evident. Wrestle with him till he blesses you. Those sort of desperate, longing, dependent prayers are just the sort of prayers that God loves to answer. May God get us to the point where we trade in a powerless pragmatism in exchange for His powerful Spirit.


Is Gossip and Bitterness in your Church?

There is secret sin in the hallways of many churches. A hidden monster that destroys the witness and effectiveness of many churches.  These sins are gossip and bitterness.  These carnal actions have are permissible because they are not as obvious as sexual sin, drunkenness, and other forms of immorality.  These hidden sins are often allowed to continue because they are incredibly difficult for church leaders to enact church discipline.  However, these sins more than any others can destroy the witness and testimony of the local church in its community.

Gossip is the most clearly disguised of church sins.  Often under the guise of women's small groups and emergency prayer groups is the sinful motivation of gossip. Christians often love talking about each other behind the other persons back.  This sin often has a spiritual spin as a prayer request, but in a reality it is just plain gossip. The topics of gossip know no end. Christians gossip about an unpopular leadership decision, sin in another persons life, other people's marriages and children. Many times Christian fellowship looks more like middle schoolers at recess than the body of Christ on mission.

The troubling thing about gossip is that it is often the default way of handling conflict in the church.  When one member has a problem with a pastor or another church member, rather than going to them directly they begin the gossip chain. A church with this sort of culture quickly becomes the petri dish of bitterness. Gossip is the moister and bitterness is the mold that follows.  And as any home owner will tell you, mold is costly to fix.  The best thing to do for the culture of a church is to cut off the cause of bitterness, gossip.

Jesus tells his disciples in John 13:34 of a new commandments which is to "love one another."  Jesus tells them just as He has loved the disciples so too should they love one another.  Jesus continues and tells them "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  You see the love church members have for one another ought to be a visible demonstration of the love of Christ.  If a church is filled with carnal members who spend their time gossiping and tearing down each other, the witness of that church in its community is greatly hindered.  When we make up slanderous accusations against one another, when we are relentlessly angry and mean towards each other, when we exalt our own egos at the cost of unity, we fail in proclaiming the love of Christ to a lost and dying world.  The world will know we are disciples of Christ if we love one another. May we fall on our face and repent from these permissible sins. May we ask for forgiveness from God and also from one another.  May we put to death all carnality in the body of Christ and be visible proclamations of the Gospel by of our love for one another.