Peter’s encounter with a sheet full of sin is one of the hardest passages in all of scripture to deal with.  Peter is called by God directly in a vision to do something, something major, that God had forbidden again and again in His Word.  The fact that the vision comes in the form of a sheet, or literally a sail, makes this particular call personal for Peter, but nonetheless, what do we do with this story?

Many have used it as an excuse to ignore any uncomfortable Old Testament (or even New Testament) laws they might want to ignore.  “If God called Peter to ignore an Old Testament law, then they must not matter that much.”  Unfortunately, we’ve used the other side of the argument to super-emphasize the Old Testament Law as well.  “If God had to make such a drastic intervention just to circumvent this particular prohibition, He would have done the same for any others He wanted circumvented, but He didn’t.”

In truth, the relationship between the OT Law and following Christ isn’t as easy as either of these lines of thought.  We cannot simply ignore Exodus or Leviticus because Peter was told to have some bacon.  And we cannot simply ignore our freedom in Christ because Peter wasn’t invited to work on the Sabbath.  This takes wisdom, prayer, and the Holy Spirit.  And a whole lot more space than we have here.

Instead, when we read this passage, we need to see Peter’s calling to share the gospel with anyone and everyone, even those he would not normally interact with.  But we also need to see Cornelius’ similar sentiment.  When God calls us to something, He also is at work preparing the hearer.  When you made the decision to follow Christ, what things had transpired in your life to prepare you for it?  Mentors?  Family?  Situations?  Youth ministry?

If God told you to walk up to a stranger and offering them healing like Peter did here in Acts 9, would you do it?  What if there was no direct command from God’s lips but rather you chose to offer it in Jesus’ name while walking downtown one day?

Jesus told the disciples who were with Him that they would do even more powerful miracles than He did through the Holy Spirit.  More powerful than Jesus’?  He raised the dead, calmed storms, and yes, healed the crippled.  Peter was there when Jesus promised that.  And the promise was for him.

But if the promise is, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will do even more powerful things than this,” then what do we do with that?  (1) We are followers of Jesus like the Disciples were.  (2) We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  (3) We are the recipients of that promise just as Peter was.  If our theology is correct, and our faith is true, we can heal people!  So why don’t we?

In the book, “Jim and Kaspar Go to Church”, Kaspar the athiest, upon hearing a preacher tell a story of God healing someone through him, asks Jim the pastor why that pastor is wasting his time preaching here when he could be at a hospital healing people.  Caspar says it in jest, but points out an interesting point.  Why don’t we heal more today?  Why are there no YouTube videos of Christians healing people on the street or in their services?  Is it a lack of power, or a lack of faith?  That is the question this text asks of us today.

What would it take for you to record yourself healing someone born blind, deaf, or crippled?

“I don’t thank God for the gutters He pulled me out of. I thank God for the gutters He kept me from in the first place.”  This sentiment was part of a lecture by Bob Stromberg many years ago, and it so resonated with me that it has become my story as well.

In my youth, the church’s primary means of evangelism was to bring in someone with a frightful story, and the more frightful the better.  Drugs, alcohol, sex, gangs, prison… these were the best story settings.  And then came the inevitable twist – God saved them from that life and now they follow Him and everything has turned out great.

Next, the story was similar but the endings were a little more believable.  God saved them from their horrible lives and while everything isn’t peaches and rainbows, they follow God and He gives them purpose.

In each of these periods of Evangelical evangelism, I felt left out.  I had a really great childhood.  My parents loved me, cared for me, raised me in the church, and I never had need of the racier sins.  To this day I’ve never even been buzzed let alone drunk or high, and I was a virgin on my wedding night.  My wife is beautiful, smart, and Godlier than I am, and  I have raised 4 great kids with amazing lives themselves.  So my testimony is pretty boring and sounds way too much like bragging to be a good evangelism tool.

So, I have to borrow from the bible and its accounts of redeemed sinners.  Paul is the prime example, but Moses, Abraham, Gideon and many others fit this storyline.

So, as a sinner who lived a really great life, all I can say is that by my experience, following God has never let me down.  If you aren’t following Him, think about it.  Don’t wait until you have no other choice.

What are the odds?  How unlikely is this whole story?  Looking at Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch, we can’t help but ask how this could possibly have come to be.  But then we remember that God is involved, and it begins to make sense.

The treasurer to the Queen of the Ethiopians, a believer traveling to Jerusalem to worship, is heading home when he happens to be reading a scroll of the book of Isaiah.  He happens to be reading one of the primary Christological passages of that book, but can’t understand any of it.  Philip “happens” to be standing next to the chariot and asks if he can help.

This story really doesn’t strike us as odd, though, because we understand that where God is involved, coincidences happen.  It seems like a typical act of God that this important man’s salvation would be orchestrated so distinctly, and yet must have seemed so lucky.

What parts of your life seemed like coincidence at the time, only to be revealed as the work of God in your life?  What might He be doing right now for you?  Watch out for coincidences – they may be much more!

Our motives matter.  Why we do something is sometimes as important as what we do.  In seminary, as I read and studied, I began to formulate an entire theological framework around the idea of motives rather than behaviors.  Unfortunately, that kind of thinking leads to horrendous acts perpetrated with good motives.  For example, in the recent Avengers: Infinity War movie, Thanos would be considered the hero rather than the villain, for his motives were frankly heroic – to save the universe from overpopulation and self-destruction.  The fact that the means to this end was to kill half the population of the universe wouldn’t matter.  So, my Motive Theology falls short, but nonetheless, motives still matter.

Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 faces the opposite dilemma.  He wants to do the right thing – giving people the Holy Spirit – but for the wrong motives – self aggrandizement.  We can’t believe that someone would consider paying the apostles for the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit on others.  And yet, how often do we fall into this same trap?  Not with the giving of the Holy Spirit, but in other more subtle ways.

Have you ever wanted to serve the poor to help your resume become more attractive?  Ever stood for the downtrodden so that you could feel like you were taking a stand for a cause rather than to help them?  Ever come to worship so others would see you there rather than giving God your attention?  In these and so many other ways, our discipleship can so quickly become self-serving.

For Simon, trying to buy the Holy Spirit led to a condemnation of his wickedness by Peter.  Who loves you enough to point out the selfishness of your faith, not so they might feel better about themselves but because they love you enough to risk your friendship in order to see you grow more like Christ.

A long time ago, when I was just starting out in ministry, a friend faced a crisis in his life.  Like many of us, I had no idea what to say or how to be with him as he sobbed and cried out to God.  And so I wasn’t.  I left him to face his pain alone because I was ignorant and afraid myself.  And I regret this to this day.

When people are truly and deeply hurting, we don’t know what they want from us, so we often avoid them.  The truth is that they too usually don’t know what they want from us, but almost universally, the one thing they are sure of is that they don’t want to be alone.  They want people with them, even if they don’t say a word.  It’s called the Ministry of Presence, and it is one of the most powerful ministries we can offer.  Occasionally words of care and love are helpful, but more often than not, words are hindrances to the real, incarnational ministry we offer by just sitting with them in listening silence.

Job’s friends understood this for a while, but then they began to show their true colors.  As they opened their mouths to speak, we begin to see all the Ministry of Presence they offered Job was just to watch for an opening to give advice, and advice is one thing that grieving people universally DON’T need.

And so Eliphaz begins to talk and his presence with Job becomes a burden rather than a blessing.  As he questions Job’s righteousness, he begins a theme that will last the rest of the book.

When we sit with a hurting person, it is perfectly fine to sit in silence.  It is fine to ask what they might need.  It is not fine, however, to question their motives, behaviors, and righteousness.

I was speaking with a friend recently about typical opinion that the God of the New Testament is a God of grace as shown in Jesus Christ, while the God of the Old Testament is a God of rules and wrath as shown through the Law and Prophets.  I mentioned that some find it easy and some difficult to hold this opinion while simultaneously stating that God never changes.  And my friend pointed me to the reading for today.

Job is the oldest writing we have of all the biblical texts, predating even Genesis in its writing though not its content.  And in this, the oldest writing we have, we find a God who is not bound by rules and wrath.  In fact, the God of Job seems to be neither a God of wrath nor a God of grace.  This is what makes Job such a confusing book for modern readers.

God seems to act like the gods of Roman and Greek myth, whimsical in His rulings, unpredictable in His decisions.  Job’s misfortunes are not the result of his unrighteousness but rather his righteousness.  God releases Satan on him not to teach him a lesson but to test his faith.  This is deeply disturbing for we who want a fair, predictable, dare i say controllable, God.

I believe the problem with this passage is that no story is just a passage.  Our tendency to read the bible in short, impatient dribbles leads us to this confusion.  the book of Job is just that – a book – and we need to read the entire book to understand any small part of it.  And once we read the entire book, we can begin to understand that these chapters are just the setup for the true lessons.

So let’s keep reading together, and once we get to the end, we can talk about the whole story as one lesson.

As Stephen stood before the crowd that would eventually kill him, he had one last chance to convince them that Jesus was truly the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.  And so he reminded them of their identity.  He took them back to the beginning, to Abraham.  And as he traced their history, he tried to remind them of who they were not just in the current heat of the moment, but who they were as a people.

I wonder sometimes if we need this same reminder.  I wonder if we are so enamored, along with the rest of our society, with the “now” that we forget who we were.   I hear students of history sigh deeply as they quote the famous maxim, “to ignore the past is to be doomed to repeat it”.

We begin with Christ, His death and resurrection.  We begin with Swedish conventicles.  We begin at a meeting in Swede Bend, IA in 1885.  We begin 41 years ago with a vision to plant a church in Libertyville, IL.  We each begin at our conversion.

It is too easy to get wrapped up in the issues and anger of the day.  We have to discipline ourselves to let the emotions wash over us, acknowledge them, but not let them dictate our actions.  We have to be driven by our theology, grown and cultivated from the beginning and through time.  We, like the Sanhedrin of Stephen’s day, must remember who we are.

As Stephen stood before the crowd that would eventually kill him, he had one last chance to convince them that Jesus was truly the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.  And so he reminded them of their identity.  He took them back to the beginning, to Abraham.  And as he traced their history, he tried to remind them of who they were not just in the current heat of the moment, but who they were as a people.

I wonder sometimes if we need this same reminder.  I wonder if we are so enamored, along with the rest of our society, with the “now” that we forget who we were.   I hear students of history sigh deeply as they quote the famous maxim, “to ignore the past is to be doomed to repeat it”.

We begin with Christ, His death and resurrection.  We begin with Swedish conventicles.  We begin at a meeting in Swede Bend, IA in 1885.  We begin 41 years ago with a vision to plant a church in Libertyville, IL.  We each begin at our conversion.

It is too easy to get wrapped up in the issues and anger of the day.  We have to discipline ourselves to let the emotions wash over us, acknowledge them, but not let them dictate our actions.  We have to be driven by our theology, grown and cultivated from the beginning and through time.  We, like the Sanhedrin of Stephen’s day, must remember who we are.

God had commanded His people to care for the orphans and widows, and this new movement, called The Way by some, which based itself on following Jesus Christ, sought to obey this law.  But they did so based on the lenses they had developed, been given, grown up with.  They cared for the Jewish widows “in obedience to the law”, but neglected the Hellenistic (non-Jewish) widows.  This was normal for a Jewish movement, but was not normal for followers of God.

And so the Hellenistic Jews complained.  And now the leadership had a choice – do they follow their expectations and convince themselves that the old ways of following the Law still held, or do they follow the law of love and change the expectations?  Was following Christ about obeying the law as they always had or following Christ’s new law of love in a new way?

Thankfully, they chose the new way, the new Way of Christ’s love, and appointed the first deacons in history.  These 7 men were tasked with caring for EVERYONE, not just the obedient Jews.  And because they did, their reputation spread and their numbers grew.

We face this choice again and again in our faith.  Some have posited the choice in terms of Pietism vs. Evangelicalism.  In the Covenant, we are made up of both.  Evangelicals focus on belief and obedience.  This side asks, “Where is it written?” first.  Pietists focus on relationship and love.  This side asks, “How’s your walk with God?” first.  We need both sides, but which will take dominance?  For the early church, their Pietism led the way.  Will we do the same?