Set Our Default to Love – 3-2-22

So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” Acts 15:8-9 NKJV

Jesus came and simplified things, let’s not make them more complicated than they are. Believe in Him, Repent, and be saved from the wrath to come. God desired a relationship with us ALL so much He sent His only son, Jesus, to make a way – and all we need to do is believe, repent and accept a relationship with them. I am still amazed that a powerful creator God wants a relationship with me, someone so small and full of what I see as flaws. You may feel like that too sometimes. But God wants to have relationships with ALL of us just the way we are. And if changes need to be make, He will inspire them.

RELATIONSHIP:

Do you already have a relationship with a powerful God who cares about your every need because He loves you? Did you know my God can communicate with you and protect you – He has a plan for you to prosper if you just submit to His will and let His plan play out in your life!!! God wants a relationship with you and has already made a plan for your life. He loves you so much He sent His son to this world, to die as a sacrifice for your sins and rise from death with victory over sin and the ability to have a personal relationship with you.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 NIV
Here is a prayer for you to pray:
Jesus, I believe you are the way, the truth, the life, and the only way to the Father. I believe you are the son of God, you came to Earth and lived. That you died on the cross as a sacrifice for my sins, and rose again so that I may be saved from my sins and be able to get to know you. I declare: Jesus, you are Lord!
Therefore, I confess that I am a sinner and I ask that you forgive me of my sins and come into my life. Help me to turn away from my sins and transform me into what you have lovingly created me to be. Help me through a real personal relationship grow and accept your will for my life – that I may live in your blessings. Please walk with me, and talk with me – I accept a relationship with you and with our Father God, through you. In the name of Jesus I pray ~ Amen

BIBLE READING:

Dear Heavenly Father – Please give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of who you are, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. Open the eyes of our understanding, please, so we may know the hope of our calling and the vast sovereignty and power of the grace of the cross. Please do not let us miss out on what you want and need from us today. Lord, I pray that your word prepares us and not scares us! We forbid the works and influences of fear over your word and our sound mind. And please keep us and bless us and shine your face upon us and pour out grace over us and give us peace! Thank you! – In Jesus name we pray, Amen

Today’s reading is the Book of Acts chapter 15 (embedded below for your convenience in the NKJV). 

Conflict over Circumcision

15 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

The Jerusalem Council

Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, [a]acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus [b]Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. 13 And after they had [c]become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

16 ‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the [d]Lord who does all these things.’

18 [e]“Known to God from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from [f]sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

The Jerusalem Decree

22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas,[g] and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

23 They wrote this letter by them:

The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,

To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, [h]saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment— 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one [i]accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual[j] immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

Farewell.

Continuing Ministry in Syria

30 So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. 32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. 33 And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to [k]the apostles.

34 [l]However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there. 35 Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Division over John Mark

36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” 37 Now Barnabas [m]was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being [n]commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Footnotes

  1. Acts 15:8 bore witness to
  2. Acts 15:11 NU, M omit Christ
  3. Acts 15:13 stopped speaking
  4. Acts 15:17 NU Lordwho makes these things
  5. Acts 15:18 NU (continuing v. 17known from eternity (of old).
  6. Acts 15:20 Or fornication
  7. Acts 15:22 NU, M Barsabbas
  8. Acts 15:24 NU omits saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”
  9. Acts 15:25 purpose or mind
  10. Acts 15:29 Or fornication
  11. Acts 15:33 NU those who had sent them
  12. Acts 15:34 NU, M omit v. 34.
  13. Acts 15:37 resolved
  14. Acts 15:40 committed

MEMORY VERSE CHALLENGE:

Here is our new Verse for March:

Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”

STUDY/DEVOTIONAL

Luke begins today’s reading with: I am not going to name names but there was an argument. So those who argued and Paul and Barnabas traveled back to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles and elders. There are growing pains since they did not have the New Testament to refer to and they were just figuring it out with God as they went. God was doing a new thing.

You see God chose Abraham’s seed, through Isaac and then Jacob, whose 12 sons became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. God did not chose the gentiles seed. God did tell Abraham they would be adopted in at some point, but that point was after Jesus came and fulfilled the sacrificial law and gave a new covenant with ALL who believe. Now, it is kind of confusing but important to understand. Because between Abraham’s covenant with God and Jesus (being the new covenant) there was The Law, given to Moses.
God made the first covenant with Abraham – it eventually includes the gentiles and in the last few chapter we have read, it was beginning to finally be fulfilled [but will not be completely fulfilled until there is a new Jerusalem with all nation worshiping in the temple together (referenced all through the prophets as well as in revelations)].
Next is the Torah Covenant with Moses, which came with life laws (how to live set apart unto God in a covenant relationship)[this really isn’t a law, it’s the terms of the covenant but it is written in that same section of scriptures], criminal (or sacrificial and attornment) laws [these are the spiritual laws to be able to be right before God] and community laws (much like municipal law – how to live together peacefully – no killing and take care of the widows and the such). And then Rabbis added to it and made it more restrictive.

Here is where EVERYONE fell apart and here in Acts, Peter puts it all back together without an explanation other than, paraphrased: we aren’t going to complicate this. Peter defaulted to LOVE; ironically very New Covenant of him!
It is the misunderstanding – despite reading it – we all say there are two covenants when clearly there were 3. And we all say there is one Law when clearly there are 3 (and some are arguably just term of the covenant). And this has always confused me and apparently them as well. If they understood the function of each in the Kingdom plan, this might have been prevented.
It is commonly taught that in the Old Testament there is just ONE covenant. And modern Christians (I literally heard it said the other night and I lost my mind) often teach that the New Testament replaces, end, discontinues, and throws away the old – these same people read the Old and just replace the word “church” and discard the words “God’s chosen people” (this is a problem, there are judgments on those who discard His people).  But as we studied the Old last year we saw that clearly there are two covenants and 3 laws. And Jesus did not replace, end, discontinue or terminate everything from the old. The cross was NOT a reset button. God was building on the same system within the covenant with Abraham, and in line with the prophecies.
So just like the Moses covenant did not replace the Abraham one; Jesus did not replace the Moses one(s). I mean, it is not suddenly ok to kill or not live set apart pursuant to their covenant agreement. Jesus only fulfilled sacrificial law, so we can be restored to God – a building block. (‘only’ – as if that is a small thing. Maybe it is because that one thing was so big we let the largeness engulf everything else that remained?)

Therefore, Jews still had to keep the Sabbath, wash accordingly, eat the kosher diet, and be circumcised. Then and now and as long as they are under the covenant. Years ago the life laws were referred to as the laws of circumcision, because that is the sign that they are under the Mosaic covenant – set apart for God.
The gentiles are not the chosen people and not under the Mosaic covenant and therefore not bound to these rules. They are adopted, but the original promises of land and a nation is not theirs – it still is sacred for the Jews.

I hope that helps clear it up. As much as we make the laws and rules harder than they need to be, we also, when we summarize, overly simplify it and learn it as such – then when we read it, it gets all confusing. But there are somethings in this book for everyone and some things are special just for His own children.
In our modern world we would NOT treat our adopted children differently than our biological children. But that was not the practice back then – so this all made sense to them. If you took in an orphan, they often were treated as a half step between the help and the family (or just treated as help) and most were NOT adopted. The reason was, if there is an official adoption then the adopted child would get the full inheritance. So the adoption only happened when there were no heirs to continue the family name or if there was a family business and someone wanted to buy it, they would buy their own adoption instead. These adoptees lived a life without the same rules as the children, without the same promises. Yet the adopted ones could inherit. So, as we, Gentiles, think about our adoption, we do not have the same rules, maybe cannot sit at the nightly meal with the family – but the prize, the inheritance, we have part in – which is the Kingdom of God.

In the reading – we see they all got together to talk about it. Everyone had a say, things were discussed civilly. There was no ONE PERSON dictating what Christianity would look like. At this meeting the Jerusalem Council would NOT force circumcision on the new believer (and all the laws). There was however a few things they found important:
but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” Verse 20
So that is the important part of the law. And if you are like me and broke a couple (like having a child out of wedlock and eating the neighbor’s chicken not knowing they would ring their chickens’ little necks behind the barn) there is repentance and grace. And in our modern world we do not always know where our meat came from unless we buy kosher, so daily repentance is a necessary thing!!

They wrote the letter and sent it back with Paul and Barnabas, but they also sent along Judas and Silas as leaders and to bear witness to the council. But Judas and Silas were also prophets and encouraged the people in a unique way. Here again we see loving encouragement being described as exhortation. We just spoke about that the other day – but with so many heresy hunters in our modern churches and people calling out everyone else’s speck in their eye, maybe it bears repeating. Double check the spirit of those exhorters who criticize and accuse the brethren.  No place in the Bible do we see exhortation accompanied by a public humiliation and criticism that damages ministries. The ONLY heresy hunters, off the top of my mind, we see are: Saul, when he lost his mind and hunted David, and the Pharisees and Scribes as they hunted Jesus to accuse him of blasphemy.  Always exhortation is accompanied by strengthening and building up and encouraging – and death is usually what we see with heresy hunters.
“Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.” Verse 32
And these Biblical exhortation took time and many words – like mini discipleship classes. It is so strikingly different from the prideful “I’m an Exhorter” self declared heresy hunters destroying people and their ministries, that we see running untamed on the internet.  Remember how Luke began today – He did not name the ones who landed on the wrong side of the argument. Let’s strive to be more loving.  I mean LOVE really is the simplified summary of the New Covenant.

As we transition into the next portion of today’s reading let us remember these are men. God gave them immense authority, but they are still just fallible men in the flesh, like you and I. People have falling outs. It is important to follow the guidelines laid out in scripture and try to reconcile.
I once had an issue and went to the pastor for advice and he said it won’t be restored and he would not help step in for it (an abbreviated version). I followed the scriptures, but it saddens me. However, God brings some people into our lives for a work, and when it is done, removes them. It may be a smooth transition, it may be a rough one.

So let us discuss briefly the dynamics of the people.
We know where Saul came from, per our readings here. Scholars say they have evidence that Paul was great with people, warm and loving – but when he write came a crossed as intense and a strong disciplinarian. If Paul was a little piles of big feels and love, it would make sense that he had a heart for missions – he loved people and didn’t want them to miss out. It would also explain the urgent intensity of his letters.
John Mark was the author of the gospel of Mark, and believed to be the child that followed Jesus’s ministry and that Peter was fond of. Mark even wrote his gospel under Peter, and with Peter’s experience to fill in the gaps as Mark was young and not continually with Jesus and the disciples.
Barnabas is John Mark’s cousin. Their family was from an area further east than their first missionary journey took them.  Barnabas and Mark’s family apparently heard Jesus when they traveled to Jerusalem for a feast and Barnabas joined the followers and Mark would join as often as he could.

Now we do not know why Mark left mid the first journey. Some say he was afraid. Some say the original journey was supposed to be to Mark and Barnabas’s home town and the plans changed when the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, became a believer and asked the men to visit all of the cities he oversaw. Therefore, Mark didn’t want to go if he wasn’t going home. I do not see anything in scriptures to suggest either of those two speculations are true. Mark bravely went down to Egypt preaching with huge success. And he did not attempt to go “home” again in the record. And Mark is an author of the first gospel, the one all the others are modeled after.  So without further speculation. We know Mark left the first one and Paul won’t take him again because he might leave again.

As a close family member, who was regularly responsible for his younger cousin and was like a parent to that cousin, we can understand why Barnabas went to bat for Mark; even to the expense of that friendship. Sadly we never see Barnabas again (I don’t think, at least I do not remember him popping up).

“but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Verses 40-41
Many of you are already familiar with the Bible and know Paul and Silas were a dynamic duo, whose giftings complimented each other well. You know it was in all of this they met Luke the Doctor… who joined Paul, wrote his legal defense, wrote a Gospel account – and wrote this book: Acts of the Apostles. So I will conclude with one more common speculation – if this falling out didn’t happen, we would not have Luke and therefore the Book of Acts.
But we may have. We will never know, we could say if Stephen didn’t stand up to the Pharisee’s the day he was killed, we may never have had Paul and therefor neither had Luke – so you can play that speculation in many vague ways.
However, I think we all wonder what would have happened if Paul defaulted to love and compassion, with forgiveness for Mark.

We are under the time of the New Covenant – of Jesus on the cross, with the promise of the ability to have a relationship with God the father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

On the matter of current events – no not today.
But today is Ash Wednesday. I do not attend a Catholic Church nor do I understand all about this practice (I do understand the basics) BUT what it says to me is we have entered the resurrection and Passover season!!! This is good news – because it is the message of good news as well as news that spring is on its way!

***

Thank you for reading in 2022 – a Year of Wisdom and Salvation
May the God of peace keep you and bless you. May you stay focused on Christ and covered in grace.
Maranatha ~ Come Lord Jesus!

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