This week, we will be wrapping up our series “Finding Your Way Again” with a brief summary of the topics we’ve been discussing in this worship series on discernment. To catch up on messages you missed, visit our YouTube Channel. You can always catch up using our app: download by texting “medfordapp” to 833/700-2226.
Some people came down from Judea teaching the family of believers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom we’ve received from Moses, you can’t be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas took sides against these Judeans and argued strongly against their position.
The church at Antioch appointed Paul, Barnabas, and several others from Antioch to go up to Jerusalem to set this question before the apostles and the elders. 3 The church sent this delegation on their way. They traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling stories about the conversion of the Gentiles to everyone. Their reports thrilled the brothers and sisters. 4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders all welcomed them. They gave a full report of what God had accomplished through their activity. 5 Some believers from among the Pharisees stood up and claimed, “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must be required to keep the Law from Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7 After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and come to believe. 8 God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. 10 Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”
During this series, and in this week of devotions, we’ve been talking about discernment. One of the greatest challenges in discernment is when we hear God calling us to move beyond the borders of our current thinking – from comfortable places to uncomfortable ones.
Unfortunately, this is, more often than not, God’s way. Otherwise, why would God need to get our attention? God doesn’t need our attention to push us to do more of the things we already know, or to think more of the thoughts we already think.
What that means, then, is that discernment is almost always about God drawing us, or even pushing us, into something new. Of course, there are times when we practice discernment to test whether God is still pointing us in a direction we’ve been traveling. But more often than not, discernment involves the discovery and embrace of a new mission, a new understanding, or a new revelation about God’s work in the world.
The early church faced this challenge in the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles. It was a hard sell for people who had grown up Jewish, and who worshipped a Jewish Savior, to see Christ’s story apart from the traditions of their faith. And yet, issues like circumcision presented obvious barriers in helping non-Jews become followers of Jesus. The leaders of the church needed proof that this new development was of God.
The meeting of the Church in Acts 15 – the so-called “Council of Jerusalem” – was an exercise in discernment. It was a moment where established leaders, with an established way of thinking, heard about this new thing God was doing among the Gentiles. It was a occasion for testimony about the saving power of Christ and an opportunity for the establishment to be challenged to think differently. To their credit, with strong encouragement from the insiders Peter and James, the Council listened, prayed, and ultimately discerned that this was a movement of God.
How much of God’s movement are we missing because of our unwillingness to think differently?
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Thank God for the decision of the Jerusalem Council so long ago – otherwise we wouldn’t be here! This ONE decision had momentous consequences for the early Church, ones that reverberate down to this day. But it required the established leaders to listen with open hearts and minds, and then to align themselves with God’s new direction.
When was the last time you allowed God to change your mind and redirect your steps?
Prayer: God, so often we allow our existing ways of understanding to constrain and confine us. We fail to pause, look, and listen for the new things you are doing and the new directions in which you are moving. Jesus, remind us today that following you means thinking differently. Amen.