Listen and Change

Scripture Focus: Acts 11.1-2
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:…

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” 

Reflection: Listen and Change
By John Tillman

We’ve heard Peter defend himself to the Pentecost crowds when accused of being drunk too early in the morning. We’ve heard Peter defend himself before the Sanhedrin for healing a crippled man. But now we hear Peter defending himself, not to strangers or Romans or the powerful Jewish leaders, but to fellow Jesus followers!

These Jewish Jesus followers were incensed that Peter had eaten with the “uncircumcised.” He had done something that, according to their interpretation of the Bible and of Jesus, was unquestionably wrong.

Sometimes we must defend ourselves from those who should be standing with us. Sometimes those whose beliefs are the closest to ours attack us more often and with more vitriol than atheists or adherents to other faith systems. However, Peter’s confrontation doesn’t drag on forever like endless Christian-on-Christian attacks on Twitter.

First, Peter explained himself. But then, two things happened that rarely seem to happen today. First, the confronting parties listened to what Peter said. Then they changed their opinion about what he had done.

We can’t get too idealistic about the New Testament church. They were learning how to be the church following Jesus’ ascension. Many things went wrong. Like us, they had scandals, squabbles, and horrible errors. Church history after the canon of scripture includes even greater fights, arguments, and power struggles. There are heresies, councils, ex-communications, and according to tradition, at least one famous punch/slap thrown by Saint Nicolas.

The New Testament church had many of the same problems we do but they did at least one thing better than us by far. They listened to one another and changed. The apostles listened to the neglected Greek widows. And they changed. They listened to Barnabus about Saul. And they changed. The Jerusalem church listened to Peter about the Gentiles. And they changed. Peter listened to Paul when challenged about slipping back into hypocrisy. And he changed.

When was the last time you listened to a brother or sister in Christ…and you changed? I don’t mean abandoning the gospel or losing trust in the scriptures or compromising biblical principles… When have you listened and turned away from an idol? When have you changed your treatment of others? When have you apologized and made amends? When have you repented? When have you admitted you were wrong?

May we, when confronted with truth, be willing to listen and to change.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 15 (Listen 4:59
Acts 11 (Listen 3:59)

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Going Where the Gospel Goes

Acts 11:17-18
“So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Reflection: Going Where the Gospel Goes
By Jon Polk

News of the Gentile converts was a big deal in Jerusalem. When Peter arrived in the city, he had some explaining to do.

“You went into the house of a Gentile?” “You actually shared a meal with his family?” “Peter, you of all people. What were you thinking?”

To participate in the church community, Gentiles needed to be purified by observing the Torah—specifically circumcision—so discovering that Peter had welcomed uncircumcised Gentiles into fellowship was a cause of consternation among the believers in Jerusalem.
Lest we underestimate the radical importance of this event, Luke, the author of Acts, records the account of Cornelius the Gentile’s conversion three times: the original event in chapter 10, Peter’s recollection here in chapter 11 and Peter’s argument before the Jerusalem council in chapter 15. Peter’s first-hand experience with Cornelius and the other Gentiles in Caesarea changed the attitudes of the early Jewish followers of Jesus and opened the door of fellowship for the Gentiles.

It was Peter’s story that was convincing. Not theological arguments. Not propositional statements. Not disconnected rationalizations. Real stories of real people and their real experience with God made the difference. Peter’s own attitude about Gentiles was changed and likewise, when the believers in Jerusalem heard his story, they also dropped their objections.
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

We could apply the same principle from travel to any experiences with peoples or cultures outside of our own. It is easy to pass judgment from afar, but sharing a conversation or a meal allows us to see first-hand that the same Spirit of God that we hold dear also works in the lives of others very different from us.

Our modern lives are becoming increasingly segregated by our social-media echo-chambers, our holy huddles of the like-minded, and prevailing negativity towards anything—or anyone—outside of our safe preconceived notions and beliefs. If we allow ourselves to step outside of our familiar circles, we might find that we understand Peter’s assessment of God’s acceptance of the Gentile converts, “Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death a light has blazed forth. — Isaiah 9.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 6 (Listen – 4:39)
Acts 11 (Listen – 3:52)

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Fifteen hundred years later, we are still fighting the anti-slavery, and anti-racism, and anti-oppression battles. We may be victorious yet, but it will take all of us to engage the battle.

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We have allowed racism to rise, wearing a mask decorated with other concerns. In our government. In our businesses. Even in our churches.

Readers’ Choice Submissions

Help us fill August with reflections from you about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at