Read Acts 10:9-23a
Various cultures have different understandings of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Everything from how a person enters a home to what foods are acceptable to eat. Government diplomats actually have training in regard to customs and behaviors prior to being stationed in foreign posts. This training is important so that the diplomat does not inadvertently offend citizens and government officials where they are sent. The rules and customs of a group of people have deep roots. Some of these are linked to history, some to religion and some due to practical reasons.
Peter was a rule abiding Jew. He prided himself on being faithful to the laws and customs of his Hebrew heritage. The Jews had strong dietary laws. Today we would view these laws as practical based upon what we now know in regards to food safety. In Peter’s time, the laws were linked to his faith since they were recorded in the laws which Moses handed down. When Peter had a vision in which he was instructed to eat foods forbidden by the Law, he naturally declined. The purpose of the vision was to communicate to Peter that rules and understandings can change as God reveals new information to us. This was an important message because soon Peter would be called upon to act in a manner considered wrong by Jewish standards. Peter would be asked to go to the home of an officer in the army which occupied Israel. If the vision had not opened Peter’s eyes to God working outside the rules and customs, he likely would not have gone and the good news would not have been shared.
The lesson for Peter is important in our lives as well. We easily become accustomed to our customs, habits and understandings. Our faith can be attached to what we have been taught when we were younger. What we must always keep in mind is that we believe in a living God. Our God is always at work in the lives of people. Our God is constantly revealing new understandings to us as we are better equipped to receive them. As we grow in our knowledge of the world, God gives us new insights. None of us follow all the dietary laws of Peter’s time because we have refrigeration and better ways to store and prepare food. Why would our other understandings of God, faith and the world around us also not change?
One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Christmas Carol. I prefer the version with George C Scott playing Scrooge. For me to feel like it is Christmas time, I have to watch this movie. I think the reason is this adaptation of Charles Dickens story speaks to the heart of Christmas, the attitude of giving and being set free from those chains which bind us from appreciating life.
As a Christian, this movie also reminds me of the breaking of chains which accompanied the work of the Lord. Jesus shared the love which God has for every person and gave us the opportunity to be free from the chains which prevents us from appreciating life. In his teachings and actions during his ministry, he worked at destroying the chains which society placed on people. He held leadership accountable for putting burdens of rules and expectations on the people. Jesus taught that love, not oppression, was the intention of God. He redefined social norms. He confronted boundaries established by the world. Jesus taught and demonstrated that God’s love provides freedom.
Every year when I see Marley come to warn Ebeneezer about the chains which he is forging in his life, I wonder about my chains. What is it that is forging the chain which I wear? How am I contributing to the forging of someone else’s chain? This can be a very humbling self-reflection. I always think of the lessons Scrooge learned from the three visitors as I am reflecting on how I live my life and the comparisons.
Then after some self-reflection and recommitting myself to work at providing a better reflection of God’s love, then I am reminded of the promise which I have received. The Lord has promised to remove those chains which bind me. I am set free in the Lord’s love and grace. All I have to do is reach out and accept it. Then my reflection of God’s love is a response and not a requirement. In order for Scrooge to reduce his chains, he had to change his life, his view of Christmas, and the way he treated others. The Lord takes away my chains even before I change my life.
What chains are you forging in your life? Have you allowed the Lord to remove those chains or are you still clinging to them? Are you responding to what the Lord has already done for you or do you think you still have to earn the removal of your chains?
Let the Lord remove your chains forever and enjoy the happiness of life and love!
It can be very easy in life to get into a routine and to repeat it over and over again. Since many aspects of life need to be maintained each day, a person can experience repetitive behaviors and patterns. The same can be said of organizations and institutions. Certain parts of maintaining an organization or institution needs to be addressed on a daily or weekly basis. Because of this it is easy to get into ruts on an individual or corporate level. The church is definitely not immune to this experience.
I have often heard church leaders complain because they seem unable to move a specific congregation or body of the church forward. They indicate that attempts to take a new direction or to achieve a new goal often falter. Frustration quickly becomes an attitude and many give up the effort which had given them so much enthusiasm. Often this begins a pattern of assigning blame and bitterness can set into place.
When an outside person examines the situation, it becomes very clear that the group has become stuck in a rut. The individuals involved, including the leader most of the time, repeat the patterns of behavior and the series of activities over and over using the same methods and approaches. They state that they wish to see change but the words do not translate into significant actions. This leads to experiencing the same outcomes time after time. Yet for some reason no one appears able to understand why change does not occur.
If a different outcome is truly desired, then the cycle must be broken. Breaking the cycle requires a substantive altering of behaviors, actions, and attitudes. A new path and/or approach must be adopted. Just rearranging the pattern a little bit will not result in any redirection. Often the most important alteration is a change in attitude. In order to achieve this, shifts in leadership team members may be necessary. Other times elimination of cherished activities may be required. Adoption of a new set of standards may be necessary. Above all, communication and re-education are mandatory.
A good starting point in redirection is asking a question, “Why do we do this?” This question is quickly followed by another, “What would happen if we no longer did this?” These questions should be applied to every aspect of the entity which is seeking change. Honestly doing some self-examination and being willing to discontinue anything which no longer meets the needs of the group will assist the body to get out of a rut and move forward in a positive direction.
So if you are feeling like you are singing the same words of a song over and over again, I encourage you to make an effort to break the cycle and start a new song. The church would greatly benefit from this if the cycle is broken. If your leadership team does not choose to do so, then expect that your outcomes will never change.