New Hope Notes
Faith In Action
Pasto Jon Burgess
Welcome to the next message of our Faith in Action series as we study the Book of Acts, and I’m joined here by two of our New Hope pastors: Matt Higa from New Hope Kauai and Makana Delovio from New Hope Legacy in Kona. We’re going to be talking about what happens when there’s clashes of cultures not just on our Islands but in the church.
We’re going to start out by having you read at the top of your notes Ephesians 4:3. It says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”What that tells me right off the bat is unity doesn’t happen automatically. We don’t become Christian and then all of a sudden we’re immediately unified and loving each other and overlooking all offenses and faults.
This Greek word here “make every effort” is that fun word “spoudazo” which literally means blood, sweat and tears to fight for the unity of the spirit. What we see going on here in Acts 5 takes place about a decade-and-a-half after Acts 2 when the church was birthed.
We understand in Acts 2 that it said that they were one spirit. They were unified in one accord, and it was in that setting that the Holy Spirit poured out in that upper room.
Fast forward to growth and life and miracles and the church is expanding and churches are being planted all over the place. In the middle of growth and life there is inevitably going to be conflict. You want proof? Look at your own family. The more your family grows, the more life there is, the more opportunities for conflict. We see that here in Acts 15 because now the Holy Spirit isn’t just poured out on the Jews. The Holy Spirit is now being poured out on the Gentiles as well and this creates a massive threat, as we read here, to the Jewish people. What’s being threatened to them is the loss of their culture. It’s not just that they want to remain in control. It’s that all of their traditions that define who they are as a culture are now being threatened by these dirty Gentiles with their dirty practices now being called Christians right along with these Jews who have now converted to Christ as well.
We’ve got these two sides in the ring. One side is the Jews that have now converted to Christianity and they’re demanding that all Gentiles follow their Jewish practices including circumcision. In the other corner we have the Gentiles who heard the gospel of Jesus Christ through Paul and Barnabas and Peter and it didn’t include any of those rules.
It said I get to come to Jesus through grace who has forgiven me and redeemed me by His blood on the cross. So they feel like there’s a bait-and-switch going on. So the bell rings and now they’re clashing in the middle. This discussion right here in Acts 15 literally will determine the future of the church.
So what you and I know of as the church today could have been totally different if they had not been willing to face the conflict.
The Bible says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)
1. Face the conflict.
Don’t avoid it. Let’s go ahead and deal with it because until we do, we won’t be able to find a solution. To kind of bring it home here, I just wanted to read this passage out of Acts 15: “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” (Acts 15:1-2)
So let’s not look at this in rose-colored glasses, like sometimes we can when we read scripture, and just pretend like everyone was, you know, nicely folding hands and speaking in soft tones. As you read through his passage here, there is some energy, there’s some excitement. There is some tension in the room as these leaders with large personalities and strong opinions come together in Jerusalem, the very place where the church had been birthed a decade-and-a-half before.
“So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question…When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.” (Acts 15:2, 4)
Now, if they hadn’t had this disagreement, they wouldn’t have had this discussion that we’re going to read. Then they would have continued with a divided and splintered church instead of a united message of deliverance. And you and I, we’re in this interesting place where our country right now is being ripped at the seams, especially across racial lines.
Even though Hawaii is very much a melting pot of cultures, we would be ignorant and naïve to think that somehow we as pastors can just kind of ignore all of those tensions.
Pastor Matt had graciously invited me over at the beginning of the year. I was driving, and I saw one of those signs that I remembered seeing when I was pastoring there, and it was, “White People Go Home.” And there was all of those all over the place, and you and I started having a discussion about how you as a pastor addresses that.
The sovereignty movement is a very real thing here in the Islands and I remember you sharing with me some wisdom. And I kind of want to just come and sit at your feet as a Mainlander who considers the Islands to be my home. I want to know how I can be a part of the solution.
Pastor Matt: Our culture cannot replace the cross. The cross has to be first. I like to ask this question a lot of times to Christians: Is there anything stronger than the Word of God? And most people say no. But it is clear in the Bible our traditions nullify or make powerless the Word of God. When we put the Word of god first, then everything starts to line up, or the Hawaiians would say, “Pono”. It becomes right if we don’t put our culture or traditions before God. Otherwise, we’re going to nullify or render powerless, the Word of God.
Pastor Jon: As Christians, we have met the healer who then enables us to become a healing salve to those wounds in our culture not by ignoring them but by addressing them. You see that here even as we continue in the narrative in Acts 15: 7-10 and it says:
“After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?”
Pastor Jon: I love that because he’s recognizing that we can’t put on them something we couldn’t even handle ourselves, right? There’s even a unifying in the fact that we’re all sinners. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin was or what your culture is. We’re all sinners in need of grace. I love how he brings that out there. And why are we trying to do this?
The Bible says, “‘No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’ The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” (Acts 15:11-12)
The power and the response to that word of God is that we all need grace.
2. Clashing leads to clarity when handled with humility.
So normally we would run from the clash but God’s actually asking us to run to it because it leads to the clarity that we’re about to see here that would impact the future of the gentile church, which is most of us.
Pastor Makana: I’ll just share with you the same thing that I shared with my wife when we moved back home was I told her, “Listen, first thing you need to know is you’re not from here and you’re not local. And we love you just the way you are.”
Pastor Jon: I think one of the things that bugged me the most just from when I see Mainlanders come here, whether tourists or those that move here because it’s so beautiful, is that they come here like they own the place.
Pastor Matt: I use the analogy of I would never walk into someone’s home that’s not my home, throw my dirty shoes up on their couch, open their fridge and help myself to their food and then tell them what it is they need to do for me. Jon, when you came to Hawaii, you understood to respect this culture. You respected these people. And when Hawaiians see that, they automatically embrace you, they automatically make you family.
Pastor Jon: We’re all guests in the home of grace. None of us deserves this house of grace that Jesus has invited us into which ultimately is the same conclusion they all came to. Both the Jews and the Gentiles realize none of us belong here. Let’s follow Jesus’ cue, which is to love each other. In Acts 15, it says unity does not mean uniformity. We don’t have to abandon who we are, the beauties of our backgrounds and our cultures. We don’t have to pretend none of those things are true. But we actually become better.
Pastor Matt: I know Pastor Makana is going to agree with me but on behalf of the Hawaiian people, we want to ask for your forgiveness for holding onto all offense and unforgiveness. There were injustices done but a greater injustice is for us Hawaiians to continue to hold onto the offense and unforgiveness. If it wasn’t for your people, the gospel of Jesus Christ would have never reached these Islands like it has, so please forgive us.
Pastor Jon: I forgive you guys. I remember the frustration that I would feel when I first arrived in Kona at age 5 and I couldn’t understand why I was getting stink eye and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. I was one of the few white kids in school and I just remember getting shunned and being kept out of things. The Lord revealed to me that from those things that had happened, if I didn’t take care of them, if I didn’t bring those wounds to the Lord, they were actually going to impede what it is that God wanted to do through me.
I had no idea as a kid that years later I would be allowed the privilege of pastoring here in Hawaii. But I, as a former mainlander, just want to apologize to you guys because other mainlanders have come here and stomped all over your traditions and Island beauty, acting as if it belonged to them. Then they kind of messed with it and changed it from its core meaning before learning the values behind the words and traditions. They Americanized it. I apologize for all of the pain that that has brought from childhood and even to adulthood for some of the Hawaii people.
Pastor Matt: We not only forgive you, we embrace you as our family, our ohana.
3. We have been given the privilege to be Peacemakers.
The Bible says, “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying... ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’” (Matt. 5:1–2, 9)
The Bible also says, “‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.’ So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.” (Acts 15:28-31)
-What differences do you see in others that you can turn into similarities?
-How will you be a peacemaker?
-In what ways can you embrace others who are not like you?
-How will you put your needs and wants over others’ needs and wants?
-How can you be part of the solution for bringing about peace in your life?