Sitting---and Standing with Peter (A Transformational Journey)
“Spiritual transformation is the process by which Christ is formed in us—for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives and for the sake of others…” (Ruth Haley Barton)
We are always being formed---either by the culture or by God as we submit to him. Romans 12:1-2 are seminal verses in the Bible. Paul instructs Christians to enter into the process of transformation. Our minds will be conformed either to world or to Christ depending on where we focus our attention. We will be formed---either transformed, conformed, or deformed.
I admit that most my spiritual growth began later in my life. In the past few years I’ve been on the learning curve. I wasn't ready for what God had for me concerning his heart until I had lived awhile. No doubt, I will always be on the journey.
The Apostle Peter was on the learning curve too. Jesus spoke candidly to Peter before his ascension into heaven: Tend My Sheep, Shepherd My Sheep, and Follow Me (John 21:14-17;19) all the while asking his friend and disciple if he loved Him. The instruction to “Follow Me” must have sounded like an echo. Was it not the same invitation Jesus first spoke to him just a few years earlier?
Following Jesus wasn’t a one time decision for Peter. To fulfill his Kingdom calling, it was necessary that He continue following. He could expect challenges ahead. Jesus even told him how he would die, against his will with arms outstretched. Peter’s calling wasn’t going to be easy.
Peter was uncomfortable with Jesus’ direct manner. He turns and points to his buddy John, “What about him? What’s he up against?” (John 21:21 paraphrased)
Fast-forward to Acts 10 and we find Peter following the Spirit’s leading. What began with a hunger pang would end with a challenge to his beliefs.
I encourage you to read the chapter to reacquaint yourself, but the short story is: Peter is hungry. While someone prepared him a lamb-burger, he went to the roof to pray. As he prayed, he experienced a vision of a tablecloth lowering before him with all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling things on it. Then he heard a voice, a Voice he knew well, “Peter, kill and eat.”
These animals were not permitted to be eaten according to Jewish law. Peter was aghast. His response: “By no means, Lord…” (v. 14)
Unbeknownst to Peter, a Gentile named Cornelius had received a vision as well. An angel instructed him to invite Peter to his house. He sent men to fetch him. There was a knock on Peter’s door as He processed the vision. Peter accepted the invitation--- without hesitation.
All of us who have received Christ as Savior, who have determined to follow Him, will be confronted in our lives with our own lack of understanding about God’s heart for others. This is especially true in Western Christianity where we have personalized our relationship to Jesus so much we hardly recognize what Jesus is wanting to do in and through us is for the sake of others.
As long as we feel we are doing okay spiritually and managing our good standing within our communities, we don’t concern ourselves too much with others until Jesus drops a sheet in front of us and asks us to consider that we do not see things as He sees them.
It’s interesting that the Holy Spirit came to Peter in a holistic way---to a body that was hungry, to a spirit that was praying, and to his emotions that were strongly tied to devotion to his cultural norm.
After Peter goes to Cornelius’ house---which must have seemed ridiculously risky to him---and after Cornelius and his household received Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit filling them with his life, Peter said these words:
“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to HIm.” (Acts 10:34)
In our day most Christians understand that racism is wrong. What many do not understand is that there are systems in place that seem like they are working fine----at least from the majority point of view. Those in the majority are unaware and haven’t considered that they aren’t “working fine” for everyone. Many of these systems were put in place before much of the population was born; some of them reach deep into the past.
I recently heard Beth Moore talk about a maxim called Miles law, a truism used to describe how one’s position in bureaucratic organizations determines one’s position on an issue. The maxim states, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
Beth pointed out the maxim applies to the issue of racism. Where you stand concerning racism in the culture today has everything to do with where you sit. Our perspective and our opinion on the issue may be very different from our neighbor’s. If we are going to understand the whole picture, considering other’s points of view, then we have to get up and sit somewhere else, with someone else.
I admit, I haven’t done this often but I want to----and I need to.
When the knock came to Peter’s door, he got up and went to Cornelius’ house. He sat somewhere that he’d never sat. He witnessed what God was up to with the Gentiles. After seeing the vision three times, His response to the Lord’s direction to “Kill and eat" changed. His resistant statement ”By no means” had transformed into “Pass the pork chops.” (The latter is not recorded in the Bible just to be clear!!)
We see how this event in Peter’s life was transformative because a few chapters later he speaks to the issue of whether the Gentiles should become obedient to the Laws of the Jews. His appeal to his Jewish peers is telling:
“...why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the (Gentile) disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:11-12)
God’s Word is a mirror. He recorded these stories so we can see ourselves in them. What is common to man is common. There are things I can learn and ways I can build bridges if I am willing to pull up to another’s table.
Peter was never perfect but he was being transformed. He wanted to be holy (whole)—and he wanted the same for others. In the letters he wrote later in his life, we see the evidence of his growth:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…” (I Peter 1:14-19)
Peter's life story gives me hope. His passion for the things of God could have gotten in the way of living out his calling. God didn't give up on him even after huge failures and wrong conclusions. And Peter didn't give up on himself. He kept praying, kept seeking, kept following and God used him to build the church. Peter showed up every day!
Lord, help me to be aware of where you are working in my own life and in the lives of others. Help me to be open to your forgiveness, aware of my calling, and willing to act in obedience as I follow you. Thank for the Living Word that reveals your heart for the world.