Sunday, October 4, 2015

What Have You Been Smoking?

God can speak through the strangest things. 

Acts 10:9-23

New International Version (NIV)

Peter’s Vision

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

When I was a teenager I heard my dad utter these words more than once.
I would rattle off some cockamamie idea or share some plan I had in my head. He would from at me with those wrinkles that lined his forehead. "What in the world are you smoking?" As I read through this passage with Peter and his vision I immediately realize that at some point he will have to tell someone about his vision. If we were his audience and we are hearing about this event afterwards what would go through our mind? Would we embrace his thoughts and words or would we brush him aside and call up a friend? "Hey, you're never going to believe what Peter just told me..."

God has been speaking directly to people these last couple of chapters in Acts.
Jesus shines in a bright light to Saul on the road to Damascus. Cornelius the centurion has a vision of an angel coming to speak to him. Now, the Apostle Peter has a vision. But, it's not a simple direct message. It requires some interpretation. We will dive more into that next week. The questions we should delve into this week is are - What does it take for God to get our attention? What does God have to do in order to get us to listen to what he has to say? 

Check out this story found in a copy of Weavings, an Upper Room publication.
A counselor tells this story.  

A few years ago, a woman I shall call "Catherine," an affluent 67-year-old widow of a local physician, came to me for counseling. She complained that something was not quite right with her life, but she had not been able to determine what was wrong. During our conversation, Catherine spoke of her involvement in those activities we associate with retirement---travel, club functions, volunteer activities, church work, close friendships, control over her own time, and grandchildren who actually sought her company. In addition, she enjoyed excellent health. As she spoke of her travels around the world and her adventures as an importer of antiques, I thought to myself, not a little enviously, "What a lovely life this women has. If she's not happy with all this, she must be clinically depressed." In my mind I proceeded to race ahead of her story to develop a fitting diagnosis and a plan for treatment. But one phrase stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks. In a tone close to desperation she said, "I'm playing 'antique bingo' in the same way that other people play real bingo: just to kill time amusing myself." She claimed that despite the fullness of her life, she was missing something. "You know, I've kept very busy all of my life: I've always had something to do, somewhere to go, somebody to be with. But now I don't want to do any of that; I don't SAVOR anything! Lately I've begun to withdraw from so many activities, and my friends and family are becoming worried about me... To be honest, my daughter is the one who sent me to you.

"I don't really think I'm depressed.. it's just that underneath it all I have a feeling that there's more to life than what I have experienced. I just can't seem to get in touch with what this "something more" is."

I suddenly realized that this vital woman was not depressed according to the usual clinical definition, nor was she still mourning her husband's death. Instead, what Catherine seemed to be experiencing was a loss of the sense of meaning in her life. I asked her about her spiritual life. "I go to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening - have for years. I have taught Sunday school for the past 26 years, and have been president of one church committee or another for my entire adult life. But sometimes church isn't speaking to the way I'm feeling right now. It's just another activity."

"That's your CHURCH life," I said. "What is going on between you and God?" There was a long pause. "Nothing", she replied "and to be perfectly honest, there are times in the middle of the night when I wonder if there really is a God who is concerned with the minutiae of human life. Yet there are other times when I crave God, but I can't seem to make the connection."

She paused, then her eyes widened, as though she had just discovered something. "I know what it is that I want---and nothing else will do. I want to experience God. It seems as though I've been behaving well and working for someone I've read and heard about, but have never actually met."
 Maybe the question isn't so much about what God needs to do to get our attention, but where do we need to be so that we can hear God speak. As I see Peter in this moment in Joppa, God comes to him along lines he would get and understand. The vision comes to Peter not once or twice, but three times. Now where else did "three times" come into play in the story of Peter? 

John 21:15-19

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Reinstates Peter

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

I don't believe God uses this "three times" method as a way to rub anything in with Peter. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Peter is also restored through a "three times" method. Jesus wants him to go and feed the sheep. Now, God comes with a unmistakable moment. God will come along the lines we are familiar with in order to get us to here what he is saying. I look back on my own life and realize that God has done this with me. I was 21 at time. Goodness that was a long time ago. I had done something I shouldn't have earlier in the day. I had asked for forgiveness, but the guilt was still riding me. At the time I was working third shift in a 24 hour grocery store. I went into work that night still feeling heavy with shame. As I carried some boxes behind the meat counter and into the back room, I heard a voice. Not audible, like you and I speak to each other. But still, it was there. I heard it in my ears. "Does anyone here condemn you?" I stepped back out of the meat dept door. My arms still full of boxes. I glanced up and down the meat counter. There wasn't a soul around. I know I heard myself say, "No". "Neither do I condemn you." 

Now, why in the world did God have to wait until I was at work to do that?
Why couldn't he have lifted that weight off my shoulders before I even got to work that night? Why did I need to get to work before that could happen? I have no idea. I've pondered that aspects of it all. At work I was dealing with people all night long. Ringing people up at the register, Helping people find things in the aisles. Talking with a co-worker. Then there was a moment when no one was around. That didn't happen very often. Of course nobody was around at home. That would just be too obvious. maybe God needed to get to me in a moment that would make sense. For Peter, this moment would make sense if God came to him in threes. It's something he is familiar with and Peter would know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was God doing the speaking. 

What do you do when you've never had that kind of vision? That's somewhere we should probably go with all this. Maybe you've never really heard God speak or had some amazing revelation about anything. I like the music of Chris Rice. Music is a special way God has spoken to me over the years. There's a particular song that Chris did back in 2000. "Smell the Color 9" is a song that describes what it's like to follow God without having those lofty visions and always feeling the presence all around. Not everybody gets those kinds of signs and wonders in their lives. You might feel challenged as you live your life following Jesus. Why don't I get a have some kind of "calling" or ever feel that God is speaking to me? Check out these lyrics.
I would take no for an answer
Just to know I heard You speak
And I'm wonderin' why I've never
Seen the signs they claim they see
Are the special revelations
Meant for everbody but me?
Maybe I don't truly know You
Or maybe I just simply believe

'Cause I can sniff, I can see
And I can count up pretty high
But these faculties aren't getting me
Any close to the sky
But my heart of faith keeps poundin'
So I know I'm doin' fine
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to smell the color 9
Smell the color 9

Now I've never felt the presence
But I know You're always near
And I've never heard the calling
But somehow You've lead me right here
So I'm not looking for burning bushes
Or some divine graffiti to appear
I'm just begging You for Your wisdom
And believe You're putting some here

'Cause I can sniff, I can see
And I can count up pretty high
But these faculties aren't getting me
Any close to the sky
But my heart of faith keeps poundin'
So I know I'm doin' fine
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to smell the color 9
I can sniff, I can see
And I can count up pretty high
But these faculties aren't getting me
Any closer to the sky
But my heart of faith keeps poundin'
So I know I'm doin' fine
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to
Smell the color 9

Well, 9's not a color
And even if it were you can't smell a color, no
That's my point exactly

God is close. God is near. Whether you can feel it or not. Whether you have great notions or incredible feelings. When it came to sanctification back during my time with the Nazarenes, they used to have a way fo making a person feel inferior because they didn't have an incredible feeling of "How the fire fell" from heaven and made us sanctified. I beat my own head on a wooden altar for a long time before I finally came to the realization that it didn't have to happen that way. I didn't have to have the same experience everyone else did. Most people sitting around me in the pews never had that kind of experience either. Some person back down the road had that experience and wrote a hymn about it. 80, 90 years later, here we were singing it and expecting God to move in exactly that way. Faith isn't a feeling. Faith is something confident that we can hang on to despite what we feel. 

Whether we have some grand vision or whether we have walked through life in some quiet manner, the following is true. The focus must be on God. As people come to find Peter, he has to make sense of what he thinks God wants him to do. If these men had come to find him without some visions about animals and blankets being lifted into the sky, Peter would still have to determine what God wanted him to do. He would still have to trust and follow. It is what we are to do if we intend to follow Jesus in this life. Give all we have to Him and walk. He will be right there with us. No matter what we face. No matter what we go through.

Others might think there is something wrong with us.
Describing a vision or a voice from above might through them for a loop. Simple explaining what Jesus means to us might be enough to make them wrinkle up their brow. They might wonder what we've been smoking. It might make some look at us funny. maybe they won't speak well of us or understand what we are telling them. That's just how it is. Smell the color 9. Trust God and follow.

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