The Ministry Of Peter
This week the lesson will be inviting us to witness the collision of our expectations and God‘s mission. Our limitations will be surpassed by his miracles; our rules will be broken by his love. As you study, please allow yourselves to be reminded of the stories of how God moved the church forward, specifically in the life of Peter. Notice that God often has to prepare the church first so they can reach the world. I would like to present to you a true story from my life that will raise similar issues for us.
A few years back I read an interesting book called the 10 Second Rule. The basic idea was that as we surrender our hearts to God and submit our lives to His leading then we are filled with the Holy Spirit as the down payment of our inheritance (see Ephesians 1:13, 14). Simply speaking that means that God is trying to guide and direct our lives as often as we allow in our ongoing journey of transformation. In addition to changing our lives, He is working to direct us and to mobilize us to love and serve others and share His glorious message of salvation with the world. Therefore, back to the 10 second rule: if at any point a thought enters your mind that you are reasonably certain is not from the devil, then simply heed it and follow through in 10 seconds or less. God may be inviting you to experience something beautiful (for you, or for someone else). The timeframe of 10 seconds is a short enough period to guarantee that you do not forget, deny, argue away, or simply fail to carry out the task. It is a life of regular heeding the guidance of the Spirit. “Obedient as a shadow” is the way another author has said it. What a beautiful thought.
I had just finished reading that book when my family and I were preparing to return to Indonesia after our furlough. It was our final Sabbath before leaving the next week and we were visiting family in North Carolina. After church we were enjoying the fellowship meal and I was talking with a friend who happened to mention that he had many friends who are Special Forces people. Immediately a thought popped into my head which went something like this: “ask him for the name of one book that you could read that would help you understand the mind of a Special Forces person.” That was it. Clean, concise and literally out of the blue. My first reaction was to have a short and futile argument by saying, “no, I don’t read those kinds of books, God.” But, I have learned that God knows more than I do! So, I surrendered my heart and asked my friend for the title of one book. He immediately shared one which I won’t bother to mention here, but I made note of it and after sundown downloaded the audiobook to my phone.
Sunday and Monday I had the special task of organizing and packing all of our family gear into 12 suitcases which would weigh exactly 50 pounds. Then I had to work on the carry-on bags so that all six of us would be able to efficiently go through the many layers of security on our journey home to Indonesia. Through the course of all that packing, sorting, and weighing I listened to the entirety of the book. When I finished I must admit that I was disgusted. I felt dirty. The book had language that I do not choose to use, let alone think, and it was filled with graphic images of war which I also do not put into my mind. I remember questioning God as to why on earth He would have me read a book like that. But I had heeded and I was now finished. I surrendered my heart and went to bed preparing to leave on Tuesday.
Our journey to Indonesia would mean flying from Atlanta to Japan, a flight of nearly 14 hours with a 3½ hour layover where we’d busily go through two additional layers of Japanese security in which they’d likely manage to find things the Atlanta team missed. Then there’d be an additional 8-hour flight to Singapore where we would spend 12 hours or more in the airport, before flying the final 2 hours to Indonesia. All in all, the travel time from our home in Georgia to our home in Indonesia would be over 40 hours. For adults this trip is long and tedious, needless to say, I think it should be illegal to travel with small children that far!
At some point across the Pacific Ocean (I would be tempted to say randomly, but I know better) my son Noah needed to go to the restroom. So, we put his shoes on and adjusted the tray table and moved out of our seats to go and wait in line. For those of you who are not travelers, please realize that on international flights you ALWAYS have to wait in line to use the restroom and sometimes the dance routines displayed can be quite humorous!
While waiting, Noah began talking to the man in front of him. I noticed that the man was rather large as he politely bent over so he could come down to Noah’s level and look him in the eye as he spoke. Immediately this man captured my interest because he treated my son with such respect. When the restroom door opened, he noticed that Noah was dancing a lot more than he was and so he allowed Noah to go first.
Then he stood up straight and we begin a more normal, man-to-man conversation. It quickly went in the direction that men often do: “so, what do you do?” Although this question is common, I have found that my work is a little strange so I have practiced saying a number of things in order to help the conversation. I have learned, however, not to say this while on planes or in airports (by experience, unfortunately), “I bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians and I don’t use bombs!” So, instead of that failed phrase of the past, I answered him, “I try to keep Muslims and Christians from killing each other.” He looked at me rather surprised and simply remarked, “good luck with that, you have a lot of work to do. I just came back from over there.”
Then he asked me a question that most people don’t ask, “So how exactly do you do that?” I told him that I call Muslims and Christians to go deeper in their faith, submitting to the God and faith of Abraham, so that they can live their lives loving and blessing others, in preparation for the return of Jesus the Messiah and the day of judgment. He verbally scoffed and stated matter of factly that he did not believe in God.
Although he may have thought his answer would have ended the conversation, I was beginning to realize that God had created this situation. I went deeper and responded quite honestly and openly that I could understand him not believing in God. I have buried two children, and sometimes the pathetic answers that are given by Christians trying to avoid the deeper issues are completely unacceptable. I have seen death, I have questions, yet God has held us in the face of it. He felt heard and honored by that and we continued to talk.
When Noah finished using the restroom, this man went back to the row as my new friend and we talked about issues of faith, pain, atheism, and the ongoing challenge of radical Islam. He spoke from a passionate place of experience as a military person. At one point in the conversation I was looking at him and listening to him share, when my mind began to connect the dots: here was a large, articulate, intelligent, strong (“ripped”), military man who was evasive when asked about his work experience and location. I began to wonder if I might actually be talking to a Special Forces person. He was the perfect candidate. When the dots finally connected, another 10 second rule thought popped into my mind: “tell him about the book you just read."
The moment I mentioned having just finished reading that book he got so excited he almost jumped out of his shoes. It was like he knew the people in the book! That allowed us to have a much longer conversation and to get into more of the issues of life, death, faith and the future. I told him that I was beginning to write our own personal journey in book form, and he expressed great interest to read it from the perspective of an atheist when I finished. I agreed to send him a copy and let him be a reader to give me perspective. That day Pete and I intentionally met a few more times on the plane and have continued to correspond in the months and years since that “chance” encounter.
Months after he had received my book I asked him if he remembered our connecting that day on the plane flight. His response was incredulous, “absolutely, that was one of the most amazing days of my life!” Pete is still on a spiritual journey; he has a copy of our book and has expressed great appreciation and an ongoing willingness to consider a God of love.
I invite you as you’re reading this article to pray that Pete will allow the God of all grace and mercy to continue the work he has begun in Pete’s life. Pete recognized the miracle of what happened that day. I would also invite you to pray for yourself, me and our church. Pray that we will realize that the God of miracles and the God of Peter in the book of Acts is still wanting to have the Holy Spirit direct and change lives all around us. He is able to send dreams, and visions, motivate a child to go to the restroom at just the perfect time, cancel flights, lift up kings and take them down. God can do anything in order to give a message of love to the whole world that Christ came to save.
Pray for all of us that we will not pull back from opportunities when God invites us to go outside of our comfort zones. Imagine, God was preparing my heart two days before I would meet Pete on the plane in order to speak to his heart in a way that he could hear. We serve an amazing God. In addition to that, it was the fact that I was purposefully reaching out to work with people that are often hated by others (Muslims) that amazed Pete. When he saw the prejudices being broken down and love winning, it forced him to consider new thoughts. Ultimately, our greatest witness will not be the information we share, but the lives we live as the transforming power of the gospel is evidenced in us. Ask God to continue His work in you, speak to you, and then heed His guidance. You never know what He might do in and through your life!