Stretching Your Comfort Zone (Acts 10:1-35)

  • a few years ago, Charlene decided to take me to a hotel for a fancy dinner
  • she had no way of knowing that the restaurant had recently become a Japanese restaurant, specializing in all kinds of exotic fish, including sushi
  • I have nothing against raw fish, but let’s just say it stretched my comfort zone
  • and let’s also say that I haven’t been back to that restaurant since then
  • what I went through is nothing compared to the way the apostle Peter had to stretch his comfort zone
  • let’s look at Luke’s words in Acts 10:1-35 and watch for some big-time stretching this morning
  • I’ll be borrowing from a description of the event given by Pastor Roger Haber of Bridgeway Community Church, in Carol Stream, Illinois
  • the beautiful city of Caesarea, built by Herod the Great, was the center of the Roman government in Palestine
  • in this city lived a centurion named Cornelius
  • a centurion was a Roman army officer in charge of 100 soldiers
  • Luke tells us that this man and his entire family were devout and God-fearing
  • he gave generously to the poor and was a man of prayer
  • Cornelius must have come to appreciate the only true God as he served in Palestine
  • one day, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Cornelius had a vision
  • an angel of God came to him and called him by name
  • the angel informed Cornelius that God had noticed him
  • he said to send some men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon, who was also called Peter
  • Cornelius would have observed that Simon was a Jewish name
  • a Jew coming to a Gentile home was unthinkable, entirely illegal for the Jews
  • but Cornelius, demonstrating both faith and obedience, sent two of his servants and an aide to the address in Joppa
  • as the scene shifts to Joppa the next day, we see Peter on the roof praying
  • it’s noon, and Peter’s prayers have been distracted because he’s hungry
  • while the meal is being prepared, Peter has a vision
  • three times he sees a large sheet descending from the sky with all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds on it
  • a voice tells Peter to get up and help himself to this smorgasbord
  • there’s a problem, however: Peter is a good Jew
  • he knows the dietary regulations found in Leviticus 11
  • he knows that Jews are only allowed to eat kosher or clean food, that is, meat from animals that both chew their cud and have cloven hooves
  • in our day, he would not be able to eat any pork chops, lobster, or turtle soup
  • but three times the Lord tells Peter not to call anything unkosher that God has declared kosher
  • aren’t you lobster lovers glad God cancelled the dietary code?
  • you’ve probably heard the rest of the story
  • as Peter was thinking about the vision, the three men from Caesarea arrived downstairs and asked for him
  • the Spirit told Peter to go meet with them, and not to hesitate in going home with them
  • the men informed Peter that Cornelius was waiting to hear him preach
  • Peter invited the men to stay with him there in Joppa that night, since Caesarea was about 30 miles away
  • it was one thing for a Jew to offer hospitality to Gentiles; it was another thing to accept it from them
  • but Peter’s vision was part of the process in preparing him to stretch his comfort zone
  • Peter and his entourage (we are told later that six of his brothers went with him) arrived at Cornelius’ house to find him eagerly waiting for this preacher
  • as he walked into the house, Peter found he had a congregation eagerly waiting for a sermon
  • he reminded his hearers that what he was doing by being there, was unthinkable and unlawful
  • but he also told them he had just ascertained that what God has called clean he should not call unclean
  • then Cornelius told Peter about the vision he had, and Peter gave his message
  • Peter was learning as well as teaching
  • he discovered that God does not show favoritism, but accepts people from all backgrounds
  • what a change in thinking for Peter!
  • he proclaimed the story of Jesus to them, telling them how Jesus went about doing good
  • but Jesus was more than a political benefactor
  • he healed the sick and those who were under the authority of the devil
  • Peter himself was a witness to all of this
  • but the Jews rejected Jesus
  • they killed him
  • then Peter told Cornelius’ household that God had raised him from the dead
  • he said that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name
  • while he was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon the congregation, reminiscent of that Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem
  • and like those believers in Jerusalem, the accompanying sign of speaking in other languages came upon these new Gentile believers
  • Peter and his associates were astonished
  • if God had accepted these people, what was to prevent the church from accepting them into its fellowship?
  • so they were baptized, an outward act that demonstrates the reception of people into the family of God
  • Peter stayed with this new church for a few days and continued to teach them
  • what a wonderful and amazing story
  • its very length speaks to its importance to the mission of the church
  • we forget what a mammoth change had to take place within the early church for non-Jews to be accepted
  • in contemporary terms, Peter and his Jewish friends, and Cornelius and his invited guests, were “blown out of their minds” by what transpired that day
  • it clearly demonstrates that the church Jesus desires to build is a church that welcomes all people!
  • in order for this to happen, you and I must stretch our comfort zones
  • I think that God is delighted when a church welcomes all people
  • I believe God is grieved when the church is prejudiced or just plain unfriendly to those of a certain race, age, social status, or appearance
  • every one of us needs to learn the very important lessons that Peter and Cornelius learned if our church is to be the church Christ wants it to be
  • the church must welcome all people
  • we must stretch our comfort zones
  • we must see two things:
  • THE CHURCH DOWN HERE MUST START TO LOOK LIKE THE CHURCH UP THERE
  • Chuck Colson wrote about his first meeting following his conversion with a group of Christian leaders who met regularly for prayer and Bible study
  • one in the group, a former senator, came from a liberal background and would have nothing to do with Colson during the Nixon White House days
  • a Christian leader who had spent some time with Chuck Colson knew that he had made a genuine commitment to Christ, but not everyone was willing to accept him as a fellow Christian
  • a meeting was arranged, and when Colson and his Christian friend arrived he was given quite a grilling
  • he wasn’t sure at first if he would be accepted
  • finally, they became convinced, much like Peter and his Jewish friends were convinced about Cornelius and his guests
  • one of Colson’s children was struggling with him being in prison, and a former governor offered to serve some of Colson’s prison term so he could be released to spend time with his child
  • there’s no such thing as liberal or conservative in the kingdom of heaven
  • a certain church was very conservative in theology
  • they taught that sexuality is a gift from God to be enjoyed between a married man and woman, and that sexual activity outside of marriage – including homosexual behavior – is sinful
  • but this church was loving enough of sinners that a number of homosexuals began to attend
  • some people in the church were upset – imagine homosexuals in the church!
  • the pastor turned to the congregation and told them that the homosexuals can take their place right beside the liars, thi eves, drunkards, and gluttons
  • the pastor wasn’t condoning homosexuality
  • his point is that we want sinners to come to church, and not just certain types of sinners
  • Billy Graham said that 11 o’clock Sunday morning was “the most segregated hour in America”
  • many have forgotten the words of Jewish rabbi who was thrilled to bring the good news of Jesus to different faces and different cultures
  • listen to these words from the rabbi, the apostle Paul:
  • (Colossians 3:11) Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
  • Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein write:
  • “We believe the body of Christ holds the key that can unlock the stranglehold of racism in our society. That key is the ministry of reconciliation. Christ has given us a mandate. It is high time the church as a whole, and individual believers, answered the call of Christ and became ambassadors of reconciliation in our homes and churches, neighborhoods and cities”
  • the church down here should start to look like what the church is going to look like up there
  • do you know what I mean?
  • after describing all of the Jews from every tribe of Israel that will be gathered around God’s throne for eternity, the apostle John wrote:
  • (Revelation 7:9) After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
  • the head of the church, the Chief Shepherd, has welcomed and will welcome all people into his kingdom
  • shouldn’t you and I start stretching our comfort zones now?
  • shouldn’t our churches intentionally reach out to people of color, people of different cultures, and people of different educational and economic backgrounds?
  • Peter, Cornelius, Paul, and the Lord Jesus Christ would all answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”
  • how about you and me?
  • RECONCILIATION NEEDS TO BE PART OF OUR DAILY LIVING
  • it’s easy to sit in our pews and say the church must welcome all people
  • but changing our individual actions is a different story
  • Peter was slow in getting the message on that rooftop in Joppa
  • the Lord had to deliver it three times!
  • I’m sure Peter would have said that the church should welcome all people
  • after all, he heard Jesus teach that the gospel was for the whole world
  • he stood there on the Mount of Olives just before Jesus ascended into heaven and heard him say he would be a witness to the ends of the earth
  • but Peter wasn’t perfect accepting this in his personal life
  • Galatians 2 informs us that Peter didn’t always practice what he preached
  • when he was around non-Jews, he accepted them and ate non-kosher food
  • but the moment Jews came around, he separated himself from the Gentiles and reverted to Jewish customs
  • the apostle Paul had to rebuke him publicly for his duplicity
  • they were trying to make out that one group was better than the other
  • you might think that you have no problem welcoming other people
  • I thought I didn’t either
  • this past Wednesday I was getting ready to leave my office here at the church
  • I was feeling sick and so was my daughter Christina
  • all of a sudden I heard the voice of an older man who had somehow gotten into the church
  • somebody had forgotten to lock the front door
  • I finally found him, and he said he wanted to talk to the pastor
  • I took one look at him and decided this was not good news
  • I sat down with him, fully expecting to hear a sob story, concluding with a request for money
  • but you know what he did?
  • he reached into his pocket and handed me five twenty dollar bills to be given to the foreign missionary of my choice
  • I had pre-judged that man incorrectly
  • instead of welcoming all people, I had labeled this man
  • how many times to we label and stereotype certain types of people, instead of welcoming them as Jesus would?
  • that’s where action step three comes in
  • we need to connect with individuals outside our churches
  • our journal challenges us to evaluate our circle of friends so we can consider ways to broaden our horizons and stretch our comfort zones
  • how many friends do you have who are different from you in age, race, religion, economics, education, or marital and family status?
  • after we evaluate, it’s time to reach out
  • select a person who is outside your normal circle of friends
  • it may sound contrived, but human nature demands that we make a conscious effort to overcome our prejudices
  • stretch your comfort zones
  • Peter did
  • Cornelius did
  • Jesus Christ will always be pleased when “The Church You’ve Always Longed For” welcomes all people
  • let’s pray
  • To all who are weary and seek rest
  • To all who mourn and long for comfort
  • To all who struggle and desire victory
  • To all who sin and need a Savior
  • To all who are idle and look for service
  • To all who are strangers and want fellowship
  • To all who hunger and thirst after righteousness
  • And whosoever will come –
  • The church opens wide her doors and arms
  • and offers her welcome in the name of
  • Jesus Christ her Lord.
  • the Scripture says
  • (Hebrews 13:2) Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
  • Lord, may we be a welcoming place at this church, we pray
  • Amen.
  • adapted from a message by Rev. Roger Haber, teaching pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, Carol Stream, Illinois
adapted from a message by Rev. Roger Haber, teaching pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, Carol Stream, Illinois
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada