I was blessed last evening to be able to sit in on the final chapel session of high school LIFE Camp when we went to pick up our oldest daughter. The speaker, as a part of his teaching, talked about Peter in Acts 10. In preparing Peter to minister the gospel to the Gentiles, God gave him a dream of all kinds of animals and then told him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
Peter's reply? "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." God goes on to let Peter know that he shouldn't call "common" what God has made clean, and then to lead him to a Gentile home to share the news of the Jew's messiah (Jesus) with people Jews would have never thought could have been "eligible" for their God's salvation.
The way the speaker (a pastor from, I believe, Vintage Community Church in Templeton) put it really struck me. He said something to the effect of, "Peter told God 'no' because Peter was being religiously proper." Basically Peter called God "Lord" which means, basically, "You are Lord and I'll do whatever You want," and then told Him "no" in the same breath. It gave me pause . . .
How many times do we miss God in the midst of doing "religious" stuff? I have often taught and reminded others (and needed reminding myself) that church services, worship, teachings, Bible studies, and even the Bible, are not the end. They are all to point us to the One who is the end—Jesus, the living Word, the Truth. He is the end, not stuff about Him, and we can, if we aren't careful, replace Him with stuff about Him and never even realize we've done it because we are so immersed in "God stuff."
Think of the Jews. They crucified Jesus because He didn't match their religious expectations and ways. Think of John the Baptist, the one who baptized "the One who sets the captives free" and is sitting in jail, wondering if Jesus is the One. Jesus tells him, "And blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Matthew 11:6). Basically, I believe, "Don't be offended or made to stumble in your faith because I am not doing what you expected Me to do, or being how you expected Me to look." This is John the Baptist! The one who leaped in his mother's womb with the baby Jesus, still in Mary's womb, entered the room! "Are You the One?"
I am reminded of Acts 12 when Peter is in prison and the disciples are gathered in a home, praying (you have to believe they are praying, at least in part, for Peter's release!). An angel comes, frees Peter, and he goes and knocks on the gate of the house. Rhoda, a servant girl, heard Peter's voice and in her joy forgot to let him in but ran and told the others. Their response to her news that Peter was outside, free? Acts 12:15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!”
So caught up in praying, they missed the answer to their prayer right outside the gate. It is ironic, but a warning to us as well. God is alive, in believers, and at work. Everything must make Him the end, the ultimate goal and purpose of our life. He is the living water, the breath and bread of life. He alone. We can be so caught up in religious "stuff" about Him that we miss Him, what He is doing, what He is trying to lead us into, what He is trying to tell us, and then wonder why we are so burned out and spiritually parched when we've been doing all this religious stuff!
He is the end. Him alone. This isn't against church, Bible study, etc.—those are all important, and Biblical. But He is our end. Intimate, personal. Him. That is why, I believe, Jesus asked Peter why he doubted on the water and said he was of little faith. If faith was just some religious "thing" then Peter had a lot more than the others who stayed in the boat. They should have been rebuked. But if faith is deeply personal and relational and at the core of what we believe is true about God, His love, His nature and character, then Jesus' question to Peter is one of a deep and personal nature. And it has to be. Because it isn't about religious stuff. It's about Jesus.