The Kind of Church That Makes God Smile
Every church has a unique footprint, something that sets them apart from the mission of every other Christian church.
It’s been on my heart for a long time now to talk about what God is doing here, building a wonderfully diverse community of believers.
- Someone asked me this week, “Is there a problem that we don’t know about? Is that why you’re addressing this issue?”
- No, that’s not it at all. It’s just been on my heart and I’m excited about what I see God doing!
Three years ago I wrote a letter to the Elders of our church expressing my desire to build a church that I believe reflects the heart of God.
Let me share a few paragraphs of that letter with you:
“Lakeview’s identity has been evolving especially in the realm of ethnic diversity. God has opened the door of our church to many different ethnic groups and I believe it’s primarily because we have a big desire for this to happen. I also believe it is a direct result of over 40+ years of our church members sacrificially sowing their mission’s dollars into the nations of the world. The law of sowing and reaping works!
My heart is stirred every time I look out and see the growing diversity of our flock. It looks like heaven to me! Lakeview has always been passionate about “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” This is God’s hour for us! It is time to become far more prayerful and intentional about the opportunity that God has given to us to build a very special church.
In order for our multiethnic vision to thrive, we have to reflect diversity in top levels of leadership, and that includes pastors, elders, deacons and leaders of laity ministries.
This is not necessarily the heart of every church in America. According to the Pew Center of Research 93% of all churches are segregated, meaning they are mono-ethnic churches.
I’ve never understood why there’s far more diversity in our schools, businesses, factories, hospitals, sports and military than there is within the church of Jesus Christ.
In the Bible the Apostle Paul was the first champion of ethnic diversity and it was a very divisive issue when the N.T. church was in its infancy.
Paul addressed the problem in the Galatian church, a church which was primarily Gentiles, a people group who had formerly been excluded from membership.
A few minutes ago Mirium read Galatians 3:26-28 to us from the NKJV. I’d like to read it now from the Living Bible.
- “For now we are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, 27 and we who have been baptized into union with Christ are enveloped by him. 28 We are no longer Jews or Greeks or slaves or free men or even merely men or women, but we are all the same-we are Christians; we are one in Christ Jesus.
Yesterday in membership class…I’m not a black man, I’m not a white man, I’m a Christian that has a lot to learn from people of different cultures and backgrounds. I need a church where everybody’s not just like me!
God has to reorient our thinking on many issues and sometimes He has to do it through divine revelations, visions or amazing spiritual experiences.
And that was the case with the Apostle Peter in Acts 10-11. God had to bust open Peter’s narrow understanding of what the church should look like, and He did it with a powerful vision.
Let’s walk through this amazing story – Acts 10:1.
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment,”
Caesarea was a town 65 miles north of Jerusalem and it was the Roman capital of Judea.
- That means the despised Roman captors, the ones who dominated and demeaned the Jews in Judea, ran their empire from the city of Caesarea.
- The Roman guards are the very ones who whipped and crucified Jesus!
First God sent the Jewish Christians to win their arch enemies the Samaritans, but immediately after that He sent them to the Romans, the second most despised people in the eyes of the Jewish Christians!
- In fact, God sent the Apostle Peter to win a Roman Guard!
As I read the Book of Acts it appears to me that God was intentionally and systematically busting down the barriers within the Body of Christ so would be comprised of people from every walk of life, every strata of society.
Here in Acts 10 Luke intentionally points out the ethnicity of the regiment; he notes, “they were Italians.”
It’s like Luke was stretching our understanding of what God was trying to communicate to His people.
Jesus had a wonderful experience with a Roman Centurion who exhibited great faith.
Matthew 8:10-11 “When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
Let’s move on with the story of Cornelius and Peter – Acts 10:2-8.
Acts 10:2-8 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Cornelius was thinking spiritual thoughts and moving in a spiritual direction, but he hadn’t yet broken through, he hadn’t yet come into the fullness of his salvation.
God always meets the hungry heart RIGHT where they are.
Then He proceeds to move them into a new realm of spiritual understanding and revelation, even if He has to use an angel to get the job done!
Some of you here this morning are a lot like Cornelius, you are thinking spiritual thoughts and moving in a spiritual direction, but you haven’t gotten your break through yet.
You’ve come to the right place! This morning is your moment!
9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.
I want you to notice something. God was working on both parties. Peter and Cornelius were BOTH on a spiritual journey.
Acts 10:10-14Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
Our spiritual misperceptions and our personal feelings towards the way things are can be so strong that even when the Lord Himself speaks to us, we REFUSE TO LISTEN.
15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
Explain the idea of the clean/unclean
- God was giving a clear message that the O.T. laws were no longer in effect
- God was not just talking about food here, He was talking about people
17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. 19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”
God knew that if these three men had just shown up at Peter’s door, there’s NO WAY Peter would have gone with them without a supernatural vision from heaven!
This was way out of Peter’s comfort zone!
Notice: “Go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.”
God is BIGGER than our doubts; He’s bigger than the things that divide us.
21 Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” 23 Then he invited them in and lodged them.
I want you to know this was a HUGE step for Peter. I think I can safely say without exaggeration these three Roman Gentiles were the first non-Jewish people that Peter had ever invited into his home.
Can you imagine the strange feelings he and his wife must have had fixing the beds for their guests!
God was moving Peter out of his comfort zone and getting ready to expand his narrow understanding of the Kingdom of heaven.
On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.
Perhaps Cornelius fell down at Peter’s feet because he was so overwhelmed with the spiritual significance of the moment, but I think there was an issue of power that was going on here too.
Jews considered themselves superior to the Romans. They would never associate with the lowly Gentiles. But Peter had to confront this opportunity to set issues of perceived superiority aside.
He responded well – Acts 10:26.
26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”
Peter could have allowed the power differential to stay in place. I am above. You are beneath.
But he didn’t. Peter in essence said, “Don’t put me on a pedestal. I won’t allow myself to be on a pedestal. We are all the same!”
27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
All of a SUDDEN the vision became crystal clear to Peter. God spoke to his heart and changed his distorted perceptions in an instant of time.
29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?” 30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
Can we take that last verse and claim it for Lakeview Church today?
God has something to say to each one of us at Lakeview Church.
May He give us EARS TO HEAR what the Spirit is saying to the church on this day!