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a new YOU

June 15, 2015

Beware of harking back to what you were once

when God wants you to be something you have never been.

Oswald Chamber. My Utmost for His Highest, June 8


That pretty well describes where Peter was – he was “harking” back and God was stretching him into a new shape. God was expanding Peter’s view of what to expect as he followed hard after the Master.


Previous to Acts 10, Peter had just finished another stretching exercise. He been to Samaria where he and John had joined Philip to care for new believers. (See that story in Acts chapter 8) To get the impact of that situation, we need to remember that the Samaritans were ethnically mixed – part Jewish and part Gentile. Traditionally the “real” Jews didn’t have much to do with the Samaritans. They were not part of the purest elite in the culture – not people you would hang out with or help if you wanted to keep your place with the cool people.


But the Lord Jesus had broken down that Samaritan barrier while He was still here. Remember the woman who gave Him water at the well? (See the disciples’ reaction – including Peter – to His conversation with this woman in John 4.) So, when Peter saw God at work in Samaria, he stretched out of his ordinary pattern and followed where Jesus had already gone – followed Jesus’ example – and welcomed the believers from Samaria into the family of God. He had submitted to God’s stretching in order to be in harmony with Jesus. He was okay with THAT new normal.


But the Lord wasn’t ready to let Peter settle into a new normal yet.


He gave Peter some unusual accommodations for his work in Joppa. (see Acts:10 6) He was staying with Simon the tanner and not everyone would have been okay with that. But this was a stretching season for Peter.

house by the sea

Simon the tanner lived by the sea. That is not an insignificant detail. Simon the tanner’s occupation made that location necessary. The tanning business meant being surrounded by odors most unpleasant.*** The neighbors would have complained if he set up business next to them. Property values would definitely go down. So it was better to live a bit apart from other folks – down by the sea where the breezes would take the smell away. And the sea would have given him access to lots of salty water, which was helpful to the tanning process.




Not everyone would be willing to associate with that tanning process just because of the smell, but there was another reason too. In order to tan the hides of animals, a tanner had to touch the dead animals, something the most strict Jew would not do because of the long “cleansing” process that followed any contact with something dead. So a tanner, continually touchy the dead, would be perpetually unclean in that culture. He would be obviously, undeniably and continually in need of washing. In his usual state he would be unacceptable in the inner circle of the religious elite. (See Leviticus 2, Numbers 6)


So that is where the still stretching Peter, who considered himself to have a very fine ceremonial record, (see Acts 10:14) was staying. He had stretched his code of conduct so that he had at some point accepted the hospitality of a man who might previously have been on his “not a buddy of mine” list. He still had a code, though. He still had his limits. He still had his standards. He hadn’t thrown everything out the window.


But God still wanted to stretch Peter some more in order to reorient him to Heaven’s perspective – to the Gospel of grace. Peter, like all of us, was a work in process. And God was using him on kingdom assignments even though he wasn’t a finished product. Even with his abiding rough edges of inflexibility, God moved Peter intentionally for very specific work, stretched him very intentionally. God put him in unexpected places to accomplish unexpected goals. And all the while, the stretching continued – more than Peter expected.



Heavenly agendas are often beyond our human comprehension. Far above our pay grade, you might say. Heavenly stretching requires walking confidently forward when we don’t quite know where we are going but we are confident that our God knows what He is doing.


Peter left a place where he had friends who were caring for him: helping him, feeding him, letting him rest and work. And he went with unknown people who sought after God, but differently than he did. He had to lay down his fond assessment of his own stellar religious track record in order to accept God’s unique work in them.


He went into new territory knowing that some of his present companions would misunderstand and perhaps come to erroneous conclusions about him and maybe cast aspersions on his character and work. He went without knowing whether the cost/benefit factors would even out. As a result of yielding to the stretching, Peter found himself doing things he might never have thought to do, shedding old skin he hadn’t realized was unnecessary.


All the reasons for going were not clear to Peter. All the repercussions weren’t evident to him. He didn’t know how well it would work out. He didn’t really comprehend the end game.


That is what makes this obedience so beautiful. That is what makes his response an example of faith. He measured his instructions against what he knew to be true of Jesus, rather than what he understood. He followed Jesus’ example rather than what he was used to doing. He used the life of Jesus as his guide rather than what he thought was traditionally, normally true or what was true according to popular trends or marketing strategies or corporate policy or ….


Peter got out of his comfort zone because his commitment wasn’t to a comfort zone, his commitment was to live in harmony with Jesus. His commitment was to live to invite others to know that same sweet place of acceptance and rest.


Peter stretched under God’s formative hand and ate new food and went new places and befriended new people – because that is what is necessary to live next to Jesus.


The trade-off is a no-brainer. Leave the “ordinary” and “usual” and “familiar” in order to have “extraordinary” and “unusual “and “faith. ” We can choose one side with “I can handle this on my own” or have the other option which is “faith without borders” and desperate dependence and the knowledge that if God doesn’t show up, we are in a big pickle!


Reassuring truth sings forth from Isaiah 43:19



 And the verse right before that:

Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past


Pause a minute and let it soak it, preparing you to stretch:


Are we ready for the stretching? A new thing is coming.


Beware of harking back to what you were once when God wants you to be something you have never been.

Oswald Chamber. My Utmost-June 8


***Regarding the odor of a tanner’s occupation: to remove the hair fibers from the skin, the tanner would either soak the skin in urine, or paint it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply allow the skin to putrefy for several months and then dip it in a salt solution. Once the hair was removed, the tanners would bate the material by pounding dung into the skin or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. (See

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