When I was in 6th grade, I thought I was unbeatable in any race.
Within my small group of friends, I talked a lot of smack. But, I backed it up because none of them could beat me. I felt like I was unstoppable and like I was “the man.” Then, I raced against Danny Shultz. He destroyed me and beat me down; it wasn’t even close. I took two strides for every one of his.
My confidence was shattered, and I went from being “the man” to just another nameless conquest in Danny’s running career.
A big fish in a little pond
What really happened to me that day was that my eyes were opened and my world expanded. I saw that I was a big fish in a little pond, and I had a choice to make – stay in my little world where I could feel like a king (even though I was more like the Emperor with no clothes), or expand my world.
The latter choice would mean I’d have to leave the safety of my small bubble by dealing with my insecurities and fears. Only then could I take the opportunity to grow, learn, and become something bigger.
“Many Christians become deceived because our entire experience is lived within the church.”
We all experience these kinds of crossroads in life when we make choices to stay small or to let God expand our world. It happens with Christians in churches, although the stakes are much higher than for a 6th grader wanting to win a race. I, like many other Christians, can want to stay in the safe but false reality of the Christian bubble.
Many Christians become deceived because our entire experience is lived within the church.
Our view of ourselves is based on how popular we are or how much leadership we have within the church. We don’t realize that God didn’t make the church to simply serve those in it but to reach the entire world.
God wants us to expand our world to see he has bigger things in store. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was at just such a place when God answered his complaint.
“So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?Jeremiah 12:5 MSG
God answers Jeremiah by helping him understand that the influence, leadership, and destiny he has planned for him is on a much larger scale than Jeremiah realizes.
In the New Testament, Peter also had to go through a similar transformative moment. We will learn from his experience in Acts 10 and Acts 11 three ways to expand the size of our world.
Expanding my vision
At first, the New Testament Christians believed God’s church was exclusively for the Jewish people. However, God’s plan was for it to reach and change the whole world, encompassing both Jews and Gentiles. It was no small feat for God to expand the vision of these pioneering Christians.
In order to convince Peter, God had to give him a dream while he was resting on the roof of a friend’s house. In the dream, God used food a Jewish person was forbidden to eat in order to try and change Peter’s mind three times.
However, Peter argued with him, having difficulty changing the paradigm he had been living by his whole life. (Acts 10:9-16)
Peter was confused and unsettled as he tried to make sense of this strange vision. At that very moment, Peter heard the voices of Cornelius’s delegation, who had asked for directions to Simon’s house, coming from the front gate.  Is there a man named Simon, also called Peter, staying at this house?  Peter’s mind was still racing about the vision when the voice of the Holy Spirit broke through his churning thoughts. The three men who are searching for you have been sent by Me. So get up! Go with them. Don’t hesitate or argue.  Peter rushed downstairs to the men.Acts 10:17-21 Voice
I believe God is always working in different ways to expand our vision. However, like Peter, I more often than not resist and fight that change. God’s visions and plans can be unsettling and not make sense to me. Fear amplifies my aversion to risk and turns it into stubbornness and refusal.
Just a couple of weeks ago, my wife was sharing an idea she had for us to reach more people in our community. I immediately thought of all of the reasons it wouldn’t work, imagined the difficulties and challenges, and wanted to suppress her idea. God just wanted me to change the way I think and expand my vision.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.Romans 12:2 NLT
I have found that when I let go of my fear and resistance and let God expand my vision, I am energized with anticipation to see what God is going to do. Peter arrived at just that spot and was in a position to be used by God to change the course of the first-century church.
Some of us are in positions to be used by God to open great opportunities to change lives. We can’t allow our fear, rigidity, or stubbornness to stop God from fulfilling his purposes.
- Is God trying to expand your vision? How does he want you to think differently? Are you listening to God?
- How do you resist God’s influence to expand your vision?
- Are you in a position for God to use you to open opportunities to change lives?
Expanding my relationships
Once God expanded Peter’s vision, he needed him to build relationships. Convinced that God was working, Peter went with the men who arrived at the house where he was staying and traveled with them to meet Cornelius and his family.
They talked and entered the house to meet the whole crowd inside.  You know I am a Jew. We Jews consider it a breach of divine law to associate, much less share hospitality, with outsiders. But God has shown me something in recent days: I should no longer consider any human beneath me or unclean.  That’s why I made no objection when you invited me; rather, I came willingly. Now let me hear the story of why you invited me here.Acts 10:27-29 Voice
Peter not only allowed God to change his mind, but he also took action and built relationships with Gentiles — people he and his companions never imagined would be their friends. Peter and Cornelius could not have been more different from each other. Yet, they were the people God picked and brought together to change the course of history.
When churches are built with people who can only build relationships with people who think like them, they are limited in their reach. Mono-cultural, generation-specific churches are clearly not what God had in mind because he wants to reach the whole world.
In order for you and I to be used by God to fulfill His purposes, we need to expand our ability to build relationships.
“…growing in my connection with God is giving me the security to expand my relationship-building ability.”
For me, that means I have to work at my heart and relationship-building skills. For so long, I missed out on building relationships of depth and experiencing the freedom of transparency because I was too afraid to take the risk of vulnerability.
Though it is still a work in process, growing in my connection with God is giving me the security to expand my relationship-building ability.
Peter took the next step to build relationships. He started to realize that the relationship connection he built with Cornelius, someone outside of his comfort zone and bubble, was going to lead to many more opportunities for changed lives.
- What relationship is God wanting you to build?
- Are you a good relationship builder?
- Are you outward-focused or have you turned inward and become isolated?
Expanding my influence
God wasn’t done with Peter. It wasn’t enough for Peter and Cornelius to build a relationship; God wanted Peter to influence others to understand that His church is for everyone.
Peter went back to the Jewish Christians and convinced them to burst their bubble and start reaching out to everyone.
So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:17-18 NIV
When we live in the Christian bubble, we are actually standing in God’s way. He wants to expand the size of our world not to be limited because of our fear and desire to live a comfortable life.
One of my favorite movies, “Darkest Hour,” is about a section of time in the life of Winston Churchill. At a time of great decision, Churchill had to reach outside of his bubble to people on the subway to both be influenced by them and to influence them.
If we allow God to expand our vision, relationships, and influence, he has new innovations, directions, and opportunities he wants to reach through each of us. God wants us to expand the size of our world.
- Am I living in the comfort of the Christian bubble?
- What influence can I have to be used by God to expand His reach?