April 23, 2016 | Steve Vistaunet

"God spreads grace like a 4-year-old spreads peanut butter — He gets it all over everything." Mark Lowry

It didn’t come naturally to him. It never had. The gray matter of teamwork was too sluggish for his black-and-white world.

The proverbial bull in a china shop, Peter had a questionable resume for a church leader. Inappropriate interference with supernatural events — check. Getting an earful because of wild sword play — check. Sleeping during prayer — check. And those weren’t the worst things on the list. How about betrayal?

I wonder how often Peter reflected upon his past indiscretions? Did every cock-a-doodle-doo recall the agonizing guilt of a nighttime courtyard? When did he learn that his first impulses, so quick to action or judgment, were often counterintuitive to the kingdom?

But the King of hearts looked at Peter with a different measuring stick. He determined to build His church through the imperfect efforts of imperfect souls, people like Peter who knew firsthand the winsome tendrils of grace.

On a rooftop in Joppa, God added another chapter to Peter’s continuing education: a sheet out of the blue and a voice from heaven. In that sheet were items never found on Peter’s table. In that voice, a command that Peter had never considered. In that lesson, a gift of grace that would color the Gospel Commission in ways he’d never imagined.

Consider the conflict in Peter’s dogmatic mind with the inertia of countless generations of exclusive tradition and practice. Did he recall the recent conversation: “Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I do.”

“Then feed my sheep.” 

Did he remember the Master’s declaration that some sheep were “not of this fold"?

Clarity came with a knock downstairs and a Gentile entreaty for the gospel. The message in the sheet was not an accident. It wasn’t about food. It was about people. It was about the kingdom. God’s grace was a gift meant for all.

Joppa was a fortuitous place to teach the lesson, where centuries before Jonah had embarked in an effort to escape heaven's call. God intervened then with a “whale” of a rescue. Peter was familiar with divine intervention. But the betrayer-turned-apostle was now learning how far that intervention, God’s grace, would reach.

If a sheet from heaven dropped today, what lesson would it contain for you or me? What misconceptions about life, ministry and the kingdom would we need to forego in order to fulfill the mission of our Master?

A gift greater than we deserve is why grace is so special. “Grace, like water,” observes Philip Yancey, “always flows to the lowest part.”  Spiritually self-sufficient souls place themselves beyond the touch of grace. But those who realize how low they are without heaven’s mercy are at the place where grace flows full and free.

The words to Julia H. Johnston's old and wonderful hymn are still true:

Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!