Acts 11: The Man in the Mirror
When Peter returns from Joppa and Caesarea to Jerusalem, word of what Peter had done had already reached the Jewish believers referred to as the circumcised. They called Peter on the carpet and immediately attacked Peter for entering the house of uncircumcised men and eating with them. (For this was against Jewish law.)
Verse 4 of Acts 11 says: Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened. ( NIV) The KJV states it this way: But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying
I like the KJV use of the word rehearse. In preparation for trial and/or cross examination in a court of law, an attorney will often rehearse the witness. Rehearse means to recount. That is the way to answer arguments. Just tell what God has done. Recount the actions of God. Like the man who was healed by the Lord Jesus of his blindness- he simply told those who asked him- I was blind and now I see. Like the woman at the well she went and told the town- come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. ( John 4) Peter also had six fellow Jews who supported his testimony as eye witnesses.
I cannot help but think of the Lords Supper which serves as a reminder to our hearts what God has done. It is a rehearsing, a recounting of His sacrifice. He came and died for us- gave us Himself for us. The wine- His blood; the bread- His body both shed and broken for us. Memories fade when we do not focus on them. And a story we do not repeat often we can forget. This do in remembrance of me, said Jesus.
In fact, this is what the Bible is the story recounted for us of what God has done. And each of us who are believers have a story to tell of what God has done in our lives. Tell the story- for the Lord Jesus has told us to be witnesses. Tell the story how you once were blind, but now can see; was lost but now are found .was dead but now are alive. Paul, a.k.a. Saul would tell his story over and over. We have seen this story of Cornelius repeated several times in two chapters, as well as Peters vision and what it revealed has been repeated also. Why this repetition? Because we learn by repetition. Because when we do not focus on memories- they fade and when we do not tell the stories we forget. Because as witnesses we are to tell our story- that is what the book of Acts is about- being witnesses.
When the Lord continues to repeat something- we need to pay attention. In the study of Scriptures, you soon realize how the Lord gets our attention. He uses several devices- one is parables- stories that demonstrate a truth or principle. Other times the Word of God tells the life story of real people, like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Esther, Ruth, Mary and Martha. We see how they are real people with real problems just like us. Another way is by the amount of time He devotes to a subject or topic. For example, God explained the creation of the heavens and the earth in just 10 words. He uses only 5 words regarding the creation of countless stars and galaxies to simply state: He made the stars also. By contrast He devoted over 50 chapters and hundreds of verses to the details of the Tabernacle- the meeting tent and its furnishings. Why? Because it is a picture of salvation. He also gets our attention by repetition.
Knowing this about Scriptures, I was about to skip over these repeated stories of Cornelius and Peters vision, etc. Then I realized this is what the Lord wants us to do- to tell our story in remembrance of Him and what He has done.
And who is our advocate, our attorney for the defense- it is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He has rehearsed me as His witness and I come today to testify before you.
Let me tell you the bittersweet story of the man in the mirror. This story is told as a true story in the meetings of AA. This is the story of a man who lived in the 1940s and was what we call a high functioning alcoholic. He received a call one Sunday morning from his boss. It was not unusual for this man was a highly skilled salesman possessing particular knowledge and unique skills that enabled him to be his companys troubleshooter. His boss told him to pack his bags and be sure to carry warm clothes for he was sending him that day to Scranton,PA. It was February and the weather in Scranton was cold with a winter storm approaching. He hurried to the train station where a ticket was awaiting him and off he went to Scranton in the dead of winter. As soon as he was settled he walked to the restaurant in the club car to have a drink. The porter informed him they served no alcohol on Sunday. Disappointed he ate lunch and returned to his club car to prepare for his appointment on Monday morning. When he arrived in Scranton, the snow storm had hit and brought with it freezing temperatures and icy roads. Arriving at his hotel by the last taxi of the day, he checked in and asked where the bar was located. He was informed Scranton was a dry town. He inquired of the bellman who took up his luggage if he could go get him a bottle of whiskey from the local bootlegger, feeling sure there had to be one. The bellman said he had to get home to his wife and children before it got too late- but gave him directions as to how to get to the closest bootlegger who was approximately a mile across town.
Dressing warmly, he started out for the bootlegger for he was desperate to have a drink. The snow and ice made his walk difficult and while passing through an area of construction he slipped on an icy board that was a temporary bridge over a ditch. He fell some six feet into the icy water striking his head on the board, cutting a gash above his eye. He also fell hard on the frozen ground bruising his ribs. It took him several efforts to get out of the ditch. Now he was soaking wet, having difficulty breathing and blood was pouring from his cut. He made it back to the hotel where they helped him to his room- took a hot bath and fell into the bed exhausted but sober. He did not sleep well as ever time he turned over, his ribs hurt. Awaking in the morning- he went in turned on a hot shower. As he laid out his clothes for the appointment, the steam from the shower turned his bathroom into a mini-sauna. Coming back into the bathroom he wiped the mirror in order to see himself and access the damage. As he looked at the man in the mirror- with closed right eye, swollen, bruised face, a strange thing happened. A slow smile came upon his face and turned into a wide spread grin. He said to the man in the mirror- If I had known you felt this good in the morning when you didnt drink, I would have quit drinking a long time ago. The story and its surprise ending bring a smile or a chuckle to most who hear it. But to those of who have been where this man was- who have known the physical and emotional pain of out-of-control drinking- we understand it- for we have lived it.
Let me tell you my story the story of the man in the mirror on the morning of September16, 1977. I was 31 years old. It was a Friday. I had been drunk since Monday. I had mostly been drunk since 1963. Gina and I had been married a little over a year and we had a beautiful baby daughter named Carrie. I wanted more than anything to be a good husband, a good father, and a good provider. But I could not for the life of me stay sober. After a period of a couple of years where it seemed I had a handle on drinking and could drink socially without any problems- the drinking that summer of 77 had become the worst it had ever been. I had reached the stage of uncontrollable drinking and black-outs. I was avoiding my boss . Hiding my drinking from my wife and my boss, I knew I could not keep it from either much longer. I would surely lose my job and perhaps lose my wife and child.
Do you know how I started that morning? I looked in the mirror at my image and said to the man in the mirror- I hate you,Tim Fortner. You are a loser and you will never be anything but a loser. You cannot quit drinking. You will die a drunk.
Do you know what is the most devastating emotion? Hopelessness. To lose all hope is the darkest place a soul can ever be. A place where depression and negative thinking can lead to a person giving up on life. Believing life would never be better and not wanting to live that way anymore I stepped out on the balcony of my 10th floor hotel room with every intention of taking my life.
I placed my left foot on the bottom rail and threw my right leg over the rail. I can still close my eyes and see the blue September skies and feel that iron rail underneath my sock clad foot. As I began to push up with my foot, I realized the end was coming. In a matter of seconds I would reach a tipping point and gravity would take hold and I would plunge to my death, a suicide at age 31. I do not know how long this time on the rail lasted- seconds perhaps. What I do know is I experienced the greatest fear I have ever experienced.
Pushing back at the last moment, I went back into the hotel room and fell on my knees and buried my face in the cover of the bed. I will never forget the prayer I prayed that morning. Lord Jesus if you are real, come into this room , into my life, into my heart and save me or else I will die. An honest prayer of an honest doubter who was desperate to know the truth. The Bible tells us God is no respecter of persons. But I do see evidence throughout the ministry of our Lord that He had great sympathy for desperate souls. The man with the son who had seizures was an honest doubter who said Lord IF you can- do something. He wanted to believe- and he asked the Lord to help his unbelief.
Coming up from knees , I have often said- I went down on my knees a sot, I came up a saint. I called AA ( Alcoholics Anonymous) for the first time. The person on the phone told me I was in luck, there was a meeting starting in 15 minutes less than 5 minutes away from my hotel. Luck had nothing to do with it this was all pre-arranged by the Lord.
Arriving at the meeting which was held in the basement of a church, I smoked cigarettes and drank bad coffee for an hour as people took turns talking. I do remember in the opening how they said their purpose was to stay sober one day at a time and to help others stay sober. Guess what they did? They told their stories. Stories they had told over and over again. For stories are how we communicate- identify, empathize, and are encouraged. That is why the Gospel, and the Bible is called- The Greatest Story Ever Told!
After the meeting was over, I was not sure what I should do. But the Lord sent a man that day as surely as He sent Peter to Cornelius. This well dressed businessman in his 40s came over to me after the meeting and said would you like to go somewhere and talk? Oh Yes- I said- Please.
We went to his office and guess what he did? He told me his story. A story he had told many times. He also told me he usually did not attend that particular AA meeting but had felt impressed to go there that morning, September 16th. Then he asked me if my wife knew I was an alcoholic. I replied no. He asked my phone number and before I knew it Gina was on the line and I was blurting out to her all what had happened. She never wavered in her support and immediately said I will come get you. I told her I would be able to drive home. The next morning on Saturday the first thing I did was call my boss and confess to him my problems with drinking and my lies. Fully expecting to be fired he gave me a second chance. Do you realize what a liar the enemy of our soul is? He is called by none other than the Lord Jesus- the father of all lies, a murderer. He had almost convinced me there was no hope for me.
From that day, my life has never been the same. I began to attend AA meetings. For the first time in my life I went 30 consecutive days without a drink. I was going to meetings, reading the AA Big Book, going to church and reading the Bible. The Lord sent me a mentor, a sponsor in AA who like myself was a salesman. He helped me begin the 12 step program that would help me stay sober one day at time. My eyes had been opened, the veil had been taken away. A transformation was taking place, that is still taking place today.
Now let me tell you about the man in the mirror. In 2 Corinthians 3- Paul writes about the veil that covers the heart that keeps people from seeing the truth. That veil can only be taken away by Christ.
So listen carefully to what Paul writes:
Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Now we all with unveiled faces beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.
How do I change what I see in the mirror? How can we be changed? Romans 12:2 tells us to be not conformed by the world but be transformed by the renewing our of mind with the word of God.
When we look at the mirror the world holds before us and we see it every day reflected in ads, movies, the news, magazines, television- it is a life that is deemed successful if one looks a certain way physically for physical beauty is greatly desired. Some look in the mirror and want a face lift. Others look in the mirror of the worlds value system and see wealth, position, power and popularity as what will make them happy when they look in the mirror.
But when we look in the mirror of Gods word and behold the glory of the Lord- we see a man in the mirror, a person in the mirror that is the one God intended for us to look like and be like. It is Gods Only Son- the Lord Jesus. God want us to reflect His glory. Our transformation begins in this life but will not be complete here on earth. It is when I see Him I will be like him.
Here the Word of God tells us how we can have a face lift and change the man or woman in the mirror we look at each morning. It tells us what our responsibility is and what God will be faithful to do in response.
As we get into the Word, as we are willing to set our faces into the mirror of the Word of God to behold the glory of God, all we have to do is focus on his word and the Glory of God within His Word will begin to change us from the inside out.
Now you must be more than a hearer or reader of the Word of God. Isnt it interesting that James uses the same image of the mirror, as he writes : Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what is says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like the man who looks at his face in the mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does.: ( James 1:22-25)
The Bible is the Word of God. There is no other book like it. It is alive and powerful. It is life giving, life changing and life nourishing.
Read it to be wise. Believe it to be safe. Practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you and food to support you and comfort to cheer you. Christ is its grand subject, our good the design and the Glory of God its end!
Let me close with five suggestions on how to change the man or woman you see in the mirror.
- First of all believe the Word of God.
- Study the Word of God.
- Honor the Word of God.It has come down from our Heavenly Father and is more precious than gold or rubies ( Proverbs 3)
- Love the Word of God.
- OBEY THE WORD OF GOD.
I heard a lady in her 40s say she was shaking her finger at her teenager recently, and glanced in the mirror and saw how much she had become to look and act like her mother. She said it was startling realization that she had become her mother.
We can experience the transformation. Just as this lady had watched, listened and obeyed her mother- she came to think and act like her.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus- Look full in His Wonderful Face. If you stand with your face in the Word of God- learning and beholding the glory of God, the Spirit of God will take the Word of God and make you like the Son of God.
By the way do you know where the best place to rehearse is? Thats right- in front of the mirror!