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About this series
God's Agenda for Planet Earth (including you)
Sometimes it's confusing to try and figure out God's agenda for a world in turmoil, much less make sense of your unique purpose in His bigger picture. Yet God has a specific calling for each of us, and learning to walk in that calling propels us to take steps both large and small that DO change the world. This series, drawn from Acts, examines the Biblical truth about God's agenda for planet earth, His perfect timing and what all of it has to do with you. You'll learn how to recognize how God's plan unfolds in your life and in the world around you, and how to avoid the "grace stoppers" that can destroy God's work in your life.More from this series
I got something in the mail today. Sometimes it comes and it’s one of those brochures and you’re quick to throw away and then I got this and it was from a friend in Dallas who is a pastor: Tony Evans.
And everyone has different people that you listen to that God really speaks to you and Tony’s like number one or two on my list. And so, it was a pastor’s conference and I knew I couldn’t make it but I opened it and looked at it and said, “I wonder what Tony’s doing.”
And there’s a quote in here. It’s just a great quote. He says, “Change doesn’t happen overnight. It begins with one person seeing a problem and then making a decision to make a difference to become a part of the solution.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It begins with one person who sees a problem who then makes a decision to be a part of the solution.
There’s this amazing mission, this unstoppable grace, tsunami grace. When Jesus died upon the cross and He rose from the dead and His passionate love for every human being forcefully moving forward for the last two thousand years.
And He started with about a hundred and twenty people and their mission, you talk about mission impossible, reached the world.
And for forty days He talks to them, and He teaches them, and then they watch Him, chapter 1, ascend into heaven. Chapter 2, He sends the Holy Spirit. And then chapter 3, remember? Kind of like the movie What About Bob? Right?
Just take, you know what, guys? You’re just normal, ordinary people. Just take baby steps. And the baby step was Peter and John just did, you know, what you normally do. They draw near to God. And so they’re walking on their way to the temple.
And they see a guy that, since they were children, have been crippled and but they saw him through new eyes. They saw him through the eyes of his need, and the resources of God, and he acted on that good impulse and he speaks, and he takes this big step of faith and he reaches down and as he reached and pulled the man, bang, a miracle happens.
And pretty soon there’s thousands of people seeing this man that everyone has seen crippled from birth.
What would happen if one hundred percent of us just acted on that Holy Spirit inspired impulse to love someone, to communicate to someone?
A hundred and twenty people transformed the world in the last two thousand years. Not because some, you know, big thing came down from heaven and there was a scroll with a game plan that said what to do every moment of every day.
It was ordinary people just like you, just like me. And pretty soon they just drew near to God and they began to look at people differently the way Jesus looks at them. And then they acted on those good impulses.
And when they did then God began to do some amazing things and they gave Him credit. And then they boldly explained, “We have to tell you – this isn’t us. Jesus, who was killed, rose from the dead and He loves people and He wants to help you.”
And he preaches this amazing sermon. It doesn’t end there. The last part I want you to remember, when you take these baby steps for God, is to expect a polarizing response. Expect a polarizing response.
If you’ll pick it up with me in Acts chapter 4. So Peter has just preached this sermon. I mean, the fearful fisherman, the uneducated guy that doesn’t bring much to the table, the blue-collar worker preaches this sermon and we’re going to see what happens. Some really good stuff and some really hard stuff.
Beginning in chapter 4: “The priests and the captain of the guard and the Sadducees came to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. And they were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching to people and proclaiming Jesus the resurrection of the dead. And they seized Peter and John because it was evening and they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed and the number of men grew to about five thousand.”
You know, sometimes it’s just, I guess, human nature. When you do exactly what God wants you to do and you begin to draw near to God and you say, “You know, I’m just going to, I may not be really good at this…” but you start reading the Bible on a regular basis and you start talking to Him and even while you’re driving you start communicating throughout the day.
And in the middle of a meeting something comes up and you start saying, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” And then pretty soon you start looking at people, instead of by the outside and judging them, through Jesus’ eyes.
And then He’ll give you these little impulses. And you think only it could be someone else and you act on one and then He confirms it and you act on another and pretty soon you find yourself explaining to people, explaining to people that there’s hope and there’s life and there’s forgiveness.
The assumption is that everything’s going to go great. Since you’re doing the right thing, at the right time, and honoring God, it’s going to be great. What I want to tell you is that it usually produces a polarizing response.
They end up in jail: negative. People come to Christ and a movement is begun: positive. You need to grasp the reality that a student isn’t greater than his teacher. And Jesus lived a perfect life, loved people perfectly, and when He told people the truth out of love from a tender heart, some people responded – it changed the course of their eternity and other people rejected Him. And that’s how it goes with us.
Because that’s true and because down in your psyche you know that’s true, I want to move from taking baby steps to walking in the power of God.
As you go through this tsunami movement, that you see in Acts chapter 1, 2, 3, and 4 and 5 and the rest of this book, this little fearful group of people, they changed the world. They take on the establishment. They start with baby steps, but they begin to walk in the power of God.
They begin to expect God to do supernatural things and He does. And Scripture says, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Chapter 3 told us that there’s power available but it starts with baby steps. Chapter 4 is going to address the biggest issue, why most followers of Christ don’t walk in the power of God. And you know what that reason is? Fear. Fear.
“Well, I would step out and say something but I don’t know what I would say, what if someone asks me a question?” Fear. “Well, what if I take a couple steps and then God has some, like, bigger plan and wants me to go someplace I don’t want to?” Fear.
“Well, what if I, what if I want to do something but I just don’t have what it takes?” Fear. “What if people reject me?” Fear. The average follower of Christ is paralyzed by the fear of what might happen, or what you don’t possess, in order to be the person that God wants to use.
And it’s so interesting, in Acts chapter 4, there’s four clear lessons about how the Spirit of God, living inside of you as His follower, will help you overcome your fear.
Lesson number one: “Fear not, the Holy Spirit will speak through you.” I mean, let’s face it, all of us are pretty concerned that if someone’s going to ask you something and you don’t know how to respond.
Pick up the story with me in chapter 4 verse 5. “The next day, the rulers, the elders, and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so was Caiaphas and John and Alexander and the other men of the high priestly family. They had Peter and John brought before them and they began to question them.” And here’s the question: “By what power,” or, “what name did you do this?”
This man who was crippled and healed, he’s standing in front of them, it’s a semi-circle of about seventy. It was the council made up of the Sanhedrin, which are the Sadducees. And they don’t believe in the resurrection.
And then you have the high priestly family and we get four or five different names during that time. And then you have some teachers of the law. So you have, sort of, the court of Israel of that day and they made all the recommendations in terms of what would happen to the Roman government. They had authority except for issues of, like, capital offences.
And so they bring these two guys and you’ve got this testimony of this guy that was crippled and he’s healed. And they’re saying, “Now, by what power, or what name, how did you guys pull this off?”
“Peter then,” verse 8, “filled with the Holy Spirit, ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. “He is the stone which you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”’”
He’s quoting Psalm 118. “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Now, again, we’ve put these apostles in stained glass way too quickly. This is a guy that, it was less than a month ago or so, maybe six or eight weeks, a little servant girl says, “Do you know Him?” And he starts swearing, “I’ve never seen Him before in my life!”
And then he’s filled with the Holy Spirit and he meets the resurrected Christ. And he’s no superstar. All he’s doing is going about doing what he knows, the next logical thing and so he’s on his way to a prayer meeting and God gives him this prompting and he responds to that prompting and a miracle occurs and now he’s in jail.
And now he’s in jail and now he’s brought before the intellects of his day. This is like going, you know, before the equivalent of, you know, Harvard or Stanford, all the Ph.Ds. And you haven’t even been to college and they’re going to ask you the questions.
And I’m thinking Peter, in his heart of hearts, is thinking, “Oooooh, Lord. I’ve got to trust Your promise. I’ve got to trust that You’ll teach me what to say and I believe, because Jesus promised, He said the Holy Spirit will bring to mind everything that you need.”
Did you notice I put the promise in there? Look what God promised the disciples and He promises us. Jesus promised, in Luke 21 verses 12 to 15, He says, “But before all of this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to the synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors on account of My name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”
Notice, “Make up your mind in advance.” That’s a pre-decision. In other words, you don’t have to be afraid about what you’re going to say in a situation at work, or with a relative, or with a friend, or someone that you meet, and you don’t have to be afraid because in that moment, make up your mind, God so cares about them and is so prepared He will put words in your mouth to help them. Because He wants you to know you don’t have to be afraid.
He wants to release us, as His followers, to love and care for people and not be afraid of what we’re going to say. Look how bold Peter was. I mean, notice, that’s pretty good psychology, right?
“Oh, if we’re on trial for this act of kindness.” That was a good line, wasn’t it? Right? I mean, “Oh, we did, you’re down on us for doing something really wonderful and kind and good to someone?”
And then he just goes strong and tells them, he quotes Scripture so there’s truth behind it. And then after he quotes Scripture, he looks them dead in the eye and says, “There is salvation in no other name.”
He’s bold. He’s bold because these aren’t Peter’s words. These are the Spirit of God speaking through Peter. And that promise is as true for you and me as it was for them.
Sadly, sadly, about eight to nine out of every ten Christians who are legitimate followers of Christ have never verbally shared the gospel with another person. Have never explained to another person, even though we are the possessors and stewards of eternal life have never shared with another person at work, or in our family, or in our neighborhood, or who we hang out with, very specifically, how Christ died for them. That their sin separates them from God, that He died and rose from the dead. He’s paid for that. And makes an offer, by grace, of eternal life.
Now, I told you, we’re in this series – it’s powerful – I’m not going to do the, “We need to really start caring about people that don’t know about Christ” and, you know, the guilt trip never works.
Lord, would You create in my heart a love for people the way You love them? Especially those that are outside of a relationship with You. Lord, would You give me a boldness that I don’t have? Would You help me to see people, not through how they appear or how they might intimidate me, would You just give me your eyes?
And so I’ve been praying that. And God answered my prayer this week. Just, a little, I’m just taking gradual baby steps. And, so, I was I working out and as I was working out, a guy came in and we played a little two on two and I could tell he was from another country. And I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Egypt.”
And I said, “Hey, I’ve been there a couple times. And where from?” And we talked a little bit. And I said, “What’s your name?” He said, “Amen.” I said, “No, no, no. I appreciate that but what’s your name?” He says, “That is my name.”
And so we got talking a little bit and, you know, it wasn’t like I had some big plan or anything. I’m just working out and he’s sweaty and I’m sweaty. And, you know, I didn’t know. I just heard come out of my mouth I said, “You know, I use your name a lot.”
And he says, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, you know, I pray, like, during the day and at the end I say, ‘Amen.’ So I use your name a lot.” He said, “That’s very interesting.” He said, “You know, I had a friend invite me,” now think of how God’s working, “I went to a Christian church this last weekend.” And he told me a little bit about it.
And I said, “Well, where are you coming from?” Long story short. This guy came from a wealthy family in Egypt, has been in the country for over a decade, very articulate, twenty-eight years old, has studied Islam and went to, actually, school and graduate school, understands it.
And we began to have a dialogue about Jesus, and Abraham, and Islam, and Christianity, and I said, “Do you ever wonder?” You know, we had a really good conversation and I probably spent, it’s hard to believe, about seventy percent of the time listening, and asking him questions.
And really just realizing I just want to know what’s in this guy’s heart and I want to learn. And he finally, he says, “You know, there’s not that much difference between us and everything else.” And I said, “Well, you know, I kind of think there really is.”
And he said, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, I can, let me give you the difference in just six letters. Just six letters is all the difference between Islam and what Jesus taught in the Bible. And actually, the difference between Jesus and every other religion in the world.”
And, you know, we’re dripping in the basketball court. He goes, “Well, what is it?” “Well, the first two letters are what Islam demands and every other religion. And the letters are D-O. You’ve got to do. You’ve got to do, do, do, do. Right?”
I said, “You pray five times a day?” “Yeah, I’ve got to pray five times a day, you need to go on pilgrimage.” Do, do, do, do, do, do. Right? To earn God’s favor. He says, “Right.”
I said, “How do you know for sure if you’ve ever done enough?” And, you know, it was at that moment of, he gave me that look, I don’t know. But we were friends. He’s coming.
And I said, “Here’s what Jesus taught. Everything he taught can be summed up in four letters. D-O-N-E. Done.”
See, it’s not about, now, because he said, “Look, you know, you want to tell the truth and I want to tell the truth, you want to be a good husband, I want to be a good husband. You know, see, there’s not much different.”
I said, “No, no, no, you need to understand. You’re doing that to try and earn someone’s favor that you’re really afraid of down deep. And I’m doing it because I’m so loved that it’s done. He died for me. I’m already forgiven. I have a relationship and that flows His life out of me.”
And you know, we got done and I said, “I have learned so much today. Would you be open to, kind of, hanging out and teaching me about Islam?” I said, “Because let’s face it. On both, aren’t there, like, idiots and radical extremists, you know, in the name of Christianity or Islam that do wacko stuff?”
He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “I’d really like to understand it.” He said, “Well, I’m here every day.” I said, “Okay.” So we exchanged a little information.
Now, I’ve got to tell you, where did those six letters come from? They came from the Holy Spirit. I’ve never shared the gospel like that in my life. I didn’t, I mean, he was bringing stuff to my mind that I’ve studied about Islam, you know, who knows where.
And what gave me, you know, Mr. Mouthy, the person who is always going to say dat, da dat, da dat, da dat and make these reasoned arguments. Who in the world could have me shut up and listen and actually just care about someone and realize all I want to do is understand where you’re coming from, and care, and allow the love of Christ to come through me to you?
I just acted on a good impulse. I saw him through different eyes. God will give you everything you need, and He’ll speak through you. This promise is for you. People in your office, He’s preparing them. People on the job site, He’s preparing them. When you walk your dog in the park, He’s preparing them. Let it come out of your mouth.