THE STORY ISN’T OVER
Pastor Karl J. Penn | Acts 29
Acts tells the story of the Holy Spirit and it is sometimes called the fifth Gospel, a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. The book of Acts is remarkable in many ways. It records the beginning of the Church and the birth of the early Church. The momentum of Acts is found in Chapter 1 and verse 8, where Jesus says: “But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The first 7 chapters of Acts records Jesus at work by the Holy Spirit through the apostles in Jerusalem. Chapters 8 through 12 demonstrates Jesus at work through the apostles in Judea and Samaria and the remainder of the book is devoted to Jesus at work by the Holy Spirit through the apostles unto the uttermost parts of the earth, but the book of Acts ends rather abruptly.
“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hinderance.” Acts 28:30-31
It almost doesn’t seem complete as it breaks off with Paul in his own rented house in Rome. It doesn’t seem to have a proper ending. Perhaps that’s because the Book of Acts is a continuing story. A continuance that we are still unified, after two centuries, with these very disciples and apostles. Chapter 29 is to be lived by you and I and read throughout the world.
Are we content simply going to Church, singing a few songs, hearing a Word as usual and going home to wait until next Sunday to do it all over again?
CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
In my developmental years, I thought if I went to Church, prayed the prayers and gave my money and time, I was doing what was necessary to be considered a believer- a Jesus follower. I read my Bible and my Daily Bread devotional, I said my prayer before every meal, I got involved in the life of the Church, but when Church let out, I went right back to Karl’s Status Quo; my ways and my modes of operation. I didn’t realize I’d been called to live out a new chapter of faith in the real world.
So, how do we become the 29th chapter of Acts? We must be His hands and feet. We must do what He wants us to do, we must go where He wants us to go, we must say what He wants us to say and we must live how He wants us to live!
The 29th chapter of Acts is not written in ink, it will never be in the Bible, but the 29th chapter of Acts is what God is calling us to produce. God is calling us to produce disciples who make disciples. The 29th chapter of Acts doesn’t just sit in the sanctuary on Sunday morning clapping hands and singing the songs. The people of the 29th chapter of Acts are willing to leave the comfort of the Church building and go out to the people, meeting them and ministering to them where they are.
This very feeling began to well up in me some years ago after I started going to Church regularly. I felt like God was compelling me to do more than worship in the building, God was calling me to demonstrate God’s love and compassion to people who weren’t coming to a building.
Back in this day and living in Dayton at the time, I was an avid basketball player and I would play all around the city. I would frequently play at McIntosh Park. This park is in a rough part of town where plenty of violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and crime takes place and it is also filled with homelessness, and hopelessness. Nonetheless though, since it was in my community, I felt compelled to visit there frequently and I could feel God pointing me to that park.
Now true confessions: I was a little hard to stop on the court. And I knew it, so sometimes I liked to talk a little trash. But the funny thing is, when I played at McIntosh Park, I was quiet, polite and non-confrontational. I wasn’t quite sure that my Youngstown trash-talking would be acceptable in this Dayton park, so I shut up and just played the game.
After a while, I was accepted by all the guys who showed up to play, even though some of these dudes were dangerous and a bit scary. One day, an argument broke out between some guys and I just couldn’t stand there and let it happen. In a split second, I could feel God saying, “speak up and get involved.” With a little bit of courage and a lot of discomfort, I got in the way of the confrontation and stopped the potential fight or worse.
I stepped in because I realized that these guys are God’s children too! And they really saw who I was, because they had been reading me since I started playing ball with them. They could see the story that I was writing, a chapter at a time, by my deeds and words and they trusted me. Not only was there no more fighting, but they started calling me Rev. whenever I came to play. They also asked me to come early on the days we played, so I could do some Bible Study for them and answer any spiritual questions they had. It was a little bit uncomfortable, but in my experience, that’s how you know God is in it!
You can only do the uncommon, when you get into uncharted territory.
Sometimes God allows the uncomfortable, to get you out of the familiar.
He breaks us out of our comfort zones, to re-shape us, so we can become who God desires us to be.
We cannot get to greatness by being comfortable. Discomfort is the very language of growth and what we are going through is growing pains.
Are we willing to be uncomfortable enough to write that next chapter without fear, so people can see the transforming work God has done in each one of us? Because when Jesus interacts with people, it changes their circumstances and life in astounding ways.
The disciples went from being fishermen, tax collectors and physicians to being the foundation of the Church. Blind Bartimaeus was changed from living in darkness to walking into the light; the woman with a health issue in her blood was changed from being a dying outcast, to being a living daughter of God. The demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs was changed as a demonstration to the rest of the city of what God can do. The woman of Nain was changed from a grieving parent to a mother full of unspeakable joy, when Jesus touched her dead son’s coffin – and 10 lepers all changed from being unclean to clean, ostracized to included.
These miracles were not done by Jesus staying in the synagogue or in His comfort zone, but were shared out among the people where they lived and worked.
It is time for us to get off the bookshelf and be living epistles of Jesus Christ. We must become a community of the open book, easily accessible and read by all.
“Everywhere you go, preach Christ and when necessary, use words,” a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
For the past three years I have seen my friend Brian being the hands and feet of Jesus in service to others. He has never shied from the uncomfortable and awkward, as he serves in various capacities at church.
GET OFF THE BOOKSHELF AND BE A LIVING EPISTLE OF JESUS
Brian, an able-bodied middle-aged European-American man, met a member of our Church named Marvin, a handicapped middle-aged African-American man. On one of the first days that Marvin came to the Fort, he was struggling to get up our ramp and was limping badly. Brian noticed it and immediately went to Marvin’s aid and saw that Marvin couldn’t get his shoes on. So, he got him in the building, sat him down, unlaced his shoes and that’s when it hit him. That’s when he realized that Marvin had artificial legs.
For most of us, we may have froze right there, but Brian did not let that stop him from serving Marvin in his time of need. Marvin told me that when he saw that Brian would not give up and was so persistent in trying to help him, he knew right then and there that Brian is a true Friend. They have been the best of buddies ever since!
This is not Status Quo living. As the 29th chapter of Acts, others read us and see Christ reflected in us. When God’s children experience feeling valued, loved and treasured, it is then that hearts will begin to unfold like flowers before God. It is then that understanding is restored. It is then that grace can truly begin its’ work of rebuilding the human soul.
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Lead Pastor | Ginghamsburg Fort McKinley Campus