Mount Greenwood Community Church

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

God Uses Ordinary People

God Uses Ordinary People to Get things Done

Acts 6:1-7:60

Prelude

►      Welcome

Welcome to out time of worship!  We desire to help you connect to God, Family and Community.  We connect as we celebrate God's Presence, demonstrate God's Love, communicate God's Word, and educate God's People.

►      Call to Worship

Are you ready to worship God?  Listen! Do you hear?  Are you alive to what God has created around you?  Look!  Have you beheld the wonder of God's Creation?  Do you see the wonder of God's presence around us?  Wait!  "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him."  "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength."  Come!  "Come to me all who labor & are heavy burdened, & I shall give you rest."  "Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs."   Are you ready to worship God?  Look, listen, wait – now come, for God is here – this is holy ground.

“Holy Ground” (see screen)

“I Will Sing of the Mercies” (hymn # 457)

“The Comforter Has Come” (hymn # 257, vs. 1 & 3)

►      Prayer of Confession

Gentle Shepherd ... King of Love, we come to you as we are, not as we pretend to be.  The truth is, God, that when we lift our heads above our path, we all too often discover ourselves lost in a maze of choices.  We confess that we are lost... Were it not for you, O Lord, we would be lost forever.  But, because of you, there is room for us.  Gentle Shepherd ... King of Love, seek and find us as we are, not as we pretend.  Be patient with us, and teach us how to wait.  May the echoes of your celebration reverberate in our midst this hour, transforming our worship from a mournful plea to a joyful song.  Gentle Shepherd ... King of Love, lead us.  Amen. 

►      Words of Assurance

Isaiah 30:15 "Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'"

►*“Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service” (see screen)

►      *Passing the Peace

►      Morning Prayer

Truly, O God, you are great and greatly to be praised.   Through Christ Jesus your Son you have shown yourself to us - for he is in you and you are in him.   Grant, therefore, dear Father, that we come to him, the living stone, rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in your sight – and that like living stones, we ourselves may be built into a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, your holy people, the temple of your presence in our world.

We give thanks to You, O God, for in Christ Jesus you have conquered the power of death and enabled us to face our own death and the loss of those we love with trust and confidence.  Help us to live with joyful anticipation of entering the heavenly places that he has prepared for us in your House, and to show forth our hope in Him to all whom we meet before we gather before your throne in Glory.

Father, we pray for your church, the church of Christ Jesus your son.  Grant that our life as your Holy People may always be marked by faithful testimony in both word and deed.  Like Jesus, may we be known as people of prayer and service - truth and love - and mercy and help - especially for those who are in need - those that our world rejects - those that without your Son in our lives, we ourselves might turn away from.

Lord, we pray for people all over the world who long to see your Face and do not know how to find you.  May they see you in us - and us in you - through the loving care you call us to show.  We pray for the victims of neglect and of oppression, for those scorned and mocked, for those who are overlooked by the rest of our world.  May they be convinced that they are precious in your sight and may their needs be met according to the abundance of your grace.

We pray, O Lord, for our families and for our neighbors - and for all those whom you have placed upon our hearts this day - those who grieve and those who rejoice - those who struggle with conflict in their families and those whose celebrate new birth - those who need work - and those who need a special healing - or a sense of peace to come over them.   Hear now the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession we make for those  we name them before you at this time.  Lord, hear our prayer….

Loving God - do not let our hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  Rather fill our lives in deeds of devotion and service and help us to follow Jesus, the way, the truth, and life, with joy and peace – knowing that we are safe forever with him, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God, both now and forevermore.  This we ask in Jesus name, Amen

►      Tithe and Offering

►      Offertory Prayer

Loving God, you have raised up Jesus from the dead and you have prepared a place in your eternal home for all who follow him.   We bring our lives and gifts to you as a sign of our new life and new hope in you.  May all that we say, and all that we do, be in response to your love - a love offered freely to all people through Christ our Lord.  Accept these gifts we offer to you we ask, Amen,

► *”We Are God’s People” (hymn # 283)

Message: God Uses Ordinary People to Get things Done

                   Acts 6:1-7:60
Let us Pray: O God who fed the multitudes with but a few loaves and some fish, feed us now with the abundance of what you freely offer, that we might overflow with your goodness right where we live.  All this we pray in the name of, and because of, Jesus our Christ. Amen

A few years back there was a story about a nine-year-old boy who was a good baseball player – too good, it turns out because he is a pitcher with a 40-mile-an-hour fastball.  He throws so hard that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven, Connecticut told his coach that he could not pitch anymore.  When this young pitcher took the mound anyway, the opposing team forfeited the game, packed its gear and left.  His coach had this to say: “How can you punish a kid for being too good?”  The young pitcher was bothered by all the controversy and misses pitching: “I feel sad,” he said.  “I feel like it’s all my fault nobody could play.”

A few months ago there was the story about a 12 year old boy who was told he was too big to play football.  12 years old and he stands over 6 feet tall and weights almost 300 pounds.  His mother said "He comes home and just cries and says, ‘I give up.'  I'm not going to let him give up.  This is his dream.  This is what he wants to do.  And I'm going to make it happen," she said.

In a league of ordinary players, these boys stand out as someone with extraordinary abilities.  Today we’re going to focus on another extraordinary individual named Stephen, who was not only banned from playing; his preaching led to his martyrdom.   I want to emphasize that God loves to use ordinary people, just like you and just like me.  

Please turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 6.  We’ll go through this chapter quickly, and then we’ll skim most of chapter 7 before closing with the beginning of chapter 8.  While you are turning to Acts chapter 6 let me give the setting.   The early church is growing and people are coming to Christ but in the process some of the widows were being overlooked.  On top of that, there’s some friction between two groups from different cultural backgrounds.  As a result the Twelve gathered everyone together and established that they needed to keep preaching and praying and then seven men are chosen to care for the widows.  Among the seven was a servant named Stephen.

As a result of this restructuring, verse 7 says: “So the word of God spread.  The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

I see three main things we can learn from Stephen.

1. Determine to be ready.  The first reason Stephen was used greatly was because he was ready to be used.  He is:
          * Full of the Spirit (Vs. 3)
          * Full of wisdom (Vs. 3)
          * Full of faith (Vs. 5)
          * Full of the Holy Spirit (Vs. 5)
          * Full of God’s grace (Vs. 8)
          * Full of God’s power (Vs. 8)


The word “full” means that he was complete or “fully covered over.”  He knew his emptiness apart from Christ and so he made sure he was filled up before being used.  He was determined to be ready.

And, whenever God is at work, opposition rises up.  Look at verse 9: “Opposition arose…these men began to argue with Stephen.”  Verse 10 tells us that they couldn’t stand up against “his wisdom or the Sprit by whom he spoke” and so they find some men who lay false charges of blasphemy against him.  Everyone gets all stirred up, and Stephen is seized and brought before the Sanhedrin, which was like the Jewish Supreme Court.  False witnesses come forward and they’re ready to throw him out of the league.  We see a contrast right away between their anger and Stephen’s sweet spirit in verse 15: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like that of an angel.”

Stephen now has the opportunity to answer the charges and in the process provides an outstanding overview of the Old Testament.  In Jude 3 we are urged “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  1 Peter 3:15 challenges each of us to be ready as well: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  

Stephen begins his defense with an attitude of gentleness and respect in chapter 7:2: “Brothers and fathers” but he is also very passionate when he says: “listen to me!”  Then. beginning with Abraham and then moving on to Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon, with quotations from Amos and Isaiah thrown in, Stephen establishes at least three things.
          * God has never been limited to one space or place.
          * God’s people have never fully obeyed Him.
          * Leaders have always had a habit of rejecting and killing those whom God

             sends.

With all the political speeches we’ve heard in the last few weeks and with all the new ones that are coming until Election Day is finally over with, Stephen’s speech stands out as brilliant and bold.  While speeches today are analyzed according to communication and policy, Stephen’s is full of powerful preaching.  If you want to be ready, first make sure Jesus is Lord of your life and that He fills you up and then make sure the Word saturates your life.

2. The second thing we learn from Steven is this: Decide to be bold.  I’ll never forget how confrontational Bonnie was when she talked to me about Christ during the lay witness meeting back in the mid 70’s. . She was respectful but she didn’t hold back when she told me that she didn’t think I was a Christian.  I was mad when she said it, but deep down I knew she was right.  Her words were kind compared to what Stephen says in 7:51-53: “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!”  This strong phrase was the ultimate prophetic put-down.  To be stiff-necked means to have never surrendered to the yoke of a master and was used 20 times in the Old Testament to describe someone who would not bow before God.  Exodus 32:9 is just one example: “I have seen these people…and they are a stiff-necked people.”


To say they were uncircumcised in their hearts and ears is to say that they were just like gentile dogs on the inside.  Sure, they followed rules and regulations with outward rituals but their hearts were hard.  He goes on and says, “You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”  Notice that he says they “always” resist the Holy Spirit; not once-in-awhile, but all the time.  That’s quite an indictment to throw at religious leaders.

Then he says, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”  Stephen not only takes on their fathers for their faithlessness; he also calls them out using the second person plural when he says in effect: “All of you have betrayed and murdered Christ.”  

Their response is immediate and intense in verse 54: “They were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.”  The word furious literally means to be “sawn asunder” or “to be emotionally cut in two.”  They are so mad that their teeth start grinding together.  This is not a sudden outburst but rather the tense shows that it was prolonged.  

First Seven says we must be ready to share Christ.  Secondly he tells us to be bold when the opportunity comes and refuse to water down the message, no matter how it’s received.

3. The third thing we learn from Steven is this: Delight to die well.  I read somewhere that the task of a pastor is to prepare people for a good death.  I think there’s some truth in that.  Stephen not only teaches us to be ready and how to be bold, he also helps us to die well.  He had a full life and he died a good death.

First he faced death with a focus on Jesus.  Look at 7:55: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Do you see the “conjunction junction in this passage?”  Not this but that.  But in contrast to the rage and anger, Stephen was “continually full of the Holy Spirit.”  He looked in the right direction and saw the glory of God.  Listen, when you’re down, make sure you look up to the Lord.   

These angry men couldn’t stand to hear Stephen speak of Jesus, the one they had murdered, and so verse 57 tells us “At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”

In the midst of all this anger, look at how Stephen verbalizes what he sees.  Heaven is open to him because Jesus is the door by which he is about to enter.  In verse 59, he prays directly to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  He faced death by focusing on Jesus.

Secondly he faced death with Scripture in his words.  Stephen’s entire sermon is filled with Scripture and now, in the seconds before his death, he quotes the short Jewish prayer from Psalm 31:5, changing the words slightly to reflect the lordship of Christ: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  The time to learn Scripture is now so that we have it when we need it.  

Thirdly he faced death with forgiveness in his heart.  As the stones rained down on him, he could have become bitter.  Instead, he prayed in verse 60: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  At his point of death, Stephen is demonstrating the type of forgiveness that can only come from the Great Forgiver.  Romans 5:5: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  It’s only through the outpouring of His love that we can ever hope to pour out forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

Lastly he faced death like going to sleep.  Look at the end of verse 60: “When he had said this, he fell asleep.”  He went to sleep when the stones were flung by angry arms and then woke up in the adoring arms of Jesus.  Scripture says that when believers leave here we are immediately at home with Jesus.  Death is nothing to fear for the follower of Christ for He has conquered death as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So how do we put this into practice?  Here are a few ways.
1. People are watching how we live and how we die.  A young man named Saul, destined to become the Apostle Paul, was impacted by how Stephen died.  Look at 8:1: “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”  Later on, we read of Paul’s conversion, which is an answer to the prayer of Stephen.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that people are always watching us and that even hardened hearts can be softened by the Savior.  

2. God moves us to get His message out.  The believers are told to take the gospel to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Unfortunately, they were just hanging out in Jerusalem, that is, until persecution drove them to other areas.  Check out Acts 8:1: “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”  Did you catch that?  Evangelism now takes place in Judea and Samaria and the church launches a missionary movement around the world.

Sometimes we have to become uncomfortable before we are willing to do whatever it takes to complete the Great Commission.  God moves us out so that we will give out the message.  Don’t just assume that hard times are just hard times.  They may be God’s way of getting you to move out to share the Word of God with others.  Related to that, we’re not all called to be martyrs but we are all called to be living sacrifices.  God may use adversity and even persecution to alter our schedules and plans in order to accomplish His purposes.  

3. Pray for persecuted believers.  Stephen was the first Christian martyr, but he won’t be the last.  If we read the news posted throughout the world we see that Christians have been stoned, pastors have been imprisoned and homes of believers have been burned to the ground.  Stephen fell asleep…but it’s time for us to wake up and pray for those who are persecuted.  Hebrews 13:3 says: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

4. Don’t miss God’s salvation.  The time to get ready to die is now, not later.  Do you have a stiff-neck today?  There are two ways to deal with a stiff-necked person.  God can break you or you can bend in humility before Him.  The offer Jesus made still stands in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Don’t be stiff-necked but humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and receive salvation…while the door is still open.  AMEN.

Let us pray: Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

►*Affirmation of Faith- The Apostles’ Creed

Chorus-“Come Just as You Are”

►COMMUNION

►      Prayer

May what has passed our lips as food, O Lord, strengthen our heart and lives.  May that which we have eaten, and drunk, cleave to our very soul, and grant that no trace of sin be found within us.  We humbly beseech you, Almighty God, to grant that those whom you refresh with, may serve you worthily by a life well pleasing to you.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.

►      Challenge

Our mission is to point to The Way - to point to Jesus - and to testify as to who he is and what he has done, with no apologies.  We are called to pray for others - that God will forgive their sins and bring them to the dwelling place in the highest heaven prepared for them by Christ even as proclaim by our words and by the quality of our love the wonderful things that God has done for us - and for all humankind through Him who is the Way - the Truth - and The Life.  I challenge you to accept your mission and to go forth into the world as a witness of Jesus Christ.  If you accept this mission I invite you to stand with me and proclaim these words of commissioning:

In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth into the world, to fulfill our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.

►      *Benediction/Parting Blessing

Go in peace as people of the way, love and care for another in the name of Christ Jesus - and may the blessings of the Father go with you, - may the Holy Spirit uphold you and sustain you, - and may the Son shine upon the path you walk and guide you day by day, till you join all the saints and angels when you arrive in the place of everlasting glory.   Go with God’s love.  Amen.

►*”My Jesus, I Love Thee” (hymn # 364, vs. 1, 3, & 4)

Postlude