Why Are You Standing There? – 07.18.2021
Even if people reject the gospel, we must still love them. Ralph Neighbour, who used to be the pastor at West Memorial Baptist Church in Houston tells this story about a man he identifies as Jack. Now Jack was the president of a large corporation, very successful – but when he got cancer, the board ruthlessly dumped him. He went through his insurance, used up all his life savings and had practically nothing left. Pastor Ralph visited him with one of the deacons of the church and they asked, “Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left – I wonder if you have prepared for your life after death?” Even in his sickness, Jack stood up, livid with rage, “You [expletive, expletive, expletive] Christians. All you ever think about is what’s going to happen to me after I die. If your God is SO great, why doesn’t He do something about the real problems of life?” Jack went on to vent about how he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without any money for college, and then in a rage he ordered them to leave. Little bit later, the deacon said to the Pastor, “we have to go back.” So they went back to Jack and said, “Jack, I know last time we were here I offended you, and I humbly apologize. But I want you to know that I have been working since I left. Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. Well, a realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission. I guarantee you that, if you’ll allow it, some other men and I will make the house payments until it’s sold. We’ve contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street. He’s offered your wife a three-bedroom apartment plus free utilities and an $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising plumbing and electrical repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter’s college. Basically, all this stuff – I just want you to know your family will be cared for.” Jack cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter, so wrapped in pain that he never accepted Christ – but he experienced God’s love, even while rejecting Him. But his widow, touched by the caring of these Christians all around her, responded to the gospel message and became a Christian.
Today is the launch of a brand new sermon series called Origin Stories, Part I, for the next year, and actually a little bit more than a year, we’re going to be reading through the book of Acts. For this next four weeks our series is called The Birth of A Church – as our church reopens and rebuilds from the affects of a global pandemic, I thought it made a lot of sense to walk through the building of the original church. While remembering our vision statement “we are the church” – we’re going to take a look and dive deep into what that actually means – so let’s get started.
Verse 1, [read v.1-2]. Now, we’re two sentences in, but already we have so much information. He starts out with, “in my first book” – which, if you didn’t know, his “first book” was the gospel of Luke. You know, that thing we read last year, told us all about Jesus. Same guy wrote Luke AND the book of Acts. He says, “in my first book I told you, Theophilus.” Fun fact, the word “Theophilus” comes from the Greek “theo” meaning God, and “philus” which is a type of love. So he’s writing this book to Theophilus, to the one who loves God. Now scholars argue about whether there was actually a human being NAMED “Theophilus” or if the author was just writing this book to all of us who love God. But the important thing is that we are picking up where the last book stopped. Jesus crucified, buried in the tomb, on the third day he rose from the dead, he appeared to a bunch of people – and we begin the book of Acts.
[Read v.3-5]. There were forty days from his crucifixion to his ascension and he shows up a BUNCH of times, to “prove to them in many ways that he was ACTUALLY alive.” This is actually super important for the whole rest of the book. This is not the spreading of a rumor, “hey maybe he’s really alive.” No, this is the collecting of eye-witnesses. He shows up and proves a bunch of times – I really am alive. Then Jesus gives them instructions to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to show up. He says, “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Now you might not remember, because it was a long time ago when we read about John, but back when he was doing his river dunking thing he told people, “I’m baptizing you with water, but someday someone will come who will baptize you with FIRE.” The Holy Spirit IS that fire.
There was a guy, Dr. Paul Brand, who was speaking at a medical college. And He said, “let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father.” In front of the lecturn was an oil lamp, with a cotton wick connected to a thing of oil. But while he was preaching the lamp ran out of oil, and the wick burned dry, which billowed smoke up into his face. But Dr Paul was a clever man and he immediately used it as an opportunity. He said, “Some of us here are like this wick. We’re trying to shine for the glory of God, but we stink. That’s what happens when we use ourselves as the fuel of our witness rather than the Holy Spirit. Wicks can last forever, burning brightly with no smoke, if the fuel – the Holy Spirit – is in constant supply.” Jesus tells them, wait for the Holy Spirit.
[read v.6-8]. Couple things on that. First, how much does your heart cry out with the same question that the disciples want to know. We look at this broken world, and then we look over at God’s promise of healing, and we wonder “has the time come?” A little bit it feels the same way as my children do waiting for breakfast. In our house, I do the mornings. Sara works, and I get the boys up, dressed, fed etc. And my children just happen to be at that precious age where they wake up hungry. They are starving to death every waking moment from the microsecond their eyes have opened. I sure hope they grow out of that phase soon [stare]. “I NEED FOOD NOW.” Okay, I need you to wait thirty seconds for the pop tart to get done cooking, because we all know how long a gourmet meal like pop tarts takes to cook. And in the three minutes it takes the toaster to do its thing they have to ask me 47 times, “is it done yet? Has the time come?” This is the disciples to Jesus. This is each and every single one of us any time God makes us wait for anything. Is it done yet? Has the time come? And Jesus comes back at them and says, “wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit, and witness what’s happening.” Basically, Jesus says, “wait and keep your eyes open.”
[read v.9-11]. They are straining their eyes to see Jesus. He has gone back up into heaven, and so they are just standing there – staring at the sky. And I love this moment, because it’s sort of sweet. Awww, they miss their buddy. Jesus went home and they’re just staring, but the angels come down and give ‘em a little kick in the rear. What are you doing? Get going! He’s gone! And when he comes back, you think he wants to find you staring at the sky? Go on, git! And every time I tell this story I make fun of the disciples for just standing there staring at the sky. But then I wonder – are we any better? How many of us think that our faith life is basically just coming to church and staring at the sky? Like maybe we think God’s tucked back up there somewhere. Maybe he’s got a little room up behind the pipes, and if we strain we can see him. But Jesus told his disciples, you will be my witnesses to the whole world. You have seen me. You know that I am alive. The Holy Spirit is coming, go tell people about me.
Now the chapter ends with the disciples waiting in Jerusalem [read v.12-14]. So you’ve got this crowd of believers, people who witnessed what Jesus did in their lives, and they’re gathered in the upper room, praying together constantly. Then Peter gets up and addresses the whole room – like 120 people. Which is interesting, because post COVID – that’s similar to our in-person worship attendance. So it’s like Peter is addressing our whole church all at once. And Peter gets up and says, “hey guys, remember Judas? Right? The bad guy – well, he’s all gone, and so we need to vote on a replacement for the disciples. Right? We’re down a man, and we need a full roster. But check out how he phrases it, he says, [read v.21-22]. We need someone who has been there all along. From his baptism to his resurrection, we need someone who saw everything. We need another witness. They don’t just want some random guy to fill in for the role of disciple, they need an eye-witness who can tell people what he saw.
To be honest, this is the job that all of us have. To open up the sequel Jesus is giving us a job. When we read through the gospel of Luke, our job was to witness what Jesus was doing. We walked with Jesus on this journey of his earthly life. We witnessed it, we saw what he did. And now, in part 2, our job is to witness. To tell people about what we saw in Jesus’ life. The good news today is that God promised the Holy Spirit. Now, Holy Spirit’s going to show up next week for the disciples, but He is already here for each of us. God’s holy spirit is available to YOU right now. You don’t have to strain your eyes looking up at heaven, he has been active behind the scenes of your life all along. He has been with you on every mountain and in every valley you have gone through – every good day and every bad, and for some of us – we didn’t even know God was with us. The promise of the Holy Spirit is the promise of God’s presence. We can baptize with water, but Holy Spirit puts a fire in our soul that no one can put out. The water is a symbol, an “outward and visible sign”, but the Holy Spirit is when God starts transforming your heart, and changing your life. When I tell you that God promised the Holy Spirit, what I’m trying to tell you is that God is putting sparks in your life. Let it catch fire. There’s an old quote that says, “It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out.” We witness Jesus when we see the life he lived and what that means for our lives, and then we witness Jesus to others when we tell them what Jesus did for us.
The challenge for us today is pretty simple. Today Jesus is calling us to WITNESS. And there’s two parts to that. First, witness Christ. See what he can do in your life. Some of you, maybe you’ve never been to church before, you’ve never really thought about God and whether he’s even there – and if he is there, what he might have done for you in your life. Maybe you’ve never look at your life like that, but I’m telling you, if you look back on your life through heaven’s eyes – it is incredible to discover the ways God has been with you all along. When you open your eyes to God’s movement – you will witness incredible things. So start looking at your life! Maybe throw up a prayer and ask God, “God help me what you’ve been doing in my life. Help me see what you have been doing. Help me witness your movement.” Last week there’s an account I follow on Instagram called “Honest Youth Leader” and he threw out this challenge, inviting people to share what God has done in their lives. Share their story. Share their witness. Now there were tons of responses, and I read through them all and I got tears in my eyes to see what God can do with a broken life. We don’t have time to go through them all, but I wanted to share a couple of them with you.
[I accepted Jesus at a youth event a friend invited me to. I didn’t grow up in the church. I had no discipleship afterwards, but God was patient with me. I got pregnant my senior year, my parents asked me to leave, I graduated with honors and went on to nursing school. I’m currently completing my Master’s Degree in Global Studies. I eventually married the father 2 years after our son was born and he is my current husband of 20 years and we are expecting our 10th baby. He accepted Christ 18 years ago in a chapel being treated for drug addiction. We now lead youth ministry together and are building a discipleship program that walks alongside young believers and their families. Thank you, Jesus!]
Smell like smoke
[I didn’t grow up in church but I wasn’t raised to end up where I ended up either. At 19 I was drinking and partying every day. Just a year after graduation I got behind the wheel after drinking, rolled my truck and one of my best friends was killed. I spent my early 20’s in prison. Right before going, I met a guy that gave me a job and showed me a glimpse of who Jesus is. When I got to prison, God began to wreck me. I got saved and read the story of Shadrach, Meshac and Abendigo. God spoke to me about not smelling like smoke. About not smelling like what I’ve been through. After 3 years I came home and God has continued to change my heart and life. I’m married with 3 kids. I’ve built new houses. And I’ve been youth pastoring for almost 10 years. All the while, whenever I give my testimony, the reactions I get are generally the same – people are continually surprised that I’ve been where I’ve been. And every time I’m thankful I still don’t smell like what I’ve been through.]
[I was in the middle of a divorce. My wife had left me for a woman. I hadn’t told anyone we were separated. I sat at home every night alone. I wouldn’t drink to the point of drunkenness, but I would sit in my recliner and drink while watching something mindless on Netflix. I started engaging in an inappropriate relationship via text and email with another woman. One night while sitting in my chair, drinking beer, eating cheetohs and watching breaking bad, I looked at the picture of my kids on the wall – who were 4 and 2 at the time, and their pictures appeared like they were lit up with candle light. I got the feeling of… is this the life you want to live forever? I have so much more for you. I tried to get my wife back but that did not happen. However, I met an incredible Godly woman, I started attending church regularly, and now we have been married for 6 years, we are the leaders of our church’s children’s ministry and we host small groups in our home.]
C/E Christian, suicide
[I gave my life to Christ in August of 2019 and it was the best thing that could’ve happened. I was lost, broken, hurting and defeated without even realizing it. I didn’t grow up in a Christian household, my family was the type of people to only go to church for Christmas or Easter and that was about it. Dad was in and out of my life and because of that I took on a lot of responsibility from a young age. All of this along with family problems led my to try and cope with my problems with drugs and alcohol. Started smoking in 7th grade, and drinking in 8th. Was basically living a double life because I wanted to be a ‘good role model’ for my siblings while also suppressing every emotion I could so I didn’t have to deal with any hurt. Because of all this going on for years, I became super anxious and depressed and started having panic attacks. They left me in a horrible place of torment and sleepless nights, that I attempted to kill myself by driving off a bridge. God stopped that. He reminded me of my siblings before I could drive off and then met me in a real way the next day. I heard a small whisper in the midst of my mind racing say, “what are you waiting for?” I heard that voice, and everything changed. I had slept the best I ever had in a month, started going to church and gave my life to Him and because of that, I started serving at my church, I’m hosting Bible study with friends to help grow each other in our faith, and I been the happiest I’ve ever been in the midst of trials because I know the God I serve. He has changed my life for the better and I will never stop praising him!] [pause]
My point with all of this is that you have a story too. Maybe it’s not quite so dramatic as some of those examples. My personal is super boring, but God still showed up for me – and he is there for you too. If you give your life to Jesus, and keep your eyes open – you will witness what the Holy Spirit can do in your life. The first challenge is to witness what God has done.
The second challenge is to witness what you witnessed! First, see what God does, and then TELL people about what you’ve seen! Witness to people, share with them what God has done in your life. Bring them to church, tell them about Jesus – you would be amazed at what God can do for people. There’s an old story about a young salesman, and he was disappointed about losing a big sale. And as he talked with his sales manager, he lamented, “I guess it just proves that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” But the manager replied, “Son, take my advice: Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.” So it is with evangelism. So it is with God. Our lives should be so filled with Jesus, and the transformation the Holy Spirit brings, that it creates a thirst for the gospel. People should look at what God is doing in our life and think, “man, I want in on that!” First you’ve got to witness what Jesus has done. Go read the book of Luke and take a look at your own life. Then we need to witness to the world what Jesus has done.
Jesus goes back up into heaven, and the disciples stand there staring at the sky, straining to see Jesus. But they had it all wrong. Someday Jesus is coming back, but in the meantime we need to be looking for the Holy Spirit. To see Jesus in the transformed life sitting right next to us. Jesus is calling every single one of you here today to be a witness. To see what he is doing in the world, and then go tell people about it. And so I’ll leave you with this – May you witness what Jesus Christ has done in this world. May you look at your life, and find God’s work in the mountains and valleys of your world too. And finally may you take what you have seen, the eye witness testimony – and share it with the world. Amen.
 Death and the Caring Community, by Larry Richards and Paul Johnson.
 Illustration from Philip Yancey.
 Christian Theology In Plain Language, p162.