What’s God Up To?

What’s God Up To?
Acts 7:1-60
What are God’s purposes on the earth? What’s His plan for mankind? What’s the big picture as far as He’s concerned?
We can get distracted with all that’s going on the world that’s evil and wrong. That’s Satan’s plan. But we’re not here to find out what Satan’s plan is. We want to know the big, master plan of God.
And we have two choices in this plan – We can either resist it or we can embrace it.
Can I just give you some really, really good advice from the very onset? Don’t resist God’s plan, embrace it.
So what IS God’s big master plan?
 It’s called the Gospel.
What’s the Gospel? Some would say, “It’s the Good News!” Correct! But good news about what?
Well, it’s good news that Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
That what God required He provided.
That we don’t have to struggle in darkness anymore.
That we can know without any reservations that our past is forgiven, our present has purpose, and our future is secure!
Let me say it another way –
 God requires perfection.
 We can’t be perfect.
 Someone did, though.
 Through Him, we can.
It’s so simple, so powerful, so undeserved, and so complete, yet so very much misunderstood, resisted, and redefined by sinners and saints alike.
It’s not that difficult to understand. In fact, it’s so simple a child can grasp it. So what’s the deal?
In our text today, Stephen expertly laid out the entire history of the nation of Israel up to that point, ending with a powerful accusation to those listening, calling them “stiff-necked” (rebellious and stubborn) and “uncircumcised of heart” (self-assured and arrogant).
He obviously didn’t read the book, “How To Win Friends and Influence Enemies”. No mincing words with him. The results were they killed him, making him the first martyr of the Church.
It seems like that’s been the usual response to the powerful and gracious message of the Gospel. People reject it. Why?
What is it about such a beautiful and undeserved act of grace towards mankind that makes people so powerfully and vigorously push it away?
I’d like to talk this morning about what’s in all of our DNA, Saint and sinner alike, that gives us that same potential to push back on God and His plan, His purposes, His calling out to us.
It’s called “Rebellion”.
It started in the Garden of Eden and hasn’t let up since.
Why do we rebel against God? Why do we push back so vigorously against Him and His plans?
Because we like to be in “Control”.
We like predictability. We like tradition. We like to call the shots. We like to be in charge. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do or how to do it.
We think we have the answers. We think we can do this thing called life on our own. We don’t need any help and we certainly don’t need what we consider some aloof spiritual entity like a perfect, holy God telling us what to do. His holy righteousness challenges too much of our fleshly desires and our need to be in control.
So we make our own god. We put him in a building and we tell him what he can and can’t do. We format Him and pull Him out of His cage we’ve made for Him when it’s safe and the proper parameters have been created.
That’s what Stephen was calling them out on then and what we still do today.
We isolate the god we create to a 90 minute Sunday morning activity of formality and tradition and limit him to certain safe areas of our life the rest of the week.
We take a little of what we like and are comfortable with of him and add a little of other things and thoughts and concepts and create for us a god we can live with, a god that serves us, a god that doesn’t challenge us, doesn’t have an intrusive relationship with us, and keeps us in control.
But the God of the Bible, the God of the universe, the God who has created everything seen and unseen will not be imprisoned in a building nor will He be impeded from His mission.
That was Stephen’s point to the people he was addressing. It’s just as relevant and true today.
Mankind has displayed throughout his existence a breath-taking ignorance and absurdity to think we could control God.
 Putting Him in a box of a Temple or church building and quarantining Him to only approved areas of our life will never, ever work. 
In our hearts we know we can’t do these things, even though religion has tried over the centuries, so we do the only other thing we know to do other than try and control Him, we loudly and vigorously reject Him.
That’s what the religious people did to Jesus when they tried to kill Him. They did the same thing to Stephen. Verses 54-60 describes their response to his calling out of them.
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 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. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 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. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
What a mind-blowing conclusion. It’s unbelievable the reaction, isn’t it?
We see this in the world’s aggressive push back of Him today. It’s obvious. And we call it out and make a big to-do of how the world is loudly and vigorously pushing against the things of God.
But we need to be as careful with our subtle rebellions as “Believers” as well.
The overt rebellion of the wicked and covert rebellion of the religious are both equally as damaging and have the same results.
That’s the point Stephen was trying to make. That’s the message Jesus brought as well. That’s what all the prophets of old, as Stephen pointed out in verse 52, proclaimed.
They were all persecuted and killed for their stand. The people back then didn’t want to be challenged to change. They didn’t want to be called on the carpet. They didn’t want their sin exposed. They didn’t want their hypocrisy revealed.
They wanted to keep God in the safe Sunday Temple box and stay in control of their lives, destinies, and choices the rest of the week.
Things haven’t changed.
We pride ourselves in this generation as “enlightened”, when in fact we live in probably the most foolish, ignorant, blind, dark, deceived generation that has ever existed.
The Bible describes the last generation before Jesus’ return as the most depraved, sin-filled, rebellious generation ever.
The spirit of antichrist is stronger now than ever before. Even the very elect, the Bible says, have the potential to be deceived if not careful.
Our rebelliousness against God has reached heights never before seen in the history of mankind. It’s taking on forms unimagined in previous generations. The floodgates have opened up. Satan is pulling out all the stops. He knows his time is short.
So what are we to do? How do we address this propensity in our lives, whether it be blatantly overt or subtly covert, to be rebellious against God?
The answer is found in verse 51 of our text today. The remedy, the antidote against rebellion and arrogance is taking the opposite of what Stephen rightly accused them of and embracing it for our lives.
He first labeled them as “stiff-necked”. That’s rebellion. That’s stubbornness. That’s the putting of God in the Sunday Temple box and attempting to imprison Him, the living God, and isolate Him to a Sunday religious event.
But listen to this, while Jesus has bound Himself to the Church when He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”, He wasn’t talking about a building, but a people.
You are the Church. I am the Church. It’s us, the people of God, who make up the Church. To think we can contain God to these 4 walls and think the only time we can meet with Him or learn of Him or worship Him or see manifestations of His power and experience salvations are in these 90 minutes we spend together is doing what the religious leaders back then were attempting to do.
Jesus didn’t come to create a lifeless institution, but to redeem a lost creation.
This corporate gathering is important, necessary in fact, as God’s Word emphatically commands us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. But for as many documented miracles and outpourings and powerful displays that occurred while they were together, there were just as many powerful “God events” OUTSIDE the four walls as they went about their way in the day to day!
That’s our model and template for what God has planned for His Church today!!
Stephen then described them as “uncircumcised in heart”. That’s self-assurance. That’s arrogance. That’s creating our own god we can control that won’t challenge our sinful lifestyles and keeps us from having to face a holy God we can’t control and would confront our sinful choices.
And as much as Jesus has bound Himself to the Church by promising to never leave us nor forsake us, He also bound Himself to His Word when He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away”. But His Word is not some tradition or rule or acceptable lifestyle created by man, but Scripture itself.
God’s Word is eternal, unchanging, and dependable. God’s Word is absolute, holy, and just. God’s Word is our manual for life, the bright light for our path, a solid foundation for our feet, and a covering from any and all attacks. God’s Word is a powerful weapon against the enemy, a healing balm for our sorrows and sicknesses, and the plumb line, true north compass by which we can confidently set the course of our lives. God’s Word is Jesus Christ Himself, who John describes as the Word made flesh.
In a world of shifting values and morals, God’s Word will never change!
Trying to create a god of our own liking is ultimately exhausting and futile. We can’t run from God. He won’t let us! He always pursuing us, drawing us in, calling us back home.
Stiff-necked people are rebellious, stubborn people. Uncircumcised-in-heart people are self-assured and arrogant. Both push back against God and both are entirely destructive to God’s plan.
Remember we asked at the beginning of this writing, “What’s God up to? What’s His master plan? What’s the big picture as far as He’s concerned?”
It’s the Gospel. God required perfection. We can’t. Someone did. Through Him, we can.
What God is up to is just that. To redeem us back to right relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ’s finished work on our behalf.
Everything else is just a distraction from the core of God’s main purpose and focus – to redeem mankind back to Himself.
Don’t miss this! Did you miss Christmas this past year? Did the day go by without you being aware that it was Christmas Day? I would say that the answer is not only “no” to everyone , but to our society and world as a whole. Christmas Day didn’t escape our world.
Yet this obvious, easy to understand, right in front of our face truth seems to have escaped so very many in our world.
And this beautiful thing God is up to doesn’t end at salvation. In fact, that’s just the beginning.
Salvation is justification, “just as if I’ve never sinned”. God accepts Jesus’ finished work as the satisfaction for His perfect justice. Jesus took our punishment upon Himself. We live in and under and through that finished work.
From then on it’s sanctification (the process of becoming more and more like Jesus). Daily, sometimes hourly (even moment by moment!) we are led by His Holy Spirit, corrected, admonished, encouraged, and strengthened.
Justification attacks and defeats the rebellion as we initially give our lives over to Christ. Sanctification attacks and defeats the arrogance as we ongoingly give our lives over to Christ.
In a word, we “Submit”. It’s the opposite of being stiff necked and uncircumcised of heart.
We submit our life to Him initially and our will to Him continually.
Give up your right to be right. Give up your right to be in control. Let go of the fallacy that you know everything and don’t need anyone.
 Let go and let God be in control. Submit to God.
 Let God’s master plan for mankind be extremely personal for you today.
Submit to God today. Be justified before Him through Christ. Be sanctified daily, not being rebellious or arrogant, but yielding to the Holy Spirit’s loving, necessary work to make you more like Jesus.
THAT’S what God is up to!

February 28th, 2016 – Great Grace

Great Grace!

Are you facing a mountain today? Are obstacles in your way that seem insurmountable?

God wants to display “great grace” towards them!

What is great grace?

Grace defined is the – “Unmerited favor of God.”

But Great Grace is – “The dynamic displays of God’s unmerited favor and power through the Holy Spirit.”

Zechariah was facing a mountain. The opposition to rebuilding the Temple was great.

The people of God had become lethargic and complacent about their calling and responsibility as His people. The enemies of God’s people opposed them vigorously.

Facing the opposition from without and lethargy from within, Zechariah was called upon by God to speak to the mountain opposing him with great grace!

We all know this scripture –

Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”

But the following verse describes what that great grace, the dynamic display of God’s unmerited favor, the power of the Holy Spirit, was directed towards.

Zechariah 4:7, “Who are you, O great mountain? You shall become a plain, with shouts of grace, grace to it!”

In other words, “Who are you, opposition, in comparison to God’s great grace? You are nothing! You will be laid flat before Him as God’s unmerited favor is manifest on my behalf with unmatched, dynamic power through His Holy Spirit!”

That’s great grace! That’s what was going on in Zechariah’s day, and what the Church was experiencing at It’s inception.

The obstacles, the mountains in Zechariah’s way and the newly birthed Church are no different than obstacles we face today.

We see the results of what took place in Acts 4:31, where the place they were gathered was shaken while they were praying for God’s great grace.

They were filled with great boldness to combat their tendency to fear. (4:31)

They were filled with great unity to combat their tendency to fuss and fight. (4:32)

They were filled with great fruitfulness to combat their tendency to be spiritually barren. (4:31,33)

They were filled with great generosity to combat their tendency to be selfish and stingy. (4:32,34,35)

We can’t and won’t be bold, united, fruitful, and generous in our own strength. It’s not by our might or power that great grace is manifest, but only through His Holy Spirit.

The verses here are almost parallel in their similarity to Acts 2:42-47. This was the results of the first time they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Great grace was manifest as they walked in boldness, unity, fruitfulness, and generosity.

The second documentation of the Holy Spirit filling them resulted in the same thing. There’s a pattern here. We will see this again and again throughout the book of Acts. God shakes, the Holy Spirit fills, and great grace, the dynamic displays of God’s unmerited favor, are manifest by the Holy Spirit through His Church.

God’s intention is that this pattern wouldn’t cease after the last chapter of Acts was written, but would continue until the Lord’s return.

Shaken, filled, and empowered with great grace. That’s the pattern.

We are to be shaken out of our lethargy and complacency. We are to be shaken with the reality and urgency of the hour. We are to be shaken with the gravity of the task before us.

The baton has been passed to our generation. We have a job to do. Fear, division, barrenness, and selfishness are not of God, but of the enemy.

If satan can keep us swirling around and chasing our tails with all of that, then he wins and the Church looses.

It’s not by our cleverness or ingenuity that the Church will impact this generation for Jesus Christ, but it’s by His Holy Spirit, His great grace, His powerful displays of unmerited favor manifested in dynamic ways.

We are to be filled, over and over again, with His Holy Spirit. It’s not a one time event, but a continual washing and renewing and filling that needs to occur.

This infilling provides us the great grace we need to go beyond our natural capacity to be bold, unified, fruitful, and generous.

God is saying to us to speak to our mountains, corporately and individually, and declare “grace, grace, GREAT grace” to it!

When we do, a shaking will occur. The mountains of our own making or of satan’s feeble plans will be laid flat before us. Manifestations of God’s unmerited favor will be a regular occurrence.

Boldness, unity, fruitfulness, and generosity will be as plenteous and common as the grains of sand on a sea shore!  

This is what a healthy, focused, impactful, Spirit filled church looks like. Outwardly it can be small or large, contemporary or traditional, big city or small town, white or black, Hispanic or Asian, American or International. It doesn’t matter the language we speak, the clothes we wear, or the degrees on our walls.

If the body of believers submits to being shaken by and is regularly filled with the Holy Spirit, great grace (boldness, unity, fruitfulness, and generosity) will take place and those communities where those churches exist will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit’s job description is to proclaim Jesus. He’s in us. He wants through us to give witness to the resurrection of Jesus to all who would hear.

This requires great grace! This requires the dynamic displays of God’s unmerited favor and power through the Holy Spirit.

Cry out to God. Be shaken. Be changed. Be challenged. Be renewed!

May everything that can be shaken in our lives be shaken, and may we be filled and transformed with the great grace of the Holy Spirit!

This should be our default language and lifestyle. It was in the NT Church. The pattern was set for us to follow.

Today I speak great grace over you! May God’s unmerited favor, His dynamic displays of power, be manifest through His Holy Spirit.

Be shaken! Be filled again and again! Be empowered with great grace! Be the Church!