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Nothing Stops a Genuine work of God

If it’s really a work of God, there is no stopping it. Nothing will stop a genuine work of God. People dropping out, persecution, public humiliation, and even the gates of hell don’t stand a chance.

A Pharisee named Gamaliel knew this. He saw what these ‘spiritual revivals’ that were powered by man did. There were several of them. All of them had the same result. When the leader dies, the revival fizzles out and loses steam.

So the man gives great advice:

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

The guys kind of take his advice. They decide to beat the apostles within an inch of their lives instead of killing them. After all, if this isn’t from God, you can be sure it will fizzle out anyway.

Now, we know the end of this story. We know that this revival never lost momentum and ended up being the largest religion in the world. That’s because, just as Gamaliel said, if it’s a work of God, there’s no stopping it. Even the beatings were no deterrent. Because this was a work of God, these crazy men were rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer.

It’s easy to forget this truth as we labor in God’s field. It’s easy to feel insecure when someone doesn’t like something about the worship service or to feel ineffective when there is disappointment. But, if what we’re doing is really a work of God, there’s no stopping it.

Nothing can stop genuine works of the Spirit. Not persecutions and beatings from the power structures or even death of key leaders. Not people not showing up. Not a bad music set. Not a terrible sermon. Not a word of criticism from a visitor. If it is a genuine work of the Spirit, nothing, and I mean nothing can stop it.

As ministers, then, our task is to prayerfully discern what God is doing, and then to labor with him. And we have to stop with the insecurity, the accommodation and the weird codependency and labor with the confidence that comes from knowing that if it’s a genuine work of the Spirit, nothing can stop it. Nothing.

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God Isn’t Mocked

God won’t be mocked. He looks deep into the heart. He sees right through the false pretenses, the feigned humility, and the masked generosity that we use to impress one another.

Ananias and Sapphira learned that the hard way. As the Holy Spirit fell on people and made them a family, the people of God were doing crazy things like selling whatever they had so that the money could be used for the people in need among them. Perhaps feeling a bit of shame about their great wealth, Ananias and Sapphira come up with a plan. They’ll sell the land, hold on to some of the money and lay the rest at the apostles’ feet to be distributed to the poor.

Doesn’t seem like a bad plan. Seems quite noble actually. There is nothing wrong with selling some land, holding onto some profit, and distributing the rest to the poor. After all, it was their land and they had the right to do what they wanted with it (Acts 5:3-4).

These two, though, decided to make it appear as if they had given all the proceeds of the sale to the apostles. They were putting on a show and trying to appear more generous than they were.

Peter tells them something interesting: You didn’t lie to men but to God (Verse 4). When they try to appear more spiritual than they are before God’s people, they are trying to lie to God. Ultimately, this costs them their lives.

God isn’t a God of coercion. He doesn’t want our false pretenses. He doesn’t want us to fake more faith or love or generosity than we have. He sees right through all that.  He desires us to be authentic before him and to live with integrity.

Be authentic with God and His people. He knows anyway. And he desires you to live with integrity before him and others. In addition to that, pray for grace from God. Pray that he would do such a work in your heart that you’ll never have to fake holiness. Pray that he will make you actually become holy so that you never have to fake it.

God doesn’t want us to fake holiness. He wants to make us truly holy, so that we don’t have to fake it. Live openly before him today. But do it with open hands, knowing that he is going to change you into the type of person that never has to fake it.

Proclamation Accompanied by Power

There is a beautiful prayer in Acts 4 after Peter and John’s persecution. It is obvious that the traditions that use Collect prayers took the form straight from prayers like this.

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them… look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

In the intervening words, there is an example of David’s Psalm and an affirmation that Jesus is the fulfillment.

I love this prayer. This prayer is the foundation for ministry. The believers ask for two things to take place simultaneously. First, they ask that God gives them grace to continue to speak with boldness amidst persecution. They are undergoing incredible persecution, and they need God’s help to proclaim the Gospel with boldness.

Second, they ask that God would continue to display the Gospel with healing, signs and wonders. They ask God to reveal himself as they proclaim the good news with boldness.

I must confess, I have very little experience with displays of miracles as accompaniment to the proclamation of the Gospel. I have seen a few miracles as I and others have prayed for each other. God healed a bum knee for someone I prayed for, he instantly healed a headache for another, and a shoulder for another woman. I am sure there are more that I haven’t recalled.

But these guys expected this to be commonplace. Signs and wonders were part and parcel of the ministry of the early church. They were signs that accompanied the Gospel. They made it obvious something new was happening.

These early Christians also asked God to stretch his hand to heal. This is distinguished slightly from the signs and wonders. Healing includes the signs and wonders the church prayed for, but it also includes removal of all of the effects of the curse of sin.

This, I have seen much more of. I have watched people’s lives changed by the good news of Jesus. I have seen people walk out of depression. I have seen addictions broken. I have seen hearts warmed toward God and others. I have seen drug dealers turned into CEO’s and people with terrible anger made new. Our proclamation of the good news will only be effective as God invades hearts and changes lives. When he does this, the results are undeniable.

So then, we ask the Lord to give us boldness. We proclaim the good news that God came to set us free from the curse of sin. We depend on him to accompany that proclamation with the miracle of lives set free and signs and wonders.

This is the formula. God, give me grace to live it.

God does the Work, God is Glorified

If God does the work, it means that we don’t. I don’t mean we sit idly and do nothing. But we don’t share credit with God.

That is difficult to comprehend because we have an age where there are significant professional accolades available to those who succeed at the difficult work of church planting. Appointments speaking at conferences, travelling budgets, and book deals await the most successful church planters. In the midst of such distraction, it’s hard to remember the root of things: If God does the work, it means that we don’t get the glory.

Peter and John walked passed a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate on the way to the temple. Although Peter didn’t have money, he did have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and the faith to declare the beggars healing in the name of Jesus right then and there.

When the guy is leaping around praising God, of course everyone is amazed. They may have just passed him there begging. Peter seizes this opportunity to preach the Gospel. Before he does, though, he says something interesting: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”

Now it isn’t surprising to me that he said it wasn’t by his own power that the man is walking. He acknowledged the power of God did the work. But, he goes much further than that. He power or piety. In other words, it wasn’t even their great faithfulness to God that brought the miracle. The miracle was purely an act of God’s grace.

Success in ministry isn’t about the strength of the leader or their personal spirituality. If it is to be genuine, it is a work of God. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Peter worked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Even in this very instance, he boldly seized the opportunity to proclaim the good news. But the power is God’s. He is the only one who brings increase. He is the only one who gets glory.

Repent and be Baptized for Forgiveness of Sin

Peter had just preached an incredible sermon. The guy who had been unwilling to admit to knowing Christ a few weeks earlier was now standing in front of a group of people telling them they crucified Jesus (Acts 2:23). He showed them how both David and Joel pointed toward the coming of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. These Jewish people were cut to the heart. They knew they needed to do something. “What should we do?” they asked.

Peter’s answer was simple: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

We live in a strange time. Our good desire to teach salvation by grace alone, apart from works combined with our naturalistic aversion to miracles (or anything we don’t understand) leads us to try to strip water baptism of its significance. Many times, instruction about baptism focuses more on what it doesn’t accomplish rather that what it does accomplish.

I have met many people who would use the term Christian to describe themselves even though they have never submitted to Christian baptism. This short directive from Peter teaches us a better way to think about Christian baptism and what it accomplishes in our lives.

1) Repentance and Baptism is the way to obtain forgiveness of sin.

Peter tells people to do two things: Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. He then tells them why they would do that. He tells them to repent and be baptized ‘for the forgiveness of your sins.’

It’s important not to get weird. Peter didn’t ask people to start parsing the exact moment God forgave their sins. Following his Lord’s command, that he would make disciples and baptize them, he saw repentance and baptism as completely united. When the people repented and were baptized, they were forgiven of their sins.

2) At Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit

Peter said that after people are baptized they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Where would he get such an idea? Peter reflected back on Jesus’ baptism, where the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.

Jesus is the prototype for our lives. He shows us what our life is to be. Just as He received the Holy Spirit at His baptism, His followers receive the Spirit at theirs.

This is not a magic trick. The book of Acts makes that abundantly clear. Sometimes the evidence of the Spirit’s filling comes before their water baptism. Sometimes it is a while after.

The one thing that never, ever happens is the Holy Spirit falling without baptism. Although it isn’t a formula or a magic trick, water baptism always accompanied and was closely linked with the coming of the Holy Spirit. There are no scriptural examples of people in the age of the Church receiving the Holy Spirit without ever submitting to water baptism.

3) At Baptism, we join the Church

Right after the sermon, 3,000 people received the word and were baptized. It is no accident that right after this mass baptism, Luke goes on to describe the life of the Church. The baptism initiated these people into the life of the Church. After they were baptized, they joined the people devoted to the apostles teaching, the Communion meal, and the prayers. There is no incorporation into to the Body and Bride of Christ until baptism.

Water baptism is the beginning of the life of a Christian. It is our entrance into redeemed life, into the life of the Holy Spirit, and into the life of the Church. If you desire to be a part of the community of Christ, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

When the Holy Spirit Came

When the Holy Spirit came, nothing could contain Him.
Language barriers became a joke.
God’s people were willing to look foolish.
Hearts were changed.

When the Holy Spirit came, nothing could stop Him.
The Christ denyer became the Gospel proclaimer
People were cut to the heart
3,000 were baptized

When the Holy Spirit came, he built a community.
They read the Scriptures and prayed
They celebrated the Eucharist
They shared everything they had

When the Holy Spirit came, nothing could reel Him in.
Holy Spirit come.

Ministry is a Work of God

The work of church planting is both exciting and discouraging. One day, you’re seeing brand new people come to faith and getting baptized. The next day, you’re holding a bible study and no one shows up.

The mission God gives people that are a part of new churches is big. We have to meet people, gather them together, and see a team of leaders grow. Sometimes, it feels impossible.

We are not the first one to get an impossible mission though. Jesus gave an impossible mission to his disciples. Their mission must have felt impossible. They were going to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). They were going to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). They were going to do even greater things than Jesus (John 14:12-14).

With all that stuff to do, it is both fascinating and instructive that the first order of business was to wait. Wait until God sends His Holy Spirit to empower them (Acts 1:4-5). The mission God had given them was just too big.

It was going to be a work of God.

The growth of the Church wasn’t a work of human ingenuity, eloquent speeches, ingenious marketing, or clever leadership. The Holy Spirit came in power, with signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts that were impossible to deny.

We won’t have to struggle to get people excited to come to a group or a service if the Holy Spirit is present. Churches won’t grow by coercion. They won’t grow by sweet websites, sexy flyers, and the perfect worship service. They will grow by a work of the Holy Spirit. The work of God is so important that the apostles were called to wait for it.

As the Church, do we do our work as if we believe it is God’s job to provide increase? Do we really believe it is God’s work and not ours?

God doesn’t share the glory. And he isn’t impressed by gimmicks to get a lot of people to walk into a service. He is impressed by hearts devoted to him and lives lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, operating in their spiritual gifts, overcoming sin and drawing others into fellowship with the Trinity.

Father, help us to walk in the realization that ministry is your work. It is a work of God.