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God’s power for God’s purpose

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Acts 1:1-8

Have you ever run out of gas? I don’t mean figuratively but literally. These days our cars tell us how many miles we have left in the tank, and all kinds of lights and bells go off when we get close. It wasn’t always that way.

I’ve run out of gas twice. The first time was in Midland when I had just bought the car of my dreams, a 1965 Ford Mustang fastback. White, candy-apple red interior, four on the floor English racing transmission. And a defective gas gauge, as it turned out. My first week to drive the car, it said I had a quarter of a tank of gas left when I ran out. Janet was not amused when I called for help.

The other time was also in Midland. I drove one of the church’s vans to Brownwood for a trustee meeting at Howard Payne University. The staff gave me the key to the vehicle, but not the key to the locking gas cap. I pulled into town, running on fumes, to discover that I had no way to get gas into the tank. A locksmith had to save the day.

Both problems are also parables for us this morning. We’ve heard about the gospel and us, the gospel and relationships, the gospel and the church, the gospel and the community. Now we need to know how to take the gospel to the world. Jesus’ last words to the church are clear: “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” (Acts 1:8).

Here we discover the purpose of the church: “you will be my witnesses,” taking Christ to our city and world. Here we discover the people who fulfill the purpose: “you” will receive power and “you” will be my witnesses. The Greek is plural, including every one of us listening to these words today.

Here we discover the priority by which the people fulfill the purpose: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But how do we do this? How do we reach the “ends of the earth”?

You’re just one person sitting in a church service on a Sunday morning. The world is very large and very lost. War in Iraq and Afghanistan; tensions in the Middle East; economic turmoil at home. Newspapers this week told of people selling heirlooms to buy gas. Life can feel overwhelming today. Now you come to church and hear that you are supposed to take the gospel to the entire world. How is that possible?

My job today is to talk to you about the power by which the people fulfill the purpose and accomplish the priorities of the church: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The power of God really is sufficient to accomplish the purpose of God.

But there are two obstacles to receiving that power this morning. Like my Mustang, we need to remember that we need power. Like my church van, we need to know how to receive it. Let’s look at each of these decisions in turn.

You and I live in Dallas, the most entrepreneurial, can-do culture I’ve ever known. There’s nothing people in this city won’t try, no challenge they won’t accept. It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink.

There’s no natural reason why Dallas-Fort Worth should have become the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area–no great rivers, mountains or ports. Just some people on a prairie willing to work very hard, to do whatever it takes.

That spirit is infused in everything this city attempts. We’re close to finishing the Cultural Arts Center, raising $335 million, nearly all of it through private donations. Our mayor is in China working to enhance our status as a world-class city. From the High Five to the new Trinity River Bridge, we’ll envision anything.

But that spirit can be a problem. We can rely on ourselves rather than God, trusting in our abilities and education and expertise rather than the Holy Spirit. Like my Mustang, we can run out of gas and not know it.

Today I must remind you that none of us can convict a single person of a single sin or save a single soul from hell for heaven. We cannot do anything spiritual using human ability. God’s word is clear: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). If Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ closest friends and greatest apostles, had to seek the power of God to fulfill the purpose of God, so must we. Do you know that you need the power of God today? Do you know how to receive it?

Driving that church van, I knew I needed fuel, but didn’t have the key to unlock the tank. Do you have that key this morning?

Jesus told the first Christians to “Wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 4-5). So they prayed and waited, and the Spirit fell.

Paul told us how to have their experience: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). First, ask the Spirit to show you any sin which would keep him from using you, and confess it with a repentant heart. Second, ask the Spirit to take control of your life and empower you to be used by God. Surrender and submit every part of your day to him. Third, believe that he has done what you asked, that he will empower and use you as you trust him. And he will.

This must be the daily routine of our lives, the way we begin every morning of the day. You put gas in the tank before you drive the car. You plug a computer into the socket before you turn it on. This is how God wants you to begin every morning this week, and for the rest of your life.

Conclusion

This church was founded nearly 70 years ago by people who believed that with the power of God, the people of God could accomplish the priorities of God and fulfill the purpose of God.

No church sponsored us or gave us money. We had no pastor or staff, but our first members had an urgent desire to take Christ to what was then far-north Dallas. They knocked on doors and invited friends and neighbors to come to their services in the University Park Elementary School. In 1940 they called Dr. Reid to be their first pastor and began meeting in a house on Lover’s Lane, where the HPISD administration building is located today.

During World War II, the church sent buses to Love Field Air Station to bring soldiers to Sunday School and worship. Eventually the congregation purchased this land on Northwest High and broke ground on Mother’s Day, 60 years ago. Dr. Howard, the church’s second pastor, didn’t use a shovel but a bulldozer. They built a Sanctuary which pictures Jesus pointing to the Great Commission: Go and teach all nations.

On this significant, historic Sunday you and I are called to continue that vision, that commission, that calling. Will you begin every day by submitting to the Holy Spirit and seeking his power? Will you ask his Spirit to use you to accomplish God’s purpose for your life? Will you trust that his power is sufficient for that purpose, that the Spirit of God can use you and your church to change the world? If you won’t, he won’t. If you will, he will. It’s that simple. God’s people can fulfill God’s purpose by God’s priorities if they have God’s power. Do you believe that?