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How you can change your world

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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Topical Scripture: Acts 3:1-10

A new series of New Testaments has just been released for evangelistic purposes. It profiles well-known athletes who talk openly about their faith in Jesus. For instance, the football issue profiles Dallas Cowboys tackle Chad Hennings, who says, “God showed his great love for us by sending his Son, Jesus, to die for us. That love is available to us just for the asking. And that love is the answer to life. The more I live, the more I find that fame is not the answer. Neither is social status or money. The things of this world will fail you. People will fail you. Christ is constant. That’s where you can put your faith and trust. He loves us no matter what, and he will give us the strength to handle whatever comes our way.”

Other Christian football players profiled include Greg Ellis, Kent Graham, Danny Kanell, Aeneas Williams, Tony Boselli, Jason Sehorn, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, Brent Jones, and Trent Dilfer.

Christian basketball players include A. C. Green, Hersey Hawkins, Nancy Lieberman, Kevin Johnson, Mark Jackson, and Mark Price. Christian baseball players and managers include John Wetteland, Johnny Oates, John Smoltz, Tony Fernandez, Orel Hershiser, Keith Lockhart, Felipe Alou, Brett Butler, John Olerud, and Joe Girardi.

Today we conclude our week of prayer for global missions with a very simple point: God can use anyone. He can give every one of us a sense of fulfillment and significance, and use us in ways which have eternal impact on our world. Any one of us.

I want to show you that it’s so, biblically and personally.

Unlikely evangelists

Our text opens with Peter and John on their way to the Temple at the time of prayer, 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here they meet with a beggar, a man born lame, now over forty years old (4:22). Laid there daily, to beg from those who go by. The same steps, the same gate, the same ritual, even the same beggar, week after week, day after day. The same helpless situation, year after year.

Of all the people in the crowd who could help this man, they would be the least likely, wouldn’t they? They have no money to give him—”Silver and gold I do not have” (v. 6). They have no medical expertise to offer him. But it turns out they have something better. Something every Christian in this sanctuary has to offer the crippled and hurting people who surround us today.

Our text says that “Peter looked straight at him, as did John” (v. 4). The Greek word means to stare with intense purpose. Others looked, but Peter and John noticed; others heard, but they listened; others rushed by, but they stopped. Why?

They see the need. This is where all ministry begins. No seminary degrees required. No special gifts or abilities are needed. No sin or failures in our lives exempt us. Every one of us can do this.

Next, they trust the name: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). Not in their name—they have no power to help him. Not in the name of the Temple, for it cannot heal; not in the name of religion, for it cannot restore; not in the name of their faith, for it is not his. In the name, person, authority of Jesus Christ, and in no other. Because no other can help.

They know that Jesus can heal this man, that he can meet any need and solve any crisis. Do you know that?

Finally, they touch the hurt. Many in their day believed that people with physical handicaps were somehow under the judgment of God. This is unbiblical and wrong, but it was their popular theology. So, you don’t touch a person like this, lest you become contaminated spiritually.

But: “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up” (v. 7). Peter actually “grabbed” the man, the Greek says. He got involved personally. Again, no special skills, training, or background are needed. Any one of us can who will.

And here’s the result: the man is instantly healed, physically. And spiritually: “he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

And he becomes a powerful and remarkable evangelist himself: “When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vs. 9-10).

Peter, John, and this now healed crippled man make perhaps the most unlikely evangelistic association in Christian history. And among the most joyful. Because God can change our world, and use us to change the world.

Can God use hurting people?

Is this still true? Can God really use anyone who wants to be used, no matter our background, pain, mistakes, or circumstances? Can God use hurting people?

Perhaps you saw the USA Today story about Eddie Timanus. He is a sports writer for USA Today, can hit a 70-mph fast ball, play football and beach volleyball, and recently won $70,000 and two cars on Jeopardy after five straight wins. He also happens to be blind. Does pain or disability disqualify anyone in life?

Or with God? Peter denied he even knew Jesus, three times. Did God use him here, and for the rest of his life?

I’ve discovered personally this fact: hurting people can best help other hurting people.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, the people who most encouraged her and us were cancer survivors.

When my sister-in-law went through a divorce, the people who most encouraged our family were those who had experienced such a tragedy themselves.

Linda Sharp was my friend in college. I attended her father’s funeral after his death to cancer, and then six months later, her sister’s funeral after she was killed by a drunk driver. When my father died, she helped me more than anyone else.

And I’ve seen it in ministry as well.

Ondie Brum was a convicted felon who came to Christ in a state penitentiary. Now he has a ministry with prisoners across the state.

Walter was my student at Southwestern Seminary; he told our class one day about the year when his wife and four of his children died. Then, with tears in his eyes, he said to us, “God is still on his throne.”

A lady came to our contemporary service in Atlanta; the next week she brought her former female lover; and the next week she brought her entire AA support group.

How many of us are hurting? Can God use us? And change our world with the joy and satisfaction of helping others, as we change the world?

Can God use successful people?

On the other hand, can God use successful people as well?

Paul was the most brilliant scholar of his generation, with the equivalent of a Harvard Ph.D. and facility in three languages and cultures. As a result, he could speak with great effectiveness to synagogue rulers, brilliant philosophers, Roman officials and governors, and even Caesar himself. Can God use successful people?

What about people of business success?

Bob Buford was a very wealthy cable executive who scaled back his business to found Leadership Network, Inc. This ministry today brings together hundreds of executives and Christian leaders from around the world. Bob’s book, Half-Time, has changed thousands of lives.

What about people successful in sports?

Tom Landry was interviewed on the Cowboys’ retrospective which aired a few weeks ago. Then player after player, coach after coach, were interviewed regarding his influence on their lives. I especially remember what Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson said: “When he was my coach, I rejected everything about the man—his morals, lifestyle, and Christianity. But today I try to emulate him in every way I can.”

Payne Stewart wore a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet when he won the U.S. Open, donated $500,000 recently to a Christian ministry in Orlando, and had an eternal impact on his fellow golf professionals and the larger sports world.

Can God use successful people? And change our world with the joy of helping people, as we change the world?

Can God use “secular” talents?

One last question: can God use so-called “secular” talents for spiritual purposes? Does all ministry have to be done on the church campus, by people with so-called “spiritual” gifts?

Biblically there’s no distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred.”Dr. Luke became Paul’s personal physician after coming to Christ in Antioch. Matthew the tax-collector used his scribal abilities to record the Sermon on the Mount and four other teaching discourses of our Lord.

There’s no “secular” place where God cannot work. The Dallas Morning News recently told the story of Patrick Murphy, the former Trappist monk who is now a management consultant. His purpose: to help business people, including top executives, find their souls. People magazine recently told the story of Charles Bolin, a graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary and current chaplain at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He is ministering to hundreds of people—employees, dancers, dealers, and gamblers—people who never go to anyone’s church. He claims he’s going where Jesus would go. He’s right.

And there’s no “secular” talent God cannot use. I think of Ethel Childress, the classically-trained musician who founded “Creative Hearts,” a ministry to disadvantaged children in the area of our Atlanta church. In a year she reached sixty families for Christ.

I remember Scott Condra, the banker with a love for outdoor hiking. His Atlanta Outdoor Adventures brought hundreds of people into God’s creation, where he shared the gospel freely and effectively. Jason McCranie was a brilliant graphic artist and computer technician whom God used to make possible our contemporary service in Atlanta.

Do you have a talent, an ability you’ve never considered using for the Kingdom of God? Can God use it? And give you the joy and fulfillment of helping people? Can God use you?

Conclusion

I’d like you to meet someone who proves that God can use us, each of us. Marian Osteen has grown up in Park Cities Baptist Church, and recently spent two years serving as a missionary in Nicaragua.

Dr. Denison: Marian, tell us a little about yourself.

Marian: I grew up here in North Dallas and I have been going to Park Cities Baptist since I was four years old. I graduated from Lake Highlands High School and went on to Texas A&M where I studied education.

Dr. Denison: How did you get started in missions?

Marian: I grew up learning about missions through Mission Friends and through G.A.s, and that interest was furthered when I was a youth under Jeff Warren. I went on some wonderful mission trips and loved those memories. During my time at Texas A&M God just really just showed me the importance of reaching the lost and having a concern for them.

I heard about the Journeyman Program through word of mouth. I hadn’t seen any signs or anything and I found out more about it and found myself at a conference in Virginia. There were binders of jobs listed all around the world for all different fields. I looked at the ones for teachers and I ended up putting my top three choices. My first choice was to be a teacher in Managua, Nicaragua at an English-speaking, Christian school there. A couple of weeks later I got a letter that said I had been assigned to my top choice. In August 1997 I headed out to Managua and I just returned back this summer. I was there for two years teaching third-graders.

Dr. Denison: What did you see God do in Nicaragua?

Marian: God is doing amazing things in Nicaragua, using all different sorts of people. There are mission teams from all around the United States going there every week or monthly, especially after hurricane Mitch a year ago. That was a huge devastation on the country. With widespread flooding, thousands lost their homes. Many were killed. God has used that to bring people there to rebuild houses, to build churches. God is using different people from all walks of life.

I was fortunate enough to go to two churches every Sunday. One was an English speaking, international Christian fellowship and one was a Spanish speaking church. At the international fellowship, I got to know missionaries from all around the world. One was a woman named Saundra who was climbing the corporate ladder in Florida and she ended up deciding to come to Nicaragua. She was starting feeding centers, training pastors to bring nutritious food to children and families.

Another woman was Helen from New Zealand, who was in her late sixties. Her husband died two years ago and she’s working to reach women of the street, prostitutes. She is meeting them and loving them and sharing the Gospel with them. Another man is Dr. Weckter—he and his wife and three kids are there. He is a college professor and is very highly educated. He is training pastors and working with the business class there. So God is using all different types of people.

Dr. Denison: What would you say to people who think God cannot use them to change their world?

Marian: I kind of went through that. I was speaking my English and could barely get around in the marketplace. God showed me that He wanted me there to teach third grade. Of course, I could be doing that in Dallas, but He had called me to Managua. I was obeying him daily and counted it such a privilege to teach my ten third graders Bible every morning and to pray with them.

There’s one student in particular named Jacob. He was such a precious child, but he had been acting out some and it came time for me to call his mom and have a conference with her. I knew that things were not too great at home. Every morning Jacob would pray that his father in Canada would become a Christian and that his Mom would stop saying bad words and stop drinking.

When I was about to have this conference I was pretty angry at this woman because she would come home late at night and she wouldn’t spend time with Jacob and his two-year old sister. I asked the other teachers to please pray for me that I would love her right where she is. So, she came after school in her stylish suit. She’s young and beautiful. We sat down. As she started to talk I realized what a hurting person she was and this overwhelming, supernatural love came over me. I almost felt a physical warmth for her. I just loved her so much and I had never felt that much love for a complete stranger.

I asked her at the end of our conference if I could pray for her and her family. I held both her hands and we bowed our heads and the Holy Spirit gave me words. When we raised our heads she had tears streaming down her face. The Lord was calling me to reach out to some of the mothers of my students. There were three that he put on my heart in particular. I had them over for dinner and some of them invited me over dinner. God really used my willingness to be friends with people I wouldn’t have ordinarily been friends with.

Before I left Nicaragua, Indiana, Jacob’s mother, couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave and why I was moving back to Dallas. She said that she really wished she had met me earlier. I don’t have a dramatic testimony where she came to the Lord and completely changed her life. But I do know that God is working in her life and that there are people there whom He has placed and as long as they are obedient to what the Spriit tells them to do, then Indiana will come to know the Lord.

So it comes to a very simple prayer, Isaiah’s prayer: “Here am I; send me.” Will you pray that prayer, right now?