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Series: Seven Realities for Experiencing God

The Blue Collar God


Acts 14:8-20
Cascades Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, JX MI
Sept. 19, 2004

We have just come through the season of conventions. Both the

Democratic and the Republican conventions are behind us now. And depending

on who you are talking to will decide whether the convention was a success or

not. Every pundit shows his stripes this time of year.

What fascinates me is how people regard the speeches. They talk about

forceful deliveries, well-paced monologues, good eye-contact – the candidate

was warm or a cold fish (again, depending on who you talk to). We watch the

performances of our politicians and grade them on scales of sincerity,

persuasiveness, coherence – all the while suspending what we know to be the

reality. We know that the words coming out of the mouth of the candidates are

the words of a speech writer and that his seeming engagement is produced by

the magic of tele-prompters.

Now that’s not to say that the candidates have no input into their speeches

– they certainly do. But the illusion of eloquence is created by the speech-writer.

And the eye-contact, which leads us to believe the candidate is speaking directly

to us, is created by the speech being scrolled across transparent tele-prompters.

These allow the speaker to read his speech while maintaining the illusion of

spontaneity and eye-contact with the audience.


Just about anyone could produce such an effect with the right equipment.

Why, even I could preach like Billy Sunday if I had such resources at my beck

and call. The point is we tend to focus on the appearance rather than giving the

credit where it is actually due. The same is true in ministry.

We see a great work being done and we tend to think about how great the

man or woman is doing the work. We marvel at the ability of a Bill Hybels or the

dedication of a Billy Graham – we focus in on the person and forget all about the

big picture. And as a result, we often miss the hand of God in the midst of it all,

working out the Creator’s will.

Let me ask you a question. How busy is God in our world today? Is God

as active in the world today as he was during the reign of David? Does God

work in your life and in my life as often as he did in the life of Abraham? I don’t

know about you, but I wonder sometimes. I read the conversations – literal

conversations – between God and Abraham and I think to myself, “Faith must

have been easier then. Abraham could really see God working.”

The reality is, faith was probably a bit more unsettling then. Always

remember that the Scriptures do not necessarily record the times of silence – the

times when Abraham simply walked in obedience during a lull in the

conversation. Imagine the silence between the command to sacrifice Isaac on

Mt. Moriah and the angel commanding Abraham to drop the knife.

Yet, there is no doubt that Abraham experienced God in a profound way.

The relationship he had with the Creator redefined his life, gave him new
direction and purpose. Can we say the same of our relationship with God? How

do we experience God? Is God at work in us?

This morning we want to explore that question. We are starting a series

called the Seven Realities for Experiencing God. Over the next 8 or 9 weeks we

will be exploring what it means to experience God in our contemporary world.

We begin by looking at our text for this morning, Acts 14:8-20.

There is something fascinating about this passage – something implied. If

you get caught up in the appearance, the action of the scene you will miss it sure

as the world. I know that until I started preparing for this message, I missed it.

Of the uncounted number of times I have read this passage, it never dawned on

me to ask one simple question. Look with me at vv.8-10.

In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from
birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking.
Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and
called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and
began to walk.

What is the image that overwhelms this passage? The lame guy getting

healed, right? And that image gets lost in what happens next. Paul heals the

man with crippled feet and so wows the crowd, they begin calling him Hermes,

the messenger of Zeus. Before long, the high priest of the Zeus cult shows up

with bulls and wreaths and begins setting up to start offering sacrifices at the feet

of Paul and Barnabas. The crowd took them gods coming in human form.

But there is something that happens prior to the healing that is truly

amazing, something that goes unnoticed by all but the author. Go back again to
v. 9, “He [the lame man] listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked

directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed….” How in the world did

Paul see that the man had faith to be healed? Did the man have certain look on

his face? Is there an “I’m-ready-to-be-healed” look?

No. What you see here is Paul’s words to the Corinthians in action. In 1

Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul speaks of those in Christ being indwelt by the Spirit. As

such, the Spirit who searches all things, including the deep things of God,

enables us to comprehend what is truly God’s. In other words, God revealed to

Paul where he was already at work. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul discerned that

the lame man was receptive to the message of the Gospel, that God had

endowed him with the gift of faith. Paul could see God at work because the Spirit

had given him eyes to see. And since he could see where God was at work,

Paul could join him in the work God was already doing.

So how did Paul know to be looking for God at work? Because Paul

understood what is our first reality for experiencing God. He realized that God is

always at work.

We serve a “blue-collar” God. One who is constantly at work, upholding

creation, guarding against the complete breakdown into chaos. But most

importantly, he is at work reconciling the world to himself. In fact, he shapes all

of history in conformity to his plan of redemption. As Paul points out in

Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined

according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with
the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ,

might be for the praise of his glory.”

What that means for us is that as his people we need to be on the look out

for where he is working. We know that God is at work around us, he is actively

engaged in bringing reconciliation to the world. If we are to experience God in

profound and life-changing ways we need to join him in his work. Now, this is not

as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact, Jesus modeled this for us and then promised

to include us. Look with me first at John 5:16-20

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews
persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work
to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews
tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath,
but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal
with God. Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son
can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father
doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the
Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your
amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

Do you see what’s going on? The religious leaders of the day were bent

out of shape because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. A violation of the Law, in

their opinion. Unfortunately, it was an opinion based upon a flawed

understanding.

You see, they were treating Jesus as some sort of magic man – some

freak of nature who could heal people at will. They were treating Jesus as if he

were a healer by trade and he plied that trade on the day of rest. But Jesus

paints a different picture. He tries to clarify for the religious leaders that it wasn’t

him at work, but God through him.


“My Father is always at work,” he says. “And he includes me in his work.

So as long as he works, I work. I do nothing on my own – I have surrendered my

initiative to him. I only do what I see the Father doing. Because he loves me, he

includes me in everything he is doing.”

Did you catch the key Jesus gave for his knowing the Father’s will – where

he was working? “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

It begins with the love relationship. The reason Jesus is able to know where the

Father is at work is because the Father includes him in his counsels out of love.

Never forget, that when Christ walked this earth he laid aside the prerogatives of

his deity. All the miracles, all the wisdom – the entire sum of his ministry on earth

– was by way of the Spirit of God working through him at the direction of the

Father. As Peter says in Acts 2:22, “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God

to you by miracles, wonders and signs which God did through him in your

midst.”

The point is this, before all else must come the love relationship. We must

pursue God, even as he has pursued us. The Scriptures make it clear that God

rewards those who seek him. He reveals, he discloses himself and his ways to

all those who seek him earnestly. If we are to see where the Father is working

that we join him in his work, we must first focus on the love relationship.

Why is that? Because that is what God created you for – for the love

relationship between creature and Creator. God’s involving you in his work is an

extension of that relationship. So rather than seeking the big assignment from
God – an accomplishment which distinguishes us – we should seek God with all

our heart.

I remember when I finally understood that I was called to ministry, I tried

my best to avoid being a pastor – you know, a guy who preaches every Sunday.

I just didn’t see myself as a “preachy” sort of guy. Besides that, I hated speaking

in front of people.

So I tried to appease God by going into youth ministry. I thought for sure

that one form of ministry was as good as another. Why would it matter to God? I

was still serving the Kingdom, I was just doing it in a way I was more comfortable

with – a way that seemed more suited to my gifts. Besides, God had the wrong

guy for preaching – I was slow of speech. All nervous and fidgety when I had to

speak to a crowd – and I mumbled. Not really a good candidate for preaching.

So, I figured I would save God the embarrassment of having me speak for him

and just serve quietly as a youth pastor.

You see, I had real problem. I was putting the cart before the horse.

Rather than loving God and seeking his face, his will, I was trying to obey him by

seeking his permission to do my will. Instead of seeking God, immersing myself

deeper in him, I immediately began setting up limits to what God could do

through me by focusing on my gifts. I failed to realize that the gift God gives is

himself and through him all things are possible, even me preaching.
So, it is because of the love relationship that the Father reveals what he is

doing. Christ, in turn, reveals the Father’s work to us. Look with me at John

15:9-16.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in
my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,
just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his
love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that
your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each
other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if
you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because
a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have
called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I
have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose
you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.
Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
This is my command: Love each other.

There are two things to note about this passage. First, look at the

motivation for including the disciples in the “master’s business.” Love. As the

Father loved me, he says, I love you. Just as the Father showed me what he

was doing so that I could work along side him, I now show you. It is a mark of

my love.

Second, what is the mark of our love for Christ? That we obey him. In

other words, that we join him in his work. That we accept the appointment to go

and bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. Then, he says, the Father will give you

whatever you ask in my name.

You see the key to experiencing God in the work-a-day world is to realize

that he is already at work around you and he invited you to tag along. God wants
us to be involved. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, Paul tells us that God is at work

reconciling the world to himself through Jesus Christ and that he commits that

ministry to us – his church. We are to carry out that ministry by proclaiming the

Gospel. As Paul puts it, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were

pleading through us.

But in order for us to see where he is at work – we must know what the

work is and then we must trust God to gift us through the Holy Spirit to carry it

out. How do we know what the work is? We focus on the love relationship. We

seek God in prayer and in his Word to learn the Father’s heart. As we grow to

know the Father’s heart, our hearts become tender, sensitive to plucking of the

Holy Spirit. We will hear his voice, so to speak, directing us to where he is

working so that we can join him.

Henry Blackaby, whose book Experiencing God provides the structure for

this sermon series, writes about trying to get a Bible study started at a local

college. After consulting with experts, they tried to get something started in the

dorms. For two years, they failed to get anything off the ground. One day he

called aside the students who were part of this effort and told them to start

looking for where God was already at work. He reminded them from the

Scriptures that there are none who are righteous and seek after God, and no one

comes to Jesus unless the Father draws them. He advised his students to keep

their ears perked for people asking spiritual questions.


The following Wednesday one of his students reported that a girl she had

been in class with for two years came up to her and started asking questions

about the Bible. It turns out that she and some other girls got curious and started

studying it on their own, but they wanted someone who knew a little bit about it to

lead a Bible study. Would she be willing?

People of God, the Father is always at work around us, he is “blue collar”

God; a tremendous work ethic. And he wants us to join him – to be a “blue

collar” church. It begins with the love relationship. Working hard to develop our

relationship – to deepen our love and commitment – to Christ. As we come to

know the Father’s heart, we must begin looking for where he is at work. He will

show us, if we are willing. And then, once we know where he is at work, we must

join him, trusting him to enable us by the Spirit to do all he asks. When we do,

we will begin to experience God profound and life-changing ways.