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Divine Opportunities

Notes & Transcripts

Divine Opportunities

August 20, 2000            Acts 9:32-43

Scripture: 1Peter 5:1-7 (Peter's philosophy of ministry.)

Introduction:

          How do you like being disturbed?

          Most of us may identify that question with a mental disorder, and there is plenty of that going around, but I am referring to incidents of interruption.

          If you are like me, I tend to focus quite strongly on whatever I am doing at the time.

          This quality has become mitigated or appropriately modified over the years.

          But, frankly, none of us like to be stopped in mid-sentence, mid-project, mid-sleep, mid-meal, mid-worship, mid-prayer, or mid-bathroom break.

          Some people just seem to have a habit of what seems to be inappropriately disturbing us, having little sense of our sovereign sanctity.

          And we feel "put out", so to speak.

          Have we been discounted? Perhaps not.

Is our child discounting us when they interrupt us with some need that seems urgent to them?

Now, they may need to learn some manners, but another way to see this is from their perspective.

They know we can meet their need. They see us as more powerful, wiser, trustworthy, and in control of our lives and possessions – all of which we can use to help them.

Our daughter, Amy, called Tuesday night at about 10:30 after we were in bed and asleep.

She wanted to share with us how the "Prayer Portions" book we had given her recently was meeting her spiritual need in the midst of continuing crisis.

And she wanted more affirmation and more advice.

I'm so glad she knew that she could call and wake us up and know that she had value.

I heard Dr. Dobson say one time that when our children get to be teenagers, we can't just talk to them when some spiritual instruction is on our own mind and expect to be heard.

We have to be willing to even be awakened if that is the time they want to talk or need us or know something, since that is when God is talking to them to be able to use us in their lives.

The windows of opportunity for truth with most teenagers are brief and sporadic.

But truthfully, most of us really don't grow much beyond that same condition.

Put yourself in the same place with your boss at work.

Why are they there?

They are there because they are supposed to meet the need of the employee to accomplish the goal of the workplace.

We should be able to come to them with our legitimate needs, at least to us, without fear of being rebuffed.

And God is no different in his relationship to us, except that he is perfect and he perfectly meets all our needs, even in ways we cannot fully understand.

But the greatest thing about God is that he wants us to disturb him.

He wants us to come to him with whatever is on our hearts.

He wants to take the opportunities that life gives us to meet our needs, and he doesn't belittle us from coming, even when we are foolish.

I always liked that phrase that often gets tossed out to the class by the instructor at the beginning of each semester of school, "Don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question."

This falls into the realm of, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

But I wonder why I still sometimes feel stupid when I ask questions.

The wise instructor will treat you in such a manner as to keep you coming back for more insight.

He knows that stirring the imagination sometimes creates some false starts.

But let us also consider ministry.

Ministry, more than any other calling, is a calling founded upon interruption – or should we say, opportunity.

It is not that ministry gets interrupted more than any other profession, but that the interruptions are divinely ordained and used by God to further his program and build his kingdom.

Why is this? It is because with God, people are most important.

And people can sense their importance with God when his servants, you and I, take their interruptions as divine opportunities to serve and teach and pray and heal and help and love them.

We must be willing to be interrupted with peoples' needs as divine opportunities in order for them to know that they have value with God and with us.

By the way, that in itself would be enough to heal many people that come to us with needs.

Those of us who minister, and that includes all Christ's disciples as he directs us, must always seek to be open to these heavenly interruptions as opportunities for the gospel.

We must be reminded that Jesus always had time for people and their needs.

He took every opportunity to teach truth and be concerned about people.

I know that I have always been impressed with those ministers who are not flustered by the press of need and seem never to be in a hurry.

Their faith seems confident to allow God to equip them and fill in the gaps where they are not able to put any more time into it.

As responsible servants who use their time wisely, they know that God will enable whatever he allows.

They see every interruption as an opportunity for bringing people closer to God.

I strive to be that kind of a servant.

I hope and pray for God's grace to make it so.

And God continues to do it.

As I worked on this message this week, I had seven opportunities for ministry present themselves to me as examples of what I need to personally incorporate according to what I would preach today.

(Chris D., Virginia M., Diane Simons, Amy C., Selena & Miguel, Martin, Amanda P.)

The last couple of messages in Acts have dealt in some manner with the idea of barriers to the gospel.

Philip dealt with spiritual, cultural, and physical barriers that the Holy Spirit was at work in overcoming.

Saul had an intensely prejudicial personal barrier that Jesus himself dealt with as Saul was on the Damascus road on his way to persecute Christians.

Now, in this morning's passage in Acts 9:32-43, we will rather deal with some opportunities for the gospel that present themselves in Peter's ministry as he visits the saints in Joppa and Lydda between Judea and Samaria.

We will learn that the church grows not only by the help of the Holy Spirit in overcoming barriers outside of it, but also by taking advantage of the opportunities within it.

We can advance the cause of the gospel not only by a purposeful reaching out beyond the church, but by what the church is called to be from within itself.

Do you recall in Acts 8:25, that when Peter and John left Samaria after giving the Holy Spirit to the believers that were evangelized by Philip, that they then returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages along the way?

Now we see Peter leaving Jerusalem and going back into this area to strengthen the churches that were established.

They could have been established by Philip, by Peter and John on their return trip, or they could have been started by the believers that left Jerusalem when persecution broke out after the stoning of Stephen.

          But however established, Peter's ministry this time is to travel about and visit the saints that were there.

          We see him carrying out the Acts 1:8 commission that Jesus gave him.

Big Question:

What opportunities for ministry within the body of believers might the Holy Spirit reveal to us in order to reach those who have yet to come in?

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (vv. 32-35)

          So as Peter traveled about he came to the saints in Lydda.

          This is the first of two places mentioned in our passage today.

          And Lydda is on the way to the other one, Joppa.

          Lydda is 26 miles NW of Jerusalem and Joppa is 38 miles NW of Jerusalem and it is the only natural seaport in Israel.

          Now, if these pronunciations seem strange to you, it is because I looked up how they are to be pronounced.

          A professor in preaching class last year had told the class that we needed to do that since we might have some person knowledgeable of Greek and Hebrew in our congregation who would surely correct us if we didn't know our stuff well enough to pronounce the words right.

          Anyway, we get a clue here that Aeneas must be a believer since, presumably, Peter found him among the saints he was visiting.

          It is important for us to realize this since I believe today's passage speaks about the value of our ministry inside the church.

          Now, Aeneas had been a bedridden paralytic for eight years.

          He would have been a paralytic before he came to faith in Christ since the church was very young at this point.

          Not everyone is immediately set free in fact from all their ailments at the moment they believe.

          But we are all set free in potential – either in this life or the next.

          But here is a suffering believer.

          Presumably, all is well with his soul if not his body.

          Here we see a beautiful picture of ministry within the church.

          As we read Peter's philosophy of ministry this morning, he desires to be a humble shepherd of God's flock as Christ told him too, "If you love me, feed my sheep," Jesus told him three times.

          Peter is eager to serve as an example to the flock.

          He knows that since Christ cares for him, he must care for others.

          And so Peter says to Aeneas, "Jesus Christ heals you."

          He did not say, "Jesus is engaged in healing you."

          He did not say, "Jesus has healed you."

          But he did say, "This moment Jesus Christ heals you."

          This is something we should all take to heart.

          There is present truth and power in Christ for every moment of our existence.

          Our healing is an ongoing thing and it is sufficient for each moment.

          But sometimes we just need to hear it from another believer.

          Note that he immediately gets up.

          There are no second thoughts.

          At last for Aeneas, his paralysis is over.

          I believe he would have said, "I have waited until now for my Lord to release my body, but he was always sufficient for me."

          Peter tells him to take up his mat.

          He won't need it anymore.

          In fact, the historical use of this word in the original language would indicate using the mat he once slept on to now sit on as he gets something to eat.

          Notice that Peter says that it is Jesus who heals him.

          Healing is always in the name of Jesus.

          We have no power within ourselves.

          It is only in the name of Jesus that any of us ever get any kind of healing at all.

          But this miracle doesn't end here because all who live in Lydda – stretching all the way up the Mediterranean coast (the Plain of Sharon) to Ceasarea hear about it and turn to the Lord.

          B.      Implication

The Holy Spirit uses our concern for healing within the body of believers to reach those who have yet to come in.

          C.      Illustration

          Patricia – ministry opportunity as a result of "Lydia's Women."

          D.      Application

          Peter was willing to stop preaching, or whatever he was doing along the way, to pay attention to this paralyzed man.

          No doubt he had a busy agenda – places to go, people to see, things to do – but he took time for what was truly important and reaped the result he had been looking for and more.

          He had gone to build up the churches and he brought in a harvest of abundance.

          When he did what the church was supposed to do, he reaped what the church is supposed to reap.

          Service to the saints results in service to the world.

          Can we expect this kind of healing today?

          Perhaps.

          God, to the best of my knowledge and faith, is able and willing to give the gift of healing to some in the faith.

          And when that is genuine, we should not hesitate to partake, submitting to the will of God in all things.

          But we should begin first with our own church.

 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

 

 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

 

 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

 (James 5:14-16 NIVUS)

          If we go to someone else, our church should know about it.

          But we should not seek any and all sources in a confused state of panic praying, trying to cover all the bases.   

Even scientific studies uphold the value of prayer and faith in healing.

          But it is always in the name of Jesus.

          Remember that even Paul prayed three times for release from his thorn in the flesh, but God said his grace was sufficient.

          Instead of panicking, Paul gladly boasted about his weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

          God may have something better in store for us (Rom. 8:28).

          But we need to stay focused on the idea that when we serve the needs of those inside the church, we serve the needs of those outside the church too.

          They see the genuine concern, the value and effectiveness of faith.

          And they want the beauty and power of what we possess, which is Christ, for themselves too.   

II.      Cycle Two (vv. 36-42)

          A.      Narrative

          Now we turn to the second miracle in today's passage which will have a similar result to the first.

          While Peter was still in Lydda, a woman becomes sick and dies within the body of believers in Joppa.

          Joppa is the present day seaport of Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

          The woman's name is Tabitha in Aramaic or Dorcas in Greek.

          Her name means "gazelle" and indeed she is graceful.

          She was known for her good works of helping the poor.

          She was truly a saint of a woman.

          She had the spiritual gifts of service and acts of mercy (Rom. 12:7-8).

          The believers wash her body as was custom for the dead, but they do not prepare it for burial the same day which would also be customary.

          They place her body in an upstairs room and send a delegation of two men for the apostle Peter.

          I believe they fully expect that Peter will raise her from the dead.

          They have heard he raised the paralytic in Lydda.

          They have heard the accounts of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter from the dead (Mark 5) when Peter was there also.

          Even though Peter had yet never raised anyone from the dead, the believers had faith that in the name of Jesus he could do that too.

          They wanted this woman back.

          She was too valuable of a saint to lose.

          In fact, when Peter got there, all the widows from the community whom Tabitha had helped were standing around her body crying.

          They made their case for Peter to raise her from the dead because they showed him all the robes and clothing that she had made.

          I believe that what they showed Peter was what they were wearing.

          Perhaps the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing when she was alive, as Jesus had commanded in Mt. 6:3.

          But now that she was dead, her testimony had come alive.

          What a blessing it would be if each of us would have such testimony from the poor at our funerals.

          The tesimony toward us from the poor seems to carry much more weight than what the testimony of the rich might do.

          But this is a testimony that comes to life only when we pass from life.

          These widows wanted this woman back to match her continuing testimony among them.

          Just like Jesus did when he raised Jairus' daughter, Peter sent everyone unnecessary out of the room.

          This was no time for sensationalism.

          The work of God is to be undertaken seriously.

          This was a time for intense and personal prayer on behalf of another.

Through prayer, this too would be in the name of Jesus.

          This was a time to seek the will of God.

          Peter knows that God will answer his request since he then turns toward the dead woman and says, "Tabitha, get up."

          This is miraculously close to the pattern Jesus laid out before him with the daughter of Jairus since the words of Jesus there were, "Talitha koum," which means "little girl, get up."

          She opens her eyes, looks at Peter, sits up, takes his hand, stands up, and greets the believers and widows as Peter calls them in to present her to them.

          Can you imagine this?

          Peter does what Jesus did.

          And this, too, spreads throughout the city and many people believe in the Lord.

          B.      Implication

The Holy Spirit uses our respect for life within the body of believers to reach those who have yet to come in.

          C.      Illustration

          We may not get much direct feedback from doing Christian funerals, but I believe much kingdom work goes on in people's hearts when we lay the saints to rest.

          They see our respect for life and our faith in its eternity through Christ.

          We cannot really expect to raise the dead these days, although we have heard of those who have come back (Rev. Schmidt).

But we can proclaim the Word of God that says that Jesus will raise them in his time.

          D.      Application

          Peter was willing to drop his ministry in Lydda to go with what might seem to be the impossible request of a couple of believers from Joppa.

          You can imagine that Peter was in the midst of a heavy preaching and discipling schedule with all those who were coming to Christ who had heard of his miracle with the paralytic believer.

          Peter was still about the larger aspect of the Lord's work.

          There was work to be done in the church – there was a concern in the body.

          Tabitha had a reputation outside the church.

          Peter took the reputation of the church to new heights when it would seem that Jesus responded to the request to continue her ministry.

          She had died of sickness – now she would die of old age when her work was through.

          Like the raising of Lazarus, this would be for the glory of Christ so that others might believe.

          This time it was the plan of God.

          But we must believe even more fully the words of Christ to Martha in John 11:25-26 –

 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;

 

 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

 (John 11:25-26 NIVUS)

          Surely this was the message this miracle proclaimed, but others could also see the concern of the church for its own and for them through its ministry, and the church continued to grow.

          They see the genuine concern, the value and effectiveness of life.

          And they want the beauty and power of what we possess, which is Christ, for themselves too.   

III.    Cycle Three (v. 43)

          A.      Narrative

          Just as Peter had stayed in Lydda after so many came to the Lord because there was work to do, so now he stays in Joppa for the same reason.

          But notice where he stays.

          He stays in the home of Simon the tanner.

          Now a tanner handles dead animals in order to process their skins into leather.

          This would have made him religiously unclean most of the time.

          This was a smelly profession.

          He lived by the sea perhaps to be away from the sensitivities of people in the city, or perhaps to be where the sea breezes would cleanse the air, or perhaps to use seawater in his processing.

          But for whatever reason, this man surely lived life as a veritable outcast.

          He probably didn't have many close friends.

          Except Peter.

          Peter was willing to stay with him because he was a believer.

          And believers need fellowship.

          And he didn't stay just a little while to be polite.

          He stayed "for some time".

          No doubt this also worked in the favor of the church's witness to outsiders as they could see that there were no outcasts among them.

          They see the genuine concern, the value and effectiveness of love.

          And they want the beauty and power of what we possess, which is Christ, for themselves too.   

          B.      Implication

The Holy Spirit uses our sincerity of fellowship within the body of believers to reach those who have yet to come in.

          C.      Illustration

"Norman"

Eddie Tontillo – fellowship outreach with newspaper subscription.

         

Neighbors article in 8/19/00 Chicago Tribune by Mary Umberger:

 

A recent report by the Raleigh News and Observer polled area residents about sprawl and development. The paper concluded the prevailing attitude is "close quarters are fine for other people, but most --- residents crave space." About half the survey respondents said that they favored houses on smaller lots within walking distance of shopping and work, a la New Urbanism. But would they want to live there? About 61% said no.

A market research firm called Market Facts recently looked into neighborhood preferences for American Demographics magazine. About 40% of respondents said they'd prefer a neighborhood "where all the residents are friendly but generally stick to themselves." About 13% of the overall group said they would rather have their nearest neighbor live 5 miles away.  About 22% of the Baby Boomers (35 to 44 year-olds) said they wished to be separated from their nearest neighbor merely by several acres.

Only 45% said their ideal neighborhood is a "tight-knit place where people organize block parties and look out for each other's kids," reported American Demographics. But how about in the Midwest region where 70% said they are most likely to chat with their neighbors at least once a week – the highest percentage of any region?   

          D.      Application

          Staying in the homes of other people can sometimes be seen as tiring and tedious.

          After all, as a Christian we are expected to spend time with our hosts talking and getting to know them.

          It is called fellowship.

          But it can conflict with our neatly designed and well-planned schedules.

          We have beautiful opportunity for personal ministry right before us, which is a key to freshness of ministry and application, but we can shy away from the time that deep contact takes.

          We forget that the work of ministry and discipleship is deep contact.

          Interaction with others in the faith keeps us from becoming stale.

          We could call it incarnational identification.

          We are enriched by spending time with our hosts as much as we hope they are enriched by spending time with us.

          We can interconnect by prayer and concern far longer than what time we spend together.

          It takes a servant attitude to spend time with people – people who are real and have needs just like we do.

          Peter had no celebrity complex.

          He was first and foremost a servant of the people, a shepherd of Christ's flock.

Conclusion:

Big Answer:

What opportunities for ministry within the body of believers might the Holy Spirit reveal to us in order to reach those who have yet to come in?

The Holy Spirit gives us opportunity within the body of believers to carry out our concern for healing, respect for life, and sincerity for fellowship in order to reach those who have yet to come in.

Timeless Truth:

By upholding the value of life through ministry to one another, we promote the beauty of Christ's kingdom in the world.

          So what are we to do with this?

          How are we to apply it here?

          This is a picture of what God intends the church to be – applying the power of God to the opportunities within human need that the Holy Spirit brings to us.

          As others see that people matter through God's power working within us to bring healing, life and love, they will want what we have.

          They will know that they too have value.

          This is a spiritual principle that goes beyond and before us.

          When we take care of our own, it is a witness to others.

Our testimony will go before us.

          And they too will want Christ.

          So let us serve one another with these things and build his church.

          As we build up ourselves we will also build up others.

          We must have over-riding concern for one another.

          Let us proclaim and apply the healing power of Christ to all in need in the church.

          Let us give honor to lives well lived in Christ and proclaim that they are eternal.

          Let us not forsake fellowship for any reason, giving equality to all in the name of Christ.

          And Christ will build his church through the opportunities of faith, life and love. 

          You see, the acts of Christ among us are quite persuasive alongside the Word of Christ through us.

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