Preached By Pastor Phil Stanley on March 5, 2023
Over the past few months, Heather and I, and our staff have been working on establishing a culture here at Cornerstone. There’s been a lot of things we’ve tackled around the church but the much more important work has been building the infrastructure of the church as an organization.
We have our core values, Connect, Grow, Serve, Go, and Worship. We have our mission: To be a reflection of God’s love for all people. We have our vision: to be a multiethnic, multigenerational congregation that transforms our neighborhood, city, and beyond by the power of the Spirit.
So how do we fulfill all these aspirations? We work together, for each other.
That’s our next step. To get each person serving in the position God has put on their hearts. I can guarantee you, God has a place for you to serve. We are all called to serve in some way, shape, or form.
1 Peter 4:10-11
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
And one of my favorite promises of God is that He equips who He calls.
We have a lot to do. We want to see lives transformed.
Some of the tasks we need help with are not glamorous, they don’t seem important, but friends, they are essential in creating opportunities for the Lord to move in our church.
We have to have a staffed nursery, we have to have greeters set the tone for each person who enters this building, we have to have people in place to follow up with newcomers.
Thankfully, we have the right people here to accomplish what God wants us to do.
To help get our aces in their places, we’ve created a job board for the church. But because serving Jesus isn’t quite the same as a job, we’re calling it a Service Board.
Here’s how it works, you click this link right now. It’ll pull up a form that shows you what positions we need to fill. You can select however many you feel like serving in and we’ll get you all set up.
We use an app called “planning” and basically it allows us to make a schedule for each service and to coordinate when everyone is serving and in what positions. It’s wonderful. We’ve been using it for the worship team since day one.
So what happens after you sign up? You’ll be emailed an invitation to our planning app. If you’re terrified by technology, we can help you. We will also have everything available in paper form but we will need you to be open to using the app down the road.
We will have a training day for each position complete with job descriptions and expectations so that nobody is confused or has to guess what their role is.
We will also come together in 6 weeks to celebrate our Match Sunday. It’ll be a great day where each volunteer will be recognized for signing up and contributing.
We can do this y’all. God is working mightily in this church and we’re just getting started.
We’re seeing lives changed. God is creating opportunities for us to witness and it’s beautiful.
That leads me to my message this morning out of Acts chapter 9. This is where we meet one of the most famous characters in all of scripture. Saul of Tarsus. Most of us are familiar with the story. The early church had exploded in growth following the day of pentecost and as a result, the rulers of the day started freaking out and persecuting them. We say persecution sometimes and don’t really take in the full weight of their situation. They were being hunted. They were stoned to death, crucified, tortured, all for being followers of Christ. And it wasn’t just the government that was after them, it was their own people.
One of the Jewish leaders best and brightest was Saul. His story picks up in chapter 9 verse 1:
9 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.[a] So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
10 Now there was a believer[b] in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers[c] in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
We all know that immediately after this passage, Paul goes on to start his ministry. God uses him in unprecedented ways to reach both Jews, and gentiles. This morning I have three things I’d like to share that stood out to me from this passage this morning, and I feel God is speaking to Cornerstone.
1. There’s no substitute for an encounter with the Lord.
There was no special event, there was no fanfare leading up to it, it was just a miraculous encounter, a transformative encounter with the Lord.
Furthermore, it’s not our responsibility to try to make “God encounters” happen, it’s our privilege to witness them.
2. Walking in obedience opens doors of opportunity.
We can’t manufacture God encounters, but when we walk in obedience, it opens up opportunities. We must be open to serving anyone at any time.
3. Remove the limits.
Ananias questioned God. He was not convinced Saul could be saved and was afraid what would happen if he obeyed. Ultimately, he followed through and look at the result. Paul wrote most of the New Testament. He planted tons of churches. And who knows what would’ve happened if Ananias had refused and capped what God could do.
Too often we pre-determine who can, and cannot experience the love of God, and who we can and cannot reach. We decide a person is too far gone, believes too many weird things, doesn’t look like us enough, and all the while God is wanting to encounter that person and he wants us to be part of it. He wants to use us to share his love with everyone.
I was recently reminded of the limits I put on God when I was trying to purchase a sign for the church. I love the Facebook marketplace and I love finding a good deal so naturally when we decided that we needed a new sign to go at the road, I went to the marketplace.
Y’all it’s hard to find those signs. Brand new ones cost a fortune, and it seems like no one wants to get rid of their older ones so it was a struggle to find one within a two hour driving radius. But I am a diligent shopper. I’m willing to be patient and so I watched Facebook marketplace over and over, kept looking for it, and finally there was an opportunity to buy a used portable letter sign from a lady in Anderson South Carolina.
This lady posted it for a reasonable price and I messaged her right away. I was probably the first person that messaged her about that sign. I told her that I wanted to buy it for the church and that I was going to come pick it up. All I needed was the address and a good time to do it. That was on a Tuesday or Wednesday and I didn’t hear back from her for two full days.
After not hearing back from her, I did what any of us would’ve done, I facebook stalked her. I sure did. I looked at her profile to see if she was a scammer or a real seller. Looked like she had sold stuff before so that checked out. But I’ll be honest with you, there were things on her profile that were weird. It definitely did not scream “devout christian.”
And when she did reply to my message, she didn’t say “hey this is my address. Come pick it up”, she just said sorry for not responding sooner so I told her it was okay that I am still willing to come get it whenever she’s ready, but she would not respond again.
Next thing you know it’s Saturday and around 3 PM. I get a message from her saying “it’s first come, first serve on the sign I can’t take all the messages I’m getting.”
I don’t know about you guys, but that didn’t sound right to me. I’ve been trying to buy this sign for days and now whoever comes to get it first can buy it? That didn’t make sense. And I let her know that I wasn’t happy.
How many of you guys have gotten frustrated with a buyer or seller on Facebook marketplace? How many do you need to repent for murderous thoughts real quick? It’s a real thing.
I explained to her that it really sucked that I had message over four days ago and now, at the last second, she’s trying to sell it out from under me. But even in that moment I was like, “Okay, ma’am I’ll be happy to come get it first thing tomorrow afternoon after I get out of church. I could be there by 4 PM to pick it up.”
I thought that was reasonable but she replied back, “I won’t be here tomorrow afternoon. I’m moving and I’m not gonna be here tomorrow so it’s first come first serve. I’m sorry.”
Well, now I’m really mad. This lady is being completely unreasonable, giving me a five minute warning when I live two hours away. That’s not cool.
In the process of trying to figure out what to do. I had reached out to some friends about borrowing their pick up truck. They had graciously mentioned before that they would let me borrow it to go pick up the sign so I had already messaged them about going on Sunday afternoon. But before I could even tell them, “never mind the lady wasn’t gonna allow it” they called me and said, “hey Pastor Phil, we’re excited about this sign and you’re more than welcome to the truck. It’s all fueled up and ready to go. You could go tomorrow afternoon or if you need, we will be glad to go get it for you tonight.
That was a game changer.
I wanted to tell her exactly what she could do with that sign but I felt like the lord was telling me to be patient. I felt convicted for the way I had gotten upset and realized there’s something else going on here that I don’t know about and I need to be gracious.
So I told the lady, “I’m sorry I understand that this must be hectic for you with your moving and have all these things going on in your life and I’m sorry that’s going on and I understand completely of how things can get hectic.” I then offered for us to send my friends to come get it.
Next thing you know, this lady starts opening up about what’s going on in her life. She has suffered some horrible losses. I believe her father and her brother both passed away in a short amount of time, and that’s why she was having to sell everything.
So then I immediately knew, this is bigger than just a sign that I need. Maybe we’re supposed to minister to this lady, and I would never have gotten an opportunity by just going with my gut of being angry about how I was being treated.
Well, I updated my friends on all that had happened and they went to get the sign with their hearts open to potentially ministering to this lady. They got there and would you know that they were able to minister to that lady?
They were even able to pray with her and she responded with tears and gratitude. What a beautiful moment of God, working in this lady’s life. And it would not have happened if I had just gone ahead and made a pre-determination that she was not someone that could be reached.
The Lord has used this lady and several other recent situations to teach me to stop putting limits on what He can do. I want to tell you that it’s time to remove the limits. We have been positioned in this community to make a difference and I refuse to put a cap on what God can do in this church, in this neighborhood, and in this city. Who cares where people are in their lives? Who cares what we’re lacking in resources? God doesn’t need us to figure it all out before He can use us.
We have to practice child-like faith. It reminds me of one of my favorite movies growing up. Angels in the outfield.
Go watch it sometime, it’s a classic. One of the characters is a little boy who is around 7-8 years old. Throughout the whole movie he keeps saying over and over “it could happen.” He believed that anything was possible and the problem we have today is that we’ve unconsciously decided that God has limitations. We would never say it out loud, and we’d deny it to anyone that asks, but we put a cap on our expectations of God and what He can do.
I’m declaring today that there will be no more limits on God at Cornerstone Assembly. I declare today that in my life, there will be no more limits on what God can do in my life, and through my life. I challenge you to reject the lie of the enemy that substantive change is impossible, the lost can’t be reached, or that our community cannot be changed.
Community change starts individually. We must set our will to believe that with God, all things are possible.