What We Have Seen And Heard – Shared at a morning service in 2009
We have been working our way through the Book of Acts. This morning I want to take a look at a scripture from Acts 4 and then share what the Lord has put on my heart.
Last week, Pastor Matt shared from Acts 3, of how Peter and John healed a crippled man at the gate called beautiful. Acts 4 follows on and describes how Peter and John are dragged before a group called the Sanhedrin. They were the religious elite of the time and they reprimanded Peter and John for preaching in the name of Jesus. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they give a passionate response to the Sanhedrin. Of this response, the Lord particularly highlighted verses 18-20 to me.
Acts 4:18-20 (New International Version)
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
You see, just like Peter and John, I cannot help telling what I have seen and heard. I would like to share some of my story this morning.
I was brought up a Catholic, and really always knew about God and Jesus. From my youngest days, I had this sense that Jesus was near. In fact, at 4 years of age I apparently announced to my grandparents that I reasonable man and think I will be a priest. My grandparents were atheists and they thought it was cute.
Thanks to my mother, I would have gone to church pretty much every Sunday of my life. I was the kid in the class who organised the youth masses and knew all about the religious aspects of being a Christian.
When I was 15, my mother was invited to a full gospel businessman’s lunch. She came home and told my sister and I about something called getting born again. I had no idea what that meant, but the next Sunday, we went where most Catholics didn’t venture – we went to the Pentecostal Church. They talked about getting “saved” and about the Holy Spirit being real, and that day my mother, my sister and I all gave our lives to Jesus.
Jesus was so irresistible. I had read about Him, heard stories about Him all my life, but that day I met Him and He came to live inside of me. My life could never be the same again. I got filled with the Holy Spirit, and they told me I should speak in tongues. I had no idea what that meant, so I just did.
I was a brash 15 year old who found Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but looking back now I can see the Father’s hand was powerfully on my life.
Over the coming years I walked with the Lord, but didn’t really know Him all that well. I rarely was in His word, although I continued to go to church off and on.
In my first year of university, I made new friends and ended up joining a youth group which was a part of a Churches of Christ fellowship. For those of you not familiar with Churches of Christ, they are typically very conservative and fiercely independent congregations. I met a couple who would become important later in my life – Pastor Greg and Anne Muller. Greg was new to the congregation and the Lord had put it on his heart for the release of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I had heard all this stuff about healing, being set free and walking in power. I also felt inside, there was more to Jesus that what I understood, but I didn’t know what.
At this time I less and less was going to lectures and was sleeping more and more of the day. I drifted away from church and eventually from Jesus. This was the beginning of a downward spiral. I starting failing my course and my parents eventually withdrew me from university. Shortly after we discovered that I had a rare thyroid deficiency, and this was the cause of my decline. When I left university, I had a mental breakdown of sorts – I lost all self confidence, my short term memory and for a person who was used to achieving, in the worlds eyes I was a dropout – I was a failure.
There is song by the band Casting Crowns called “A Slow Fade”. The chorus says “it is slow fade when you give your life away”. That is what it was like for me because 15 years went by.
In that time I probably looked okay on the outside. I achieved in my job. I later went back to university and finished my degree. I rose quickly through the ranks of my profession. I earned well and from the outside looked pretty good. On the inside it was a different story. I suffered from depression on and off, sometimes medicated, sometimes not. I was hopelessly addicted to pornography. I had these wild escapist dreams of what life should be like, but wasn’t. I was just doing time in a prison that was my life.
Occasionally I would talk with Jesus, but would never let Him get close. I am sure I appeared religious. You see I knew all about religion; I knew the rituals; I knew about the politics and history of the church; I could remember what I had read in the bible previously and would love to discuss it intellectually. But inside I knew the truth – it all came from shallow heart. You see my addiction to pornography was a source of shame, and how could I be with Jesus when I was full of sin. I would promise myself time and time again that I would just stop, but it never worked. I thought at the time that I was just not good enough for Him. I don’t know if this speaks to anyone here, but guilt and shame have a way of robbing you of years of your life. For me, it took 15 years.
It is worth noting that I had works for my religion. My granddad lived by himself on the Gold Coast and progressively became sick over many years. Over all those years, I would visit him every Sunday. Back then I would have given the shirt off my back for anyone. I gave generously with my money and my time. You see, I was doing all the stuff that is associated with being a Christian, but it came from an empty heart. No amount of good works was going to fix a lack of Jesus.
In 2006, Jesus came looking for me. Let me tell you I didn’t go easy. That year I got it in my head to go and see the “Passion Of Christ” movie. I remember being distraught. I cried my eyes out in the Indooroopilly Cinema, and I didn’t care who saw it. But you know what? I dried my tears, went home, promised myself I would do better and went back to my guilt and shame.
My Jesus did not give up on me. In June 2006, I was watching Discovery Channel and a show mentioned something about a series of books called “Left Behind”. They tell the story of the second coming of Jesus. I loved religion, so I ordered the books from the web. When they arrived, I stared reading the first book in the series. The book has a vivid description of heaven, including the face of the Jesus. There in the armchair of my living room, I turned my life over to Jesus once and for all. I cried my eyes out that night and he broke the guilt and shame from my life. He also delivered me from the pornography addiction that had plagued me for so many years, and I continue to be free today.
You see how do you know you’re a Christian? The answer is in Matthew 18 and the “Parable of the Lost Sheep”. If you belong to Him, Jesus will leave the flock and come looking for you if you get lost. I made a commitment to Jesus when I was 15, and even though I didn’t live up to the bargain, He did.
That night I was filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately my tongues returned. That night he implanted something in my heart – urgency. I knew He brought me back for a reason. Somehow I inherently knew that all the things I heard about the Holy Spirit, how the early church functioned in the Book of Acts, and what I had heard about great men and woman of God was true. Somehow I inherently knew that all those things were for me, but I had no scripture or experience to back that up.
That weekend, I made a visit to an old friend, Pastor Greg Muller. I shared lunch with him and his family. His wisdom set me down a different path to the previous 15 years.
I started reading books about great men and woman of God. I read about Nicky Cruise and John Wimber. I dusted off the bible that I now carry – it had been waiting on my shelf for 15 years.
Somehow he also implanted raw faith into my heart. You see my thyroid condition required me to take medication each day. Now I want to say I don’t recommend to everyone that they do this, but for me, the Lord impressed upon my heart to go off my medication. The natural effect of this would be that my metabolism would shut down over a couple of weeks. Jesus had a different idea. Although I dealt with symptoms, for the first time in my life I stubbornly believed the Lord, irrespective of what I felt or saw. About six (6) weeks later, I woke up without symptoms and they haven’t returned. The doctors advised me long ago that once your metabolism is out of whack, it never rights itself. This was the beginning of my walk with Jesus.
In September 2006, by a strange set of circumstances I ended up at the morning service of New Hope Brisbane. The congregation looked good, so I decided to stay. My second time, I stood in the crowd and the Lord spoke to me very clearly and told me I needed to get involved. I introduced myself to a young pastor by the name of Matt Prater.
You see the urgency the Lord birthed in my heart sent me searching for the real Christianity. I wanted more of the Jesus that had powerfully set me free. I came across a book called “When Heaven Invades Earth” by Pastor Bill Johnson. What Bill described changed my life. He described the normal Christian life as a life of healing, deliverance and breakthrough. I wanted that with all my heart. From that point on I was ruined. I wanted everything Jesus had for me and I was willing to lay my life down to get it. What use was there in being a follower of Jesus, if I didn’t do what he did? I became increasingly restless for things of God, and that has just increased over the years.
I want to take this time to honour some people. I want to honour Pastor Matt for teaching me to read the bible and being patient with me – I am quite sure I am not the easiest person to have in a congregation. I want to honour Trevor Watkins for teaching me about faith and showing me the way. I want to honour Dave Bauer for his commitment to the men of this church – he set me on the road to healing my thinking that had been messed up from years of pornography addiction. I also want to honour the people of this congregation, who have been my friends, my confidantes, and my teachers.
I want to say to everyone here – my testimony is that I have seen too much. I know the Jesus I serve. He is the God of radical generosity. He is the God of amazing miracles and healings. He is the God of the breakthrough. I have seen Him move in ways that many in this room would simply disbelieve. He has taken me on mission trips to Cambodia. I have seen AIDS healed. I have seen the woman living in a barn, tormented by spirits instantly set free. I have seen the destitute, glue sniffer in the middle of a slum; give his life to Jesus and Jesus come and set him free of addiction. I have seen the Lord minister in love, peace and joy in places that would astound you. I have known the depths of His compassion, the depths of His grace. He has led me to preach His word with power and authority, when in my mind, I had nothing to say. He has brought the words and the understanding. He has lit a fire in my heart that burns for the things of God. A fire that is all consuming – that longs for His presence. That wants to see His face; that longs to do His will; that is desperate for Him. As I said I have seen too much. Jesus is for real, and you know what? If you would let Him, He is waiting to show you all this and much, much more. If you would only cast aside the fear and the reasonings of your mind, this morning He will light a fire in you that will never be extinguished, and like me, your life will never be the same. It will be a life of promise – it’s His promise to you.
Just like how Peter and John spoke to the crowd 2000 years ago, I want to declare the truth. Jesus is alive – He is not dead. He is the only name by which a man can be saved, and according to Isaiah 53 when Jesus saves, He saves physically, mentally and spiritually. It is the full package because what He did through His death and resurrection was a complete act – nothing was left undone. 2000 years ago, Peter and James healed the sick. Well I declare that this morning in this auditorium it will all happen again. People will be healed of diseases; the torments of worry, doubt, fear, sleepiness and confusion will be broken from people’s lives; people will meet Jesus maybe for the first time, or maybe for the first time in a long time; and like me their lives will be irreversibly changed.
My Jesus is not a quiet, rational God. He loves His kids irrationally, and if you would let Him, He will address the core issues in the life of every person in this auditorium. He comes this morning to set you free, and it doesn’t matter whether your issues are your health, worry, finances, relationships – He does it all.
So I want to make an invitation this morning for you to meet my Jesus. The Lord has put two groups of people on my heart.
This first group of people have never met my Jesus. They have never felt the warmth of His love. They have never been forgiven for the short comings in their life and felt His grace rush in and bring healing. They have never felt truth peace. I want to invite you this morning to know my Jesus. Just like He did with me, He is calling to you this morning. All you need do is take a step of faith towards Him and He will take you into His arms. Don’t live a life where guilt and shame are your constant companions. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all fallen short of deserving what Jesus is offering this morning. The amazing thing is that He is offering grace – which by definition is undeserved favour. If you would come to Him this morning, say to Him that I believe you died for me, forgive me for my sins and be the Lord of my life? He will come and transform your life.
The second group of people know Jesus, or least know of Jesus. They like me made a commitment to Jesus and have walked along with Him. They were alive with His presence at one time in their lives, but now it has become cold. I want to save you years of pain, because you can’t live out this Christian life with a cold heart. I wasted 15 years of my life to find that truth and would like to save you the heartache and the regret. I beg you if you heart is not consumed by the fire of Holy Spirit; if your relationship with Jesus is mostly about what you think and less about a heart; then the enemy has sold you a lie. You are walking with a lesser Jesus – not the Jesus that Peter and John were talking about. It says in Deuteronomy 4:24 “the Lord your God is a consuming fire”. As I share this morning, if your heart is not burning with His presence; if you are sitting there thinking I have heard this all before and it is just hype – just the emotional nonsense that “those” Christians carry on with; if anxiety rises up inside and your mind is screaming that this is just not normal; I beg you in the name of Jesus Christ do not to go home and try and do better. I did that. I can tell you that it doesn’t work. The only way to get that fire in your heart is to humbly surrender to the Jesus of the Book of Acts, and let Him fill with you to overflowing with His Holy Spirit. Before I came back to the Lord, I knew all about Jesus, but until He filled me with His Holy Spirit I was spiritually blind – I could never make any sense of the gifts of the Spirit. When I was filled with Holy Spirit, He explained it to me.
I say again, this is not something you are going to be able to work out for yourself. I tried that, and I proved admirably that it just doesn’t work that way. There is no amount of thinking or reasoning that will deal with the condition of your heart. Take the opportunity at the conclusion of the service, come down to the front and let someone pray with you. Jesus will meet you.