Sermon Series: Songs of Faith ~ Take My Life and Let It Be

Frances Ridley Havergal wrote this hymn. She said it was a “consecration hymn” in which the singer commits all of her possessions and being to the Lord for His purposes. It expresses what each of us ought to feel and long for, even if at times we do not. At such times, Frances said, we should sing it in hope and faith.

Sermon Series: Songs of Faith ~ Take My Life and Let It Be~ November 18, 2018 ~ Acts 8:26-31

We are in Acts chapter 8 this morning. This story actually begins back in chapter 6 with the story of Stephen. I want to read you a little bit about who Stephen is. In chapter 6:8:

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke. (Acts 6:8-10)

When you know this story cold, it’s difficult for people to argue with you. That’s why it’s so important for us to know our story. Since they couldn’t argue with him, in verse 11 it says:

So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council. The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses.” (Acts 6:11-13)

Oftentimes you will find in your life, when someone can’t continue a legitimate argument wit you, they will shut it down by lying about you, by calling you names. When you get to that point, take heart my friends. You have won.

“We have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s. Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?” This was Stephen’s reply… (Acts 6:12-15, Acts 7:1-2a)

Stephen’s reply was to share the gospel, to connect all the dots, starting with the call of Abraham and connecting all of those dots all the way through Jesus, showing them the true faith, that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jewish leaders were not happy. They, in fact, were furious. In verse 57:

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting…

It’s as if they were shouting, “La la la la la, we don’t want to hear this!” because it’s making too much sense!

They put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58)

Yes, that Saul, who later became Paul.

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”

Forgive them, they know not what they do.

And with that, he died. (Acts 7:59-60)

A great persecution began that day. Believers were scattered all through Judea and Samaria. Philip goes first to Samaria, and then… please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Acts 8:26-31

As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. (Acts 8:26-31)

So, let’s look at some facts in this story. First of all, we have Philip. The Philip in this story is often confused with the apostle Philip. This is not the same person. This is a different Philip. This Philip was a Hellenistic Jew, meaning a Jew who had been influenced by Rome and by Greece culture, philosophy, and religion. He, along with Stephen, were one of the seven men appointed to be deacons by the church in Jerusalem. Of the seven, only Stephen and Philip are mentioned again in the New Testament. They are described as men of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit, and of wisdom. For this reason, for this obvious reason, Philip became known as Philip the Evangelist.

So, we have Philip, a deacon of the church of Jerusalem. The other play is the Ethiopian eunuch. Now, as Ethiopia is in Africa, it is safe to assume that he was (not that it matters) black. I mention this only because many people think that the Bible is full of only middle eastern, Arabian, Semitic, Jewish, or European Roman Italian people, and that’s simply not true. This book has all stripes and all colors from all over the world included in it. Ethiopians are actually mentioned about 40 times in the Bible. And as you’ve heard me preach previously, there’s Moses’ wife, Zeporah; there’s Bathsheba; there’s Simon of Cyrene, the man who was asked to help Jesus carry his cross; all of whom were black, just to name a few.

But here, we have Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch. A eunuch refers to a man who was castrated or someone who was incapable of reproduction because of a birth defect. So, we have Philip the Evangelist, we have the Ethiopian eunuch. We know something else about this guy. He was obviously very dedicated to God, because he traveled a long distance to worship in Jerusalem. There was quite a lot of miles to cover between Ethiopia and Israel. So, we know he was serious about his faith. However, we also know that he doesn’t have the whole story, which is why he answered Philip’s question, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” with “How can I unless someone instructs me?”

He was reading from the prophet Isaiah, so Philip jumps into the carriage and teaches him the whole gospel. He helps this Ethiopian treasurer to come to a full understanding – connecting all the dots, certainly just as Stephen did, from Abraham to Jesus. Just like the Wampanoag Indians saved the Pilgrims by teaching them how to grow corn – they were starving. Without the Wampanoags, that first settlement in 1620 likely would have perished. They helped the pilgrims survive, they saved their lives. In a similar fashion, Philip saves this Ethiopian treasurer by sharing with him the gospel, the whole story of Jesus Christ, and he is converted.

In Acts 8:36 it says:

As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)

Notice again, baptism comes directly after a confession of faith. The Ethiopian treasurer got it, the lightbulb went on, and he said, “I want to be baptized.”

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:39-40)

So, because this guy was in charge of the treasury in Ethiopia, this man’s conversion brought Christianity into the powerful power structures of another nation. He had the queen’s ear, this man. Certainly he had influence. He had opportunity. This is the beginning of witnessing to the ends of the earth, as it says in Acts 1:8 when Jesus says:

“You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)

This is how it happens. He shares with someone in Ethiopia, and that Ethiopian shares with others. I mean, God had a specific blessing, a specific responsibility, calling on eunuchs, believe it or not. Back in Isaiah 56, God says this:

“Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me. I will give them – within the walls of my house – a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!” (Isaiah 56:3-5)

See, there is no such thing as handicapped to God. He created you just as you are, and God does not make mistakes. He knows exactly who He has, He knows exactly who He can work with, and He will use you powerfully – anyone who is willing. Don’t let “because you don’t belong,” “because you have a handicap,” stop you. Anyone who says, “I am here, Lord, send me,” God will use powerfully.

We don’t know how many people came to Christ because of this Ethiopian treasurer, all because Philip was willing to share the whole story, the truth of the gospel. But I will say this: we do know lots of Ethiopian treasurers. We do, both inside and outside the church. The ones on the outside, they’re easy to spot. They’re not interested in God, they’re not interested in the church, they’re not interested in Jesus, so we share with them the gospel. We evangelize. That’s why we started the Evangelism Ministry Team, we have a bunch of EMTs now, who on a regular basis go out into our community to invite people to come church – those on the outside, to share with them the truth of the gospel, to help tell them the whole story to connect the dots.

But those are the easy people to spot, the ones on the outside. The ones on the inside, they’re a little harder to identify. You see, one can go to church for fifty, sixty, seventy years, and still be an Ethiopian eunuch. Still not fully understand the whole gospel. Church attendance does not always translate into a saving faith in Jesus Christ. I know there are some of you out there (because we have both services this morning), there’s some of you out there who remember when you went to Sunday school as a child, and you got a special little pin for perfect attendance.

And every year you would add onto that pin because you were there every Sunday. That’s awesome! Good for you, you are so much more available to connect the dots than someone who isn’t there, for sure; but, I’m sorry, God is not taking attendance.

Now, certainly, choosing to be here this morning for the right reasons can reveal something about your faith, but not always. Some people come simply out of obligation or habit. I’ve come to church on Sunday mornings for as long as I can remember, what else would I do? But they are still riding in the carriage with the Ethiopian treasurer, unconverted. How can you tell?

Well, if I come to church every week, but spend a good amount of my time complaining about how things are going, criticizing what people are doing, gossiping about others, and sleeping or texting on my phone during the sermon, have I gotten it? Am I converted? Do you think God will overlook all of that, just because I was there?

Look, you can show up at school every single day and still not graduate, right? Just because you come does not translate always into a saving faith in Christ, as someone who has connected all the dots, and the light has gone on! There’s more to it.

For instance, Francis Havergal had served the Lord for years, but she felt something was missing in her Christian experience.

One day in 1873, she received a little book called “All For Jesus.” Now, this is another advertisement for those who think that just handing somebody a track – we have them, we use them with the EMTs. I carry in my wallet a million-dollar bill. On the back is a million-dollar question that shares the gospel – asks them if they are truly saved. Now, I don’t know, 99 out of 100 people may take that bill, crinkle it up, and throw it away. But you don’t know which person will read it, and which person will have a transforming moment like that Ethiopian treasurer.

Well, Francis Havergal had an Ethiopian eunuch moment. This little book called “All For Jesus” stressed the importance of making Jesus Christ the King of every corner, of every cubicle, of one’s life. He was supposed to be number one. Years later, when she was asked about it, she said, “Yes. It was on advent Sunday, December 2, 1873, when I first saw clearly the blessedness of true consecration. There must be full surrender before there can be full blessedness.” Not long after that, Francis found herself several days in a home with ten other people. Some of them were unconverted. Others proclaimed to be Christians, but they had not yet fully surrendered to the Lord, they were still riding in the carriage with the Ethiopian treasurer. Francis prays, “Lord, give me all in this house. Give me all in this house.” And then she went to work witnessing. And let me tell you – before she left, all ten were yielded Christians. On the next night, Francis, too excited to sleep, got up and wrote this consecration hymn for which this sermon is titled: Take My Life and Let It Be. It is a hymn that proclaims Francis’ belief that a true Christian has to be all in, 24-7, 365. Praising God is not something that I just do on Sunday morning. Praising God is something I do every day of the week. How many times do you want me to read Romans 12?

I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world –

– Don’t follow the pack. Live out your faith. Praise God every single day of the week. You are all in. Pray every day of the week – not just bow your heads when I pray or when Phil prays on Sunday mornings. Every day we should be giving God praise. Sing! Not just on Sunday mornings! And if you don’t really have a great voice, sing in the shower! Everybody’s voice is great in the shower! And if you still don’t think you have a great voice, listen to the radio! Turn on K-LOVE or WIHS, some kind of station that plays music that glorifies God. It makes no sense to come to church on Sunday morning and do all these holy things, and then go out to your car and put in a CD that has violence, and misogyny, and foul language. That shows someone who is not all in. You’re not fully converted if you can pollute your mind with such stuff, your heart with such stuff, and then come in on Sunday morning and be Mr. Christian, Mrs. Christian. Francis is saying we’ve got to be all in, we have to live out our faith. And it doesn’t always make you the most popular person in the room, let me tell you that.

Renée and I have three boys. (I shouldn’t even call them boys anymore, they’re mostly men.) We have three men, and at one time or another, they’ve all had girlfriends. Some of them, even fiancés. And what they did in their homes where they lived in their city was on them, but when they visited mom and dad in Wethersfield, they did not sleep in the same room. You can still see in my living room, my dining room I think, little hooks up near the ceiling that we put near the wall, so we could hang a little sheet, because the dining room became somebody’s bedroom while the other one slept upstairs. Not in my house. I’m supposed to be living out my faith. How can I be consistent about praising God and following this [the Bible] and allowing that in my home? You can’t.

Yeah, it’s easy to spot those on the outside of the church. You know how you can tell? They’re on the outside of the church! It’s harder with those on the inside, because it doesn’t matter how long one has attended. It’s not about that. We need to be all in, fully consecrated to the Lord, so if you see an Ethiopian eunuch, someone who is almost there, but not quite, whether they be inside or outside the church, like Philip or Frances Havergal, go to work, witnessing.

Now, look, I fully understand that there are always going to be people who say, “But I know what you’ve done, who are you to talk?” Well, are we really saying that if I made a really big mistake in my life, so much so that I ended up incarcerated…

or maybe I had a drug addiction that I had for a really long time and overcame – are we saying that I am now unqualified to offer advice and encouragement to others so that they might not make the same mistake? That with God you can overcome anything? I think I’m the perfect person for that!

My mentor up in Maine, Pastor Bob used to say, if you are going to open up a donut shop, you better know a lot about donuts. If I’m going to manage a baseball team, I better know a lot about baseball. If I’m going to be a Christian, I better know a lot about sin! Because only in doing and overcoming can you really identify.

Look, I know there are people in this room here this morning who have been incarcerated. I know people in this room this morning who have overcome addiction, who have overcome alcoholism, and let me tell you – we should listen to them. They do have something powerful to say. Some of them are shining examples of a person who is all in, someone who has given it all to the Lord, someone who has said, “Take my life, Lord, and let it be consecrated to Thee.” Yeah, they have something powerful to share.

Frances Havergal believed that Christians need to be all in. Christian faith is a full-time job, not a part-time job. Take my life and let it be. It’s something we should sing even when we find ourselves falling short of our goal. In fact, it should be especially when we find ourselves falling short of our goal. We should sing it in hope and faith, “Lord, I really need you right now, I can’t do it anymore by myself. Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to Thee, because I know in your hands there is healing. In your hands there is hope. In your hands there is mercy and forgiveness. Yes, Lord, like the Ethiopian treasurer and Frances Havergal, I am all in. Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Would you stand and pray with me?