A Platform Built of the Past and Problems

Acts: Paul's Journey to Rome

This week we look at Paul’s example in Acts 21 and 22 of how God uses Paul’s past experiences and trials as a believer to proclaim Jesus. Paul was seized and dragged from the temple, the Jews were trying to kill him, and the Romans pulled him from the mob. Paul uses his ancestry and lineage, as a Roman and Jew, to get a platform to share the gospel. Our problems and our pasts can often build a platform to proclaim Jesus.

Jonathan PokludaNov 19, 20171 Corinthians 9:20; Acts 21:27-39; Acts 22:1-5

Hello, Watermark. I want to start by sharing with you a little bit of my story. When I moved into Dallas, I moved five times, all within one mile of Lower Greenville. Lower Greenville was the Uptown at the time. It was kind of the bar and club district, if you will. That's just where my heart was. When I moved to this city, that was where I worshiped. There was one specific club I was at every single Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night.

It was my place of worship, very much. I loved that place. I would go there, and I felt like I belonged there. I could play the game. Essentially, I would work really hard during the week to make enough money so I could look the part and play the game on the weekend, and that's what I did. I was at that specific club on a Saturday night when someone came up and invited me to Watermark. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I was leaning up against a pool table with a Miller Lite in my hand, and they invited me to Watermark. I went the next day, Sunday morning, and I kept going. I just sat in the back, and I began to wrestle with who God is and what his plan and purpose for my life was. I was at this place when someone invited me into a relationship with Jesus. I heard bold preaching from the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit was using that to woo me into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I met with some of you. I saw your faith, and I was motivated and moved into a relationship with Jesus Christ through the power of his Holy Spirit. Then it was here, in a relationship with Jesus Christ, when the Lord called me into vocational ministry. What that looked like is I was doing ministry. I was in corporate America, but every breathing moment I had, anytime I got to engage with someone… I just was in love with Jesus and wanted to talk about him to everyone I could.

There was this formal sense that the Lord said, "Hey, this is what I have for you." It was confirmed by my community, and five days later there was an opportunity to interview in this place. I came on staff here, and I was on staff three years. It was August 2009 when Todd asked me to teach on a Sunday. So I came up here, and I had to hold your attention for 45 minutes, and I had no idea what I was doing. My strategy was somehow I'm going to entertain you and point you to Jesus.

I remember I got up here and started talking, and immediately a dad and his adult son got up and left, which is just a little discouraging. I assumed they were like, "Okay, it's not Todd. I'm out." I pushed through and got through the message, and the next day that father had emailed the elders. He was really discouraged, because he had brought his son to church for the first time in a really long time, and his son said, "That's the pastor? I've seen that guy drunk in Lower Greenville. I'm out." And he left.

His accusations were true. They were just old. About five years old. Absolutely that's who I was, but Jesus Christ had come in and changed my life. It seems that the only credentials, the only qualifications I brought to the table was that story, and it's the only time I can actually think back on where it hurt me in any way, because what the Lord did moving forward was essentially just use that story.

I came to a place to work with really gifted staff. Most of them graduated from seminary and had spent a lot of time understanding this book and invested a lot of money to be formally trained in understanding this book. I came here with all kinds of insecurities, because it felt like the only thing I bring to the table… Some of them had Ivy League degrees, others seminary degrees. Some of them had spent decades in corporate America being trained, and I'm like, "I have a story. Jesus Christ came in and changed my life."

Then I got to lead with young adults, and as I looked out there, the only thing I felt like I could do was essentially empathize with where they are. It's like, "I know where you are. I know what you're going through. I've been there. It wasn't long ago. It's a recent memory that I was stepping into the same pits you are, falling into the same traps you are, falling into the same holes you are, getting stuck in the same ways you are, but let me tell you something. I found hope in this man Jesus Christ. I found direction in his Word. I found truth here that motivates me."

It's through empathy that I knew our struggles. I had been saved out of the same places they were stuck in. The reason I start there is that's what's happening in this place over and over and over again. I see it every single week. Women who have chosen to have an abortion then being saved by Jesus Christ and having the courage to minister to those who are considering that same decision or have recently made that same decision.

Men and women who have been completely enslaved to pornography having the courage to step out, saying, "Hey, this is my struggle; this is a part of my story," and God using that to set others free. Materialism, idolatry, legalism… It's a long list of sin struggles. We find someone stuck in that same prison, and God uses our story to set them free, but it's not just sin struggles. It could be anything about your past. It could be training you've gone through, a college you attended, a place where you work, or success you've seen.

Maybe you're an entrepreneur, so the Lord gives you the ears of entrepreneurs. Maybe you're a mom, so the Lord gives you the ears of moms. It's not just things we have in common as our credentials but also the things we've been through. Mothers who have miscarried ministering to others who have gone through that same circumstance. Guys who have been laid off and couldn't find a job for a long time getting the opportunity to minister to those in the same spot.

There's something about the story God has us on and moves us through that he uses in the most powerful of ways, and that's what we're going to see as we dive back into Acts, chapter 21, and move into Acts, chapter 22, today. We're going to talk about how our problems and our past build a platform to proclaim Jesus. If you're here today and you have a past or you find yourself in the middle of a really challenging time, a really difficult time, I think this message is for you.

I believe God has something for you today. He has written a story on your life, whether you're 8 years old or 80 years old. It's the things that are behind you, and I want to make a case for you today that it is your single biggest evangelism tool. Last week I called you to share the gospel. All through Acts, Todd has been calling you to share Christ with others, and I want you to know if you don't want to share the gospel, if that's an intimidating reality or idea for you, share your story, because at the center of your story is Jesus' story.

It's his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins. The middle of your story should point to the cross and the empty tomb, and God is going to use that. That's really the call today, that you would leave here and share your story, which is God's story. We get to go around letting people out of the same prisons we've stepped out of…prisons of addiction, prisons of self-hate, prisons of despair, prisons of hurt.

We get to walk up and open the door and say, "Hey, come out." Who doesn't want to do that? So as we move through these two chapters, we're going to look at how God has a purpose for your problems, how God has a purpose for your past, and then I want to expound on what that purpose is. Just to remind you where we are, in Acts 21, Paul moves into Jerusalem. He's finishing his third missionary journey.

As he gets there they say, "Hey, there are all of these Jews who have now believed upon Jesus, but they've heard that you reject the law, so can you come under the purification system, since you've been in Gentile land? Can you enter into a Nazirite vow and purify yourself with the rest of them so they don't think you're against the law? Can you just kind of become one of them?" The commentary on this passage Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:20 before this even happened.

He says, "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law." In an effort to become all things to all people, Paul enters into this Nazirite vow, and that's where we're going to pick up this morning. You're going to see him being arrested, you're going to see him being falsely accused, and then you're going to see him give a defense for the work of Jesus in his life.

Verse 27: "When the seven days [of the Nazirite vow, the purification] were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple." These were not believing Jews; these were Jews from Ephesus. Remember what happened in Ephesus in Acts 19? You had Demetrius selling things there in Ephesus, and he doesn't like Paul's message because it hurts the fact that he sells idols, so he starts this big riot.

These guys are now in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, and it's like a gang of dudes. They're like, "That's Paul. Let's get him. There he is. Let's get him. Here's our chance." So they move in. "They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, 'Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place.'"

They said, "Hey, he's racist. He's anti-Semitic. He teaches against us, our people. He teaches against our law." They're celebrating the Feast of Passover, so it would have been incredibly patriotic feelings that are going throughout the crowd, and they're like, "What? He teaches against our law!" "And he teaches against this place, the temple."

"And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place." It says parenthetically, "They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple." It's a false accusation. We know that Paul wouldn't have done that. First, Trophimus would have been killed had Paul done that. Archaeology has shown us a place they found where the Romans had put on the temple, "If you bring a Greek in here, it will cost him his life." The Scripture says this is a false accusation.

"The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions." You just see people flooding the city of Jerusalem. This is the sixth time Paul has gone against a majority. In Acts 14 there was a riot, in Acts 16, twice in Acts 17, and again in Acts 19, and here. Constantly, Paul against the majority. If you're going against the majority, it doesn't mean your message is wrong.

"Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut." Some scholars believe Luke included this as the final stamp that they have rejected the gospel. Not just rejected Jesus in the temple but now the man who brings forth the message of Jesus. They throw him out and shut the gates behind him.

"While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul." Essentially someone called the cops. They show up. They're like, "Hey, the police are here. Calm down."

"The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done." He's like, "Dude, this guy must be really, really bad, because they want to kill him. I have to find out what's happening," but it doesn't even seem like they know what's happening. No one is giving him a straight answer.

"Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers."

Almost like a coach at the end of a controversial football game. He's surrounded by the police and being escorted off the field. They're having to protect Paul now, and they don't know what he has done because of this mob. I heard a great definition of a mob. It's a body of people with no head. All of these people just angry about something, but they don't really know what.

"The crowd that followed kept shouting, 'Get rid of him!' As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, 'May I say something to you?' 'Do you speak Greek?' he replied. 'Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?'"

"Aren't you Jerusalem's most wanted?" He's like, "What? You speak Greek? I thought you were this terrorist." "No, I'm not a terrorist." It's interesting that Josephus, a Jewish historian, actually wrote about this revolt and so sets this biblical text in history. "Paul answered, 'I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.'"

Let me say this here out of this section. Some scholars believe Paul shouldn't have gone to Jerusalem, and because of his disobedience that's why he was arrested. I think as believers we have this deep desire to justify the means by the end, that if it turns out badly we must have done the wrong thing.

What I believe, and commentaries agree with me, is that Paul was completely faithful, that he acted in absolute obedience, and what he got in return for his obedience was beaten and arrested. Sometimes you cannot judge obedience by the outcome. Sometimes in this broken world you do well and receive harm, and sometimes your faithfulness just creates problems for you.

1._ God has a purpose for your problems._ Paul has a real problem. He's getting beaten. They want to kill him. He's arrested, and he's just like, "Man, they have all these people here gathered around. Everyone flooded Jerusalem because of little old me, and they want to beat me and arrest me, so what I think I'll do is preach. It feels almost like a big gathering. This almost feels like church, so I'll just share my story."

Here's my observation from this, because there are no commands in this text. You need to know that. We are simply making observations about the life of Paul and drawing applications from it. Your problems grab the attention of others, and it's a great time to display Jesus. Big problems or small problems. Any problems. It can be the problems of others. We were on our way to see a movie yesterday, The Star.

We had the whole family loaded up, and we drove by and saw a girl stranded on the side of the road, and Monica said, "We have to stop." She's in the middle of a problem. It's a great opportunity to display Jesus. We missed the movie, but we got to talk about Jesus. It can be small problems. It can be the server bringing your food and it's wrong for the second time, which was my Friday night. They're looking at you. They feel bad. "No need to feel bad. Let me tell you about grace. Let's talk about Jesus."

It can be big problems, problems like cancer, sickness, the loss of a loved one, a sick child, a layoff, problems in your marriage, things you didn't ask for, circumstances you didn't want but found yourself in. You say, "God, what are you doing? What do you want to show me in and through this?" What I want you to see here is that it's an awesome opportunity to display Christ when life is not fair, when there's an injustice there.

They have five false accusations against Paul. "He's racist." No, he's not. "He's against the law." No, he's in a Nazirite vow. No, he's not. "He hates the temple." No, he doesn't. "He brought a Greek into the temple." No, he didn't. "He's an Egyptian terrorist." No, he's not. "Kill him. Rip him to shreds." Why? What did he do? Five false accusations.

When do you feel the most outraged? I would argue with you it's when we're misunderstood. A small misunderstanding or if somebody falsely accuses us of something… You come in and you get laid off for the wrong reason, something you didn't do. Don't you want to just go, "Whoa! You don't understand"? You want to clear your name, and you feel the most justified.

Paul doesn't seem to be doing that. He's like, "Okay, I'll trust. I'll wait for just the right time." Who here likes to be misunderstood? Me neither. That's when I really want to explain myself. "Hold on, hold on, hold on." But he's like, "No, God is doing something, and he has a plan in the midst of this." He doesn't even seem to be frustrated. He's patient, and he's asking, "What does faithfulness look like?"

What I want you to know is that faithfulness will never be failure, because faithfulness in and of itself is success. Faithfulness will not lead to failure, because success needs to be redefined in our hearts and minds as faithfulness, us walking through a challenge depending on God. Even if the circumstance leads to a negative outcome in this world, we will trust the Lord. What it means is just because something is hard doesn't mean it's wrong.

When it feels like you're losing, God is still winning. You might be in this circumstance, like, "I feel like this isn't going my way, that we're losing, so I must have done something wrong, or maybe God has forsaken me. Maybe he has forgotten about me. Maybe he doesn't love me anymore." Those are all words of the Enemy.

What you need to think about is "God is so faithful. He told me this would happen. He told me in John 15 that they're going to hate me. He told me in John 16 that I'm going to have trouble, that I need to take heart. He told me in Romans 5 that I'm the glory and suffering. He told me in James 1 that blessed are those who suffer, that we should consider it joy, and in 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, he said we are hard-pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed."

The context of this verse… This is the jars of clay verse. It is in the suffering that you have your greatest opportunity to display Jesus. It is in the opposition that your greatest opportunity is to display Christ. It is in the hard times and the hardships that you get to show Jesus. I've even heard it taught recently that if you put a light in a jar of clay you can't see that light until the jar is broken. When the jar is crushed the light is displayed.

Have we prayed for hard times? Have we prayed for faithfulness in hard times? Paul is not thinking, "God, why did you do this to me? Why did you lead me here to be beaten? Why did you lead me here to be arrested?" He said, "God, you're so faithful to let me know this would happen. Please sustain me and allow me to act in faithfulness. I remember Agabus telling me I was going to be tied up here, that I was going to be bound, that I was going to be arrested. I remember telling him I'm ready." Remember last week? "Bring it. They said this would happen."

I know there's a lot of hurt in front of us right now. In preparing this, I stopped to think about the hurt that is out there listening to me in this room right now. I thought about the challenges close friends of ours went through recently. I just started writing them down. Our close friends who've lost jobs, who've buried parents, who've battled infertility, who've miscarried, who've lost a child at full term.

Health issues, not sleeping well, marriage trouble. They chose to foster and adopt, and it didn't go well. It has gone very differently than what they thought. They chose a challenge. They brought it into their family. Challenges in your Community Group, wanting to give up, wanting to stop meeting together because of conflict.

Two weeks ago, Monica ran into a dear friend of ours, someone whose wedding I had the opportunity to do. She came home and said, "Do you know what's going on with our friend?" I said, "I don't." My wife and I talking. She said, "Well, you remember her mother was fighting cancer for a really long time. It was this long and excruciating battle with cancer."


"Well, she died."

"Yeah, I'd heard that."

"Did you know that three days before her mother died our friend was diagnosed with cancer?"

"No, I didn't know that."

She's now had a double mastectomy. The cancer is still there. Now she's going through these periodic poisonings in an effort to survive. It's like one wave crashing after the other. Not to mention that her family thinks she's crazy because she follows Jesus. Monica just looked at her in the store and said, "I'm so sorry." She said, "Don't be sorry. It's been an incredible opportunity to show the world where my hope is from."

We sat there and cried in our living room and prayed for her, and our faith was strengthened. When you see someone cling to the cross, cling to Christ in the midst of their struggle, your faith is strengthened. Her family doesn't think she's crazy. They've been encouraged and motivated by the place where she finds hope. If you think she's crazy, she's crazy like Paul.

Paul asked to speak to the guard, and he's confused because Paul speaks formal Greek in verse 37. I have a friend who was an officer in Afghanistan. This would have been like if he arrested some known terrorists and brought them in, and then one of them kind of grabs him and says, "Hey, I'm an American. I'm from Dallas." You'd be like, "Whoa!" That's essentially what just happened with this Roman soldier. Like, "I thought you were an Egyptian terrorist." "No, I'm a Roman like you."

"After receiving the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic…" Now in chapter 22: "Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense." This is the same way Stephen started his speech in Acts 7, when Paul stood there watching Stephen be stoned to death. He starts the exact same way. Defense there is apologia in the Greek. It's where we get the word apology, but also where we get the word apologetic. "Let me give a defense for the faith."

"When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet." You see how powerful language was in the first century. The language you spoke and the dialect you spoke it with would say a lot about you, where you were from and who you were known by and the formality you would use, how educated you were. So the crowd just hushed. "Then Paul said: 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [right here in Jerusalem] . I studied under Gamaliel…'""You guys know Gamaliel. Gamaliel, the Pharisee of Pharisees. Remember Gamaliel? He discipled me."

"…and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way [Jesus' followers] to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.""You think I don't like Jews? I'm more Jewish than you are. Oh, you're zealous? I was more zealous than you are."

2._ God has a purpose for your past_. Paul starts to display his past. He starts to use his past. He's Roman. First of all, he speaks to the guard. "Hey, I'm a Roman." Only 5 percent of the Roman Empire outside of the capital city of Rome would have been Roman. Much less common than 5 percent to be Roman and a Jew. He's also Jewish by ethnicity. Born a Jew, born a Roman.

The only way to be a Roman, by the way, was to be born a Roman like Paul was, to purchase it, which would have been very, very expensive, or to serve a long stint in the military, and then maybe at the end of that you could become a Roman. He's Jewish by ethnicity, and then as a religion he's Pharisee, a strict Jewish sect. He studied under Gamaliel, and he persecuted the Way. "You guys don't like Jesus? I didn't like him either. I killed people who followed him."

He's modeling something really, really important for us. He's using everything he has at his disposal to appeal to the people. It's like he's being tried, and the consequence would be a death sentence. In fact, in this passage you see words like witness, testify, testimony, defense. Those are trial terms. He is on trial, but he's motivated not by his own freedom.

He's not trying to be set free here. He's looking out there, and he sees a crowd of people who are under the death penalty. So he says, "Hey, let me take every single thing I possibly can and plead with you that you would know this Jesus." His desperation is not for himself. To the Roman guard he appealed as a Roman. To the Jews he appealed as a Jew.

After being called into vocational ministry… I use that language because five days later the church called and the Lord really affirmed that in my life, again through community and others. They said, "We want you to come in and interview for a job." I had no idea. I didn't know how to interview for a ministry job.

So I put on my navy interviewing suit and my white shirt and my red power tie and walked in, and it was a train wreck. They asked, "Why should we hire you?" and I immediately went into sales mode, because I was a salesman. That's what I knew, and I was good at it. So I'm like, "Let me tell you…" Then I stopped mid-sentence, and I was like, "I'm not going to tell you why to hire me. You shouldn't hire me. If God is not in this, this is the worst possible outcome that could happen."

I said, "You know what? All I know to do is to share my story. Can I tell you how Christ has changed my life? That's really all I know to do." It's interesting that the very thing that disqualified me from ministry became the only qualification I had. All I bring is that Jesus came in and changed my life. That's all I know. His Word is true. I'll stand on it. I'll tell anybody about him. He changed my life. Why wouldn't I?

I think it's powerful when it comes from a drunk who has been changed, but it's also powerful when it comes from a wealthy business owner. "What do I have to boast in but Jesus?" It's also powerful when it comes from a mom who meets with another mom and says, "Isn't being a mom hard? But Jesus…" What is your past? Is it good grades? Is it that you were athletic, that you were artistic? What do you have in the past that you can leverage to share Christ with someone? Because you meet them, and you instantly have that common ground and can start talking.

It's like if you've ever seen Aggies talk when they see each other. Any Aggies here? Okay, there are like six of you here. For the six of you, how about whenever you whoop you share the gospel? I mean, every time. When I say every time, what I really mean is every time you're out there and you see a ring across the way. "Oh man, what year did you graduate? Hey, do you go to church somewhere? Do you have a faith?" There's nothing weird about that. Try it.

Your alumni, your alma mater, whatever you have to use to find common ground with someone and then point them to Christ. That's all Paul is doing here. Moms can appeal to moms and athletes to athletes and businesspeople to businesspeople, entrepreneurs to entrepreneurs. People of a particular community or neighborhood that might have a special voice into that community. What is the story God has given you and why?

We've seen Paul's story throughout Acts. We have read it in the past. We're going to read it again, but he's just going to share his story. I want you to picture him as I read this. He's standing up. He says, "Listen, people. Let me appeal to you." He speaks to them in Aramaic. They get quiet now, and he has all of their attention. He says, "Hey, I just want to take my story and point you to Jesus." Verse 6:

"About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked." How long did it take God to change Paul's life, to grab his attention? How tall is a donkey? About that long. He hit the ground.

"'Get up and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him.

Then he said: 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his [Jesus'] name.'" Paul is still speaking to the crowd. "Hey, this is my story."

"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. 'Quick!' he said. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.'""God told me you'd reject me. He told me you would not listen."

"'Lord,' I replied, 'these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"

When he said, "Now you've rejected this message of Jesus, and I'm going to the Gentiles," the people there wanted to grab him and rip him to pieces. "What?" Sir William Ramsay, who was an archaeologist who set to disprove the gospel… He was the leading archaeologist in the twentieth century for Asia Minor. He became a Christian at the overwhelming archaeological evidence of the existence of Christ.

He said the change in this man's life is the second greatest apologetic we have. The first greatest is the empty tomb, that no one can find the bones of Jesus, that his body is not there, but the second greatest is that Saul of Tarsus, a man who is well represented in history… His life changed, and he went from killing people who knew about Jesus to following Jesus with great zeal and being willing to be killed in his name. It's well represented in history. It's the second greatest apologetic we have.

3._ Your greatest platform to proclaim Christ is built from your problems and your past_. More of the same. The greatest platform we have to proclaim Christ is a stage that has been built from our problems and our past. The stage we share the gospel from is built from our trials and our talents. There are two things that will almost always be why someone listens to you. If you go to engage with someone, the reason they are going to listen to you is one of two reasons.

First, you have struggled as they have, you have gone through some of the same things they have, or you have a talent or a degree or know somebody they really respect. It's one of those two things. Either your trials or your talents, either your problems or your past. That is why they're going to listen to you.

In 2017, it has been said that empathy is one of the most powerful forces in the world. In fact, Brené Brown's TED talk on the subject is still the top TED talk of our day. Paul knew that in AD 57. He said, "I know I need to find common ground with these people and plead with them in the name of Jesus."

So he grabs their attention with commonalities and then points them to Christ, and his testimony is simple. "Let me show you that I've been right where you are. I did what you're doing. Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, the Creator of earth and heaven, changed my life." Given the opportunity to preach, he simply shared his story. He's not trying to get them to like him. He tells the whole truth, that the gospel has now gone to the Gentiles, and they want to kill him, and they eventually do.

This is the image I want to leave you with. Have you ever had a key made? You can do it at Home Depot now. They have the machine. It's kind of neat, and you can watch it. What's happening is there's this piece of metal that slides into the machine, and it's being chipped away to perfectly fit a lock. That instrument now becomes something that opens a lock.

What I want you to know is that every single person here now has a key. It's your story, and that story has been shaped, has been chipped away by your problems and your past, and that key the Holy Spirit has entrusted to you unlocks the hearts of others. It unlocks the prison cells they find themselves in, cells just like you sat in, and you get to go up and through your story open that door.

In fact, on Tuesday at staff prayer I was praying with Edward Barrett, who's on our Facilities team here, and I looked down and saw his keys. Here's a picture of them. A lot of keys. Why? Because this place has grown. I said, "Man, there are so many doors here, so many locks, so many keys." Then I thought about all of you.

As this place has grown, there are so many keys that are about to bleed out into the city, so many people who have been resourced with a key that fits locks and hearts and cells that people have found themselves in, and you get to set them free. How do you do it? You share your story. This Thanksgiving, you're going to find yourself sitting at a table with people who know you and know parts of your story, but it's incomplete in their hearts and minds.

Some of the parts where it gets to Jesus there are holes. I plead with you to share your story. When you leave here you're going to get this. This is from Watermark of old. This is a top 10 list. This is something we did at the beginning. On it you just write down 10 people in your life who do not have a relationship with Jesus, and you pray for them, and that second box that you check is you sharing your story with them. There's something about writing their names down that will help you in having the courage to do that.

In summary, God has a purpose for your problems, God has a purpose for your past, and your greatest platform to proclaim Christ is built from your problems and your past. Everybody has a story God can use. I want to end our time together by you hearing the story of a friend of mine who leads worship up here. He plays the keys for us as we worship Christ on the weekends. If you would, just listen to Adam Prince's story.


Adam Prince: Growing up, we would come to church and put on a happy face and act like nothing was wrong. Over time, I started to see church as just a social club. The first opportunity I had as a young man I just stopped going and pushed away from it, and I didn't want anything to do with the God of my parents. About the age of 13, I started rebelling, and around that time my parents separated.

At 15, I started using drugs and getting high and had a lot of run-ins with the law. That was just consistent. I dropped out of school. By 18, I was using harder and harder drugs, and by 20 years old I was in prison. During my time there, I still didn't think anything I was doing was wrong. I got out of prison, and I got involved with some people who were using meth and partying.

I found myself deep in that to where I was using it every day. There were times where I would stay awake for six or seven days straight. I had no hope. I thought my life, that who I was as a criminal, as a felon, was just me, that there was nothing that could take those mistakes away, that I was just going to be that person for the rest of my life and it would probably end in prison or death.

The stuff from my probation caught up with me. I'm in front of the judge again, and they're offering me prison or an 18-month in-patient program. A few weeks later, I found myself at rehab. They give me a bunk, and I hear all these guys saying, "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord" and all this stuff, and I started to realize it's a Christian-based discipleship ministry; it's not a drug rehab.

I had no clue, and I was furious. For my first couple of days there, all I could think of was leaving, because I didn't want anything to do with Christianity. I knew it was fake. But after a few days I kind of told myself, "I can still use this place." I don't think I realized what was happening. I was there for myself just trying to use this program, and God was using the program to pour his Word into me and into my heart.

At Christmas they let us go home for 17 days. It wasn't a week into being back home where I was right back in the same stuff. I came back, and for probably the first time I just felt a deep conviction about what I was doing, just realizing that my life, that if I had it and I had control over it I was just going to mess it up.

I just surrendered everything, who I was, what I wanted. I experienced grace, and I suddenly wasn't ashamed of what I had done or the person I was. It didn't matter anymore, because I was free in Christ. My past suddenly was powerful. He accepted me in spite of that. He still cared about me and still wanted a relationship with me.

Being where I am now, the place God has taken me… I have this wonderful family and a beautiful wife, and I feel whole and loved by the God of the universe. Now looking back at everything, even when I talk about it it just seems like a dream because of the change he has done in me. I am a new creation. He can do anything. There are no limits, and there is hope for me and for everyone in Christ.

[End of video]

Adam Prince: A part of my story that wasn't shared in the video is that after my required time in that faith-based rehab I actually got to go back and serve as an intern, and I got to share my story with people every single day who were trapped in those same prisons of addiction and hopelessness I had once been trapped in, and I got to see Christ use my story and the story of others around me to set people free and unlock their cells.

Todd Wagner: Beau stood up here and made the transition to share with you about ways we want to get involved in your life. Beau Fournet didn't know Christ when we started Watermark. Somebody used their story to share with Beau and Natalie about Jesus. That man is an elder here now. In 2002, JP was hanging out at the Beagle getting drunk, and now he's a leader and a teacher, a pastor here, because somebody shared their story.

I don't know what your story is, but it's not over. I don't know what you think you should do between now and 11:15, but if I were you I would be on my phone calling anybody you know who needs hope and say, "I'm staying here. Would you please come meet me? Hear this at 11:15." I'd use my afternoon calling people and saying, "I'll be here at 5:00 with you. Come hear this message. I want you to know God is not done with you. It's not over."

I hope some of you are out there who have made the mistake of thinking God wants you to go to church and you realize it's not over. God doesn't want you to go to church. You know what this is? These are my notes today. I'm not just a shepherd here; I'm a sheep. I follow. I learn. I was fed today. I want my heart to keep growing. I love sitting under guys who heard about Jesus from me and are letting Jesus teach them something so I can be more of who God wants me to be.

I'm not done. I have growing to do, and so do you. We have work to do. I hope you see an Aggie ring today, you fools, and that you share Christ, because your work isn't done. So let's go, church. What a privilege. If you're here and your story has never begun because you've never started to believe God could knock you off your donkey and get your life right, I have to tell you he is waiting for you just to listen.

So come on, man. If you want to know about grace, build your life on the foundation of his Word, the foundation of his love. His name is Jesus. We'll stand here and talk to you until no one wants to talk. The person next to you probably knows him. Say, "Do you know him? Can you help me?" Take that perforated section and check the box. If you already have a story, you have a platform. Preach the Word. Amen?

Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.