03 February 2009

Follow the Spirit and Preach Christ

Week 20 (Acts 16) from "The Roots of Our Faith" series on the book of Acts.

If you have ever uttered the words; "Uggh!!! This is such a waste of time!" then you have felt the stress of wasted time.  

Out of all of our commodities, time may be the most finite and something in our souls reels when it is frittered away.  But if we rail against wasting time we must have, then, made a value judgment on the use of our time.  Some things are more important than others.  With many things judgment is easy.  It's not hard to decide whether spending Saturday afternoon drunk or with my family at the park is the best use of my time.  In fact those who do spend Saturday afternoon drunk must first justify their decisions ("I need some down time" or I deserve a little break"), thus betraying a nagging sense of the right use of time.  No dads spend words justifying their decision to pray with their family, but many spew volumes to justify their drunken afternoons.  

So how do we make the most of our time?  Paul and his companions in Acts 16 give us a tremendous example.  They followed the Holy Spirit and preached Christ where the Spirit led them. That seems almost cliche and it would be if their example didn't provide real definition.  In this message, we examine Acts 16 to find practical wisdom in obedience to Paul's Spirit-inspired words in Ephesians 5:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5.15-21)
Some highlights...
On following the Spirit;
1.  Consider the circuitous route of the missionaries from Antioch around Asia to Troas.  The Holy Spirit prevented from them from bringing the gospel to Asia and then Bithynia and Luke tells of no miraculous intervention of the Spirit to do so.  Presumably their motives were holy obedience to Christ's Great Commission and, yet, God had a different route for them to follow. In the words of my friend Buck;
When you made the point that believers who are close to the Lord hear His calling and His direction, I thought of John 10, where the Lord repeatedly assures us that His sheep hear His voice. I wrote this in my notes: The Good Shepherd doesn't have to shout for the sheep to hear His voice. When we are close to Him, a gentle whisper is sufficient.
I thought about Paul's calling to Philippi. That was no ordinary city. It was named for Philip of Macedon, Alexander's father. It was rough, pagan, and almost more Roman than Rome itself. When the Holy Spirit barred Paul from Asia and Bithynia, Paul must have started to realize where he was heading. The journey around Mysia to Troas would have taken weeks, giving plenty of time for prayer, reflection, and preparation. When Paul had the vision of the man of Macedonia and acknowledged that he was being called there, he surely realized that he would not have a warm welcome. Other than an unwavering understanding of the truth of Christ's nature, death, resurrection, and Lordship, no person would have been willing to take on Philippi. When Paul and Silas and the others were arrested and imprisoned, could Paul have failed to think of Stephen? Surely Paul's memory of his role in Stephen's murder and of Stephen's willingness to follow Christ regardless of the cost were in Paul's mind when he and the others sang hymns and praised the Lord at midnight. Only one absolutely confident in his faith could have been so bold. In this light, Acts 16 stands as one of the strongest confirmations of the truth of what we believe.
I must ask, "Do I have that kind of intimacy with God?" and "Do I really have any time to spend selfishly disconnected from God?" In the words of John Piper, "Don't waste your life by spending it in the flesh."

2.  There is the "following" that looks to the future; to decisions in the future and is obedience-oriented.  This "following" asks "God, what would you have me do?"  Then there is the following that looks to the present and is trust-oriented.  Paul and Silas displayed this after floggings and the stocks in the inner cell of the Philippian prison.  They didn't ask the question "God, what would you have me do?" they asked, "Lord, what are you doing in this moment that we cannot control?"  Their gaze to him and trust in his goodness resulted in song and ultimately to the preaching that saved the Philippian jailer.

On preaching Christ;
3.   Paul gives us several interesting examples of preaching Christ.  
  • He circumcises Timothy (an uncircumcised Jew) to prevent an unnecessary hindrance to the Jews to whom he would preach.  This is in light of Galatians 5:2-14 which has some strong language about how circumcision for Galatians would nullify the Cross and Christ would be of no value.  He does this in faithful commitment to his Holy Spirit-given conviction in 1 Corinthians 9:19-21,22-23.  For the sake of the Gospel, Paul became all things to all men that by all means he might save some.
  • Paul encounters Lydia and is not satisfied with her worship of God.  He pursues the Gospel of Jesus Christ and puts Christ at the center of salvation and the only way to salvation.
  • When he rebuked the evil Spirit that inhabited the little slave girl in Acts 16:16-17, he did so appealing to the highest authority to whom he had access; "In the name of Jesus Christ..." even though she was communicating truth (they were servants of the Most High God) it was demonic driven and not claiming the authority of Jesus.
When we can faithfully walk out the Acts 16 example of following the Holy Spirit and preaching Christ, we find something glorious.  We find peace!  We can have the confidence that comes with obedience and a Psalm 4:5 lifestyle.  Our lives are not being wasted and that thought is attended with great joy and peace.  (Consider this idea: "Our joy is dependent on that sense that our lives are not wasted, and our lives are wasted if we have no joy.")

Goober Sighting
I had a Goober moment this Sunday and I need to repent.  I discussed Paul's strong opinions on both side of the isle on circumcision and how that was an expression of his intense desire to contextualize the Gospel so that every group might get its fullness without stumbling. In the process of hammering out the dissonance between Acts 16 and Galatians 5:2-14, I said "What is going on with Paul?  Is he nuts?  He looks a little bipolar!"  Stupid.

Thankfully # 5 on my last post is true.  A mom came up to me, deeply disturbed, that her daughter was never going to come to Summitview again because of my comment.   She had been diagnosed with bipolar and felt minimized by her last church because of it.  

I got carried away.  I so wish it hadn't happened.  After begging this mom to let me speak with her daughter, she introduced me to the girl.  I acknowledged my substantial foolishness, repented and asked for her forgiveness.  She smiled and, after some more conversation about my foolish statement, we shook hands and, as she walked away, she threw this final statement over her shoulder..."I'll see you next week.

I'm stupid but I boast in that because Jesus isn't and he shines through the rather large cracks in this broken vessel working all things together for good.

Finally here are some discussion questions that you can use to examine this whole thing in more depth.


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