Discipleship 3: Together by Pastor Abidan Shah

DISCIPLESHIP – TOGETHERNESS by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Discipleship Together

Introduction: Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway Resources, did a Twitter survey sometime back on the really strange reasons people give for not attending church. Here are a few of my favorites:“We were out of peanut butter.” “My wife cooked bacon for breakfast, and our entire family smelled like bacon.” “The pastor stays in the Bible too much.” “The worship leader pulls up his pants too often. It’s distracting.” “The church is too close to drive, and too far to walk.” “We got burned out at church and have been taking a break for the past seven years.” I’ve been pastoring this church, my only church, for the past 20 years and I’ve met people who are always looking for reasons to skip church. Today’s message is on the importance of togetherness in discipleship. You can grow alone in a flower pot for only so long. True and ultimate discipleship is long term and it happens only in the soil of community. You need others to be a true disciple.

Acts 2   42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…44Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,45and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Question: The early church understood the value of togetherness. Do you understand the importance of being together in the body of Christ? Are you a part of the body of Christ? Are you saved? What binds us together is the same Holy Spirit? Is he in you?

Context: In the first message in our series on discipleship, I introduced the goal of discipleship in the acronym W A T E R = WITNESSES + ACCOUNTABILITY + TOGETHERNESS + ESTABLISHED IN THE WORD + REPRODUCING. We’ve already looked at the first two letters W and A and, in this message, we will focus on the third letter T = Togetherness. 3 main things we need to understand about Togetherness:

 I. THE EARLY CHURCH WAS TRAINED IN TOGETHERNESS BY JESUS.

Background:When people read in Acts about how the early church was together, loving and caring for one another, and putting each other first, they assume that it was some organic movement that just happened. Not true. For e.g.When you watch your favorite ball team play a great game, you know that it didn’t just happen. You know that the coach has been training them.So also, Coach Jesus had been training his disciples on the importance of being together and they were simply living it out.

I want us to look at a major training session that Jesus had with his disciples towards the close of his ministry. You remember in John 13, after the Last Supper, how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Itwas unthinkable for a master to wash his disciples’ feet.Peter even tried to stop Jesus but he warned him that this was a must if he was going to be his disciple. Why was this so important? Listen carefully to how Jesus explained to them the meaning of what he had done for them – 12 “…Do you know what I have done to you? 14If I then, yourLord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”Don’t misunderstand:This was much more than “Y’all get along when I’m gone. Wash each other’s feet until I return.” Listen carefully –34“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Loving one another was the mark of a disciple before the watching world. The key words here are “one another.” I can wash my own feet but that is not keeping this commandment, that is not proving my discipleship before the watching world. I can even try to wash the feet of the world (feed the hungry, house the homeless, take care of the needy) but that is still not keeping this commandment and proving my discipleship before the watching world. This commandment can only be obeyed in the context of “one another.” This is why the early church was doing what they were doing!

Application:If you are a disciple of Christ, the same commandment applies to you. Do you love others in the body of Christ? Do you care to prove your discipleship to the watching world?

II. IT IS NATURAL FOR DISCIPLES TO NEGLECT TOGETHERNESS. 

Background:Very early on in the church’s life, the disciples began to drift away from each other. They forgot Jesus’ commandment of being together. A major evidence for this is found in the book of Hebrews. By the way, a key phrase in this book is “let us.”Listen to chapter 10verse 22let usdraw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let ushold fast the confession of ourhope without wavering, for He who promisedisfaithful. 24And let usconsider one anotherin order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, asisthe manner of some, but exhortingone another,and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Why did the writer of Hebrews have to exhort the early Christians to keep meeting? Or why did the early Christians stop meeting? I believe for the same reasons that Christians or disciples stop meeting even today. Here are a few that I’ve come across:

  • I don’t have to be in church in order to be a Christian.If you say that, you do not understand what the church is. It is not a building. In fact, it is described in different ways. Paul gives several ways in his letter to the Ephesians. He calls it the body of Christ.Ephesians 1 22And He gave Him(Christ)to behead over allthingsto the church, 23which is His body…” What if I told you, “I love you very much but I hate your body”? Other times, he calls it the family of Jesus. Ephesians 2:19“…you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” What if I told you, “I love you but I hate your family”? Sometimes, he calls the church the bride/wife of Christ. Ephesians 5:25“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”What if I told you, “I love you but I hate your wife”?
  • I’m very busy and Sunday is my only day off.We always find time for things that are important. Time is not the problem. Understanding is. If you understanding the value of being with other believers, you will make time for it. Also, we have services several times on Sunday mornings and even on Saturday evenings.
  • There are a lot of hypocrites in church.What’s your point? In fact, what better place for hypocrites to be than at church where they can hear the truth. By the way, be careful about pointing fingers at others. As a pastor once said to someone who said that – “Come on in. We have room for one more.”
  • I did until something bad happened to me.I’m very sorry for what happened to you. This is one I do understand. When I first came here from India, I went to church. Little did I expect what was about to happen or not happen. This church was known as a good church and bible believing church but no one shook my hand. I was so hurt that I didn’t go to church for almost 2 years. God had to use circumstances and people to bring me back. Here’s my encouragement to you – When you stop going for one reason or another, no matter how legitimate your reason is, you are no longer able to demonstrate your discipleship.

Application:What is your reason for rejecting togetherness with other disciples? Are you willing to give that hurt to God and forgive that person or church and let God prove your discipleship before the watching world?

III. TOGETHERNESS IS A MEASURING STICK FOR DISCIPLESHIP. 

In the first message in this series on discipleship, I explained to you how Jesus moved people through 3 concentric circles.Outside the circles was the CROWD, the vast majority who were not following Jesus. Then came the first circle, the CONGREGATION.These were the multitudes that followed Jesus, heard his teachings, and saw his miracles. Then came the second circle,theCOMMUNITY. These were the 12 disciples that Jesus handpicked. You could add the 70 from Luke 10as well. He talked with them and taught them things that he did not teach the multitude. Finally came the third circle, the CIRCLE.Out of the 12 disciples, Jesus picked 3 to be part of his inner circle – Peter, James, and John. From these, Jesus expected much more. What I want you to understand is that to each of this groups Jesus had a different call:

  • To the crowd, it was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • To the multitudes, it was “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.”
  • To the disciples, it was “Love one another as I have loved you.”
  • To the inner circle, it was “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

This applies to us today:

  • Crowd (people out in our neighborhood, workplaces, friends) – get saved
  • Congregation (Saturday evening and Sunday morning) – commit yourself;
  • Community (disciples – Sunday School and Wednesday Bible Studies) – love one another, learn to be together;
  • Circle (Accountability groups) – help each other.

Invitation:Which group do you belong to? Do you understand the value of togetherness? What are you doing to move through these circles? Are you saved?

Discipleship 1: Witnesses by Pastor Abidan Shah

DISCIPLESHIP 1 – WITNESSES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Discipleship 1

Introduction:  If your family is like ours, after surfing the channels or Netflix for 30 minutes, we usually settle for some classic show. For me, it is the Andy Griffith show. One of my favorite episodes is the one where Opie starts talking about his new friend “Mr. McBeevee” who he describes as wearing a shining hat, walking about in the treetops, jingling as if he was wearing bells, and blowing smoke out of his ears. At first, Andy laughs it off to just a kid having an imaginary friend until Opie comes up with a quarter saying that Mr. McBeevee gave it to him. Now Andy gets concerned and tells Opie to tell the truth that Mr. McBeevee was just make believe. Opie refuses and asks Andy, “Don’t you believe me Pa? Don’t you Pa?” At first Andy is upset and disappointed but then his expression changes and he says, “I believe you.” Of course, Barney is upset at Andy for going along with Opie and he asks him, “Do you believe in Mr. McBeevee?” Andy responds, “No, but I believe in Opie.” Later on, it comes out that Mr. McBeevee was a telephone repair man, climbing up and down trees with a belt of equipment jingling as he walked. So also, Christians are people who have seen Christ through the eyes of faith. They are witnesses to Christ. They cannot help but talk about what they have seen. The world has trouble believing us but it’s only through our testimony that they can meet Christ. That’s our message today in our series on discipleship.

Acts 1    4And being assembled together withthem,He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,”He said,“you have heard from Me; 5for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Question:If you’re a disciple, you’re a witness to Christ. You should be able to describe 3 things – 1. What was life like before you met Christ. 2. What happened that changed your life, how Christ saved you. 3. What is your life like since Christ saved you? Can you describe these 3 things? Are you a witness to Christ? Are you a disciple? Are you saved?

I. IT’S NOT A FORMULA BUT A TESTIMONY.

Context: Last weekend I introduced the goal of discipleship in the acronym – W A T E R = WITNESSES + ACCOUNTABILITY + TOGETHERNESS + ESTABLISHED IN THE WORD + REPRODUCING. In the next few weeks we will look at each of these attributes. Today we begin with WITNESSES. 4 things we need to understand about being a WITNESS:

Background: When Christians or church people hear the word “witness” or “witnessing,” they equate that with an evangelism program for sharing the gospel like CWT, EE, FAITH, Sharing Jesus Without Fear, Romans Road, NET, 4 Spiritual Laws. This was not the case with the first disciples. When Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8“…and you shall be witnesses to Me…” he meant witnesses as in “eye-witnesses.” Listen to what he said in Luke 24   46“…Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48And you are witnessesof these things.” So, a witness was someone who had seen the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and had received the commission from Christ to preach repentance and remission (forgiveness or cancellation) of sins in his name to all nations. In fact, throughout the Book of Acts, the disciples are called witnesses:

  • Acts 2:32“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are allwitnesses.”
  • Acts 4:33“And with great power the apostles gavewitnessto the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…”
  • Acts 5:32“And we are Hiswitnessesto these things, andsoalsoisthe Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
  • Acts 13:31“He (Jesus) was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are Hiswitnessesto the people.”
  • Acts 23:11But the following night the Lord stood by him (Paul) and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witnessat Rome.”

I can go on and on but the point is this – if we call ourselves disciples, we are witnesses like the first disciples of what Jesus has done for us. There is a difference – the disciples were EYE witnesses and we are FAITH witnesses

Application: What have you witnessed? How was life before Jesus? What has Jesus done for you? How is life since Jesus?

II. IT’S NOT A DESTINATION BUT A MINDSET. 

Background: When Christians or church people hear the word “witnessing,” they think “going door-to-door” or “leaving their home country and going far away to some foreign mission field. Going on missions to a foreign country is important but when Jesus said in Acts 1:8“…and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” he was not telling them to travel somewhere on a mission trip but to start living like people who had witnessed something extraordinary. He was telling them to live with a changed mindset starting right where they were.

Illustration: Joe Dittmar (spoke at Crime Stoppers and Chamber banquet) is a 9/11 survivor who was on the 105thfloor of the 2ndWorld Trade Tower. It is mind blowing to hear his account of how seemingly small decisions saved his life and how from a meeting of 54 insurance executives, he was one of only 7 who made it. Now, he lives every day in light of that day. It has changed his mindset about life, family, work, God, everything.

Application: How has the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus impacted your life? Has it changed your mindset? How do you see yourself in your workplaces, neighborhoods, family gatherings, ball fields, etc.? You are on mission right where you are.

III. IT’S NOT A SKILL BUT THE SPIRIT.

Background: When Christians or church folks hear the word “witness” or “witnessing,” they get terrified. I’ll be honest with you, it is pretty terrifying to me as well. The reason we have this fear is because we fail to take seriously what Jesus told his disciples and to all of us in verse 8“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me…”Think about the word “power.” This is not some destructive power tearing down things and wreaking havoc. This is power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is power that brings wholeness and perfection. This is power that transforms hearts and changes lives. Let me give you 2 examples in Acts:

  • When Peter was asked in Acts 4 7“…By what power or by what name have you done this?’ 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…3000-5000 saved!
  • After Paul was stopped by Jesus from persecuting the church, he was blind and God sent Ananias to him. Listen to what he says to Paul in Acts 917“…Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” After Paul received sight, he was baptized, ate, spent time with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately starting preachingChrist in the synagogues.

You cannot be a witness to Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about skills, courage, personality. It’s about the power of the Holy Spirit.

Application: Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Is there anything that would hinder the flow of the Holy Spirit in your life.

IV. IT’S NOT A GOAL BUT A SOUL.

Background:  When Christians or church folks hear the word “witnessing,” they think of it as some goal to be met. Listen carefully – People are not projects to be completed or boxes to be checked. They are precious souls to be won to Christ. We have to remind ourselves to genuinely love people. Pray for them. Take the time to get to know them. Talk less and listen more. Be ready with the words of a witness. Daily submit to the Holy Spirit. Pray for divine appointments. Make room for divine appointments. Robby Gallaty gives the following suggestions:

  • Lingering longer in the driveway before going into your home.
  • Hanging around a few minutes extra in the break room.
  • Inviting lost friends over to have dinner with you.
  • Serving in a local homeless shelter occasionally.
  • Leading after school tutoring at a school that needs help.
  • Investing time in community events.
  • Getting involved in prison ministry.
  • Letting your neighbor borrow something of yours.
  • Volunteering in your church nursery or to set up an event.
  • There are many other ways that you can genuinely connect with lost souls.

Invitation: Are you a true disciple? Are you a witness to Christ? Are you saved?

Transformed by Pastor Abidan Shah

TRANSFORMED by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Transformed

Introduction:  Have you seen people transformed at the snap of a finger? Back in the day when people still answered home phones, you’d be having a horrible day yelling at the kids, and then the phone would ring. What did you do? In the nicest voice possible – “Hello!” There was a transformation but it was temporary and fake. There’s another transformation that comes when a person comes to know Christ as their Savior. It is permanent and real. That’s the title of today’s message: TRANSFORMED. 3 different individuals were transformed in Acts 16 through the power of the gospel.

Acts 16   13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Question: The Lord opened Lydia’s heart and she heard the gospel and was transformed. Has the Lord ever opened your heart? Have you ever heard the gospel? Have you ever been transformed? On a different note, Paul was faithful in sharing the gospel with Lydia. Are you faithful in sharing the gospel with others in your life?

Context: After receiving the Macedonian call at Troas, Paul and his missionary team (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) concluded that God had called them to Greece and they set sail. Listen to Acts 16   11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis…” Keep in mind: The distance from Troas to Neapolis was over 150 miles. The island of Samothrace was the perfect halfway point. Neapolis, which is modern day Kavalla (Nicole and I have been there), was the port city for Philippi, which was 10 miles inland. Why am I mentioning all this? All these details again prove the historicity and accuracy of the Bible. Let’s keep reading: 12 “and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony…” I don’t have time to go into all the details as to why Luke calls it a “foremost city” but here are just a few facts about Philippi – First, it was a very important and prosperous city in the Roman Empire. One reason was because it was a Roman colony inhabited by Roman veterans. You can imagine the sense of pride among the citizens. The Via Egnatia, a major Roman Road connecting the Adriatic Sea with Byzantium, was the major east-west road through the city. Philippi was no Athens or Rome but visitors would be amazed by the large Roman agora, the temple, the library, the Commercial agora, the palaestra (Greek wrestling school), the theater, the 42-seat toilet with running water, the Roman baths, the acropolis, and the many shrines to the various gods and goddesses. Listen carefully: When Paul got the call to the region of Macedonia, he could have chosen a less prominent, less intimidating, and a little safer place to begin but he didn’t. He chose Philippi because it was different than the cities back home in Asia and it was time for the gospel to step out of the familiar and the safe.

Application: God is doing some amazing things at Clearview. He is taking us into regions that we have never been before. It is intimidating. It is unnerving. But, let’s not be afraid of stepping out of the familiar and the safe. Are you ready for what God has for us?

Now we are going to see 3 very different transformations of 3 very different people by the same gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by Paul:

1st TRANSFORMATION – 12 “…And we were staying in that city for some days.” Paul must have tried to make inroads into this new culture and social environment and maybe he hit some brick walls but he doesn’t give up. He doesn’t pack up and head home. Instead, he changes his strategy. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made…” Back in the east, Paul would begin by going to the synagogue but there’s no synagogue in Philippi. Paul hears about some people praying and practicing Jewish customs outside the city by the Zygaktis River or the Krenides River. Why by the river? Water was necessary for purification. “…and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.” If Paul had stayed in the city, he would’ve never met these women. He stepped out in search and God sent these women. What happens? 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. Don’t you find this ironic! Paul had a vision of a Man from Macedonia asking him to come and help them. Instead, he finds a Woman from Thyatira! “Seller of purple” meant that she was a business woman who sold those famous dyes from Thyatira which came from the root of the local madder plant. “…The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Application: Let me give you a less than impressive principle: “If you go looking for lost souls, you will find them.” The reason many of us don’t have any lost souls is because we are not looking for them. Our Mission at Clearview is to lead all people into a life changing ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” That’s why we keep finding them! Let me add, don’t be alarmed when God sends a “Woman from Thyatira” instead of a “Man from Macedonia.”

2nd TRANSFORMATION – 16 “Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.” This slave girl was much like those oracles of Delphi who told the future through ecstatic utterances. There was no truth in these prophecies since Luke does not use the Greek term “propheteuw” but “manteuomai,” which is pagan and false prophecy. But there’s something darker here. Luke says that she had literally, “numa puthonos.” Our translators say “a spirit of divination” but it’s really the “spirit of the python.” It is based on the myth of Apollo defeating the giant serpent “Python” and then this name was given to Apollo’s priestesses at Delphi. The Romans would’ve enjoyed this display of Greek culture and history and must have paid good money to her owners but think about it – she was someone’s daughter or sister or grandchild who was in the clutches of the Devil and was being destroyed from within.

Listen carefully: Don’t open the door of your home, your family to evil Satanic things. You may say, “It doesn’t bother me.” My answer: “Who says the devil is going for you.”

17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” This seems odd that the Devil will go around broadcasting the gospel. Don’t misunderstand. This has nothing to do with the gospel. This was only to distract and gain publicity for himself. 18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her…” Why didn’t Paul deal with her the very first time? Maybe he didn’t want to draw attention yet. Maybe he didn’t want the girl to get hurt. “…And he came out that very hour.” Don’t miss this: There was no long drawn out discussion and process of deliverance. The name of Jesus through a man of God set the girl free.

Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us whether or not she accepted Christ as her Savior. I hope she did. But there was definitely a transformation that came into her life. The name of Jesus sets people free.

3rd TRANSFORMATION – Let me quickly summarize: The masters of that girl were angry because Paul had messed up their business. They accused them of being Jewish troublemakers and had them beaten with rods and thrown into the prison. Now comes that familiar incident – Acts 16    25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. Someone said “that’s the original jailhouse rock!” 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

You never know what God is doing in someone’s life. He is preparing them to meet you so they can meet Christ.

For e.g. Young man whom Dr. Shelander met on the train who was on his way to commit suicide.

Have you been transformed? Are you helping someone else to be transformed?

Redirected by Pastor Abidan Shah

REDIRECTED by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

JourneyWithChristChurchPowerPoint_presentation

Introduction:  How many of ya’ll have ever been frustrated with your GPS? I get angry at mine all the time – “Why are you taking me this way?” “No, I’m not turning here!” “This thing took me around my elbow to get to my thumb!” Sometimes I even want to throw mine out the window! But, there’s another kind of GPS. It stands for GOD’S POSITIONING SYSTEM. Unlike the one in my truck, this one has always rerouted my life for the best! With that in mind, this is our first message in our series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians called GRATEFUL and this message is titled REDIRECTED and we’re actually going to begin in the Book of Acts.

Acts 16    6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Question: Paul concluded, through the Holy Spirit and a vision at night, that God was closing some doors for a reason and opening a new one. What doors have closed for you in the past year? What have you concluded? Have you concluded that God is in control of your life and he is redirecting your life for the best? Or have you concluded that God doesn’t care and your life has no direction? Can you see His divine hand directing and redirecting your life? Is Christ your Savior?

Context: The passage we just read gets misinterpreted and misapplied a lot. Any little obstacle is considered to be the hand of the Holy Spirit. Any odd dream is taken as a vision from God. Before we can correctly interpret Acts 16, we need to first correctly understand Acts 15. Listen to how Acts 15 begins 1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Who were these men from Judea and why were they insisting that the Gentiles should be circumcised in order to be saved? Paul gives us more information about them in Galatians 2 where he tells us that these certain men were from the “mother church” in Jerusalem where James, the half-brother of Jesus, was their pastor. This church was composed of only Jewish background believers with the goal of reaching other Jewish background people with the gospel. But, something changed in Acts 10 when God sent Peter to a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius. Remember, God had to convince him first with a vision of the clean and unclean animals coming down on a sheet from heaven. As Peter was preaching, Cornelius and his family and close friends responded to the gospel, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. When the Jerusalem church leaders heard this, they were hesitant to accept them but when Peter explained to them what had happened, they glorified God saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18) In other words, they informally approved the conversion of the Gentiles. This was always God’s plan but what a big step for them! Think about it – the Jewish believers moved over to let you and me climb on to their family tree! How many of us would’ve done that!

But, as more and more Gentiles started getting saved, some of the Jewish believers from James’ church in Jerusalem became concerned that these new converts were going to weaken the moral standards of their community and change their identity as God’s covenant people. So, some of them took upon themselves to go from place to place telling the newly converted Gentile Christians that they were not saved unless they were also circumcised. Circumcision is what set the Jewish people apart from the world. It brought great persecution and suffering to them. It was central to their identity as God’s people. They felt that Gentiles needed to suffer a little before they could have equal status among God’s covenant people. These men were “the circumcisionists” or “the Judaizers.” Imagine the confusion and the division this brought in the early church. People were questioning each other’s salvation. They were questioning the truth of the gospel. What was Paul’s response? Listen to verse 2 “Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them…” Meaning: There was a big fight. Souls were hanging in the balance. As they say, “this was a hill worth dying on.”

Application: Church people fight over silly stuff. They die over ant hills and give up the mountains of doctrine and theology. Paul fought for what mattered. Salvation is a mountain worth fighting for. Ephesians 2   8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Don’t let anyone add any rituals, traditions, or personal convictions to your salvation. There are other doctrines like Trinity, Incarnation, Inerrancy, Resurrection, etc.

What happened next? The church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and the elders at the Mother church. Again, Acts 15:7 says, “when there had been much dispute…” Meaning: Hours and days of arguing and debating, proving and disproving went on. You can imagine the frustration and stress, harsh words and hurt feelings. Then Peter stood up along with James and John and others apostles, elders, and brethren and made the decree that the Judaizers had no authority to interfere with the salvation of the Gentiles and that salvation is only by grace through faith. As Paul says in Galatians 2:9 “they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship…” What a powerful decision! If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t be here today.

When I think about all this, I can’t help but wonder “why did God allow all this mess?” Why did he allow the Judaizers to go around confusing the people? Why did he allow Paul and Barnabas to go through all these arguments and struggles? Why did he allow this controversy to rock the church? Listen carefully: All this mess was a blessing in disguise. It helped clarify and solidify Paul’s thinking. It prepared him to write letters like Galatians and Romans. If it wasn’t for this controversy, we would’ve never heard of Galatians 2   19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 3   28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And…Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Romans 3   21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…22…through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Application: You can look at the frustrating times and seasons in your life as a hurdle or you can look at them as a gift from God. You can get bitter and angry with God or you can trust God that he’s still working in your life. You can become discouraged or you can be teachable. The choice is yours. Paul grew the crisis in the church.

I believe that Paul chose to trust God and God helped him to grow in his knowledge and wisdom. But that’s not all. Something more was about to happen. Paul wanted to go and visit those churches that were rocked by the controversy but then there was a falling out between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Paul chose Silas and started going through Syria and Cilicia. What if Paul had become bitter over that matter and decided to take a break from God? I believe that would’ve been the last we would’ve heard of Paul. Paul remained faithful in his calling.

Then he came to Derbe and Lystra where he met a young man named Timothy whose mother was a Jewish believer and his father was a Greek. Hint! Hint! When God wants you to head in a new direction, he will bring certain people into your life who will help you in the journey. Now as he was travelling through Phrygia and Galatia, the Holy Spirit closed the door to Asia. As he came to Mysia and tried to go into Bithynia, the Holy Spirit again closed that door too. There is a direction in which he was talking Paul. Then when he came to Troas, there was a vision of a Macedonian man saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us” and it finally dawned on Paul that God was leading him to Europe! If you read Acts 16 without taking into account what has happened in Acts 15, any obstacle and any dream may appear to be God’s will when it’s not. The controversy was being used by God to prepare Paul to go to Europe. We wouldn’t have the Letter to the Philippians if Paul had failed to answer that call.

I’m often shocked at the way people make decisions – They move, change jobs, start relationships, break relationships thinking somehow that the Holy Spirit is leading them when he’s actually a million miles away. It’s only when you are submitted to his leading and guiding, it’s only when you are teachable and obedient, that you can conclude that it’s God who is directing and redirecting your life.

Invitation: What have you concluded? Is the Holy Spirit leading your life? Is Christ your Savior?

 

 

 

 

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