Tag Archives: perseverance

Behold Your God — Week Twelve, Day Five

18 Aug

Don’t expect perfection. Don’t let your zeal be misdirected. Don’t chase after feelings. Don’t give up.

These four statements summarize the final study in the Behold Your God book.

When seeking to know and live in the presence of God . . .

  1. Don’t expect perfection. You will not live a perfectly sinless life and your life’s circumstances will not be perfectly smooth. Hard days attend to the one who seeks God. Frustrating failures of heart will be common. Days of joy in God will be sidetracked by one action or comment. Expect this. Know that in this world you will have trouble. Know from the outset that while you should be growing in holiness, you will always fall short of perfection. One of the keys to healthy Christian living is perseverance. This can only happen if two things are going on in our hearts. First, we must believe the goal of our pursuit is worthwhile and second, we must not give up when we fail.
  2. Don’t let your zeal be misdirected. This can manifest itself in many ways. The book described the “Toronto Blessing” of the early ’90’s and the idea of “holy laughter,” discussing how this seemed to be out of step with revivals in the Bible. But there are other ways zeal can be misdirected too. In our excitement over knowing God, we may insist that everyone must know God in exactly the way we do. So if we came to know Jesus through the influence of great books, we will insist that everyone else must read these books. Or if it was through a small group Bible study, we become the world’s biggest cheerleader for Bible study. But there are many gifts in the body, therefore many expressions of those gifts should be expected and many different points of emphasis on many different points of need.
  3. Don’t chase after feelings. There is a way we can get so fixed on seeing revival that we begin to seek revival rather than seeking God. We may become religious consumers, looking to get a certain high from a worship experience and may fail to see the significance of knowing God is far greater than the warm feelings of a revival meeting. The two are not always synonymous.
  4. Don’t give up. When I think about the sin in my own heart, the sin of fellow church members, and the devastated world we live in, I am tempted to give up. I must remember that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” I have resources for this life to see me through each day and God’s promises to sustain me. So I must never give up. “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I don’t want to end telling you what not to do, so let me list a few things Christians through the centuries have found helpful when it comes to knowing the Lord and walking with Him.

  • The Word is essential. Reading it, meditating over it, committing it to memory, all these things are key. I think it was said of John Bunyan that he was so immersed in Scripture that it was as if you pricked him, he would bleed the Bible.
  • Prayer is essential. Seeing God through the Word, we come into intimate fellowship with God through prayer. Prayer is not mainly about getting stuff we want, it is mainly about coming into God’s presence and knowing Him.
  • Church is essential. Church can take many forms, but gathering with other like-minded people is an essential part of your journey of faith. You need the other perspectives, the encouragement along the way, the shared ministry opportunities.
  • Service is essential. If you never put all you are knowing of God into practice in your daily life, you are missing out on knowing God more deeply than you could otherwise know Him. God is a giver. His love overflows. As people made in His image, we function best when we are giving, when we are overflowing with acts of love.
  • Ongoing learning is essential. The resources we have for spiritual growth in our day are absolutely amazing. If you don’t take advantage of the great books of the past, of conferences, of seminars, of online events and podcasts, you may be missing out on a great means of spiritual growth. To be sure, this can be an area where we overdo it. There is no salvation through reading, no sanctification by podcast. But ignoring the opportunities to grow God has given us in our day may be an indicator of pride or laziness. We must be judicious in what we take in, but the mentoring we can receive through resources by saints who have walked this path of life before us is invaluable.
  • Time is essential. This may be the most challenging thing of all. If you really want to behold God, you must devote time to Him. If you are working every hour of the day, don’t be surprised if you feel distant from Him. If you are filling free moments with games on your smart phone or social media, don’t be surprised if you have no intimacy with God. If you binge watch Netflix but don’t read your Bible, don’t be alarmed when you realize God is no longer very important to you. Love means an investment of time. Will you make the time commitment necessary to see the work of God flourish in your life? Will this study not be an end but the beginning of a life of earnestly seeking the Lord? I pray it would be so.

Behold Your God — It is Worth It

14 Jun

We are now in the middle of week three of Behold Your God. Many people are really enjoying the study and are growing through it. Others may be beginning to struggle with the daily work that needs to be done to get the most out of this study. Let me encourage you this morning to keep going.

Keep going because you have the time. Almost everybody reading this has the time to do this study. If you are reading this article but say you don’t have the time, stop reading blog articles and that should free up time right there. Set aside one TV program each day and you’ve got it. Set aside social media for 30 minutes and you’ve got it. Take it with you to work and do it at lunch. There are dozens of ways to make it work. You’ve got the time. Will you take the time?

Keep going because you can understand this material. You are intelligent and capable. Don’t sell yourself short. The mind is an amazing thing. It can develop and improve with use. Yes, you will have to think. Thinking is a huge part of Christianity (Rom. 12:2, Col. 3:1). You can do it. There may be things you don’t understand. That is ok. Don’t lose the benefits of the rest of the study because you can’t understand a few things.

Keep going because knowing God is the most important thing in your life (whether we know it or not) and this study can help you grow in significant ways.

Persevere, my friends. Great treasure is found by the one who digs in, not by the one who waits for it to fall into their lap.



Experiencing the Gospel in Perseverance

15 May

Awesome message from Matt Chandler. Highly recommended.

Sunday Morning Sermon — Acts 14:1-7 “Keys to Persistence in Ministry”

6 Jan

As we begin Acts 14 this week we move with Paul and Barnabus to the city of Iconium.

Paul and Barnabus travel about 80 miles southeast from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium. Iconium was a city that retained more of a Greek culture than a Roman culture. It was a kind of melting pot, with the native Phrygians, Greeks, Jews and Romans. Iconium was not a large city like Ephesus. So we see in the decision to go to Iconium a strategic choice. First, the diversity of the city will mean the gospel will reach more kinds of people and this is what Paul and Barnabus want to do, to take the gospel to all people. Second, going to a smaller city like Iconium at this stage was wise, because they would be received more seriously than they would if they went to a big city at this point. It is like a local band trying to book Madison Square Garden. Until they are better known, it doesn’t make sense to do so. Start out by playing local places and then move up the line. This is what Paul and Barnabus are doing. They start with culturally diverse, smaller towns and move on from there. There is one other aspect to their strategy that has not changed as well, and we see it in verse 1 . . .

1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.

Now if you were here last week you might remember that Paul and Barnabus went into the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch and preached there and they were well-received. But then when the Jews saw all the Gentiles of the city flocking to hear Paul’s message they rejected him. And Paul and Barnabus shook the dust off their feet and said, “now we are going to the Gentiles.” But here we are in verse 1 and they are back in the synagogue. So what’s going on? Well, it seems that Paul and Barnabus are merciful like God is merciful. They go to each local congregation of Jews and respond based on the response of that local congregation. So while the focus of their mission is the Gentiles, they have not forgotten their people, they still long for them to come to the Lord. And mercifully many do. Here it is both Jews and Greeks who believe. But again we have the problem of opposition in verse 2 . . .

2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
Again, when the true gospel is preached, it will be both received and rejected. Some will rejoice and some will be bitterly angry. This happened with Jesus. Everybody loved him when he multiplied the loaves and fishes in John 6, but when He started talking about His mission at the end of the chapter, many of those who followed Him left. Jesus said that His coming would cause division in families, that a husband would believe and a wife reject or a sister would believe and a brother would reject. Many of you have felt that dynamic, perhaps when you got together for the holidays and you dealt with the tension of family members who don’t believe and would perhaps even mock your faith.
Now I want you to notice two things about the unbelieving Jews in verse 2. First, their unbelief is not just an intellectual thing, it has real ramifications. Their unbelief directs their actions. They try to poison the minds of others because they are unbelieving. So their unbelief motivates them just as Paul’s faith motivates him. This is why in the Bible faith is so often linked with obedience and unbelief with disobedience. Obedience is the fruit of faith and disobedience is the fruit of unbelief. And this is why it is non-sensical to say that a person who lives like the devil and never goes to church and never reads their Bible is a person of faith. Their disobedience shows that they don’t believe. Belief or unbelief is not just something that effects eternity, it impacts us every day at thousands of points of obedience or disobedience, where we exercise faith or live in unbelief.
Now the second thing I want you to notice is that the unbelieving Jews poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers. In other words, they did not attack the message, they attacked the people. The message was wonderful, grace through Jesus Christ for all who believe. But the messengers were an easy target. We don’t know the details of how Paul and Barnabus were discreditied, but it could have been anything. It could have been a personality issue. It could have been something about their appearance. It could have been the way they spoke. It could have been something about their background. It could have been and probably was in part, something made up. But this is a common strategy when we hear truth we don’t like: focus on the messenger. Many people use the worst examples of Christianity as an excuse to avoid dealing with Christ. So they see some Benny Hinn type figure on TV or they hear of some pastor somewhere in Missouri who abused a church member and they say, “See, they’re all crooks. Christ can’t be trusted, look at these people.” I have served under and been ministered to by several fine pastors. I remember one man who was really excellent, a man of godly character. And I remember visiting with another man whose children were in the youth when I was working with the youth. And he wouldn’t get involved in the church, he said, because the pastor strutted around in $600 suits. Now I don’t know what the pastor paid for his clothes, but I didn’t see anything flashy about him. Yet this guy was finding any little thing he could criticize. Because he didn’t want to deal with the message, he figured he would tear down the man. This is such a common thing. Be aware of this in your conversations with unbelieving family and friends. Stay focused on Jesus. Don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked. And don’t let someone come along and poison your mind by turning your eyes toward people rather than Jesus.
And for you who are sharing the message with family and friends, notice Paul’s and Barnabus’ response in verse 3 . . .
3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
Notice this little word “so.” This connects back to verse 2. It is another demonstration of the true grit of Paul and Barnabus. So, precisely because the Jews were poisoning the minds of the Gentiles against them, because of this, they stayed and contended for the Gospel. They didn’t let the final word be a word about them. They turned the tables and shifted the conversation back to Jesus. And Jesus met them in that by giving them signs and wonders as a testimony to the truthfulness of the message.
As is so often the case in the Bible, miracles affirm the message. I think one of the reasons we don’t see many miracles in our day is because we want the miracle just for the miracle and we really don’t care much about how the miracle is connected to the message. Most of the time in the Bible, miracles come before or after great moves of the message of salvation. God uses miracles to make a point about His saving power. This is most often the function of miracles in the Bible, they are pointers to the greater miracle of God bringing dead souls to life in Him through Christ. A foolish generation seeks a sign, we are foolish to go chasing after miracles, but maybe we would see more if we were seeking to take the gospel to people who haven’t heard it before. I heard just this last week of what seemed to be a clearly miraculous intervention in the life of a family in an unreached part of northern China, where an unbelieving family received what appeared to be a miraculous healing that might make them more open to the message of Jesus.
Notice here too that it was the Lord who granted or gave these miracles, not Paul and Barnabus. We can’t make miracles happen but God can bring them about for His own purposes.
I think the bottom line of this verse, even above the miracles, is that God honors us and meets us with help when we are bold to step out for His gospel. When we are faithful to share in spite of opposition, God will meet us in that and will give us a hundred gifts to get through and even to thrive under the challenges of opposition. This is why Paul could say in 2 Corinthians 4, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
Now we see in verse 4 the aftermath of Paul’s labor and the Jews destructive work-

4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.
In some ways, this is a discouraging verse. In spite of Paul’s and Barnabus’ persistence, in spite of the miracles from God’s hands, the city was divided. These who had been sent by God as apostles from the church in Antioch are rejected by some and received by others.
This shows us that the power of slander speech is strong. James gives us such powerful warnings against the misuse of the tongue in his letter because he knows that our words have incredible influence. When we speak against someone else, we can make a deep and lasting impact on others.
Second, this verse shows us that the gospel is divisive and that we won’t be liked by all when we speak it boldly. If your goal is to be liked by everyone, you should never go into ministry. I think sadly that the reason many of us do not speak boldly for Jesus in our lives is that our desire to be liked is greater than our desire to see others hear about Him. Paul and Barnabus show us that if we are faithful many will turn to the Lord, but many will turn on us as well. Our lives, if lived for God’s glory, will be somewhat tumultuous but also filled with God’s presence and power and blessing. Smooth sailing is nice but it is not the norm for Christians. I am convinced that the weakness of many Christians lives is owing to the fact that they think the Christian life is more like being in a pond in a paddleboat than it is going somewhere over the seas. Our goal is comfort rather than comformity to Christ, pleasure rather that the pursuit of opportunities to share the gospel. We don’t all have the same mission as Paul, some of us have a much smaller sphere of influence. But let’s be faithful to speak and to live for Jesus, even if it makes us unpopular.
Now notice what happens when Paul and Barnabus stand their ground.

5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them,
The Jews and ungodly Gentiles couldn’t stomach the thought of even a divided city. The enemies of the gospel are not content until those who proclaim it are silenced. So they will sometimes go to great lengths to shut it down. In this case, Paul’s and Barnabus’ ministry so enraged them that they took the law into their own hands. They could have asked the city leaders to ban Paul and Barnabus from the city and this would have worked. This seems to be what had happened in Pisidian Antioch. But they go a step further, intending to stone Paul and Barnabus. This was the Jewish way to execute someone for speaking against God. This was the fate Stephen faced back in chapter 7. Now Paul and Barnabus faced this threat. So look at what they do in verse 6 . . .

6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country,
One preacher said of this verse that “Paul and Barnabus were born again but they weren’t born yesterday. When the persecution got extreme and their lives and future ministry were threatened, Paul and Barnabus fled. There is a time to stay and a time to leave.” We see this truth in this very passage. When the opposition was to Paul and Barnabus they stayed and contended for the message of the gospel. Now that their lives are threatened the spread of the message and its strength in Iconium is threatened too. Therefore Paul and Barnabus leave and go 20 miles away to Lystra.

7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.

Now I love this. They continued to preach the gospel. Now let’s get to our question we asked at the start, how could they have kept going when they faced such opposition? What motivated Paul and Barnabus to persevere? First, we must recognize that this kind of perseverance had been a matter of prayer in the early church from its founding. In Acts 4, the church specifically prayed for boldness.
Acts 4:29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,
So one answer to how Paul and Barnabus persevered is that they and the other believers prayed for the strength to persevere in boldly sharing the gospel. We need to pray and fast because when we go out to share Jesus with others we are going to be opposed, sometimes angrily. We are going to be denounced and called fools and intolerant. We need spiritual resources to deal with that or we will fold like a cheap suit at the first hint of opposition. I see how weak my spiritual life is when I realize how discouraged I get at the light opposition I face when I share the gospel. How would I react if people wanted to harm me physically? Unless God is at work in me I would wilt under such pressure. So we need to live now in such a way that our hearts are being prepared for rejection. We need to pray earnestly for strength.

Second, Paul and Barnabus persevered because their hearts were captured by the glory of the gospel. They knew Jesus was the risen Son of God who fulfilled God’s promises to Israel and the world, who offered forgiveness and freedom and newness of life. When we see the gospel as precious and God as our infinite treasure, then we can do bold things and speak truth without regard to our own comfort. When we see the gospel as something nice but not something central, we will not speak out. When we love Jesus more than we fear people, we will speak. So this is one of the places of reading and studying and meditating over the gospel. Our Sunday nights in Romans are not about academics. They are not about you getting fed. They are about you getting equipped to walk more deeply with Jesus and serve Him more faithfully. As we verse by verse, word by word work through these texts we are getting equipped. And then, once a quarter on Ministry Night, we will try to apply what we are learning in a joint effort of ministry. But ministry night is just a small slice of the ministry you do. So we must pray and we must love the gospel if we are to be bold like Paul, if we are to persevere like Barnabus.

Finally, we must live what we believe. This is the hardest part. To say Jesus is Savior and life is found in Him is one thing. To live in such a way with each other that the world knows we are His disciples by the love we have for one another is another thing. The first places to start in living it are being connected to God and being connected to fellow believers. You have to spend time in the Word and prayer each day. These are your life lines to God, you points of connection and relationship. If you can’t take a few minutes each day to meditate over the Word and to pray, what will you possibly have to share with anyone else? And on the matter of being connected to other believers, how can you be connected if you are never here? I am convinced that our first line of outreach ought to be Sunday School members who are not active in your classes. Then we need to pursue people who are no longer active in the life of our church. Along with that we need to go to our neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers. In other words, we have no lack of people to reach out to. But if you’re not here, you can’t do that, and you can’t be connected to other believers. If you sleep in two Sundays a month and go to the lake another Sunday don’t wonder why you don’t feel close to anybody. If you don’t make any effort to get to know anybody don’t rail about how unfriendly everybody is. If you are not here, you can’t get connected. So jump into a Sunday School class. By all means be here on Sunday morning as we all gather together to worship. Come on Sunday night. Don’t be a consumer of religious information, be an active participant in the body of Christ. I know some of you have been burned. I just want you to know today that if you really live you will get burned, and often. But you will also experience immeasurable joys that will take a lot of the sting out of the burns. As you get established in your walk with God and as you get encouraged by fellow believers you will find yourself suddenly out of the paddleboat and onto the open seas, with a purpose in God’s plan. Yes, the waves may get rocky and the storms may come, but you are going somewhere and you are pointing others to a life lived for eternity rather than a life lived to rack up comforts. And remember, God controls the winds and the waves. He will see you through.

Sunday’s Sermon: Acts 13:14-15, Keys to a Fruitful Life and Ministry

11 Dec

 For the last two weeks I have been planning to preach on Paul’s sermon in chapter 13 but I have been stopped in my tracks in each week by truths in these first couple of verses. Last week we saw in Acts 13, verse 13 the issue of Mark’s departure from Paul and Barnabus and the wonderful restoration that later took place for Mark which can take place for us. And my plea was that you not be spiritually lifeless even while you live.

          I believe verses 14 and 15 go on to tell us how we can avoid spiritual lifelessness. They provide us with keys to a fruitful life and ministry. So let’s look together at these keys this morning. I am hopeful next week to actually get into Paul’s sermon, because it is incredible but I want to linger one more week here in these first verses because I think it is important for where we are right now as a church.

 The first key to a fruitful life and ministry we see in this passage is . . .

Key #1: PERSEVERANCE   (v. 14).

14  but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.

It may be that the most important words of this whole passage are the first four verses of verse 14, “but they went on.” They went on even though they had faced earlier spiritual opposition in Paphos. They went on even though there had been a change in their ministry, with Paul taking more of a lead role. They went on even though they had faced the departure of their helper John Mark. They went on. Paul and Barnabus would face many obstacles in ministry. Time after time, they pressed on. They kept ministering.

We give up way too easily these days. It seems this is especially the case with the things of God. This shows us with the way we read our Bibles, with the way we pray, with the way we share our faith, with the way we participate in church life. For many things in our lives, we will move heaven and earth to make them happen. If we love the hobby or the activity or the event, we will be there.  But with the things of God, we are often reluctant to persevere. We are all too likely to give up at the first sign of difficulty. We’ll read our Bible if we have time in the morning, but otherwise, forget it. We’ll come to church if there’s nothing better to do, but if it’s a good day for golf or our child has a game, or if we don’t feel just quite right, we’ll be missing today. Many of us can get up for work every day of the week and we can get up early on Saturday to hunt or to take our children for activities, but we can’t make it to Sunday School. Now I’m not trying to lay guilt on you, but I do want to speak for the value of perseverance in the things of God. I appreciate the many of you who come long distances to be with us. And many of you come twenty or thirty minutes not only on Sunday morning but also for other services. I appreciate all of you older saints who feel pretty lousy physically most of the time but make every effort to be here. But I see as a general trend in churches in our day a low level of commitment to persevere in the things of God. And this is a tragedy because perseverance is one of the keys to spiritual life and strength and health for the individual and for the church.

Somehow we have bought the lie that walking with God is easy. Yes, Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden light, but remember what a yoke is, an instrument of labor. So we walk in His power, but we still walk, and that walk requires perseverance. We seem to have the idea that if we serve God everybody will love us and the waters will part and we’ll just go from one victory to another. But reality is more a matter of having both great spiritual opposition and great spiritual opportunity. So take to heart the example of Paul and Barnabus and persevere when you face a hardship or a challenge. Don’t give up on God when rough times come. Jesus told us in John 16, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” And remember too to persevere in the day to day. You know, these accounts of the missionary journeys do not say much about the many  long, ordinary days Paul and his companions spent traveling by boat or over land. The arduous journey, the day to day need for supplies and food, all of it was a calling to persevere. And all this, not to mention their spiritual lives, which would need the nurture of prayer and fellowship with their fellow believers.  The greatest battlefield in the fight to persevere is probably these little mundane moments of life. It may be that walking with God through ordinary days may be the most difficult thing of all. Bills, laundry, family members, making meals, getting children to activities, talking on the phone, small daily choices about how we spend time, all of these things and more are the little things where a life for God’s glory is really played out. And I have to share with you a lesson I am still learning, and probably always will be: God-focused faith-filled perseverance in the details of life will pay off huge dividends in your life.

Think about it. Do you make progress in any other endeavor in life without perseverance? Oh, I want to lose a few pounds. How does it happen? It happens through the detail of daily exercise and attention to diet. It is the consistent practice that makes a good musician or athlete. It is attention in class and focused study that makes a good student.

But with all this said, we don’t persevere without motivation. Nobody is going to the weight room or the treadmill without motivation. The motivation may be bad (like pride) or it may be good (like a desire to be healthy) but unless the motivation is greater than the pain of the activity, we will not persevere. So in the end, I think this is at the heart of our problem with perseverance in the Christian life. It is a motivation problem. Weak motivations like looking good or being respectable are not sufficient to sustain the Christian life. Empty motivations like trying to earn God’s favor or be worthy of His love will never produce lasting growth and staying power. We need true motivation. What is that motivation? Well, let’s think about what motivated Paul.

Flip over to 2 Corinthians 5. We all know that we should live life as unto God and not unto self. But we often struggle with motivation to live in this way. But Paul seemed to be consistently motivated to live for Christ. Notice verse 14 and 15 in chapter 5. For Christ’s love compels  us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all,  then all died. 15 And He died for all  so that those who live should no longer live for themselves,  but for the One  who died for them and was raised.

Now notice what motivates, what is the controlling factor, what directs Paul’s life? It is the love of Christ. Now that could be his love for Christ or that could be Christ’s love for him. I believe that the second option is the more likely. And of course when we recognize Christ’s love, it does something to us. It moves us to no longer live for ourselves, but for His glory. So the turn from the life unto self to the life unto God is the embrace of the truth of what Jesus has done for God’s glory and our joy.

There are many other words in Paul’s writings that point to his motivation. Philippians is filled with them. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” “One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal, the high calling of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Colossians 3 is there too: “If you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on things above, where Christ is at the right hand of God. And what we see in that passage in particular is that the call to kill sin in our lives immediately follows these words about setting our minds on things above. It is the life with heart and mind fixed on the love of Christ which is really able to make war with the destructive working of sin in our lives.

So today if you haven’t opened your Bible in weeks, if you really don’t want to be here this morning, if you never pray except to complain, ask yourself about where your heart is today. Are you motivated by the greatness of God’s love in Christ or are you not motivated at all, or motivated by weak things that will not sustain? The issue is not how good the preaching is or whether the music is the style you like or if the people are enough like you or if they are friendly or not. The issue is not whether you agree with every decision or anything else. The real question is “where is your heart?” The only way your life as a believer will have the staying power of a Paul or Barnabus is if you have a heart of overflowing love for Christ. You can’t produce that on your own. It is the gift of God, this is what John 6 tells us, this is what Ephesians 2 tells us. But having received by faith that new heart of love for Jesus when you were saved, now you and I are called to walk in light of the grace of God we have received, through good times and bad.

My prayer for myself and for all here is that we would be a persevering people. When the hard times hit, we would not forsake God but would cling to Him all the more tightly. So I just want you to write these words over your life today, “but they went on.” Take it for yourself. Keep on going in the trials of your life.

The second key to a fruitful life and ministry seems contradictory on the surface but we will see that it is not as we go . . .

KEY #2: SOVEREIGNTY and STRATEGY (vv. 14-15). 

The second word concerns what Paul did in their ministry in these verses. So where the first word concerns their attitude, this point relates to their actions.

It seems that Paul and Barnabus did not stay long in Perga. Instead, they traveled to Pisidian Antioch. This is not the same Antioch that launched Paul and Barnabus into missionary service, this was a different Antioch located in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. There were actually 16 different cities in the Roman world named Antioch, named after Antiochus, the father of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. This Antioch in Pisidia was an important city in the region, but so was Perga. So as I was looking at this, I began to wonder why Paul and Barnabus didn’t begin their mission in Perga. I thought it was unusual for Paul and Barnabus to bypass Perga, a significant city, for Pisidian Antioch more than 100 miles away. And Pisidian Antioch was not only 100 miles away it was a climb of over 3000 feet. Pisidian Antioch was, as we would say about Boone and Blowing Rock, up the mountain.

So why would Paul and Barnabus try to go to Pisidian Antioch rather than starting their missionary journey in Perga? Now they wouldn’t ignore Perga. We will see them come back there at the end of chapter 14, but they start in Pisidian Antioch. Why?

I think there are two reasons. First, other sources from Roman history tell us that there was a large Jewish population in the city of Pisidian Antioch, while no such population is noted in Perga. Paul and Barnabus, for strategic and theological reasons, took the gospel first to the Jews. In doing this they would be identified as having continuity with the long-standing and respected faith of Judaism and so would be less likely to be viewed with suspicion by the governing authorities. Paul and Barnabus and the other early Christians did not see themselves as enemies of Judaism or as a whole different religion. The first Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism. We will see this clearly as we look at Paul’s sermon here in the coming weeks. They also believed that since the Jews were the people of  God through whom the Savior had come, that they should have the first opportunity to hear about Jesus and trust Him. So there was a specific strategy from Paul and Barnabus.

Still why travel 100 miles and go up 3000 feet in altitude when there was a sizeable city right there in Perga? There was another reason. Sergius Paulus, the Roman governor who had been converted on the island of Cyprus, had many relatives who lived in Pisidian Antioch. They owned many estates there and would serve for Paul and Barnabus as a welcoming presence upon their arrival in the city.

Now we begin to see here two truths which are key to understanding what is going on. These two truths seem to many people to contradict each other, but in fact they go together. The two truths we see here in verses 14 and 15 are sovereignty and strategy. First, we see the sovereign hand of God, don’t we? Having been sent from their church with the blessing of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see how Paul and Barnabus have been led to this point. God led them to Cyprus according to verse 4. God led them through the whole island and their reputation apparently preceded them because when they got to Paphos the Roman governor Sergius Paulus sought an audience with them. And of course, God had been working in Sergius Paulus’ heart as we see in verse 7. And then as this opportunity comes to Paul to speak with Sergius, there is the conflict with the Jewish false teacher Elymas. But God in His sovereignty uses this conflict and Paul’s prevailing in it to profoundly impact Sergius Paulus. And then it seems from the historical background we have about this passage, that Sergius Paulus  opened doors for Paul and Barnabus to go to Pisidian Antioch. Isn’t the timing and working of God amazing! I am continually amazed at how we see this in the Bible. Proverbs 3:5 and 6 is really coming true for Paul and Barnabus. As they trust in the Lord with all their heart, He is directing their paths.

We will continue to see the sovereign leading of God in Paul’s and Barnabus’ ministry. Sometimes it will come through miraculous means, like the later vision of the man from Macedonia, who calls on Paul to come help them. Sometimes it will come as God closes doors. Sometimes the phrase is used, “the Holy Spirit would not let us.” So it is clear throughout the book of Acts that God is leading. He is moving things everywhere for the spread of the good news about Jesus. And as we look at Acts, it seems that He often moves in answer to prayer. How the sovereignty of God works in concert with prayer is something of a mystery, but that His rule does work hand in hand with prayer is undeniable from the book of Acts. So while we rejoice and rest in the sovereignty of God, we also pray and trust in Him.

So we trust in our sovereign God, but there is also a place for strategy in the church. It is clear that Paul and Barnabus had a certain strategy in their ministry. They went to the Jewish synagogues first, for the reasons we mentioned before. If the historical background of this passage is correct, and I think there are some clues in the text that it is, then they also secured from Sergius Paulus letters of recommendation from Sergius Paulus to go to Pisidian Antioch. In this way, their ministry opportunities in the city would be enhanced. They would have a foot in the door, so to speak. And what we see in verse 15 is that they got that foot in the door very easily, because of God’s sovereignty and their wise ministry strategy. Look at verse 15 . . .

 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”

In a synagogue service, it was normal for the Old Testament scriptures to be read and then for a synagogue leader to give a message based on those scriptures. It also was not unusual for respected guests to be asked to share messages with the gathered group. The question here is, why were Paul and Barnabus asked to share? Some have speculated that their clothing may have set them apart as Jewish teachers but I think the far more likely explanation is that their endorsement by Sergius Paulus to the prominent people of the city had given them an open door here so that they were welcomed and encouraged to speak. And what an open door it is. You’ll never see a better opportunity for sharing the gospel than this. “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” The synagogue leaders viewed them favorably, calling them brothers. They opened the way for them to share anything they wanted. Normally, the message was based on the scripture that had just been read but this does not seem to be the requirement here. The synagogue rulers ask for a word of encouragement and what could be a more encouraging word than the good news of Jesus Christ? And this is to be a message for the people, exactly who Paul and Barnabus wanted to reach, all the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles present in this synagogue service.

So how did this open door come about? The door opened through God’s sovereignty and the strategy of Paul and Barnabus. And of course in the end it is God’s sovereignty which directs Paul’s strategy, so that God gets the glory and we get the blessing.

We tend to pit these things against each other and most people swing to one or the other, but we need to always keep in mind in our ministry and our daily living. Some Christians discount the sovereignty of God. I remember one pastor whose church I attended as a young Christian. One of his favorite phrases for motivating the members of the church was, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” And that always struck me as kind of strange, even as a new Christian. I was asking myself, “Where is God in that?” In the same way, when I became a pastor and began to see and listen to much of what experts on church growth said, it smacked of all strategy and no trust in God’s sovereignty. The power was in the plan, not in the work of God in answer to prayer. If you applied this strategy to your ministry it would experience exponential growth. For a time I became skeptical of any strategy and just thought, well preach the Word and love the people and trust the sovereignty of God. And that approach is good and it goes a long way toward where we need to be. But I am convinced in studying the book of Acts that there is a place for strategy at times. We need to use wisdom in how we do ministry. There is a place for thinking about those things. There is a place for making plans. There is a place for particular approaches to ministry. We will see this very thing in Paul and Barnabus. They will adopt different ministry strategies based on their audience. And I don’t think this matter of strategy is just a matter for missions. Paul will give the established churches particular insights about how to do ministry as well.

So the danger is always to swing to extremes. We say, we’ll just preach and God will do it. Or we say, unless we have the right strategy, nothing will happen. We need an approach to our life as a church like that of Paul and Barnabus. An approached covered in prayer. An approach that trusts wholly in the sovereignty of God and is always seeking His leading. An approach where there is a willingness to change when God leads the change. An approach where strategies are a part of the picture but not the whole ball of wax.

We have to always keep in mind our purpose. We are here to love God and to love each other and to serve the world. We are here to glorify God through knowing Him and making Him known. So the question we need to apply to what we are doing as a church is simple: does this or that activity or focus in our church bring glory to God by helping people know God and make Him known? Does it hinder the God-centered, gospel-focused approach that should characterize church life?

So we need to ask those questions, trusting in God but seeking to make this place the best it can possibly be for accomplishing God’s purpose for us.

Pray, trusting in God’s sovereignty and then use the wisdom and guidance He gives to seek to be the most useful instruments in His hands we can possibly be.

Every church is called to the same basic mission but every church is in a different field and faces unique realities. We must not think that God wants us to be the church down the street or the church on TV. He wants us to be who He has uniquely fitted us to be as a people of God.

Keys to a strong ministry and a strong life – Perseverance, Sovereignty and Strategy. Like the Proverbs say, we make our plans but God directs our steps. When plans change or obstacles come into our path, we don’t withdraw or become discouraged. We persevere. May people in days to come be able to say of this body of believers at West Hickory, “but they went on.” Many of their best members died, “but they went on.” They went through hard times of transition, “but they went on.” Nobody got everything they wanted or hoped for, “but they went on.” The whole area around their church changed, “but they went on.” They aren’t a flashy church, never going to be famous, but God is at work there. They trust that He reigns. They pray without ceasing. They seek ways to reach people with the good news of Jesus and make disciples of all people. They love their community in word and deed. This is God’s calling to us. Are you motivated to walk in this way? Have you been compelled by the love of your Savior to move away from a life unto self to live a life unto God? There are thousands of gifts in this life unto God, one of the big ones is not being a slave to the things of this life. But beyond that, there is the joy of knowing you are involved in something eternal that can not fail, because the God of the universe is moving in it. So join with us today. Be a man or woman of God who doesn’t give up and who is always looking for ways to grow, all the while trusting in the sustaining power and wisdom of God and the love of Jesus.

A Great Sermon

24 Jul

The best message I have listened to so far this year is the   one Ligon Duncan gave at Together for the Gospel. But running right with that message is a recent message John Piper gave on 2 Timothy 2:8-19. Entitiled “He Cannot Deny Himself,” Piper gives us five foundational truths from this passage which should spur us on to persevere in the things to which God has called us.

As Piper says early in the message . . .

The reason Paul’s words to a young, male, constitutionally timid pastor named Timothy are relevant for you — though you may not be young, or male, or timid, or a pastor — is that the foundations (the arguments and the reasons) that Paul gives Timothy for why he should embrace his suffering in the service of the gospel instead of running from it, and why he should press on confidently and courageously in his work, are the same foundations (the same arguments and the same reasons) that you should embrace your suffering in the path of obedience and not run from it, why you should press on confidently and courageously in your work.

This is an excellent, challenging message. Here is the link.


Dale Jr., LeBron, Tiger and Success

18 Jun

My favorite sport is baseball. I watch some football, basketball and just a little golf and racing. But yesterday, I saw the end of the NASCAR race in Michigan where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won for the first time in 143 races. The  celebration was great and I found myself feeling happy for Jr., as he pulled into victory lane. Then last night, I caught just a few minutes of the NBA Finals game three between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The central drama of this series is the pursuit of a championship by LeBron James, the three time NBA MVP who has never won a title. Between these two events yesterday was sandwiched the U.S. Open golf tournament, where Webb Simpson rallied late to beat Jim Furyk. Of course, this was not the story of the U.S. Open. The story of the Open was Tiger Woods who, after sharing the lead going into Saturday, collapsed over the final 36 holes to finish well off the pace.

The weekend was the story of three men who have all experienced spectacular success but who are, by many, regarded as chokers because they are on a losing streak or have never won a title. Yet consider their success. Dale Jr. was near the top of the points chase in the Sprint Cup before his Sunday victory. LeBron is widely regarded as the best active basketball player on the planet. Tiger has been, even in the midst of his moral failures and his health issues and the retooling of his swing, still considered among the best golfers in the world. Dale Jr. has the monkey off his back and after last night’s victory the same looks possible for LeBron. And I’m sure another major championship could come to Tiger in the near future.

Nevertheless, what does it say about us that we regard men who are better than 99.9% of the world at what they do as “chokers” because they don’t win championships? Do we have an unrealistic view of success? Does this view trickle down into our lives to breeding in us a deep discontent?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is “Yes.” We do have an unrealistic view of success, probably nurtured by too many corny TV movies and self-help books and “reach for the stars” pipe dreams. We also let this unrealistic view of success rob us of much joy in our lives, as we focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. We get the idea that success is found in perfect achievement rather than persevering faithfulness. So we are always chasing the brass ring of beauty or victory or wealth or fame. A woman who is perfectly beautiful in every way obsesses over her nose being too long. A man who is a blessing to his family becomes bitter when he is passed over for a promotion at work. A child goes into dance or football or singing or tennis thinking they will be a star, constantly puffed up by their parent’s cheers, only to fail or to achieve a certain measure of success, but never perfect success. And once again, discontent sets into the heart.

Paul gives us the solution for the perversion of success in Philippians chapter 4, when he writes: Philippians 4:11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Now notice, contentment did not cause Paul to be a do-nothing loser. Paul accomplished great things by the grace of God in his ministry. Contentment fueled his success and fortified him in failure. When churches he worked in walked away from God, Paul didn’t walk away from God. When Paul was arrested, he did not cower but willingly stood for Jesus. Our lives can be like his when we get off the success treadmill and seek to walk in faithfulness in the place God has given us for this season of our life.

Just to bring this full circle, this is why I love baseball. I love baseball, not because it is an escape from reality but because it is a window into reality. The gold standard of batting is a .400 batting average. Ted Williams was the last to do it, over 70 years ago. But notice that number, .400. That means a batter gets a hit in 40% of his at bats. Forty percent. That means he fails to get a hit 60% of the time. Most players hit far less than .400. Nolan Ryan pitched 7 no-hitters, an all-time record. But he started 773 games and pitched over 5300 innings in his career. So the no-hitters, for all their glory, happened in less than 1% of his career starts.  Most pitchers who wear a big league uniform never pitch a no-hitter. Every baseball game is the story of effort and failure and dozens of little good things and an occasional spectacular success. Just like life.

It is not failure to fail. Failure comes when we fear failure so much that we don’t try.  Success in God’s eyes is faithful effort dedicated to His glory. Be a success this week by aiming at faith-filled, Spirit empowered effort and leave the results in God’s hands.

Art Azurdia: Drifting from Christ

15 Jun

I have really enjoyed listening to messages by Art Azurdia, since I heard him earlier this year at the Psalm 119 conference in Lexington, SC.  This is another good YouTube clip on the  topic of drifting from Christ.  A great reminder of the necessity of perseverance in the Christian life.  I noticed a few years ago in reading the Bible how often people are said to drift away or wander away from the faith, but how the language of running away or fleeing was not used.  We are to run away from sin and draw near to God, but we don’t normally run away from God, we walk away.  This clip has some good insights for us to consider.



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