Journey through Acts, Chapter 16

Communion Sunday, All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day and it’s the day that we remember those who have gone before us in the faith. Remember in Hebrews 12 we are told a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us encouraging us and cheering us on. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement very much enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. He wrote in his journal on this day in 1767 that it was “a festival I truly love.” In 1788 he wrote, “I always find this a comfortable day.” And when you consider the Hebrews 12 scripture, I can see why he would say that. I find it comforting too that there is a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, encouraging us, and cheering us on! Don’t you?? And this includes our loved ones who have gone before us, whether in this past year or 50 years ago. And yes, we lost several of our loved ones this year.

While we may consider some of the truly great saints on this day – such as Peter and Paul, St. Francis and Martin Luther, John and Charles Wesley, of course we are most likely to spend our time remembering those who have personally impacted us. Our grandmother who took us to church every Sunday. Or the pastor who prayed with us when a loved one died. How about the neighbor who used to babysit us with kindness and care? And we thank God for the youth leader who told us Jesus loved us. And we certainly can’t forget our Sunday school teacher who showered us with that love.

Remembering and retelling our personal faith stories grounds us in our history. These memories remind us of God’s wonderful provision for us. How He has taken care of us and loved us through the people He has placed around us. God has indeed provided for us through the generosity and the sacrifices made by the saints who have gone before. Let us praise Him for that this day and always.

Now last week in chapter 15 we learned about the doctrinal dispute that had the potential to split the church right in two. Thus, the Jerusalem Council met to determine the answer to a very important question. Did a Christian need to covert to Judaism prior to becoming a Christian? One group of Pharisees insisted that following the law, including submitting to the rite of circumcision, was necessary for salvation. However, when you consider this question more deeply you realize what is really being asked is whether we come to salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ or are works also necessary.

After much discussion among the council, Peter pointed out something very important. The Gentile converts had received the Holy Spirit upon their conversion. Which in essence stated that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Gentile converts was certainly enough. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” At the end of chapter 15 we read that Paul and Barnabas split. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed for Cyprus and Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia.

This week we are only going to start chapter 16 and finish it next week as there’s much to consider. It begins with Paul and Silas going through Derbe to Lystra where they meet the young disciple Timothy, who was probably in his teens at this time. Somehow this young man had developed quite a reputation already as he was very well thought of in both his hometown, and the nearby town of Iconium.

Timothy became Paul’s protégé and one of Paul’s closest companions and became known as Paul’s son in the faith. He would later go on to become the pastor of the church at Ephesus which is where he received the two letters written to him by Paul. 

Timothy’s mother was Jewish but his father was Greek. Because of this, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Now you might be wondering why he would do that when we just heard the decision made by the Jerusalem Council – that there was no need for Gentiles to be circumcised upon becoming Christian. However, keep in mind, Timothy would have been considered a half-breed since his father was Greek. Much like the Samaritans were considered half-breeds when the Jews intermingled with other races. Consequently, Paul thought it would be wise to have Timothy circumcised to alleviate any argument he might hear against Timothy’s lineage and to show respect for Jewish law and identity.  

Timothy is the first second-generation Christian mentioned in the New Testament. His mother Eunice and grandmother Lois had become believers most likely when Paul preached in Lystra during his first missionary journey. And just as our grandparents and parents do, whether for good or bad simply depends on who they are as people, these two women had influenced Timothy in a very position way as they had influenced for the Lord. From what we can gather, it appears that most likely his father never became a Christian.

So, Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled from town to town delivering the decision the Jerusalem Council had decided upon as well as preaching the gospel, supporting and encouraging the believers and consequently, the churches grew. But next, as we heard in the scripture reading this morning, Paul is stopped by the Holy Spirit. Paul and his companions passed through the region of Galatia but were prevented from entering Asia. Then they were prevented from turning north into Bithynia. We are not told how the Holy Spirit relayed the message to them – how He spoke to them. We are told however, that during the night Paul had a vision in which he was told to go to Macedonia to help the people there. So they are stopped twice and told not to enter these two different regions, and then they are given instructions upon where to go.

Now wouldn’t you just love it if the Holy Spirit gave us such explicit instructions?!?! Well church family, what we don’t realize is that He does. We need to understand that the Lord is constantly speaking to us and giving us direction! Sometimes through a loved one, a friend, or a total stranger, sometimes through nature, through dreams, through intuition, through our experiences and circumstances. Heck, remember God used a donkey with Balaam and a burning bush with Moses. He’s God – He can use anything. The problem is we are not usually listening. Did you hear that?? The problem is with us – we are not usually listening…..

I know for a fact, I am most definitely not aware of and/or hearing from the Lord continually all throughout the day. Are you?? Yet the truth of the matter is it’s not that He’s not speaking. He’s constantly offering His wisdom, discernment and guidance. So what is the problem? Why don’t we hear Him and hear Him all day long?? Because we are not listening to Him. Remember Jesus tells us in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” He doesn’t say His sheep can or should hear His voice, He emphatically states, my sheep hear my voice. Thus, for His followers the crux of the matter lies in our lacking the ability to hear and/or recognize His voice or our refusal to listen.

Radio and television stations transmit signals twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; but we only hear them when we turn the TV or the radio on – right? Failure to hear the signal doesn’t mean the station isn’t transmitting. Likewise, God is constantly speaking to His sheep, but few are tuned in and paying attention. And if we are in conversation with Him through prayer, we are typically busy pleading with Him to fix our problems. We don’t take the time to allow Him to respond.

I know that I am really guilty of this. I do all the talking way too much!! What about you?? And you know I just have to wonder, do we really think that we know what is best?? I mean really church family?? How ridiculous is that? Yet, we tell Him exactly what to do, don’t we?? He knows what’s best – we need to trust Him. 

So, what do we need to do and/or do differently in order to hear our Lord’s voice?? Well first we need to stop doing all the talking and allow Him to speak – always keeping in mind that He speaks to us through His Word. Which is the number one way to differentiate if what you are hearing is coming from God, yourself, the culture or Satan. If what you think you hear ever contradicts anything in scripture – then you are definitely not hearing from God. It’s just that simple. Now of course, that means you actually have to be reading scripture in order to know if something is contradicting it, right?!  

But even before that, I think there is something more fundamental – more important. I am not even going to call this a step. Rather, a belief – it’s a belief. Do you believe that God is and will speak personally, to you? I remember a series of books I read in my 30’s called Conversations with God. Now these books would be considered pure poppycock by theologians and rightly so. However, tremendous good came out of my reading them.

We need to remember church family God can work through any circumstance and speak through any person on this planet! Even the most hardened criminal – God can use him to give you or me a message. Now what was of such tremendous benefit when I read those books? I came to the realization that yes indeed, God does speak to me. Me, Cathy, which means He will talk to you as well. You see, if we don’t believe this simple yet profound truth, we most likely will never hear His voice.

I can’t remember anything else at all about these books, but I did take away a vital truth highly necessary for a successful walk with the Lord. God truly talks to each one of us. Ask yourself right now this question – do I believe that the Lord talks specifically to me?? Go ahead, ask yourself……. And if you can’t say a resounding yes, pray that He will make this astounding truth known to you.

Okay to get back to the steps again, we need to slow down. We have become so incredibly busy. Most of us are going non-stop, working from sun-up to oftentimes far beyond sun-down. We are focused on our daily tasks and crossing everything off our to-do list; rather than taking the time to simply sit before the Lord, to sit at His feet just as Mary did.

Remember the story of Martha and Mary the two sisters in the Gospel of Luke? Jesus and his disciples had been traveling and Martha opened her home to them. Hospitality was of great importance during the time of Christ and so Martha began to prepare a meal and busied herself with serving her guests, while Mary simply sat and listened to what Jesus had to say – she was soaking up His words. Martha got frustrated with her sister and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. He did just the opposite, however. He responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” We simply have to take time each day to be with Jesus – it’s absolutely imperative. All relationships take time….. All! Including and especially our most important relationship of all – our relationship with the Lord!

This is why practicing the spiritual disciplines is so very helpful. Because to practice them, and I’ll name just a few right now – prayer, scripture reading and studying, worship, and serving; it takes time, it takes intention, it takes stillness and it takes solitude. All of which are vitally important in a growing relationship with God. And certainly coming to the Table to partake of the Lord’s Supper is a wonderful spiritual discipline. Holy Communion nourishes us, it brings healing and transformation to us as we are forgiven, we experience fellowship with other Christians as we offer up thanksgiving to our Lord. We pause and reflect, and we remember exactly what He did for us on the night that He was betrayed…….Let us pray:Dear Lord we place before you the elections taking place in our nation this Tuesday and humbly ask you to intervene on behalf of your people. We ask you to disarm evil and silence the voice of deception. We ask you to move hearts and minds, even those who do not know you, to vote according to your will and precepts. We ask you to raise up leaders who seek to honor you as they govern. And we ask you to bring the people of our nation to a place of humility and submission to your Lordship.Please also be with all those who have lost a loved one over the last year, comfort them and fill them with your peace and reassurance. And be with those who are battling covid — bring them health — restore them to wholeness. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior taught us……
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I! EmojiEmoji

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

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