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May 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 22, 2016 – Acts 14

Effective Communication, Effective Lifestyle

At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.
When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.  
Acts 14:8-18

Intro: Two times in this chapter people are trying to influence the souls of others

The Greek words that appear in both instances are tas psuchas tōn, “the souls of the”

  1. The first scene: (opponents of the apostles) stirred up the souls of the Gentiles to poison them against the brothers
  2. Near the end: (the apostles were) strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them

– two different ways that religion is used to affect the souls of others:
• to stir up and poison people or to strengthen and encourage people
◦ encounters with one kind of religious person will embitter people
◦ encounters with another kind of person will encourage people
– sadly, both types can be found within Christianity

Paul effectively communicated God’s message
• in so doing, he provided us with an excellent model
• but at the heart of his effectiveness was love

Vv. 1-7, A sequence of events we have come to expect

Paul started in synagogue, conflict ensued, he enlarged his target audience, he was chased out of town
– of interest here is God’s extraordinary support:

. . . the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands (v. 3)

• in John 5, Jesus explained:

If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony He gives about Me is true. (Jn. 5:31-32)

• he then lists his witnesses: John the Baptist, his works, the Father and the Scriptures
– this seems like an awesome way to advance the gospel, but miracles don’t do what we expect
• they do not convince everyone
• the effect of a miracle can wear off without effecting a transformed life

Vv. 8-18, Paul breaks his ministry pattern

There is no mention of a synagogue in this story
– the message he gave was to a Gentile audience
• the events that led up to his brief “emergency sermon”

Reading this story, two slogans come to mind:
– “A case of mistaken identity” and “Lost in translation”

One of the classical Latin Poets, Ovid, had written a story that was set in the region of Galatia, in which the city of Lystra was located. According to this legend, Zeus and Hermes disguised as humans visited a thousand people in that area and was refused hospitality by every one of them. Finally they came to the impoverished home of an elderly couple who, beyond their means, provided them with a full meal. The gods gave them a blessing for their kindness. When they came to the end of their lives, rather than dying, the husband and wife were turned into two tree that grew side by side forever. As for those who had not given aid to Zeus and Hermes, they were severely punished.

• if the crowd listening to Paul was familiar with this story, it could explain why they went wild
– the apostles did not immediate realize what was happening
• this is because the people were shouting in their own (Lycaonian) language
• when they did read the crowd’s intention, they rushed to stop them

Paul did not exploit the misconception of the locals
– it is unlikely that he even considered using the status they gave him to promote the gospel
• had he done so, at some point the curtain would have come down
◦ then he would have been exposed as a fraud
• nothing good comes from using lies to promote the truth (cf. 2 Cor. 4:2)
◦ any sort of fraud, trickery or deception eventually backfires
◦ as a result the truth is discredited rather than revered

The sentence that begins in verse 1 is densely packed with verbs
heard, tore, rushed out, crying out, and saying
– this speeds up the pace of the action
• Paul hurried to make two urgent points: what they were (men) and who/what God is
• same nature – that lies beneath race and culture
◦ although they were only men, they carried a divine message
◦ God’s living water flows through terracotta pipes (earthen vessels, 2 Cor. 4:7)
– this good news turns people from vain things to the living God
• the vain things are idols, their non-existent deities, and rituals
◦ Christian conversion is a turn from an “it” to a “You”
• when religion becomes an “it,” we have taken a wrong turn
◦ God is always to us a living presence and Person in the here and now

Paul makes two profound statements in verses 16 and 17
– that God permitted all the nations to go their own ways,
• isn’t something Paul would have said in a synagogue
• Israel had never been allowed this freedom to follow their fancies
◦ the had been entrusted with God’s revealed truth
– at the same time, God did not leave Himself without witness
• this is why I emphasized his testimony to his word in verse 3
◦ God has given evidence as witness to himself in every culture
◦ his fingerprints can be found all over popular culture in our own nation
• what does Paul say God’s witness looks like?

He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness (cf. Lk. 6:31-36)

◦ can you see how the message of some Christians contradicts God’s self-witness?
◦ God has always been at work outside the church — we do not take him to others, he takes us

The beginning of the apostles’ mission in Lystra was spectacular
– it immediately drew a large and enthusiastic crowd
• but what was the outcome?
• Luke is uncharacteristically silent regarding any conversions
◦ in fact, the effect of Paul’s message is anticlimactic

Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them (v. 18)

I’ve printed pages from my book, There Is A Season
(on this blog site, see the handout for Acts 14)

It is clear that Paul made adjustments to his message when delivered to Gentiles
– most “personal evangelists” completely fail to do this
• they treat everyone as if they already knew Christianity
– why did Paul make these adjustments? Because a Jewish message:
• would require lots of interpretation and explaining
• would not interest Gentiles or speak to their concerns
• would not be convincing
◦ quoting scripture is ineffective with people who don’t believe it
– Paul made adjustments to establish a connection with these people
• and he wanted to connect with them because he truly cared for them

The heart of Paul’s strategy is simple and common sense
– we can begin with two questions:
• what do we have to say?
• who is listening to us?
◦ the answers to these questions will guide us in how we present it
– even still, communicating effectively doesn’t mean we win everyone
• that’s not our job – we always leave others with the freedom of choice
• all effective communication means is that every everyone will understand
◦ and in understand, will be able to make a real choice

Vv. 19-28, Public opinion swung to opposite pole

From gods to agitaters who deserved lynching
– it is possible taht Paul sustained permanent injuries from this stoning
• but he did not throw in the towel
• he recovered and returned to his work
– he and Barnabas began to back track, strengthening the souls of the disciples
• giving them encouragement to go on — to continue in the faith
• then, finally, they arrived home in Antioch
◦ and here they delivered their report on all that happened

Conc: What sort of effect do you think the stoning had on Paul?

I think there was a new dimension to his theology:

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom

– I can hear him preaching, “Hardships are exactly the thresholds we cross into God’s kingdom”
• what if some of the things God wants to work in us can only come through suffering?
• then what matters is not that we have an easy, painless journey, but our resilience

Richard Davidson defines resilience “. . . the capacity to regulate negative emotion and specifically decrease the duration of negative affect once it arises. . . . the maintenance of high levels of positive affect and well-being in the face of adversity.”
Bessel van der Kolk, says it is “the capacity to bounce back from adversity.”

– I am saying this to help you, but I am mostly talking to myself right now
• I need to do a better job of managing my moods and emotions
◦ I need to respond to negative evens with more flexibility and less rigidity
• we usually attempt self-regulation from the top-down
◦ with our rational mind we try to control our emotional mind
◦ but in and emotional state, the rational mind goes off line

Contemplative prayer provides us a different way to calm ourselves
– it is from the bottom-up
• like the psalmists, we can begin by bringing our awareness to our bodies
◦ paying attention to our physical sensations in this present moment
• once we are in control of our attention, we can turn it toward God

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling. (Ps. 116:7-8)

Here in this chapter, resilience can come to a person in several ways:

  1. By have a new way to think about tribulations
    – not our typical instant and automatic negative reaction
    • and not doing all we can to avoid them
    • it’s not that we don’t get knocked down, but that we get back up
    – we can approach hardships as thresholds to the kingdom of God
  2. By a strong assurance of God’s goodness
    – having our hearts always open to his compassion and kindness
  3. By hearing another person and finding others who will hear us
    – we can do a lot to promote each others’ resilience and self-regulation

Dr. van der Kolk, “One thing is certain: Yelling at someone who is already out of control can only lead to further dysregulation. Just as your dog cowers if you shout and wags his tail when you speak in a high singsong, we humans respond to harsh voices with fear, anger, or shutdown and to playful tones by opening up and receiving. We simply cannot help but respond to these indicators of safety or danger.”

Sometimes we get the wind knocked out of us
When that happens, get up, breathe, and return to your first love

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