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Jun 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 12, 2016 – Acts 16:1-10

Discerning “No,” When Prepared for “Go”

They passed through the Phyrgian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
 Acts 16:6-10

Intro: Brian and Lorena Wood live in Mozambique

They started and now run and organization — “Transforming Lives Ministry”
– they are not theorizing about transforming lives, they’re doing it
• when Brian was in seminary, he gave me a book by Roland Allen,
Missionary Methods: Saint Paul’s Or Ours?
• it was a serious challenge to Christian thinking and attitudes regarding cross-cultural ministry

R. Allen, “Our missions are in different countries amongst people of the most diverse characteristics, but all [missionary endeavors and in-country organizations] bear a most astonishing resemblance to one another.”

– what was Paul’s “method”? He spelled it out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

  1. First, even though Paul found freedom in Jesus to be himself, he made himself a slave to others in order to “win more”
  2. So he stepped into their world rather than attempt to drag them into his
  3. Among Jews, he drew upon his own Jewishness to connect with them
  4. Among those who carefully observed the Law given to Moses, Paul carefully observed the Law to connect with them
  5. With people who were not bound by religious scruples, Paul lived free of religious scruples to connect with them
    ◦ he did this, never forgetting who he was or betraying his relationship with God
    To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel . . . (1 Cor. 9:22-23)

This answers a question immediately raised in chapter 16

When Paul met Timothy in Derbe, he wanted to add him to his team
– the Jewish population there knew Timothy’s father was a Gentile
• so Paul arranged for him to be circumcised
◦ on the surface, this decision is baffling
• Paul had recently (at least in narrative time) engaged in intense debate
◦ and it was over this very issue! (see ch. 15:1 & 5)
◦ he had lobbied against circumcising Gentile Christians
◦ he was, in fact, at this time publishing the decrees of the apostles (v. 4)
◦ so what was he thinking?!
– the motive behind Timothy’s surgery was not religious, theological or spiritual, but cultural
• it was important to win the acceptance of the Jewish community
◦ he did not submit his team to the Jewish custom to make them better Christians
◦ but to improve communication
• Paul’s spiritual logic went something like this:
◦ Jesus became like us to win us and we become like others to win them
◦ what Luke provides is real-life examples of Paul’s cultural accommodation

The trip went well for awhile and then suddenly stalled

Their path was not blocked by an avalanche, fire, or army, but by the Holy Spirit
– two items draw our attention:
• first, they received direction from God’s Spirit
• and, secondly, the Spirit told them, “No”
– let’s see what we can learn from this temporary setback

  1. God’s Spirit played an active role in their mission
    Bruce Larson explained, “We worship one God, not three. We know Him as the Creator-Father, as our Savior and Lord Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, the creative Spirit of God the Father, but the Spirit is the present tense of God. Jesus left heaven, came to live among us, was killed, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. God is with us now in the person of the Holy Spirit.”
    – this is what we learn Romans 8, that God comes to us, enters us and lives in us by his Spirit
    we learn, then, that this is how we connect with God: Spirit to spirit
    ◦ when we think about it, what human organ of perception links most directly with God?
    ◦ our internal and external senses? our intellect (ideas)? our inner feelings, emotions?
    • these modes of perception are either material or theoretical
    ◦ the part of ourselves we understand the least is our consciousness
    ◦ it is not material, but does it belong to another sort of reality?
    ◦ we do not have an adequate definition of consciousness
    ◦ it is this mysterious space that is most likely to link with God’s Spirit
    As we focus attention on God and bring awareness on the experience of this present moment, we discover a space in which God’s Spirit is able to make his presence known to us. Eventually, we discover through prayer (the state or attitude of prayer rather than saying or composing “prayers”) that we can encounter God in this space. We can become conscious of him and know vor certain that the LORD is in this place (Gen. 28:16).
    – we don’t know how Paul & Co knew the Spirit had spoken to them
    • as we go along, we get impressions, intuitions, impulses, insights
    ◦ they are very much like the normal experience of neural activity in our brains
    we learn, with time, to discern the Spirit’s movements
    Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Heb. 5:14)
    • obviously, Paul did not receive an itinerary in advance
    ◦ so he and the others had to listen and listen well
    ◦ and for the moment, there were more No’s than Goes
    – in scripture, the Spirit’s actions always look spontaneous
    • dynamic, invasive, even chaotic (e.g., 1 Kings 18:11-12)
    • but I doubt that his actions look spontaneous from his side of the table
    ◦ he is always telling us, “Get ready,” “Get ready” and then one day he says, “Now!”
    ◦ at that point, my typical response, “Lord, this could not be a more inconvenient time!”
    ◦ but for him, the timing is always perfect
    – years ago, Howard Snyder wrote a book entitled The Problem of Wineskins (it was about the way churches are typically structured)
    • and what is the problem? they lose their flexibility
    we learn how to go at God’s pace and in the direction he leads
  2. The Spirit had forbidden them from entering Asia and Bithynia
    – this is a strange development
    • they went from recent success, to blocked progress
    • the churches they nurtured were getting stronger and growing
    ◦ but when they were prepared to take it forward into new territory
    they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia and not permitted to take it into Bithynia

Not knowing God’s mind, we can only speculate on his rationale

Here is what I find myself wonderig
– if whether Paul & Company were still simply too Jewish to be effective in these areas
• if maybe Paul would feel constrained from applying his own “methods” in Asia
◦ could he and his crew make themselves all things to Asians?
◦ could they loosen their grip on their own traditions and the form of their scriptures enough”
◦ were they flexible enough for Asians to receive Jesus in their unique way?
• perhaps there were others better suited to do work in these areas
◦ who could use Paul’s method there better than Paul himself
– an interesting fact of church history:
Christianity developed very different forms in East than it did in the West

Do you remember that Paul set out from Antioch in Syria
– this is where all the problems flared up between Jews and Gentiles
• the church there was largely Gentile and the notion they resisted was
• that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to become Christians
– maybe there were Gentile Christians better suited to enter Asia

Antioch was already connected to major artery known as The Silk Road
– this important trade route penetrated Asia as far as China and India
• within two or three centuries, Syrian Christians traveled that road with the gospel
◦ until recently we knew little about their work
• in the 1600’s, archaeologists uncovered a carved stone
(a monument used for recording important events and sculpted on the back of a stone turtle)
• it is engraved with both Chinese and Syriac characters
• it contains the story of creation and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ
◦ Martin Palmer in The Jesus Sutras describes its discovery and importance
– in Buddhism, a sutra is a sacred text – a record of enlightened teaching

Palmer explains that the Church of the East was formed in “a remarkably different world from the world of the West, and it produced remarkably different churches and forms of Christianity. Perhaps one of its greatest achievements was the Taoist Christian culture and the writings of the Jesus Sutras.”
In Christ the Eternal Tao, Hieromonk Damascene explains, in a similar way that the Hebrew Scriptures prepared Israel for the coming of Jesus, the teaching of Lao Tzu prepared China for his coming. As Jesus “brought new dimensions to the archetypes of the Old Testament, so He did to the teachings of Lao Tzu. He gave a personal dimension to Lao Tzu’s ‘nothingness’; and this personal dimension of self-emptying is what we call Perfect Love.”

• we do not have to agree with this assessment to get the point
◦ any Christian bringing the word of God to China would need a heart and mind wide open to its cultures
• at any rate, the approach Paul took in Athens, others took in Asia
◦ we learn, as Peter had, not to call unclean the persons or cultures that God has cleansed

Conc: A nighttime vision got Paul and his crew moving again

Their work would likely prove most effective in the direction they were now sent
we learn there are indeed those places where we will be most effective
• and we do not have to spend years preparing ourselves
◦ we are already native to the culture and its people
– we are given our vision, mission and passion
• we just have to remember what is required to be effective
• we must respect the local culture and traditions
◦ knowing that we are not taking God into these places
◦ he is bringing us

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