Paul and his companions, at least Barnabas and John Mark, left the island of Cyprus and sailed to the southern coast of Turkey, then walked about 12 miles inland to Perga, the capital of Pamphylia. They have moved from Barnabas’ native land to Paul’s native land. At Perga John Mark leaves them which will become significant later in Acts. It will be decades before John Mark overcomes the stigma of this desertion. From Perga Paul and Barnabas walk another 100 miles up to Antioch in Pisidia. I say up because this is a mountainous region, 3,500 feet above sea level. It gives one pause to consider how they walked everywhere and how far and not just easy paths. And in his letter to the Galatians, which is what this region is called, Paul tells us he was sick during these travels. Their first Sabbath there they go to worship at the local synagogue in a thoroughly pagan Roman city. Paul is invited to speak. What an invitation? Little did they know what they were setting in motion.
In a small way we are signaling a return to normal, as we return to our sermon series on the Acts of the Apostles, or as I like to say some of the acts of some of the apostles or the acts of the Holy Spirit. Three times in our text the Holy Spirit is mentioned, calling, sending, filling. This is the very word of God, only truth for faith and life. Expect God to speak as we read His Word. Prayer: Holy Father, your Word is our only firm foundation is this otherwise shifting, changing, unstable, uncertain world. Speak to us by your Spirit, equip and train us in righteousness for your glory and the sake of your Son. Amen. “But the Word of God increased and multiplied.” Why does Dr. Luke, the author of Acts, say that, or say it that way? What is implied behind that word, but? In spite of something, despite something, even though something else happened, still or nevertheless, the Word of God increased. What was the obstacle? That question gives us the invitation to quickly review the ground we have already covered in Acts. Since it has been almost a year since we were last in Acts, let me do a very brief summary.
What are we getting ready to do here? We are getting ready to sit down to the family meal. We are coming together at the invitation of our Lord to come as brothers and sisters to share His supper. When you are at home or at a family gathering, how does it feel to you when you come to the table out of sorts or at odds with someone else at the table? It doesn’t feel right, does it. The family meal is supposed to be a symbol of family unity, and when that unity is broken, we feel it in our bones, it just isn’t right. Paul spoke to similar issues with the Christians in the church in Corinth when they were taking communion.
My sermons in September have focused on digging deeper into knowing God. I’ve pursued this for two reasons. First, because the times we are living in demand a solid foundation, a clearer understanding of the God who is sovereignly ruling over our world. And second, because of the false sense of being like God that has crept into our modern, technological world. In our technological Tower of Babel Google is god, enabling us to be anywhere and everywhere. Google is all knowing. Enter any search and there over a billion results in less than one second. How can you help but not feel like God when you can know that much about anything? When all the talking heads on TV take us all over the world, this false sense of omnipresence creates a false sense of omniscience. We expect them to know the truth about everything going on in our world. Then we post, blog, text and tweet our knowledge at lightning speed. And we end up angry, arguing, divided and stressing than ever. This false sense of omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence creates burdens in our souls, stresses in our life, responsibilities we can’t bear, knowledge we can’t deal with. We are finite creatures, we need the comfort, hope and help only a truly infinite, all-knowing God can give. And He has revealed Himself for His glory and for our blessing and benefit. So it is my continued prayer that our time spent seeking to understand God better is fruitful especially in these times, and especially over the course of the next 37 days and beyond. Another reason for doing this is because the consequences of not knowing God are huge. When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing–they believe in anything. Our culture no longer believes in God or fears God, so it will fall for anything and everything. We are calling good evil and evil good. Brothers and sisters, in a world that doesn’t know God, we must know God and be able to articulate as clearly as possible who He is and what He is like and what that means for us and our world. So let’s answer the question, what does God know and when did He know it?
Over the past months we have talked a lot about 2020 and not without good reason. 2020 looms large in all of our minds. 2020 has made 2019 seem like five years ago. 2020 is taking a toll on all of us, on all of our souls. Never have the words of Thomas Paine been more true, “These are times that try men’s souls.” They certainly have tried mine over and over. Let me identify one reason among many why this is true. We are aware of the attribute of God called omnipresence, that attribute that teaches us God is everywhere. Theologians call this one of the incommunicable attributes of God. That means one of the attributes God does not share with us. Love is one of His communicable attributes, being able to be everywhere is not one. But we live in a world where it is feeling like we are getting closer to being like God in being able to be everywhere and it is taking a toll on our souls. Let me explain. We are in a Tower of Babel type of world. We have built a technological tower so great, so far reaching that it has created a sense of our being omnipresent to everything in our world. Google cameras and satellites have mapped and recorded just about every square inch of this planet allowing us to be present everywhere and see everything God sees. Facebook is everywhere, recording every idle thought. Judging from all the selfies it’s in every bedroom and bathroom and social gathering. What they miss Instagram and Twitter pick up. NSA (National Security Agency) wants to be everywhere and know everything, listening to everyone, reading everyone’s e-mail. Think about it. Basically up until less than a hundred years ago, all we knew was what was happening just in our neck of the woods. Now we have ringside seats to every tragedy as it is happening, whether it is Portland or Kenosha, Hong Kong or Beirut. The 24/7 news feeds take us everywhere. We can be present to everything that is happening anywhere in the world. But this false sense of omnipresence is hurting our souls. We weren’t created to be able to handle all the pain, evil, suffering and tragedy, and especially as it assaults us from so many directions day after day, week after week, month after month. It is overwhelming. Only “God, who is omnipresent, can handle all that evil, pain, and tragedy. He’s capable. He has the emotional and psychological bandwidth to witness his creation repeatedly commit evil and not become overwhelmed. Finite humans, though, are not God. We don’t have the capacity to handle inordinate amounts of evil. This faux omnipresence hurts us” (Alan Shlemon). Let’s talk about who really is everywhere and who can handle it and in fact is in control of everywhere He is. Let this truth be your comfort and peace and rest. In other words, don’t let this knowledge be just theoretical or theological, let it be personal and refreshing and cause for worship. With regard to knowledge, we know God is omniscient, He knows everything and His knowledge is infallible. With regard to power, we know God is omnipotent, He can do anything He wills to do. When we think of God as infinite with regard to space, we call that omnipresence. Space is a part of creation. God is Lord of space and cannot be limited by space. He is close to and next to everything. He inhabits the universe.
Choosing a pastor is a strange business. Basically the search committee has arranged a blind date, and after one date you get to decide if you want to get married, with the hope that this is a match made in heaven and we will live happily ever after. There is a lot of trust involved, in the search committee and the council, in the process and most of all in God. We have entreated Him in earnest prayer for 15 months. We asked you to pray since the beginning of 2020. We cannot pray too much asking for God’s leading, asking for wisdom, discernment and clarity. Choosing a pastor is the most important decision a congregation can make. It has powerful influence on the future of the church and the spiritual life of the flock.