THE POWER TO NEGOTIATE TOUGH TIMES

ACTS 14:8-28

JUNE 19, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            I like movie previews. I like them so much I want to arrive at a movie early so I don't miss them, but let's be honest. Sometimes they dupe us, making the movie seem much more exciting or scary or funny or romantic than it really is. Well, just before Jesus was beamed up to heaven, he gave his disciples a preview of what was to come, and in Jesus’ case the movie is every bit as good as the preview. He says to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” And over the past four Sundays we have looked at that power, what it is, how to get it, what to do with it, and today we look at another power point in our lives, the power to negotiate tough times.

            It’s amazing how quickly life can change. Just ask the Graves family in Elkhorn. One minute it’s calm and breezy and the next minute we find ourselves in a raging storm, and that’s what we will see happen to the Apostle Paul in our story for today.  One minute he is the toast of the town, and the next minute he is run out of town, and this morning we are going to see what Paul, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, did when the going got tough.  Let me set the scene.

            Our story today begins in Lystra a Roman frontier outpost in Galatia. Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra after having been booted out of two cities – Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium.  Caesar Augustus had made Lystra a Roman colony in 6 B.C, and most of the populations was uneducated, they had their own language, and the ministry got off to a flying start with the healing of a cripple. Follow along as I read … verse 8.

 

            In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth.  He listened to Paul as he was speaking.  And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.”  And the man sprang up and began to walk. 

 

            Most days I can tell who's with me and not with me while I'm preaching. I see it in your faces. That’s what Paul saw in the face of the cripple. He was hanging on Paul's every word, and following the impulse of the Holy Spirit Paul healed him.  There was only one problem.  These Lycaonians had an ancient legend that Zeus and Hermes had once come to the their region disguised as mortals seeking lodging.  Though they asked at numerous homes, no one would take them in.  Finally, at a humble cottage of straw and reeds, a poor elderly couple welcomed them and fed them with what meager means they had.  In appreciation, the gods – Zeus and Hermes – transformed their cottage into a temple, making the couple priest and priestess.  And when they died, they were immortalized as a great oak and a great linden tree.  The inhospitable homes, on the other hand, were destroyed.  These poor Lyconians were determined not to make the same mistake again.  Verse 11.

 

            When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lyconian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”  Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called 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; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

 

            Barnabas evidently had a more noble presence – the better looking of the two – so they called him Zeus, the chief God.  Since Paul was the spokesman, they naturally called him Hermes, the messenger of the gods.  And to complicate matters further, poor Barnabas and Paul did not know what was going on because when the people became excited they began to speak in Lyconian rather than Greek.

            After finally comprehending what was going on they tried to talk them out of sacrificing to them, and things went from bad to worse. Hostile Jews who had come from Antioch and Iconium, the two cities from which Barnabas and Paul had previously been kicked out of town, turned an adoring crowd into a lynch mob.  Listen to what these outside agitators did.  Verse 19.

 

            But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds.  Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead.  But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city.  The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

 

            Did you catch that?  He got up and went back into the city! Paul, caked with blood and mud, must have been quite a spectacle.  And as a quick aside, years later on his second missionary journey – this is Paul’s first missionary journey – but on his second missionary journey Paul would return to Lystra where he would meet a young man named Timothy, who would become his protege.   

            Let’s continue on.  Luke summarizes the end of Paul’s first missionary journey where Paul revisits all his new fledgling churches. Verse 21.

 

            After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch.  There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”  And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

 

            Now, that marks the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, and I want us to note four strategies Paul used, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to get through the tough times he faced in Lystra and some of the other cities he visited.  Here we go.

            Strategy #1: The Holy Spirit empowered Paul to minimize the shock value of the challenge or the tough time.  Drawing from his own experience, that’s exactly what Paul recommends to the leadership of the churches he has just formed.  In verse 22 we read these words,

 

            There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith saying, ‘It is through persecution that we must enter the Kingdom of God.

            What’s Paul doing?  He’s trying to minimize the shock value when tough times come.  He’s preparing them for tough times.  He tells them to expect tough times. 

            When I took up golf a man in our Florida congregation, Tom Curry, did this for me. Tom would take me out on his home course, and sometime during the round, usually after a bad shot of mine, so he got a chance to say it often, he would say to me, “You know, golf is a funny game.  Just when you think you have it figured out, it bites you.” 

            By constantly reminding me of that fact, Tom minimized the shock value of a bad round of golf.  You have to expect it.  “Golf is a funny game.  Just when you think you have it figured out, it bites you.”  And that is what Paul did for the churches he started.  He minimized the shock value.  He told them to expect tough times and that way they would not be shocked when they came.  There would be good times.  Paul does not deny that.  But he also reminded them that there would be tough times.  “It is through persecution that we must enter the Kingdom of God.” 

            Strategy #2: The Holy Spirit empowered Paul to stay focused.   I find it amazing, that Paul never lost the reason why he had come to Lystra. His goal was to plant a church in every city he visit, so after the stoning he picked himself up and headed back into town to complete the job. He never lost his focus.

            Do you remember Joe the Plumber? He gained national attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. His full name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher and he got the moniker Joe the Plumber during the McCain–Palin Republican campaign. Senator McCain often referenced "Joe the Plumber" in campaign speeches and in the final presidential debate, as a metaphor for middle-class Americans.

            Well, Trudy and I have our own Joe, "Joe the Contractor." Joe is from Colorado and he has been staying with us for the past two weeks while he remodels our master bath. He's almost done, and let me tell you, Joe is focused. He doesn't take lunch breaks. He only takes occasional coffee breaks, and he has a notepad on our kitchen counter and I snuck a peak at his it this past Tuesday. He had everyday of the week listed on the notepad and under each day what he wanted to get accomplished by the end of the day.

            Now, I don't know if Joe is that focused back at home. I bet he is. I only know he is highly motivated to get the job done so he can get back home to his wife as soon a possible.

            I don't know if the Apostle Paul kept a notepad. Maybe he did.  Maybe it read, "Plant a church in Lystra." Maybe he went back into town to check that off his "to do" list, but in the midst of the opposition, he remained focused on the task. Preach the gospel. In season and out of season. The Holy Spirit empowered him not to lose sight of the goal.

            Strategy #3: The Holy Spirit gave Paul the good sense to lean on his friends.  Paul never travelled alone. He always had an entourage with him, people like Barnabas or Silas or Luke or John Mark.

            We see the importance of leaning on one’s friends in the great mythical stories of our times.  For example, Frodo is a very brave and true hobbit, but he doesn’t stand a chance without Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Frodo had no real idea of the dangers and trials ahead: the dark mines of Moria; the Balrog that awaits him there; the evil orcs that hunt him; Gollum who tracks him.  Frodo will need to lean on his friends.

            We see the importance of leaning on friends in every great story.  Dorothy takes her journey with the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, the Lion, and of course, Toto.  Luke Skywalker had Hans Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbaca, and of course, Jesus had The Twelve.  

            When the going gets tough, the Holy Spirit reminds us to lean on our friends.

            And fourth: Paul acknowledged the source of his power.  After all they had gone through in Lystra, listen to Paul and Barnabas’ report.  Verse 27 ...

 

            When they arrived (back home), they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.

 

            In the days of the Roman persecution, one of the worst things that could happen to a Christian was to be sent to the mines of New Midea Africa.  There the prisoners were brutally whipped, marched through rocky valleys, burned by the sun, branded on their brow with a hot iron, chained so that they were unable to stand erect, sent into the dark mines to work interminable hours.  In other words, they underwent indescribable tough times.  Years later, when those mines were opened up to visitors, it was discovered that those Christians had etched little words and slogans on the walls of the caves in which they were working.  Of all the many words that appear there, two appear more than any others.  One is the word “Christos” – Christ – the other is the word “life.”  In that environment of terrible suffering, the two things they thought of most were Christ and life.  Jesus is the one who comes to make abundant life possible in the midst of the roughest times of our lives.

            Paul knew it.  Those early Christians knew it.  Now we know it.  Amen.