The Path Forward

Directions For The Path Forward Acts 14:21-28

Every day in many different ways we ask ourselves about the path forward in our country as we battle coronavirus. No matter what opinion you hold, there is a longing not to stay where we are now. As have navigated now into Phase One in Louisiana, some loosening of restrictions is observed. There will be a Phase Two and Phase Three. How do we make our way through this as a family, as individuals, and as a church?

As Christian people we would like to hear words of wisdom from Scripture. The text today recounts the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. They endured so many struggles, but kept going. Even at the end of this mission, there is a sense that there is much more to do. As we endure our lives in the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t we have a sense that there is much more ahead for us? We just need directions for the path forward.
I think we can find some directions in this setting of Paul and Barnabas ending their mission, with a knowledge that there is a big mission ahead.

Today I want to mention four slogans that we might hear as we read this text.

Spread the Word.

After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia

Acts 14:21, NLT

The Gospel is the only news that everyone needs to hear. We are hearing a LOT OF NEWS right now. Much of it is conflicting. Let’s be known for sharing the love of Christ during this time. Without the power of technology, Paul and his crew of missionaries headed out across dangerous territory to preach the good news. Dr. Bob Pierce – “Others have done so much with so little, while we have done so little with so much!” (via Wiersbe)

Today we have the ability to reach out across the globe with the gospel – and it is happening. But also we have opportunity to reach across our parish and bless others with the greatest news ever heard.

In this coronavirus pandemic, social media has become a place where people who love Jesus have spread the good news that Jesus Saves to anyone who would want to hear it.

Paul and Barnabas were interested in teaching about Jesus, but also making many disciples – helping people not only make a decision to follow Jesus but to give their lives to living the Jesus Life.

Stay the Course.

where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

Acts 14:22, NLT

Paul and Barnabas are retracing their trip, maintaining contact with the churches he has planted, providing ongoing counsel and encouragement. They encouraged the disciples to stay the course.

-They needed strength – to be strong is to be committed and knowledgable of the Christian faith. We sometimes forget what a strengthening resource our Bible is. When we feel weak, discouraged, or helpless – we should turn to
the strength available within our reach.

-They needed encouragement. We all get discouraged in life – and in our life with the Lord. Whatever it is that makes you discouraged in your walk, the key is to have encouragers in your circle of friends and family. One of the best ways to be encouraged is to be an encourager.

-They needed expectation – to know that there would be some suffering. The new believers have (known persecution and will know the pressure of Judaizers’ attempts to turn them from the “faith way”. Paul commands them to remain true to the faith. (Larkin) Hardship is not a reason to abandon faith, it is a reason to stay the
course, to stick with the plan, to never give up!

Strength, encouragement, and realistic expectations. Spread the Word, Stay the Course and…

Practice the Presence.

Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:23, NLT

This verse tells us of the early Christians practicing the presence of the Lord. These words tell us of their awareness and focus on the presence of God in their midst.

They appointed leaders to lead the church in the ways of the Lord. The organization of the church included appointing elders to lead the church. The church of the New Testament was led by a plurality of elders, not by a single individual. These elders would ensure that the church functioned as they should in light of the gospel of Christ.

They engaged in practices that demonstrated their faith in the Lord. This important step was accompanied with prayer and fasting – which were common ways that the early church practiced the presence of
God in their lives. Notice Acts 13, the sending out of Paul and Barnabas:

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

Acts 13:2-3, NLT

Fasting, praying, laying on of hands – these were practices that recognized two things:

*They leaned upon the presence of the Lord for the work of the church.

*They leaned upon one another in serving and loving the Lord who called them into the church. Christianity must be lived in fellowship.

John Wesley: No man ever went to heaven alone; he must either find friends or make them. (via Barclay)

Through Christian Leadership, Prayer, Fasting together, we demonstrate that we are practicing the presence of the Lord among us.

Spread the Word, Stay the Course, Practice the presence,

Open the Doors.

Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27 Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28 And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.

Acts 14:26-28, NLT

In their report of the work they did, they said that God opened the “door of faith”. The door of faith – opening up the doors of the kingdom to all who want to come and be a part.

Even when the doors of the church building are closed, the doors to the Kingdom are wide open and we should keep our eye on that truth!

What are some ways we can open the doors of faith?

*Pray for God to draw all people unto himself. Barclay: Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them.

*Be accepting of people where they are, knowing that we all had to grow from some point to where we are now. And we all have more growing to do. One church offered to pray for anyone in the community. One person responded and in an email confessed a sin he was involved with. The minister responded that he would be happy to pray for him. The man wrote back and said, “No church has ever been kind to me before. Thank you.”

*Do what we can to lift others up in ways that will help them know that God loves them and wants to live with them together in eternity .

*Interact with people, keeping our eyes open for opportunities to share the gospel. You never know who God has sent to you so that they can know Him.

Revelation 1:4a Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven…

Conclusion
Spread the Word, Stay the Course, Practice the presence, Open the Doors.

Whatever challenges we face today, we have a path forward that we entrust to God. We may not be able to see what is ahead, but He can. He is already there. These are all strategies that helped Paul and Barnabas on their very successful missionary journey. They will help us in our journey as well.

Communion Thought:
When we get to the end of the book of Acts we find Paul under house arrest, welcoming anyone who would come.

Acts 28:30-31 He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

A beautiful testimony of a life that was lived Spreading the Word, Staying the Course, Practicing the presence, Opening the Doors.

He wrote to the Corinthians, “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

As we commune together we recognize the need to spread the word, stay the course, practice the presence, and open the doors. May it be so. Amen.


Resources
Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study Series: Acts.
Larkin, William J. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Acts.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Daring: Put Your Faith Where the Action is, Acts 13-28.