‘We too are only human’
Intro: Paul/Lystra/Gods - CONTEXT
I haven’t got long but I just want to start by putting this passage into context. Here we see Paul on his travels, along with Barnabas, visiting the Roman Town of Lystra, in what is present day turkey. Then, of course, it was part of the Roman Empire, (before it was Christianised) and the local religion was that of the Roman Gods, and had been for some years. In fact in this particular town there was a prominent legend featuring Zeus and Hermes, the Gods mentioned in this passage, who according to the story visited Lystra in disguise, but apart from one old couple no one recognized them. This couple were lavished with gifts from the Gods whilst the rest of the people were killed!
So whilst it may seem odd that to us, that the people here think they are Zeus & Hermes, actually it was probably a fairly natural reaction, these were Gods from their own religion, with a history in their town and what’s more they didn’t want to received the same fate as their predecessors! So it’s probably not as unusual as it sounds.
PAUL: bad press/ amazing man of God
You know, Paul gets a bad press sometimes doesn’t he? But I just think he is such an amazing man of God. Bearing in mind where he came from, and he has given up everything, literally, to travel round sharing the Gospel. He is so sold out and passionate in his mission that he is persecuted, ridiculed and even, as we see later in this chapter, attacked and stoned.
So one can only begin to imagine how he felt when he realizes that the people here in Lystra, think that he and Barnabas are Gods. It must have been heart breaking. The Passage says that they tear their clothes, which is an ancient practice, used to express grief, sorrow or righteous indignation. In fact in one definition I read: a reaction to a calamitous event, in ‘righteous indignation’, an act of self humiliation. All of which I’m sure could be said of Paul here.
Paul wears his heart on his sleeve doesn’t he? His passion for Christ is so evident in all that we read of Him. He has his eyes firmly fixed on THE ONE, on Jesus. As he says, here, we are only human… we just have to do what God asks of us and let Him do the rest.
This last few weeks has been a pretty challenging time, I think, for this church. God has asked a lot of us, we have asked a lot of you! but I hope that throughout that, we have all, kept our eyes fixed on Him, on THE ONE.
Ultimately we did not know how it would go. We had a vision that God was asking us to do, and we could only do our part, we had to step out in faith – all of us – and let God do the rest. Because we are only human, if this was going to work, God had to be at the centre and we had to step out and let Him do His will. And he did.
I personally have been challenged through it all, thinking about what church is and why we come here, or anywhere, what do we need in order to worship God. At the beginning of this week, just as we were in limbo! I had an email from one of last years IBTI students - James - who is now back in his home country – living in Kampala, Uganda. He says:
‘God is doing great and amazing thing, I have started a new work planted one Church at the country side last Sunday and I have got home group in Kampala which will soon be started to a Church’
And he sent some pictures, and they are just of people worshipping in shacks mostly! On benches in some cases and he says the one thing they need is plastic chairs. That’s it!! Plastic chairs.
And as I was thinking about that I was reminded of a conference I went to earlier this year…
And to the opposite extreme, earlier this year I went to a Women’s conference run by a very large church organisation. The first thing I saw was all the branding. There were signs and logos everywhere. When we walked in we were registered on ipads by hundreds of glam looking stewards all dressed in black. My instant reaction was ok, what is all that about?! Aren’t we here to worship God? It was really hard to see past all that, to see past the exterior.
However, as soon as I stepped foot in the building I knew God was there. I could see him in everyone around me. The smiles, people looking out for each other, sharing food at lunchtime, women they had never met before, it was quite moving actually! Everyone involved was passionate about Jesus, in everything they did. About sharing Gods word. Not just on stage but in every aspect. God was there…
And so here we are looking at our church…
OUR CHURCH: REAL CHURCH, REAL PEOPLE…
So here we are. Looking at how our church is set up and run. And it is not about the branding, the coffee or the worship band. It is about Him. And it is about his we serve Him.
But God has shown us through this process that we are on the right track. And in having all this set up, we are creating an environment where we can help people to meet God. So within that let’s serve God with a passion, with a heart for Him (like Paul).
When I was preparing this I felt God give me the phrase ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’. And I don’t think he meant let’s all overcome our British stiff upper lip and start sharing our emotions all over the place … I mean in whatever way we can - so that while we carry Jesus in our hearts, it can be seen on the outside. That people can see within us, without us saying a word, that we are serving Christ. If we are welcoming people in, we’ll be doing it with a smile and with genuine care for that person, if we are working on kids team, we are doing it with a passion to see them know Jesus more, if we are on the new babyzone, we are looking out for people, maybe exhausted mothers, with compassion.
Let this church be a place where people don’t have to look past the ‘branding’ the exterior, because they can see God within it.
What would we aspire to have people say about us as a church? Not that we have fantastic kids work, or an awesome worship band, or that we serve the best coffee around (all of which are of course true!) what I’d love people to say that when they visit this church, they see God. And that they see people serving with a heart of God.
People need Jesus…
I think I said this a few weeks ago, but hopefully most of us here, know what a difference God has made in our lives. There are people out there who don’t know what that feels like. They are lost, they are in need, some of them really truly in need, beyond what we could begin to imagine, and wouldn’t it be amazing if we could welcome some of them here, that they would see God here, that they would meet with him and have their lives transformed like we have. Let them not be confused about what we are doing here, like the people of Lystra, let them see Jesus!
James, when this whole process started, talked about Mathew 9 - creating a new wine skin. (reading passage)
16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Maybe our wineskin had got a bit dry around the edges... So now here we are at the point of creating our new wine skin, and like anything if it is made with love, people will see that.
But it isn’t finished here. if God is going to our His spirit into the wine skin we are creating, if He is going to bring people here, we need to go on making it with love, polishing it, loving it, making it beautiful so that people can see God in that wineskin. And to trust that God will go on filling that wineskin.
This is a new season for this church, an exciting time. Really exciting! I can’t wait to see what God is going to pour into the wine skin we are creating!
So in that, let’s honour God and serve Him in whatever capacity, with love and with Jesus in our hearts (and on our sleeves!)
As James would say.. ‘is that alright?’…
Go serve Him!!