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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Evidence of a Transformed Life


Pastor Shim's sermon on August 21, 2011.

Acts 9:20-31 and 13:1-13

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
This is an amazing promise about a new life in Christ and the path to ultimate perfection.

Paul, before his encounter with Christ, traveled toward Damascus to persecute Christians. He had caused Christians to be tortured and killed. According his own testimony,” I harassed those who followed this Way to their death, arresting and delivering both men and women into prison” (Acts 22:4).

When Paul converted to Christ, there was a change in his life. He began to preach about Christ immediately after his conversion. “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.”

Look at the questions people raised. “Is this the same Paul who used to cause havoc? And the one, who used to imprison Christian? To these and many other questions, the answer was yes. Paul was the enemy of Christ, and his church was willing to stand with Jesus’ people. However, his former admirers did not see Paul as a nice, harmless man they could leave alone. They did not like his zeal for the Lord, and they wanted to kill him.

Paul faced a death threat for preaching Christ. The very people who used to support him now turned against him. They vowed to kill him and set guards to prevent him from escaping their plot. When his new family in Christ found out, they planned his escape, even if it meant harm to them. His enemies watched for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul found out about their plot. So, during the night, some of the believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.

God had a plan for Paul. After he escaped the death plot, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem to meet the church leaders and report about the change that Christ made in his life. His hope was dashed when he was rejected by the Christians in Jerusalem.

This was a double loss for Paul. His former supporters tried to kill him for becoming a Christian, and now the Christians rejected him, thinking he was there to spy on them, until God provided Barnabas.

“Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” What a blessing he became to Paul! Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. Every one of us needs someone like Barnabas in our lives to come along and help us bridge the gaps we encounter. And we can become a Barnabas for one who needs help, too. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and show you who needs you.

Paul faced a second death treat in Jerusalem. Paul, from day one of his preaching Christ, faced suffering and death for the sake of Jesus Christ. Paul had uncompromising faith in Jesus Christ, and those who opposed his preaching about Jesus hated him intensely for it.

Also, because of his preaching, some Jews were converted to Christianity. The Jews didn’t like losing their membership to Christianity. They continued plotting to kill him. The Christians heard about the threat to him, and they saved his life once again. They sent him to Tarsus.”

Why did God save Paul so many times from death? God had appointed him an ambassador for the Good News about Christ. God told Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

God called Paul and Barnabas to be part of the local congregation to learn cooperation and submission to one another under the headship of Christ. God planned worldwide outreach. No one, even someone with Paul’s ability, could go it alone. God planned for Christians to worship, grow, and work together. To ignore that is a sin of rebellion.

Paul, Barnabas, and the Antioch church together sought God’s will. God put together a group of people to carry out his plan of reaching people of the world with the God News about Jesus Christ. No church or organization can succeed without the cooperation of the people in it. In Acts 13, we see the power of a church ready to transform the world. What was unique about the church of Antioch?

It was a diverse group, spiritually gifted by God, worshipping and working together as family of God. “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. All these people from different races and background and class were together worshipping the Lord because they found joy in Him. “Oh taste and see how good God is.”

The group was devoted to God. The word “devotion” has several meanings: loyalty, dedication, commitment, affection, and fondness. All these words show desire for deep relationship. The passage says as they ministered to the Lord in fasting and prayer, God gave them directions: “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” What a wonderful example they set for us.

The group came together to seek the Lord. They gave time to prayer; they fasted and ministered to the Lord. What does that mean? How can anyone minister to the Lord, as if He had a need? I think it means just spending time with Him and telling Him you love Him. He longs to be close to us. When you do, you will be able to hear God’s plan and purpose for your life, as the church of Antioch did when the Holy Spirit spoke to them to spread the Good News about Jesus.

The Christians in Antioch heard God’s voice because they were prayed and listened for His direction. The church exists to serve God’s purpose and plan. To ignore that is to forget who founded the church and for what reason. When the Lord speaks, it is so clear no one can say I did not understand Him. The wise thing to do is to obey, as the Christians in Antioch did. They sent Paul and Barnabus, accompanied by John Mark.

Herman Wouk's thrilling World War II novel, The Caine Mutiny contains an excellent illustration of what happens when someone becomes a follower of God. A young man from an influential family enlisted in the Navy. On the day of his induction, his mother dropped him off in her fancy car and then kissed him goodbye. He shakes hands with the guard as he enters the building, and the door closed behind him.

His mother suddenly worried he might not have enough money. She rushed up to the door, but the guard politely stopped her. When she demanded entrance, he refused to let her in. She could see her son standing inside the door, so she reached for the doorknob. "He's my son!” she cried.

The guard gently removed her hand from the knob and said softly, "I know, Ma'am, but he belongs to Uncle Sam now. He's a sailor."

As a Christian, you’re bought by the Blood Jesus–you belong to Him–Can others tell by your life and behavior that you’re a follower of Jesus Christ?

Pastor Shim Habte, 1st United Methodist Church,
544 N. Shasta, Willows ,CA 95988
(530) 934-3190