Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty - Acts 8:1-8 - preached at First Baptist Church, Jourdanton, Texas on June 21, 2015
Acts 8:1-8 Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty
Prayer:Father God, I thank you that I am with friends again here to worship you.I pray that you be with Wally Goodman and his family while they are away, and that you give them safe travels.I pray with rejoicing that Dr. Goodman has served here with these people in this time without a pastor.I pray for Nolan Porter and his family, that you continue to bless his ministry even now.I pray also that we can see you at work here in the midst of uncertainty, all the while knowing that you are in charge.May the Holy Spirit come down and my words melt away, that you will enter this place.In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.
< > – It is nice to see you again. I am David Little, and am excited to be here and more excited for the pastor coming with a view to the call, and the work that God is doing in this place.
This is a great movie about things besides football, like the story I just told. There is healing in Don and Charles Billingsley’s relationship and it happens at a football field in Texas! Obviously, the story is about a football team in Odessa, the Permian Panthers. They are set to run for the state championship, and then Boobie Miles, their star running back, gets an Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury, in the first game, and then plays another game and tears it. The team starts out 1-1, and battles back – through adversity (including a 3 way tie in District and a coin toss to see who goes to the play-offs) to play in the state championship game against Dallas Carter. At 12-2, it seems the Panthers are destined to win (especially since they made a movie about it!). But they don’t. They end up a half yard short of every kid’s dream – a state championship.
Life kind of ends up that way, at times.You have stories to tell of how the dream became ugly reality, and you kind of ask yourself (or at least I do) - why?Why doesn’t it end up like a Disney movie, where the characters live happily ever after?And where, in our lives, is God?
Acts 8:1-8 is kind of like that. In the first part, it is in Jerusalem after Pentecost, different languages being spoken by Disciples, Peter’s speech, 3,000 saved (all in Acts 2), Peter heals the crippled beggar (acts 3), the believers share in their possessions (Acts 4), the Deacon’s being chosen (Acts 6), and it looks like the church is off and running! After all, the Holy Spirit came upon the Disciples, and then the church sprang up and people were sharing their possessions and were being healed! But it was not without cost. Peter and the apostles were jailed (Acts 5). Then Stephen, one of the deacons and a man of faith, preached to the Sanhedrin and consequently was stoned (Acts 7). Let’s pick up in Acts 8:1. I am reading from the NIV.
Acts 8:1-3New International Version (NIV)
8 And Saul approved of their killing him.
The Church Persecuted and Scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Why did God allow this? You have Godly men and women, walking in the Way that Jesus taught, and they are being imprisoned and put to death. Amazing things are happening (Acts 5 says that people both inside Jerusalem and crowds from towns outside of David’s City came and were healed (Acts 5:15-16))...it doesn’t make sense (at least to the world, if not to you and me). All “Christians” except the apostles were scattered outside Jerusalem. Was this God’s doing or something else?
I don’t know about you, but it seems a reasonable believer would have been depressed and saddened. Here are believers doing what Jesus taught them and are getting the same treatment Jesus did! They are being punished for believing, healing, loving! I don’t know about you, but Jesus was divine! Believers, on the other hand are all human? But are they? (the Holy Spirit is indwelt inside of them). Wouldn’t a reasonable believer say: let’s lay low for a while, wait for the persecution to subside (especially with Saul spearheading it). Whatever you do, don’t preach the Word!
What about this body of believers?It can be a difficult time without a pastor, even a congregation which had a pastor as loved as Nolan Porter.Wally Goodman has been wonderful as an interim, but it can get a little tiring being a flock with no shepherd.Maybe the leadership gets tired?Maybe the members are tired?Would a reasonable person think God is distant, at such times?Would a reasonable person think that maybe God is punishing the congregation? Maybe it is just that you feel a long way from God at this moment in your life?
Do you feel a little bit like the Odessa Permian Panthers in 1988?They battled back from a D1 running back, Boobie Miles, getting injured in the first game (on which their whole offense was built) going down and a 1-1 record, to come back to a 3 way tie for the district champs, a coin toss to go on to the playoffs, and a run to the state championship – all to finish 18 inches from having it all?
But, as Paul Harvey said, “there’s more to the story.”The 1988 season was preparing the Odessa Permian Panthers for the next season.The trials, the adversity, the hard knocks, paid off.No, the seniors did not see it, but Odessa Permian did.They went 16-0 in 1989 and won the state championship.The school, and the community saw it happen, even if the seniors did not. And there was joy (in the world’s sense) in that town.
Let’s get back to the book of Acts.We pick up at chapter 8, verse 4 and see the result.
Acts 8:4-8New International Version (NIV)
Philip in Samaria
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
The followers of the Way, what would come to be known as Christians (first used in Antioch, Acts 11:26), were sent from Jerusalem.What we know is they “preached the Word wherever they went.”One such individual is Philip, one of the seven Deacons, who went to a city in Samaria to proclaim the Christ. Amazing, that the people were so full of Christ through the Holy Spirit that they could not be silent.Though it seemed that depression, sadness, and despair would have its day, God stepped in and gave the people HOPE through Jesus Christ.
Of Philip we are told:
The crowds listened to him for his signs were proof, and what came out of his mouth was truth;
Demons came out, crippled people healed – it was a wondrous work;
So there was JOY in that city.
Joy because there is HOPE. Where there’s hope, lives change, people change, and some people become a new creation!
What was happening was bigger than the people knew at the time. God was building His church, and he needed people to go out and spread the love of Christ beyond Jerusalem! The church was expanding – look at the three missionary journeys of Paul in Acts – the church multiplied itself through trials! Look at the church throughout history, and you can see the same things. Some examples are: (1) The protestant reformation around 1520 (1517) with Martin Luther citing 95 things (he called them theses) against the Catholic church (for example, indulgences being handed out by the Catholic church for money, and (2) the coming to America that the Puritans (a protestant denomination called the English Separatist church) did in September 1620 to get away from the Anglican Church, the Church of England, which was persecuting them. I think God uses these seemingly disastrous things (viewed at the time) to expand the church. Remember Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples in Matthew 28:19:
Matthew 28:19-20 New International Version (NIV)
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This church has been without a pastor for around 1 year.Even with the church behind the pastor leaving and knowing it happens, it takes a heavy load on believers as they come alongside and fill in for the pastor.I know Wally has been great, but there are some things an interim cannot do – it takes someone every day to visit hospitals, counsel people, love on people.In Acts 8:1, the Christians were scattered, but the apostles stayed behind in Jerusalem.Some scholars say to anchor the church in troubled times.Hat’s off to the staff and folks – including deacons – that got in the boat and took turns at the oar to keep this congregational ship heading towards Christ.
But this church has grown up in a different way in the past year, with folks standing in the gap and ministering. Pastor Porter is shepherding another congregation. No, there are no miracles here like demons coming out of people and paralytics healed, but your congregation was there to minister to people in the hospital, and folks in need, and love on them as Christ did. Your church is here, in Jourdanton (as your website says) Living the Gospel, loving the community, and being the church of the Triune God.
I started this sermon with a story about a son and his alcoholic father.Through the movie, Friday Night Lights, they had some struggles – some trial and tribulations.In the end, though, they were closer than they had ever been.Not because Don won the championship, but because he was – through his effort – a champion.I think that is why Charles put his ring on Don’s finger.Look around you at the people in your congregation.Even with everyone pulling on the same oar, this has been a rough road, at times, with some bumps along the way.You may have had some tough times, but the end is almost here.I hope that you can look at each other and have pride.Not in yourselves, but in God.For it is only through God – working through His Holy Spirit – that the church can really exist – it is the body of Christ.And congregations like yours, make it grow.Thank heaven for congregations like First Baptist Church of Jourdanton.
May we pray:
Father God, you are awesome. You grow your church in this sinful world with bumps and bruises, but still somehow it works! Like a church full of sinners preaching the Gospel, you are unbelievable. Thank you for leading this church through a valley and thank you for bringing a pastor to shepherd them again. Thank you for Wally Goodman and his heart as he led them in the interim. Thank you for Christ and the Holy Spirit that bless us and give us courage, strength, and the power to overcome it all – even death.
I pray that you bring your servant here to minister to this congregation. Let this coming week be joyful and celebratory as they look to view a pastor with a call to First Baptist Church of Jourdanton. I pray it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.