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A Close Encounter Through A Praise Service

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Close Encounters Of The God Kind

A Close Encounter Through A Praise Service

Acts 16:16-34

Faith in UFO’s is often based upon highly debatable evidence, while faith in Jesus Christ is based upon the evidence and facts of the Word of God.  Nevertheless, no matter how much evidence and how many facts we have in the Word of God, faith in Jesus Christ still requires one to place his/her trust in the Person of Jesus Christ for salvation.  These and other similarities impressed me to use the subject of UFOs as a launching pad for our biblical discussion of “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.”

        In first three sermons in this series, we worked hard to develop a technical biblical definition for a “Close Encounter Of The God Kind.”  That definition is

A “Close Encounter Of The God Kind” is a face-to-face meeting with God that cannot be totally explained, but which—when fully experienced—will bring about a response of genuine worship or celebration, which includes the remembrance of a redemptive past and/or the conviction of a liberated future that changes people forever; causing them to move and grow by over-recording the intuitive tapes of their core belief.

In the fourth message in this series, we explored how intellect can keep us from wholeheartedly worshipping God.

        We then began to explore twelve “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.”

We have explored God encountering Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the woman at the well, Peter, James, and John, the two Mary’s on resurrection morning, and the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan River, the church on The Great Day of Pentecost, and Saul on the Damascus Road.

(Today we move on to our last encounter.  Notice with me please Acts 16:16-34.)

        Paul and Silas had a face-to-face meeting with God in prison.  This encounter with God could not be totally explained.  The encounter is seen in an earthquake that did three things:  the foundations of the prison house were shaken, all the doors were opened, everyone’s chains were unfastened.  This was a “Jail House Rock,” long before Elvis was heard of.  This was a “Jail House Rock” that could not be explained.  Perhaps an earthquake at the exact time of Paul and Silas being thrown into to prison could be explained away as merely coincidence, but the details of all the doors being opened and everyone’s chains being unfastened certainly prove divine intervention.  Two of His beloved children were in trouble and God showed up in this encounter.

        There are also other details that suggest that something very unusual was going on.  One of those details has to do with the actions of the jailer.  We don’t know who this jailer is, but he seems to be more than one who just held the keys of the prison.  He seems to be someone of some rank.  Sometimes jailers were retired soldiers.  At any rate, it was not unusual for jailers to have to trade their own lives for the lives of those who escape.  So, when the jailer awakened and found that all of the prisoners were free, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself.  He thought that everyone had escaped and he knew he would die a horrible death at the hands of the Romans.  What I am trying to get to is the jailer’s response to this sequence of events.

This jailer’s further response to this sequence of events suggests that something supernatural, or at least highly unusual, happened.  After Paul let him know that all the prisoners were still there, he didn’t rush to get all the doors fixed and the chains reattached, he called for lights, rushed in, fell down before Paul, trembling with fear, then brought them out and asked them,

“Sir, what must I do to be saved?”

This man was probably hardened by the incarceration and death of many prisoners, yet something so spectacular had happened that he is shaken and wants to know how to be saved.  God encountered Paul and Silas and everyone in that jail!

        I reiterate, “This was ‘A Close Encounter of the God Kind’ that could not be totally explained.”  These were miraculous happenings that could not be totally explained in a natural way.  Besides, Paul and Silas were not interested in explaining them, because they knew they were from God.  The prisoners didn’t care about the explanation, because they were free.  And the jailer didn’t care about an explanation of these miraculous happenings, he understood enough to want to be saved.

        Yet, even though these miraculous happenings could not be totally explained, they could be fully experienced.  Paul and Silas certainly experienced the earthquake, their cell door being opened, and their chains being unfastened—and so did the prisoners.  The jailer also experienced the earthquake, trembling, and fear.


        Because, God wanted to give Paul and Silas a God-sized assignment.  Paul and Silas would be spreading the Gospel throughout the known world of the Gentiles.

(And what was the genuine response of worship that this experience brought about?)

        Paul, which includes his companion Silas, saved the man’s natural life by calling out to him and assuring him that all the prisoners were still present and accounted for.  Paul was concerned about the man’s natural life.

        Paul also saved the man’s eternal life, by preaching the gospel to him.

        This genuine response of worship rendered Paul concerned about his fellowman’s natural and eternal life.

(And how did this event change Paul and Silas forever?)

        Paul’s worship response to this encounter probably brought about a remembrance of a redemptive past and the conviction of a liberated future.  This was not the first time that Paul had faced difficulty in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This event took place on Paul’s second missionary journey.  Paul, no doubt, remembered that God had delivered him before.  He was stoned and left for dead on his first missionary journey—but God raised him up.

        This worship response probably also brought about a conviction of a liberated future.  Paul’s remembrance of a redemptive past gave him conviction that God certainly could deliver him from a prison.  In addition, he was probably convinced that God was going to see him through to the end of his mission.  Paul was probably convinced that he was invincible until his mission was completed.  And Paul’s mission included a great deal of suffering.  Remember what we studied last week.  God told Ananias to go to Saul, because he was a chosen vessel and he must show him how much he must suffer for the Gospel’s sake.  Paul shares his suffering with in

2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.  I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.”

So, this encounter changed Paul, in some way, forever.  Paul grew in his conviction and confidence with respect to the mission that God had given him.  Whatever his intuitive tapes were, they were overwritten with confidence and hope.  Perhaps we see the nature of that change in

2 Timothy 1:12, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Paul was a changed man!!!

And we don’t have to wonder what happened to Paul’s convictions and destiny; he gives us his own testimony in

2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

        Silas was also a changed man!!!  It appears that this was Silas’ first missionary journey, and this encounter also brought about a conviction of a liberated future in his life.  This encounter changed Silas in some way forever, because this is not the last time he is mentioned in the New Testament.  Silas, who’s name is also called Silvanus, went on to a long and fruitful ministry—which included transporting and/or transcribing the letter of 1 Peter for Peter.

        Paul and Silas’ worship response also brought about their freedom.  The jailer took them to his house and the chief magistrates asked them to leave the city in peace.

(And the ultimate result of this encounter is God’s glory.)

        Through this encounter the prisoners certainly received a witness of the power of God, the jailer and his family were saved, and God was glorified.

        Before we can apply the truth of this encounter to our lives, there is one detail that stands out from the other encounters that we have studied.  That detail is the attitude and activity of Paul and Silas before God encountered them.  What was their attitude and activity before this miraculous encounter?  Well, first, what was their situation?  Well, the crowd rose up against them, the chief magistrates had their clothes torn off of them and had them beaten with rods. Then they were thrown into prison, where the jailer put them in solitary confinement and locked their feet in stocks for maximum security and torture.

        Now, again, what was Paul and Silas’ attitude and activity before God encountered them?  Paul and Silas’ attitude is revealed in their first action:  prayer.  About midnight, which is an abnormal hour for prayer—ritualistically speaking—but it is a perfect hour for prayer, because it is during the dark night of the soul, Paul and Silas were praying.  Prayer is both an activity and an attitude.  Prayer was a prelude to this encounter.

        Not only were Paul and Silas praying, but also they were singing hymns of praise to God.  About midnight, the prisoners heard:

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

(The Battle Hymn Of The Reformation)

A mighty fortress is our God,

A bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing.

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

And tho this world, with dev-ils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph thru us.

The prince of darkness grim,

We tremble not for him—

His rage we can endure,

For lo! his doom is sure:

One little word shall fell him.

And though this world, with evil filled,

Should threaten to undo us;

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us.

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

God's truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

Whatever song it was, it was praise to God Almighty and as they sang something started to happen.  The earth began to quake.  They praised God in the midst of their incarceration and tribulation, and God showed up!

In most of the other encounters that we have studied, we have made the point that it was God who encountered each one of the subjects, and they seemed to have little to do with the encounter—except in their response to it.  But now we see two men, who in my opinion, invited God to encounter them through their prayer and their singing of hymns of praise.

(Now we are ready for some application.)

        I’ve got good news for you.  God wants to encounter each of us in the same way that He encountered Paul and Silas.  God wants to deliver us from imprisonment that has come as a result of persecution, just as He did Paul and Silas.  Many of us live in prisons constructed of what we think others think of us, what we think about ourselves, and what we think God thinks about us, because of persecution.  We are imprisoned in our minds, our emotions, and our spirits.  We are bound up and are not free to move around and experience the privileges that we have in Jesus Christ, but God wants to free us through a close encounter.


        To give us a God-sized assignment.  God wants us to spread the Gospel throughout the individual worlds of our spheres of influence—particularly where we have been persecuted and imprisoned!

        I’ve got good news for you, but the good news is intricately intertwined with bad news.  The good news is that God wants to encounter each of us in the same way that He encountered Paul and Silas, but there is a problem.  He encountered Paul and Silas in the imprisonment and tribulation of the dark night of their soul, and they were imprisoned for the Gospel’s sake.  Everything that happened to them happened to them because they had come to Macedonia to preach the Gospel under the divine direction of the Holy Spirit.

        This is bad news indeed for modern people.  We want God to encounter us, but we want Him to encounter us to deliver us from incarceration and tribulation—not out of it!!!

        Secondly, God came to encounter them, because of the reason for their incarceration—the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Most of us are unwilling to face a dark night of the soul, incarceration and tribulation, because of the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet, these are circumstances of this encounter.

        Thirdly, when we face this kind of dark night of the soul, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there are two things that we need to do:  pray and sing hymns of praise.  We need to have a praise service!  This is also bad news for modern people.  Why?  Because most of us believe that God is supposed to shield us from all trials, tribulation, and suffering.  As a matter of fact that is why many of us got saved—so that we would not have to suffer any more.  But, God does not promise that!  That is an American Christian expectation, which has no biblical support.  He didn’t promise that we wouldn’t suffer, He promised to be with us in all of our suffering.  So, with this attitude of entitlement concerning suffering, it is very difficult to pray and sing hymns of praise to God in the midst of our suffering.

Oh, but there is power there!  We can invite God to a face-to-face meeting through praying and singing hymns of praise!  God encounters those who pray and sing hymns of praise to Him, when they are being persecuted.  Whether on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, when we gather and sing praises to God in the midst of our imprisonment and tribulation God is going to show up.

Now, mind you, this has got to be praying and singing that is from the heart.  This is why we spent time talking about the “Brain Barrier.”  The brain barrier keeps many of us from praying and singing from our hearts.  We can pray and sing with intellectual precision, but emotional and spiritual detachment.  This kind of detachment is illustrated in a short story.

Sacrilegious Singing

        Several years ago a pastor stayed overnight at the home of a young couple.  He was awakened the next morning by a soprano voice singing, “Nearer, My God to Thee.”  At breakfast he mentioned to his hostess how pleased he was to hear that lovely old hymn, but that it seemed to go much faster than he had ever heard it sung before.  “Oh,” replied the hostess, “I guess that’s because I wasn’t paying too much attention to the words.  You see, it’s a song my mother used to sing, and I’ve found that it’ a good one to boil the eggs by.  Just repeat the first verse five times rapidly for soft-boiled, and eight times for hard.”

Our praying and singing have got to have more of our hearts than this.

        Now, even though we are inviting God to encounter us through prayer and the singing of hymns of praise to God, God initiates the encounter by using our circumstances!  God initiates, or in many cases, allows the circumstances that will facilitate His encounter with us.  I don’t believe that God initiates evil, but He will use evil circumstances for our good and His glory!!!

        There is another very interesting point here, which I don’t have time to elaborate on:  Paul and Silas were persecuted for manifesting the power of God in the face of a heathen culture.

        The same will be true for us!

(Now, when God delivers us, what should our genuine response of worship be?)

        When God delivers us, our genuine response of worship should be concern for the natural life of our fellow human beings.  There is a legitimate place for humanitarian concerns and concerns of justice for all.  The church of Jesus Christ has built most of the hospitals of the world.  I have not allowed us to get too involved in this kind of social agenda, because we were a young church and I wanted to make sure that our concern for social issues grew out of the gospel.  But, we are beginning to do more.

(But that’s not all!)

        When God delivers us, our genuine response of worship should be concern for the eternal life of our fellow human beings.  This concern should be demonstrated in sharing the Gospel with them.  The Gospel is plainly stated here:

Acts 16:31, “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’”

        A genuine response of worship is to tell others about the Jesus whom we worship!

(And how will our genuine worship responses change us forever?)

        They will give us a remembrance of a redemptive past.  God wants to build a history of deliverances for us, so that we will not doubt Him as we face each new and greater trial.  We will know, like David, that just as He delivered us from the paw of the bear and the paw of the lion, He will also deliver us from Goliath!

        Our genuine worship responses will also give us a conviction of a liberated future.  God wants to convince us that He has a plan, a future, a hope, and a destiny for us.  He delivers us, because He is not through with us yet.  He wants us to bear His name before many witnesses before our journey is ended!

        Consequently, the remembrance of a redemptive past and the conviction of a liberated future will change us forever.  They will cause us to move and grow by over-recording the intuitive tapes of our core belief:

·        The tape of meaninglessness will be over-recorded with purpose and destiny.

·        The tape of fear will be over-recorded with boldness and security in Christ.

·        The tape of self-pleasure will be over-recorded with a motive for facing suffering.

·        The tape of confusion about suffering will be over-recorded with a consciousness of the ultimate will of God.

·        The tape of self-centeredness will be over-recorded with prayer and hymns of praise to God.

I am facing incarceration and tribulation now, because of preaching the Bible, i.e. the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  But, my testimony is the same as Paul’s.

2 Timothy 1:12, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

(And what will be the result of all of this?)

·        Many prisoners will witness the miraculous power of God!

·        People and their families will be saved!

·        We will be set free!

·        God will be glorified!

God encountered Paul and Silas and Paul and Silas encountered God through a praise service that led to an earthquake, evangelism, and their freedom.  God wants to encounter us and we can encounter God through our praise services, which will bring an earthquake to our prison environments, evangelism to some around us, and freedom from prison for ourselves.

        Thank God that He is a God of encounter and deliverance from persecution, incarceration, and tribulation!!!

As we come to the end of our journey and look back at God encountering Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the woman at the well, Peter, James, and John, the two Mary’s on resurrection morning, and the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan River, the church on The Great Day of Pentecost, and Saul on the Damascus Road, and Paul and Silas in a prayer meeting, we can say that God deeply desires to encounter us face-to-face in a dynamic, miraculous experience that will bring about a genuine response of worship that will change us forever, causing us to move and grow, and receive a God-sized assignment that will save souls, build up the saints, draw us closer to Him, and ultimately bring Him eternal glory!

        I long for “Close Encounters Of The God Kind!”

(Now is the Day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, Now!)


Call to Discipleship

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