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Stoned Believers

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:09
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No, no, no, not that

Last week we finished moving out of the Rocksborough house, Karen’s old house, and it is officially sold. Six months into our marriage, we now have one house… but we still have two houses worth of stuff. Across the creek there, in long family tradition, we have a storage unit full of furniture and dishes and stuff. Our garage is full of stuff.
And we have the joyous work of deciding what works best in our house… which means some of the stuff I had there needs to go.
For most stuff, super easy. My coffee table was an old pallette up on crates. Hers was an actual table. Let’s go with that.
Her TV was better, let’s upgrade.
But in that process, I have discovered some odd things. We will be having that conversation about getting rid of stuff… and this is what happens in me:
“Oh, yeah, we could swap out that table, that’s fine… change up that room cool… oh NOT THAT PICTURE!”
Super defensive, super upset, emotion from out of nowhere! What is that?
Well we talk about it. My sister gave me that when she helped redecorate my house three years ago. It carries all this weight of sentiment and meaning to me, it was part of my identity in a way I didn’t expect or anticipate.
And what do you do when you sense of self or your sense of place is threatened?
The most human thing is to defend it. To reject the change and hold on to the known.
We experience this in all avenues of life. In fact, whenever we get defensive it is likely because something deeper is being threatened, down at the level of belief and identity. Those things are incredibly difficult to change. Painful to change...
Down at those deepest levels are our ideas about who we are, and our ideas about who God is are down there as well… because that shapes who we are.
What do you do when those ideas and ideals are threatened?
Or to ask that a different way:
What do you do when God turns out different than you expected?
He will. He is.
He is different than you expect!

Paul’s Missionary Journey, continued...

Acts 14:1 ESV
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.
First to the Jews, then to the Greeks.
They are in Iconium.
Acts 14:1–7 ESV
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.
Acts 14:1–2 ESV
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
There is a “great number” of believers… but also great opposition. So perhaps Paul and Barnabus will be driven away immediately?
Acts 14:3 ESV
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
Acts 14:4 ESV
But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.
(Note that Paul and Barnabus are here, fluidly, without great fanfare, called apostles. Paul would later argue boldly for his status and calling as an apostle.
Acts 14:4–7 ESV
But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.

Lystra

Now they have traveled to Lystra, 30 miles away. Their evangelism strategy has proven effective so far… so they repeat the same kind of strategy. This time the action focuses in one of the signs and wonders in particular.
Miracle at Lystra
Acts 14:8–9 ESV
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,
This is always amazing to me. There is no question in Paul of the Father’s will here, there is clear vision. He “sees” that the man has faith to be made well… so do it!
Acts 14:10 ESV
said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.
Miracle!
Acts 14:11–13 ESV
And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
As men always do, they attempted to squeeze the miracles of God into the boxes of their own understanding. They have a place where miracles fit… it is in the gods that they know: Zeus and Hermes.
This is appropriation. This is human. We will always attempt to fit new experiences or information into the framework of understanding we already have. What do I already know that can explain this miracle?
And the local priests are quick to try and make some money off this new encounter.
That is of course, unacceptable to Paul and Barnabus. How unacceptable? It is time to get crazy dramatic.
Acts 14:14–15 ESV
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
Paul tries to open their eyes, their minds, to see the God who is! He doesn’t fit in their existing categories. Appropriation isn’t going to work, they need revelation. They need a whole new understanding, a whole new set and way of thinking! A living God, a Creator God...
Acts 14:16–17 ESV
In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
Acts 14:18 ESV
Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
How amazing is that? I imagine like Grandma trying to force soup on you. No, no thank you, no I don’t want you to murder a bull in front of me. Please and thank you!
You cannot appropriate God as He actually is. You cannot fit Him into your models of worship, your pre-existing understanding of the world, or your expectations for how He should work.
What happens when you try?
Paul and Barnabus reject their misguided sacrifices. So does God. He isn’t Zeus. He isn’t Hermes. He seeks to make Himself known.
So the question is, what do people do when God doesn’t fit inside their boxes… and refuses to squeeze in?
Acts 14:19 ESV
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
Jews came from Antioch and Iconium.
Think about that for a second. People who walked 30 miles (from Iconium) or 150 miles from Pisidian Antioch! How angry do you have to be to travel that kind of distance!
I HATE this new thing you are saying about who God is… and I hate it SO much I will travel for days or weeks to try and make sure that no one else listens to you either.
“And they persuaded the crowds...”
These are the very same people who were worshipping Paul and Barnabus in the previous verses.
How quickly that turned!!!
Acts 14:19 ESV
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
The crowds, having been persuaded, they turn on Paul in a brutal way. In Iconium they had attempted to stone Paul. Here they really did. They stoned him… which means they threw rocks at him until they thought he was dead. So at the least they knocked him unconscious, maybe a mild coma… maybe even dead for real.
Acts 14:20 ESV
But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Paul Keeps Going

Seriously??? He has just been stoned!
More than that, he returns to the cities that had attacked them!
Acts 14:21–23 ESV
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
What a change. What a transformation.
Contrast with the man being stoned. Just a very few years ago, Paul was one of those Jews willing to travel 100s of miles to murder people claiming God was different from how he understood God to be. He was either complicit in or maybe even organizing the stoning of the first martyr for the name of Christ: Stephen.
Then he was faced with revelation, blinding light, the voice of Christ, miraculous healing and… when face to face with the revelation that God is who He actually is… and that it didn’t fit his expectations… Saul/Paul accepted and received God as who He revealed Himself to be.
How incredibly rare that is!
When some people in Iconium hear that God is different than what they imagined, they seek to stone Paul and Barnabus. When some people in Lystra hear that God is different than what they imagined, they seek to force God and his messengers into the box of what they understand. When that fails... they stone Paul.
Here in Lystra we see the more “normal” approach. God shows up? Squeeze him into the box I already have. Squeeze him into my worldview. Whether that is Zeus and Hermes, machinistic determinism, scientism, or “God” as I already understand it… squeeze God into that box.
And when God acts outside the bounds of my understanding? When He rejects my box, my labels, my pathetic small-minded view of Him?
The most human thing to do is to reject it, even with violence. How dare you! Get it away, kill it with stones, destroy the cognitive dissonance.
It is easier to reject revelation than to change. To change our worldview, to change our God-view, to change our hearts. That is hard.
What Paul did was hard. Scary. And it led him to hard and scary places. Now instead of being the stoner he is stoned.

Change is Scary

Change is hard. Change is scary.
The deeper held a belief or idea is… the scarier it is to change it.
And there are very few things deeper than our understanding of who God is. Because our sense of place and our sense of self, of identity, is all wrapped up in who God is. We are in His world, we are created by Him, dependent on Him, of course our entire lives will be changed if we receive revelation about who He is.
Look at how Saul’s life completely changed.
It is easier to reject revelation than to change.

In Evangelism

This is true in evangelism. We should not be surprised when our efforts are rejected by friends and neighbors, even when we bring it in the most loving and persuasive ways we know how.
What is amazing, miraculous, is that anyone ever receives revelation.
The people around you are like the people of Iconium and Lystra. Humans are humans are humans. We should not be surprised when they either appropriate our message or, failing that, they violently reject it.

In Us

That isn’t what scares me.
The Creator God will always escape the boxes we place Him in... and humans will always respond with attempted appropriation, violent rejection or humbled submission. 
What does my God-box look like? Or another way to say it: what are my idols?
Our idols may be sin and self, or even be disguised with the right names: Christ, Bible, and Church. What do I mean by that?
When I say, or when anyone says “I am a Christian or Christ-follower...” they have in their mind an image of Christ they are following. And it is wrong. It is at the least not-quite-right… and we have all seen and heard the name and image of Christ twisted in some radical ways.
God forbid all images, all idols, because those images and idols would always be wrong, they would always get it wrong, they would be SO much less than who He is.
Recognize this tendency: when someone challenges my truth I get defensive. The more deeply I hold it, the more resistant or defensive I am likely to be. This is true of my beliefs about who God and how He works.
Yet we must turn away from all idols to the God who Is, I AM, Yahweh. 
Let us be Paul’s and Barnabus. Not because they were amazing evangelists… though surely some of us have been given the gift of evangelism. Because they were fearless in following the God who Is. New city? Okay. Stay here under persecution? Yes, Lord. Get stoned? Get up and follow God into the next city… and oh, back into the same city!
Fearless to discover who God is. Fearless to go where He leads.
What if we were that fearless?

Change is Scary. Change is Coming.

We have change coming. As we will be voting in the near future on new leaders in our Advisory Board, that brings change. Change is coming. Through the PULSE team, change is coming. Above all, because the Holy Spirit is leading us to it: change is coming.
This is not to baptize my ideas as God’s ideas and say “Get in line” with what God is doing.
We should all acknowledge that our every human instinct is going to be defensive because we deeply care about this church! We care about its future. We care about what comes next.
We are not and never will be in charge. It is all about discovering where God is leading us, how He is leading us, who He is calling us to be!
Let us be fearless in following! Fearless in following His lead, His will, His way.
Let us be willing to be stoned, to be hurt, to get back up and follow Him back into the same places, the same cities, back into ministry all over again.
Let us be all about the God who is. Let everything we do worship and glorify Him.
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