Summary: God still appears to us, and He still calls us in many ways. While it is hard to hear Him calling above the din of the world's chatter, He is calling, and He is visible for those who have eyes to see.
In the earliest church, there wasn't a single member who had a financial need for long because, whenever a need arose, the wealthier members sold a piece of their land and gave the proceeds to the church. This ministry of grace (Acts 4) appears to have been commonplace... but the only man mentioned by name was called "Barnabas," which means "son of encouragement." Barnabas was encouraging, for sure, but his encouragement took many forms. For instance, (Acts 9) when the disciples were afraid to meet with Paul, it was Barnabas who interceded for him. Later still, (Acts 11) we learn that Barnabas ministered to the believers in Antioch, encouraging them to stand fast in the Lord, and that he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem when the time came to establish what, if any, Jewish practices would be laid on the backs of Gentile Christians. Well, as history notes, Paul and Barnabas "carried the day," and when they returned to Antioch with the good news, the members of the early church broke into applause and praise! The Judaisers were put in their place. The Gentiles were free to come to Christ by grace.
Now, what would be next for these two apostles? What's next? Isn't that a question we all face? I've finished my education. I have my degree, now what? Should I go back to the world I know... or take a leap of faith into the unknown? Should I accept the first offer I receive... or hold out for the best? I'm in love... but should I get married now, or wait, and if so, for how long? I've been working on the same job for 20 years now, and it's not fulfilling. If I'm going to change careers, I need to make the change soon, but would changing be too costly? Too radical? I'm 67 today, and my best years are behind me. My ministry is over... or is it? Should I retire? Look for something part-time? Or keep on going until someone carries me out? What next? No matter how high we've climbed, and even if we've reached the top, the question still comes...what next? That's the question that came to Paul and Barnabas after their "victory" over the Judaisers. You can read about it in the 15 chapter of Acts, but in brief, Paul thought they should revisit every church where they had proclaimed the gospel to "see how they were doing." Barnabas had no problem with the path Paul recommended, but he wanted to take John Mark with them. Paul refused to take "Mark" along because he felt that Mark was a deserter, but Barnabas refused to go at all... without Mark. So, they parted ways- Paul and Barnabas- and each of them went his own direction with a new partner.
How do we know when God is calling us to go in a new direction, or for many of us, to simply begin our Christian walk? When I ask others if God has ever appeared to them, virtually all of them say "no," and when I ask them if God has spoken to them, or "called" them to a given ministry or vocation, the vast majority of them still say "no." They say "no" because they can't hear God's voice against the cacophony of voices that clamor for the attention. They say "no" because they are spiritually blind and deaf. Even though they have eyes and ears, they neither see nor hear. They say "no" because, while they are looking for cherubim, God appears to them in many other ways. Yes, friends, God comes to us in many ways. He appears in the stranger who just shows up. in the homeless man whom we pass by, in the events that take place in our lives (as He did with Paul and Barnabas), in the issues that weigh on our minds, in the causes that break our hearts, in the abilities that He has given to us, and in our dreams (as He did with many prophets of old). God calls us in the silence of our thoughts, through the shouts of the masses, through our prayers, and most clearly, through Scripture... but He calls each of us to service and ministry.
One last point- God calls us to meet a need. We are saved to serve, and we're equipped to meet the needs of God's people. During the night (Acts 16:9ff), Paul had a vision in which a man called out to him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Paul hadn't planned to go to Macedonia, but he couldn't deny what he saw and heard. There was a man in need who called out to him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." This is exactly what the apostle did, of course, but my last question for us this morning is this: what need or needs is God calling you to meet? You have gifts and talents. You have eyes and ears, and God is calling each one of you to meet a need, or perhaps, a number of needs. Friends, someone needs you! Perhaps, you've been equipped and called to meet the needs of the poor. Maybe you're being called to meet the needs of the lonely. Maybe you've been equipped to open doors for those who need justice. Perhaps, you can meet the needs of those who need to be heard. Maybe you're the one who will introduce our neighbors to Jesus. Perhaps, you are being called to help our own members grow in Christ! What path does YOUR ministry lie down? It's an important question, and I propose that your search for an answer will be facilitated if you keep these things in mind: