Summary: The greatest witness to God's power come from those on the margins.
We began a conversation three weeks ago about what gives us meaning in this life and I suggested that the question is actually a mute point for those who call themselves Christian because if we believe that Christ came, died and rose again then we must also live out this reality. To live out this belief we are called to become a witness for Christ. An impossible role without the acceptance of the Holy Spirit, the power of God offered by the Holy Spirit for the single intent of glorifying the Lord through a commitment to live as a person who publicly declares a belief in and adherence to Jesus Christ.
Before we dive in to our scriptures this morning, I’d like to tell you a story of a person who persevered.
Wilma didn't get much of a head start in life. A bout with polio left her left leg crooked and her foot twisted inward so she had to wear leg braces. After seven years of painful therapy, she could walk without her braces. At age 12 Wilma tried out for a girl’s basketball team, but didn't make it. Determined, she practiced with a girlfriend and two boys every day. The next year she made the team. When a college track coach saw her during a game, he talked her into letting him train her as a runner. By age 14 she had outrun the fastest sprinters in the U.S. In 1956 Wilma made the U.S. Olympic team, but showed poorly. That bitter disappointment motivated her to work harder for the 1960 Olympics in Rome--and there Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals, the most a woman had ever won. Today in the Word, Moody Bible Institute, Jan, 1992, p.10.
That story of perseverance reminds me that some of the most successful people weren’t successful just because they were smarter than the rest of us. But they were more committed. Steve Jobs said "I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones, is pure perseverance", Muhammad Ali "It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you down, it’s the pebble in your shoe", Martin Luther King Jr. said "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run, then walk, if you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving forward." and Charles Spurgeon said, "By perseverance the snail reached the ark." <read slides>
I like Spurgeon’s comment the most because it reminds us that perseverance by its very nature is slow and often arduous, but it is no less productive. In fact, it could be argued that the more perseverance it takes, the more solid the result will be. This idea is helpful as we talk about our spiritual growth (or sanctification). A transformational change only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit that moves through reason, experience and tradition all informed through the scriptures.
Today, I’d like to continue the conversation about what it means to be witness empowered by the Holy Spirit for the Glory of God by jumping ahead from Chapter 8 (where we left off last week) to chapter 13 in Acts. The world, described in the book of Acts explains, has significantly changed. Saul, who last week holding the coats of those stoning Stephen, has become a follower of the “The Way.” His transformation is clearly alarming to the Christian leadership as well as Jewish hierarchy. In many ways, he is being tested and reviewed by former associates as well as new friends. However, he seems oblivious to the criticism, as well as his role as the first incarnation of the energizer bunny. He just keeps moving.
He begins his new life in Damascus, moves on Jerusalem over to Antioch and then on to Cyprus, Phrygia, Galatia, only to return to home base. It’s more than a three hour tour with his little buddy Barnabas. They work as a team but the duo definitely stirred it up. Let’s listen in to the report of their activity as part of this first missionary Journey of Paul’s. If you have a bible or a bible app, let’s turn to Acts 13:42
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
Barnabas was Paul’s traveling companion. He was the first of the originals who felt Paul was the real deal. He took him under his wing and the two learned from one another. They worked together, traveled and held each other accountable. They were a good team for the Lord. Therein lies a secret for the ability to preserve. If you heart is committed,, the Holy Spirit has been invited and present, it’s helpful to have someone to hold us accountable and others to spur us on.