This is the 2nd & final week of a series called ‘The Gospel and the City
What it means to take the gospel out of your private life, out of the church, and into the city. And boy, that’s a huge subject that we could spend a lot of time on.
I grew up in the 80’s. If we a great decade. It was a decade of blockbuster video, and disposable cameras with film in them! And you pop that top off, bam, you just lost all your photos. I did that multiple times. I couldn’t handle that level of temptation.
Well growing up in the 80’s when I had free time, I would hit the streets on my huffy bike. And me and my friends would drive around the neighborhood and just find whatever mischief there was to find.
We would go to the park and hang out there, we would ride our bikes to the elementary school and play basketball.
Now that I’m a parent, that kind of freedom is absolutely terrifying. My dad would just let us ride in the back of his truck. Like, how crazy was the 80’s!
Well one of my best friends in the neighborhood was a boy named Ben Pugmire. Ben had 6 brothers and sisters and they were ‘mormons’ - As a young kid I didn’t really know what that meant, I just knew it meant he couldn’t ride bikes or play on Sundays. But other than that, we were just friends, we were just kids.
Well I hit the 6th grade and started attending youth group, I was told that what I needed to do with a friend like Ben was to convert him to Christianity. I was introduced to this thing called ‘Evangelism’ where we take non-Christians and make them say the sinners prayer and renounce their old religion and become Christians.
Well to 6th grade me, that sounded about as fun as eating glass.
And I bet for a lot of us, when we think about ‘Evangelism’ we feel the same way. And that’s this: Terrified!
As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that evangelism is a lot more than just convincing people to repeat a prayer.
Because of course evangelism is about sharing the gospel with your friends
But it’s also about letting the gospel affect your work
It also means letting the gospel empower us and thrust us out into the world to care about justice and to care for the poor.
And so this is some of the stuff that I’ve been working through as a church leader, but probably most of all as a Christian.
I want to start off with a statement: I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is what the world needs to heal. I want to say that I really believe that.
I think without the gospel of Jesus, things like justice, and peace, and service are short lived.
Last week: We talked about this time in Israels history where they found themselves displaced, and disoriented and confused about the world (I’m sure lots of people can identify with that feeling) and the prophet Jeremiah comes and tells them to ‘Seek the Welfare of the city that God had sent them.’ And I believe that’s his message to the church especially in times like this when it feels like the world is just so wild. ‘Seek the welfare of the city that I have sent you.'
And how we like to distract ourselves with huge ideas of eschatology, and political maneuvering, and end time prophesies, that we really have nothing to do with. Outside of praying and voting every couple years. How those things can ultimately serve as a gigantic distraction from what our responsibility actually in which is to care for the welfare of the city that God has placed us in.
What I want to do today is to look at an incredible case study.
In the books of Acts, we find Paul being sent by God on missionary journey to Macedonia to plant a church. Macedonia is part of Greece. And its biggest city was Philippi, and that’s where Paul went.
We also live in a very big city, Albuquerque, so it’s helpful to us to see what happened when Paul took the gospel out into a big city.
Luke, who is the author of the book of Acts, tells us 3 stories of people in the big city who’s lives were changed by the gospel.
He looks at Lydia, the slave girl, and a jailor. We’re going to look at what happened to them. And then we’ll go through some lessons we learn about how to take the gospel out into the city. 3 Case Studies.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 16:13)
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thya-tira (Thigh-a-tie-ra) named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:14)
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15)
So here you have a women who was wealthy, pulled together, successful, who believed the Old Testament scriptures, but she was still looking for something more.
So Paul begins to speaks to the women who had gathered there.
What did he say? It doesn’t tell us.
But we do know from the rest of the book of acts what Paul would say to people who already believed in the scripture. He would talk about Jesus, of course.
I imagine it might be something like this:
In other words, without Jesus, the Bible is a crushing weight. Always pointing to you being not strong enough, not brave enough, not dedicated enough, not forgiving enough. - And because of that, God will never bless you.
Which exactly opposite of the truth.
You simply have to put your faith in Jesus, and he will empower you to live like David, like Esther, like Joseph.
And so Lydia says “I want him.”
Actually, the word the Bible uses means to be ‘attracted to’. She found it beautiful. She says ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I want to live like that.’
Lydia encounters Jesus through reason, discourse, and wrestling with the truth.
Now this one is a little more dramatic.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. (Acts 16:16)
She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17)
She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18)
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar (Acts 16:20)
by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” (Acts 16:21)
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. (Acts 16:22)
Ok so this women had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future.
So in the original language, this literally means a women with the spirit of ‘python'. English translators won’t translate it like that because it’s confusing and it would scare my wife. Jordan hates snakes so bad that she doesn’t even want to read the word.
So what does that mean? Well it’s referencing a Greek Legend about the Oracle of Delphi.
Who according to the legend lived in temple guarded by a python.
And the legend is that she would put people into a trance. (Is this reminding anyone of the jungle book yet? It should.) - And so these people who were put under this spell would speak in strange voices, some high and some low and they would prophesy the future.
And so they’re saying that this is who this women was. That she had the spirit of the Oracle of Delphi.
Here’s the reason that’s important: B/C people believed she had this power, they would come and pay lots of money to her masters, b/c she was a slave girl, so they wouldn’t pay HER, they’d pay her masters, to have her go into a trance and prophesy about the future.
So you can see this is a very different type of person that Lydia, the put together, rich women. No, this is a broken person, a slave.
This was literally a demon possessed slave. She was oppressed. Spiritually, but also economically and socially. She was being exploited. She doesn’t need to be reasoned with like Lydia. No, she needs a powerful encounter with Jesus. And that’s what happens.
Paul turns and says “In the name of Christ, I command you to come out of her,” and she was liberated.
So you might be thinking, what does that have do to with Albuquerque NM in 2017?
Well rather than talk about demonic possession and exorcism, I want to say that from a biblical point of view, everyone who doesn’t know Jesus is a slave.
David Foster Wallace (writer & professor - in his commencement speech at Kenyon College) :
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There’s no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship, and an outstanding reason for choosing a real God to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never feel you have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power and you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep that fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
In other words:
And when you make Jesus the Lord (you know what that means, right) Jesus is King. - When you make him truly Lord, truly King, then you are liberated from oppression. You’re liberated from slavery. W/O Christ - no real freedom.
Ok, so the slave girl, yeah that’s an extreme case but in the same way without Christ, there is no real freedom.
The slave girl encounters Jesus through a radical, powerful liberation.
After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (Acts 16:23)
When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:24)
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (Acts 16:26)
The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. (Acts 16:27)
But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28)
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. (Acts 16:29)
He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (Acts 16:32)
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. (Acts 16:33)
Paul and Silas are beaten within an inch of their lives and they’re put in prison,
And Paul, has been unjustly put in prison. He’s a roman Citizen and deserves to have a trial, but he doesn’t get one, so he’s there unjustly. And there’s this jail guard.
Who is he? Well the jailor probably would have been ex-military, an ex-Roman soldier, because in those days the way you got retirement as a Roman soldier is they would give you a government job, like this one.
No, this is a blue collar guy, he’s a practical man.
So how does the gospel reach him? Ok, so Paul and Silas at here in prison at night, they’ve been beaten.
They’re there at night singing songs. Can you imagine that? The jailor would have heard this. B/C Paul is already liberated. He’s already free.
If you live for your career, or money, or success, or wealth, or your intellect, or your reputation, and you get thrown into a deep dark dungeon, everything that you’ve living for has been taken away. But if your life is in Jesus, then even when you’re in the darkest time of your life, there’s still something to sing about.
So there’s this jailor and he’s listening to these guys singing, and there’s an earthquake and the doors to the cells are opened.
So I need to tell you that there is one downside to this great, cushy, government job. And that’s this: If any of your inmates get out, the government kills you.
So the gates open, the jailor is sure the guys have left, and he takes out his sword and he’s about to kill himself.
But Paul speaks up and says ‘Don’t hurt yourself, we’re all here."
So why would Paul have done that? Why would Paul keep everyone in, especially when HE had the legal right to leave?
To save the jailor life. And the jailor realizes this. He’s never seen anything like this before. He’s a military man, so he understands the brutality and the self-saving nature of humanity. All he’s ever seen is repaying evil for evil. - Force for force, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. But here you have these followers of Jesus that are remaining calm, and even having joy in the midst of incredible darkness.
And they say “Oh, you’ve never seen anyone overcome evil with good? Let me tell about the one who is the ultimate example of overcoming evil with good, Jesus Christ."
He was beaten, he was killed. He could have left. He could have called 10,000 angels. He could have escaped, but he didn’t. He went into darkness and death to save us all. And the jailor says “I’ll take what these guys are having."
The jailor encounters Jesus through a practical demonstration of self-sacrificial love.
They all had different paths that led them to the same destination: Faith in Jesus Christ.
Ok, so what are the takeaways here - 3 things:
Not long ago I was talking to a man who had an incredibly hard time coming to the Christian faith, because he was hispanic, and he was essentially taught growing up that Christianity was a white, western religion. And he felt like every culture had their own religion. Well these stories completely debunk that.
They’re as different as could be!!!
What is Luke saying? Well he’s saying the same thing that history says which is the idea that Christianity is for one race and one social class is a complete crock. It’s a total lie.
Even historically. At one point most Christians were jews. At another point, most Christians were greeks and romans. At another point most Christians were Europeans. NOW, in 2017, most Christians are Asian, African and Latin American. Why? B/C the gospel is for everybody.
So there’s no race or culture or group that you can look at and say ‘Christianity isn’t for them’. Don’t you dare say that. If you say that, you’re going to be proven absolutely wrong.
In fact, let’s personalize that a little more and say ‘You can’t look to anyone in your life and say ‘That person would never become a Christian.’
Do you know what you’re saying? You’re saying ‘They’re not Christian material.’ - What, and you are?! It’s a miracle that you’re a Christian. A literal miracle. Each and every one of us.
And for that matter, the gospel is the unifying power that the WORLD needs.
Let’s take these 3 people and imagine they’re living in Albuquerque, NM in 2017.
And these 3 people would never be friends, they would despise each other.
“Racially, socially, and psychologically they were worlds apart. And yet, all three were changed by the same gospel and they were welcomed into the same church.”
In fact in verse 40 they’re all together along with other believers and they’re worshipping in Lydias house. In Tanoan.
And that’s a beautiful thing about the gospel. People who would never be friends, become much more than just friends, they become family.
We read that the slave masters got really upset when their slave was delivered from the spirit. Why was that? B/C she was no longer useful to them. She was no longer economically beneficial for them.
So they were angry. And how did they start this riot against Paul and Silas? They stirred up racial animosity.
These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
“THESE jews! US Romans.”
Cities like to pride themselves in their diversity. But walk the streets and you’ll see that the different groups don’t get along. - There’s conflict, fighting, war.
The Gospel unifies people across barriers - barriers of race, class, gender. Even religion as weird as that sounds, because it shows people how to treat people they don’t agree with.
Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs, tolerance is about how your beliefs leads you to treat people who disagree with you.
Why? B/C the gospel changes they way they see people.
Lydia and the slave girl are now sisters in Christ. Otherwise they would never have even given each other the time of day.
So Lydia, who now has a drug addicted prostitute who is her beloved sister in Christ.
Let me ask you a question: Do you think that changed the way she saw other slave girls? Whether or not they believed in Jesus.
OF COURSE IT DID!!
The gospel causes you to not just see the ‘issues’ but to see the people behind the 'issues’. That’s why Christians who talk about the ‘issues’ and they never talk about the ‘people’, they don’t understand the gospel yet.
Here’s a crazy thing: At this time in history, the average jewish male would get up in the morning and say his prayers. One of them a very famous prayer. I’m not making this up. Google it.
They would pray: “Oh Lord, I thank thee that you did not make me a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.”
Uh oh. So THAT’S why Luke chose these 3 stories.
Luke is saying that that kind of sexism, that kind of classism, and that kind of racism is destroyed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We as Christians know that we’re Christian first, and male second. We’re Christian first, and rich second. We’re Christian first, and American second. You’re Christian first and then you’re black or white or asian or whatever, second.
And so it’s NOT close minded to believe that Jesus is THE unifying power the world needs. The world just wants this generic “Justice justice love love peace peace." We Christians believe that ultimately that’s only found in Christ Jesus.
I know that for a lot of people when we start talking about reaching our city they instantly think “I can’t do that. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have my life all together. I’m just trusting that you pastoral types can take care of that.”
We just need you to know that you’re NEVER going to have it all together. And if you’re waiting to share your faith until you have all the answers, you’re never gonna do it. And if God was only going to use perfect people, there wouldn’t be any people for him to use. It’s not about having all the answers, it’s about having the courage to go out there, filled with the spirit, and believe that God can come and do something amazing.
I want you to notice one more thing from the conversation Paul has with the slave girl.
She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed… (Acts 16:17)
So this woman is following these guys around and going into these trances and having these demonic episodes. And for days, Paul never does a thing. But he finally does. Why? We just read it, he gets annoyed.
Doesn’t say anything about compassion, doesn’t ’t say anything about grace, doesn’t say anything about love. He doesn’t go help her right away. Finally he just gets annoyed.
This is one of the reasons I love the bible. - If it were trying to ‘make’ a religion, you would leave stuff like this out. You would just paint Paul with the halo thing around his head, but the Bible is brutally honest.
Paul is a flawed man. He gospel didn’t spread into the city because Paul was so brilliant and holy and perfect and eloquent. He was flawed just like you and me.
But God is to bringing the gospel to the city. And God used Paul, just like he can use us, if we have the courage to go into our city, to care about what happens to it, to be filled with the spirit, and to bring the gospel to hurting people.
So as I close, here’s my challenge for you this week: See a need in our city, and fill it. That’s it.
Whatever the need is, open your heart to the possibility of being used by God to make a meaningful impact on this city.