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Sovereign Good

Once again this morning we find ourselves in Acts chapter 16! We’ve been working through the book of Acts over the last several months – typically working through about one chapter per Sunday, but despite my best intentions, chapter 16 is just taking us a bit longer to get through! For the last two Sundays we’ve only managed to cover a grand total of 10 verses.

But I guess that’s not a bad thing! There have been some great lessons for us to learn in these first few verses of Paul’s second missionary journey.

Now just to give you a quick recap of what we’ve talked about so far, Paul & Silas began this second missionary journey primarily to check up on the churches that Paul had planted on his first missionary journey. He wanted to make sure that they were growing in their faith and becoming Godly, mature followers of Jesus Christ. He wanted to make sure that they were the kind of disciples who would go on to make more disciples!

And that’s just what he found. When he arrived back in Lystra – the town where, in his first missionary journey, he had been stoned and left for dead – he found a young disciple named Timothy who had indeed been greatly growing in his faith and in fact, was the kind of companion that Paul wanted to bring along on his journeys. And so Paul invited Timothy to come along, and from that point on, Timothy (who would eventually become a key leader in the early church) traveled with Paul and Silas, and together they strengthen and encouraged all the churches in that area.

Well, after all the churches were visited and that phase of their missionary journey was done, they determined to go to some new cities and preach the Word of God where they had never been before – places that had never heard the Gospel!

And so they headed first towards the province of Asia – however, we’re told in Acts 16:6, that God stopped them from preaching there. So they headed north to the province of Bithynia – but once again, God stopped them from going there!

And I suppose this must have been a bit confusing for Paul & Silas and Timothy – after all, why would God stop them from preaching the Gospel to these people who had never heard the Good News?

Well, of course, God had a purpose and plan (as He always does) and he made that clear to Paul in a vision. In this vision, Paul saw a man from Macedonia in Northern Greece calling out to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”

And so, they concluded that God was calling them to preach to the people of Macedonia!

Now just as a little bit of a side note: one thing that I didn’t mention last week is that right at verse 10 – we see that Luke, the author of the book of Acts, joins Paul, Silas, and Timothy and  travels with them to the city of Philippi. 

It’s not specifically stated in these verses, so it’s fairly easy to miss. But you might have noticed that the pronouns change after verse 8. In verse 8 Luke writes:

8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

Acts 16:8

…referring to Paul, Silas, and Timothy – “they” went on through…. But then in verse 10, he writes: 

So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. Acts 16:10

“They” has now become “we” & “us” –  and that will continue throughout this chapter, until “they” leave the city of Philippi at the beginning of chapter 17.

So it seems that Luke had joined this missionary team in Troas and will continue with them until they leave Philippi. Some people speculate that when Paul & Silas and Timothy left Philippi,  Luke stayed behind to be the pastor of the new planted church – at least for a while – until he again rejoins Paul near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey some years later.

However, at this point in the story, Philippi doesn’t even have a church yet, so before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at our passage this morning.

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The Right Direction

This morning we are going to continue working our way through the book of Acts. After taking a break for Christmas, last week we picked up where we had left off in November – which was in Acts chapter 16.

This chapter in Acts kicks off Paul’s second missionary journey – a journey that he took primarily because he wanted to revisit the churches that he had planted on his first missionary journey. He wanted to make sure that the believers in each of those cities were actually growing in their faith and becoming the kind of disciples of Jesus that go on to make more disciples of Jesus – which is really God’s call for all of us!

As Jesus stated in Mathew 28:18, one of our primary tasks in this life is to…

…Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  Matthew 18b-19a

This command is for every generation of believers since the time of Christ. We are to make disciples who will then go on to obey His commands and make more disciples. 

And this is precisely what Paul was doing throughout his missionary journeys. In fact, one of the disciples that he had made on his first missionary journey was a young man named Timothy. Timothy had accepted Christ as his Savior and had since grown and matured in his faith – so much so that Paul wanted to take Timothy along on this second missionary journey. And of course, as we talked about last week, Timothy agreed – and together, Paul and Silas and Timothy revisited all those churches that Paul had earlier planted, and encouraged them to continue growing in the Lord.

We concluded last week with this verse: 

“So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.” Acts 16:5

In other words, the believers in those cities were encouraged and spurred on to trust God more and more – and they continued to tell others about Christ – and more and more people came to know and follow Him.

So with that phase of the journey complete, Paul, Silas, and Timothy then went on to visit some brand new cities – cities that had never heard the Good News about Jesus. And that’s what we’re going to read about today.

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Intentional for the Sake of the Gospel

Before we took a break for Christmas, we had been working our way through the book of Acts – and today we want to pick it up where we left off. However, since it’s been almost two months since we were looking at Acts, I suspect that we all probably need a bit of a refresher to remind us where we were and what we were talking about!

I won’t recap the entire book thus far – that would take up pretty much the entire sermon – but I’ll give you just a quick refresher of what the book is all about and then just a few brief reminders of what’s happened in the story most recently.

The book is traditionally called “The Acts of the Apostles” but we’ve repeatedly seen that it may be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Of course, there are many different apostles and other key figures in throughout the book (such as Peter, James, Paul, & Barnabas), but the author Luke only includes them as secondary characters to the central storyline – and that storyline is the spread of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s church.

The book begins primarily following the growth of the church among the Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem, but as the book has progressed, we’ve seen the Gospel spread out to include the Gentiles – both near and far! In fact, in these last few chapters of Acts, we’ve seen Paul complete the first missionary journey with Barnabas – starting churches throughout south Asia Minor.

And of course, this was exactly what Jesus had commanded the disciples to do. As we read in Acts 1:8, Jesus said…

8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

This is exactly what we are seeing by this point in the story. The Good News of Jesus is being taken all over the world – and both Jews and Gentiles are becoming believers.

Mind you, the fact that the gentiles were becoming believers had become quite a point of contention among the Jews. For the longest time, the Jews had believed that salvation is for the Jews and for the Jews alone! And if a gentile wanted to come to God, then they had to become like a Jew first.

This became a major controversy in the church as more and more Gentiles became believers! The big question was: Did the gentiles have to become like the Jews and follow all the Jews laws like circumcision and Sabbaths and kosher foods? Or could they be saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone?

In the end, it was recognized that God had provided salvation for everyone the same way – and that is by faith in Jesus alone! Following the Jewish laws had no bearing whatsoever on Salvation! And so with that issue settled, the message of Jesus Christ continued to spread throughout the Gentile world.

Now when we last left off, Paul & Barnabas had just split up following their first missionary journey together. They had a significant disagreement over whether or not to take John Mark with them on a second journey – because John Mark had previously bailed on them halfway through their first mission’s trip!

Of course, as the Son of encouragement, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance, but Paul wasn’t willing to risk the  success of the mission to do that! And so the two men parted ways – Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and traveled to Syria and Cilicia.

And so this is where we pick up the story today in Acts chapter 16 – as Paul & Silas begin Paul’s second missionary journey.

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First Steps of Faith

The Christian life is often described as ‘walking with God’ and I think a three-legged race is a good illustration of what that can look like. Walking with God can be a thrilling journey when we keep in step with Him – following His lead. But when we get out of sync with God and try to do things our own way, very quickly can we find ourselves flat on our face. 

I think it’s a fairly common experience among Christians – especially new Christians – that in our attempts to daily walk with God, we struggle to stay in sync with Him and often we find ourselves tripped up and discouraged in the fact that we mess up so often.

But the fact is that no one just jumps in and walks perfectly in sync with God for the rest of their lives – it’s a learned process. It takes time to learn to walk with God.

Sometimes we read those incredible stories in the Bible of these heroes of the faith like Paul or Elisha or Daniel and they just seem like they’ve got it all together. But I guarantee you, there was a lot of practice and a lot of failures as they learned to walk with God.

I think Abraham is a great example of someone who had to learn to walk with God. I don’t know how much you know about Abraham, but aside from Jesus, he’s probably the most central figure of the Bible. He was the father of the nation of Israel – the father of Christianity really. It was through Him and his family-line that Jesus our Saviour born. And He wasn’t just a physical ancestor of Christianity – the Bible often points to him as our spiritual ancestor as well –  the first of those who were saved by faith.

But even heroes of the faith (like Abraham) had to learn to walk with God. Abraham had his ups and downs. He stumbled just like we do. But over time, and through a wide variety of experiences, Abraham learned to walk with God – to stay in step with Him. And as a result, Abraham had an incredible journey with God, and his life has left a lasting legacy even for us today several thousand years later. 

That kind of journey and that kind of legacy is possible for us too, as we learn to walk with God. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at Abraham’s life – watching as he learned to walk with God, because I think there is so much that we can learn from him and apply to our own journey with God. I’m calling this new series “Learning to Walk” and I trust that we will do exactly that as we study the life of Abraham – that we will learn to walk in step and in close communion with our God, just like Abraham did. So let’s jump right into it!

Now as I mentioned earlier, Abraham is one of the most significant characters in the entire Bible. In fact his story is the first biography in the Bible. Up to this point, the Bible has been telling us about certain events – events like creation and the flood and building the tower of Babel – but when the Bible introduces Abraham, its not to tell us about a particular event – it’s to introduce us to a particular person and his family.

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Your Spiritual Journey

Every person on the planet is constantly in motion. We are always moving. For example, scientists tell us that the earth’s continents are slowly drifting apart. They figure that North America moving at a rate of about 2 to 4 inches every year. And actually in 2011 when Japan had that large earthquake and tsunami – it moved Japan about 8 feet closer to our west coast. That’s amazing! That’s some serious motion.

And not only are our continents moving – the entire planet is in motion. You know how the sun comes up every morning and goes down every evening? That’s because the earth is spinning in an easterly direction at about 1000 miles per hour. Not only that, the earth screaming through space in an orbit around the sun at about 67,000 mph. That’s a lot of movement!

But the sun is moving too… Our entire solar system is rotating within our galaxy at a speed of about 500,000 mph. And if that still doesn’t blow your mind, our galaxy is not only rotating, but it is also moving away from other galaxies at a rate of about 1.2 million mph.

That means, even if you were to try and stand perfectly still within your own home, you would actual move approximately the distance between here and Cuba!

The fact is, from the day you are born to the day you die, you are always moving. You’re never standing still.

And that leads me into what I want to talk about today. Just like we are always physically moving, we are also always spiritually moving. From the day we are born to the day we die, we are on a spiritual journey. Everyone of us. It doesn’t matter if we are a Christian, or an atheist, or a muslim, or a hindu, or a whatever else. We’re all on a spiritual journey. The difference, of course, is where our journey leads us. (And we’re going to get into that a little bit later on.)

But all of us are on a spiritual journey. We’re either moving towards God or away from Him. There’s no standing still in this journey.

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The Role of Community in Your Spiritual Journey


This morning I want to begin with a very interesting discussion question. And I trust that you’ll be eager to participate with me. The question I have for you today is this: What is the role of donuts in your spiritual journey? You might not have thought about this before, but that’s what I want you to discuss for a few minutes this morning. What is the role of donuts in your spiritual journey?

Now, to help you in your discussion, you’ll notice that there is a pile of donuts over here on this table. I invite you to come and have a donut – or if you’re a little more healthy minded, there are some clusters of grapes as well. But here is the rule: You must share your donut (or your grapes) with someone else. You can’t eat a whole donut by yourself – you must find someone to share it with. And don’t just cut it in half and leave half on the table – you MUST share that donut with someone else. So please, come and help yourself, and then take a couples minutes to discuss: What is the role of donuts (or grapes) in your spiritual journey?

As strange as that question might seem, there is a Biblical point to be made – and we’re going to get into that in just a few minutes. But first, let me remind you what we’ve been talking about.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been going though this little booklet entitled “Your Spiritual Journey”. We’ve been asking the question: Where are you in your spiritual journey?

  • Some of us are just beginning. We’re still trying to figure out all this “God” stuff. It’s all pretty new to us.
  • Others have been at this for a little while, and we’re at the point where we’ve started to personally get to know the God of Heaven. It’s pretty cool.
  • Still others have been followers of Jesus Christ for years now. And little by little, we’re starting to become more like Christ – but of course, there’s still a long way to go.

But where ever you are in your journey – our goal has been to help you take the next steps forward. We don’t want to see you stalled out in your spiritual journey – we want to see you moving forward.

And that’s what brings us to our message today. And our topic isn’t really about donuts, but about fellowship. About Community. About experiencing life together. Coffee & donuts seem to be the Canadian symbol of community, so I thought that would be an appropriate way to start.

So I guess the real question today is: What is the role of community in your spiritual journey?

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