Good morning! Our reading for this Tuesday, March 19, 2019 is Acts 14:21-24.
21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. – NIV
We tend to think that being a follower of Jesus is an easy matter – we just believe and participate in a local church. Rarely do we consider the cost of discipleship Jesus spoke of.
Like anything worthwhile there is an investment on our part in order to grow in our faith. Yes, the investment means identification and participation with a body of believers of a local church.
While our faith is personal it is also communal. Call it what you will – the Body of Christ, the family of God, or simply the church, Jesus taught us to “love one another” even as he has loved us. There cannot be love without relationship.
Now relationships can and will often be messy. Some limit their relationships both in terms of number and depth for the purpose of avoiding the drama they bring, however, to enjoy the benefits those relationships can provide we must also accept responsibility towards our them. Relationships of any kind involve a certain measure of drama due to our differences in personality, opinion and responsiveness to one another.
The quality of our relationships is also determined by the expectations we place on them. We can expect too much from others and set ourselves up for disappointment and stress the relationship, or we can expect too little and settle for less than what they potentially offer. There is a judgment we must make with every relationship to discern what is reasonable we should expect from others for their benefit and our own. Always we will find times we need to forgive others and ourselves for our failures toward one another and reboot our relationships. Grace is needed and given.
The expectations involved in our relationship with Jesus also includes the practice of the spiritual disciples which is nothing more than communicating with, learning from, and serving one another. We can list these as prayer and Bible study, fellowship and worship, service and witness or any combination of practices common to developing our relationship.
Paul and Barnabas knew their roles and responsibilities toward the relationships they had in the church. They gathered the body together to strengthen and encourage their faith and prepare them for the hardships they should expect to encounter. They anticipated not being present to provide the spiritual protection they had grown used to. They would soon have to care for themselves.
Roles and relationships change with or without our planning. As children grow in a family so do the roles members take on in the household. Children eventually leave home, new members arrive and others die and everyone must adjust to the changes. We find in our passage there was change coming upon these churches and Paul and Barnabas was preparing for those changes. Accepting the inevitability of change will always involve joy from possibility and sorrow from loss of the familiar.
Paul and Barnabas were also preparing these churches for the struggle of living in an inhospitable culture. The church was a minority in the larger culture and the values of the prevailing culture were often contrary to those held by those who followed Jesus. It would take deep resolve and strong community in order to resist conformity to the ethos of the social environment in which they lived. At times the pressure of conformity is greater than others, and there are times when we as individuals and as a church can support and participate in the movement of the culture where we reside.
There are pressures within and from without we must face as we commit ourselves to following Christ. At times it may seem easier to just surrender by abandoning our commitment to the family of God and go with the flow. Rather than take the hard road of going against the grain we succumb to the temptations to go with the grain.
In order for the church to move forward they would need committed leaders to take their places. Paul and Barnabas knew they needed to consecrate spiritually committed leadership to hold the family together and take their role in forging forward. They prayed and fasted for their leaders in acknowledgment of the pressure involved in keeping the family together. Likewise during this time of Lent and due to the challenge of these times in particular we should all follow the example set for us in this passage and commit ourselves to being together and joining together in pray and fasting for our leaders.
I do ask for prayers for my ministry but also for all those in leadership of the church on all levels. This is a tough time to be the church in our culture and tough times require us to hang tough together with Christ.
Blessings! Brian Homan, pastor
Liverpool First UM Church