Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered August 20, 2005 by Pastor Donald J. Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Strengthening the Flame

(RealAudio Version available)

Today we are going to preach about a basket case. How many of you are a basket case well, nobody raise your hand. Let's go to the Bible. Acts 9:20. There was a basket case in the Bible. Acts 9:20 This is speaking of Saul, or Paul, if you please. "At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. What a topic! Every preacher ought to preach Jesus, uplift the Savior! The persecutor of Jesus now becomes the propagator of Jesus. What a switch! What an about face! And you know, our sermons ought to be the same way; they ought to uplift Jesus. It is the mark of a new convert that he wants to talk about Jesus. I love the freshness of a new convert. The excitement of a new born Christian is contagious.

We don't read that Paul (Saul) immediately moved to the mountains and holed up. Do you know of anybody who lives in the remote woods? He wasn't like that. His response is the opposite of the hermit or the monk mentality. Paul spent time with God's people. He went at the risk of his life into the streets of the city, into the synagogues, to preach the message of Jesus to the people. It is hard to win souls when you spend most of your time sequestered in your remote cabin off in the woods.

So, Paul immediately started preaching. When you make a mid-life shift in your job description or vocation you don't want to waste time in starting, you just want to launch right into the project. Paul must convert the whole world! He's got a monumental task in front of him. 'So let's go,' he says. With all of the zealousness at his command he opened the scriptures in the synagogue and began preaching. And he powerfully preached that Jesus was Christ, the Son of God. He is the awaited messiah. Imagine the uproar his sermons caused.

Look at Acts 9:22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

What a man! Paul was powerful, erupting upon the Jews in town like a one-man Pentecost! As Elijah's mantle fell on Elisha, just so Stephen's mantle fell upon Paul. And he got a double dose of what Stephen had. I think of my own preaching. Everywhere Paul went his preaching caused riots. I wonder if my preaching makes any difference in the dens of vice in our town?

Acts 9:23: After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him... Now I would have thought this read that the Jews were converted, wouldn't you? But no, that's not the case. A death decree was passed upon Paul by Jewish extremists. Why is that when we disagree with someone we always want to exterminate those who think differently than we do? I don't understand why we have to think things like that. We slit each others throats because we cannot agree on what destiny awaits us after our throats are slit. The theological differences cause us to want to kill each other. That's not right, and yet that's what they did.

Paul was a brand new Christian. He had totally given up his past life. He has only taken a few short steps on the path to life and now Satan's henchmen are out to kill him. That's the devil for you. Think of what happened to Paul, and what happens to you. That is true of all who set out to do God's will. It was true of Jesus. As soon as He started out to do His Father's will they started to be after His life. You would think that when you become a Christian that the devil would leave you alone. 'Well, you switch side, I'll go work on somebody else.' No, that's not the case. The devil redoubles his efforts. Actually just the opposite is true; he intensifies his efforts. I think also that sometimes trials are God's character development curriculum. I think they get worse toward the end of life's semester. Great trials seem to be a required preparation for great duties. So if you have been plagued with troubles lately, maybe you ve had a head-on collision, maybe you've been sick, maybe you've lost a loved one, whatever it is. Maybe you are just about to graduate into God's greatness.

Paul had zillions of troubles. We all do. The only person whose troubles are all behind him is the school bus driver. Paul was at the top of the ten most wanted list of Palestine. He must quickly escape.

This soon-to-be apostle, Paul, owed his life to a basket. This summer my wife and I went to Berlin, and we saw what is left of the Berlin Wall, Check-point Charlie. And there is a museum showing all the different ways that people escaped out of Communism and into freedom. My, the different ways. They packed themselves into suitcases, they got hot-air balloons and drifted across. They dug tunnels. And, yes, they even had baskets. They hid in gas tanks of trucks and it's amazing the escape innovations.

Well, in 2 Corinthians 11:32 (New Living Translation) Paul says, When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. So here's what happened. He was in Damascus, the king established guards all the way around, watching every gate in the city so that he couldn't get out. There was not way to get out. But Paul was uncatchable! The devil can't catch you if God is for you. He (Satan) won't catch you long. I've heard it said that in the time of trouble at the last days that all the Christians have to flee. Is that true? And I have heard that in the last days that we will not be able to hide. Some people tell me that with all the heat seeking devices, dogs, modern technology, helicopters and DNA capabilities that there is no way to hide. Then I think of Eric Rudolph who hid for almost 2 years in the back yard of the FBI. And then I imagine what we could do if God is shielding us! I'm not worried about that, are you? God will indeed rescue His people from the death sentence. Psalm 91.

The Jews conspired to kill Paul. They had him trapped inside the walls of Damascus. He can't get out past the guards. Often we feel trapped in the quagmire of circumstances that totally block our way to success. At every turn we run into closed doors or there's a guard there. They are going to get us. We can't get loose. When the doors of life are all closed to you, go to the windows. God's windows are Plan B. Plan B is harder than Plan A, but Plan B will work! With a door all you have to do is walk through it. But a window is up on a high wall that presents a challenge. You don't just walk out the window! You look out the window and way down there is the pathway to escape. It's too high to just jump out the window. It wouldn't be a soft landing. Yes, plan B is harder than plan A, but God provides enough power for both plans to work. Do you believe that?

For the window to work you must find a basket, a big wicker hamper. Then you've got to find some rope. Then you've got to find some strong friends that you ca actually trust. Then you must wait for the darkness. Then find the courage to climb into the basket dangling out there outside the window high above the hard cobble stones far below. Then you've got to hope the guards are not looking as you are slowly lowered down. Your whole life seems to hang from the swaying ropes. Then you must jump out and run for the Arabian Desert. This was the first of many hairbreadth escapes Paul would have.

There in that basket, Paul's very life was in the hands of the Church at that moment. He was being saved by the very people he came to exterminate. That's who was saving him. Could your spiritual life possibly depend on God's church? His did. Could your involvement in God's church, and your trust in God's church actually save your life? And let's turn this question around. If you quit coming to church, could you be lost? Is the church important in your salvation?

The Roman guards failed to trap Paul because they were guarding the wrong place. Humanly we think everything looks impossible because we are looking at the wrong place. But God has other answers, and God always provides a way for His people to accomplish His will. A basket will eventually be found providing you with a way of escape. You might say, "But what if I have cancer." Or, "You don't know my financial problems!" No, but God does. And He knows the solution. God may know that plan A won't work, but He knows what plan B is, and you ask Him, He will show you.

How often, like the unsuccessful guards at the gates to Damascus do we Christians fail in our battle with the adversary all because we overlook some possible opening that lets temptation in to our life. We guard the wrong door. Astute Christians will place a guard at every conceivable entrance to block the enemy of souls.

Paul escaped, and I think right here is where Paul went down to the Arabian desert1. for three years. The desert was good for Paul. We need an escape. He didn't live in the desert forever, but he stayed there three years. Solitude prepares one for deeper ministry. Daniel and his friends had three years to prepare. The disciples were with Jesus three and-a-half years with Jesus, and Paul communed with Jesus for three wonderful years. Then it was time to say good-bye to his friends and then to meet Jesus. Then eventually it came time to say goodbye to the desert and begin his work. Gal 1:18 tells us something about this experience: Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.

Now back to Acts 9:26: When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. So, you get the picture here, here comes Saul, here comes Paul and he tries to join the disciples, but they say, "No way. You're a spy. We don't trust you." He was snubbed. They all knowingly gave him the cold shoulder like as if he had AIDS. They wouldn't talk with him. They didn't want him in the group. At every attempt that he made, they pushed him off. Those who should have been his brothers, were snubbing him. They thought that he was an intruder, that he was not real, that he was a fake. It looked hopeless. Not even one disciple accepted Paul. He was in a quandary. "What am I going to do?"

God provided a solution, which we find in Acts 9:27. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Praise God for Barnabas! He believed in Paul. One day one of my church members who was a physician said to me, "Pastor, never trust anybody. Everybody is out to get you. Don't trust anybody." Well, you know, I did not take his advice because I want to believe in people. I want to trust people. I have trusted you with my life, and you have trusted me with your life. I think it is a win-win situation. I have not been hurt from trusting people. Barnabas believed in Paul and took him right into the General Headquarters of the early church and acquainted him with Peter, James and John. Can you picture fisherman Peter extending a big, warm, calloused hand to this newcomer, saying "Brother, welcome. We're glad you're here. Barnabas says you are okay and you're okay. He's a friend of yours and you're a friend of ours." We all need someone who believes in us. Someone who will vouch for us. Someone who will step in and help us out. We really need somebody like that once in a while.

On a college campus the day of worship came. The two young men had roomed together but were of different religion persuasions. It was time to go to church and it was pouring down rain. The new student noticed his roommate standing in the doorway with an umbrella under each arm. The roommate offered to show him the way to his place of worship and then planned to go on to his own church. As they started down the street the new student thought, "If my roommate has this kind of faith and interest in my spiritual life, surely I should find out what his church is like."

He asked his friend to take him to his church and he attended it all four years. As a result he attended Drew Theological Seminary and years later became a Bishop in the church. The conclusion of this thing is: "There is such a thing as a direct call from God without intermediaries but it's rare. Usually there is a man with two umbrellas."2.

I think that in Acts 9:27, Barnabas was a two umbrella man. This Jew from the tribe of Levi believed in Paul. Barnabas was not afraid to be a helper. You can't help a man uphill without getting closer to the top yourself. I like climbing mountains. By helping others you are really helping yourself. God needs helpers. Let's not make excuses for not helping. "I really don't have time." Or "I can't do that." Many a man who is too tired to help around the house plays golf for exercise. We always have excuses for what we want to do. But we have no excuse for doing what God wants us to do. So, get involved in helping somebody else.

Barnabas could have given Saul a lecture on how to be more acceptable. Instead he believed in Saul and took a personal interest in him. Instead of writing a letter of recommendation, Barnabas went with Saul: "I'm going to introduce you myself." I think God needs modern Barnabas's today. Make friends with new Christians. If you see someone new coming into the church, invite them home for lunch. Accept them. Be a friend to somebody.

It is easier to point a finger than to offer a helping hand. Barnabas did the difficult thing.

Let's be like Barnabas! Greatness lies not in trying to be somebody but in trying to help somebody. Greatness is not measured by how many people serve you, but by how many people you serve. True wealth is the satisfaction of God-given talent used in serving others. When you dig another out of his troubles, you find a place to bury your own. Paul needed a good reference. Barnabas was the man of the hour. Barnabas did a great thing for God's church by doing a small thing for Saul. Kindness is the rent we pay in life for the space we occupy. Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot remain in the darkness themselves.

Barnabas took a risk for his friend. We are on earth to love, to live, and to lift, not to grab, growl, and get. Acts9:27 says Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles. I think that is a wonderful thing. The Christian life is like an automobile. In automobiles, it isn't the age, it's the mileage that counts. And with the Christian, it isn't how long you've been in the church, it's what you've done for Jesus while you've been here. So, let's help somebody else.

Let me give you a quiz; see how well you do with these questions. These are five little questions. You can answer them in your mind.

  1. Who inspired Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament?
  2. Who made the motion to build the McDonald Road Church back in 1978?
  3. Who refreshed the Apostle Paul in that Roman dungeon as he wrote his last letter to Timothy?
  4. Who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls?
  5. Who were Daniel's parents?
How many got 100%? Did you get half right?

You may be thinking: 'Well, Pastor, those are trivial questions. All those people were nobodies.' True. Let me just tell you. All those people were nobodies. But without them our church would be the same as it is today. It would be lacking a lot. Nobodies are important. Barnabas and Ananias were nobodies. But they were just as responsible for the explosive growth in the early church as was Paul, because they were determined to help.

A determined man with a rusty wrench can do far more than a loafer with all the tools in the machine shop. God uses determined nobodies. Barnabas was determined.

Look at Acts 9:29-31 He (Paul) talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

Praise God for a growing church. God's church has grown in times of peace, and has also grown from the seeds of the martyrs. Be a Paul. Be a modern Barnabas. Strengthen the Flame! Lord, grant that the warmth of Jesus in my heart will melt the lead in my feet and motivate and empower us that we might finish your work so we may go home. Amen


Endnotes:

1. Galatians 1:17.

2. Gordon Ferguson.

Hymn of Praise: #10, Come, Christians, Join to Sing
Scripture: Acts 9:20-22
Hymn of Response: #457, Hymn  I Love to Tell The Story of Jesus 



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