Monday, September 23rd 2013

It’s been almost a week since I got back ‘home’ from the USA.

There are many reasons I make some sort of emphasis of the word ‘home’. Without my Annie, there are times that this place where I live feels more like a house than it does a home. Just another storage box for me and my stuff; a place which I come in and out of; a place where I eat and sleep; a place I clean and make tidy and then unclean and untidy again each week. But one thing my trip to the USA affirmed is that the church is the closest thing to ‘home’ for me this side of heaven. I love the church. I love being with the Lord’s people wherever they are. Until the Lord calls me home, the Lord’s people are ‘home’ to me.

I had hoped and planned that on my return, my first post would be to write more about this and what the Lord had been doing with me while I was there. I still hope to share some of that, but today I sensed the Lord had other plans.

I try to make Monday my day off. It’s a day to catch up with administration and housekeeping. I had a plan for today which would involve cleaning up the garage and getting firewood ready for the stove. But two other things happened. Interruptions but not intrusions. Firstly, one of my neighbours needed some of my time and secondly my devotions in God’s Word needed a lot more of my time than I usually give.

A few weeks ago, I commenced reading through the book of Acts, backwards. What I mean by that is starting at the beginning of chapter 28, reading forward through it – or a chunk of it – and then working back a chapter – or a chunk of a chapter – day by day until I finish up at Acts 1. The reason I did this was because I often work forward through a book in the bible chapter by chapter, day by day, but then weeks later, I am distracted by another bible study and I never get round to actually completing my original mission. Months later, I’ll remember this mission but because a serial study of a book in the bible benefits from consistency, I’ll commence at chapter one of that book all over again. The end result is that I know the first quarter of a lot of books in the bible better than I do the latter three! This is especially true about the book of Acts.

So, at least by the next time I am distracted, I’ll know something about the last quarter of the book of Acts – and subsequently, half of the book – better than I did before I started!

Yesterday afternoon, I took MIlo for a walk and read through the twentieth chapter of Acts. Each day I like to journal my thoughts. I didn’t get round to the journal yesterday and so rather than dive into chapter 19 this morning, I spent more time meditating on something that really stood out to me as I read through Acts 20.

As I was journalling, I really felt that what I was thinking about somehow fit the theme, the narrative of this blog. So I am going to include it in this entry for the blog today. I haven’t written it as an article or really, even as a blog post. This is just my private, forming thoughts about some of this passage and it affirms a lot of what the Lord has been saying to me in recent weeks. For what it is worth, I’d just like to dedicate this entry to my Mom Ruth – Annie’s Mom – who, like the Apostle Paul, knows and is experiencing great adversity and continues to reveal just how great her Lord Jesus is. I’d also like to dedicate it to Pastor Randy and the saints at Abundant Life Bible Church and the saints in Annie’s family who made me feel nearer home while I was away in the USA.

Sunday and Monday, September 22nd,23rd 2013

As I walked Milo on Sunday afternoon and read through this chapter a couple of things stood out – even more so than the miracle which Paul does by raising Eutychus to life. One thing in particular:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. – Acts 20:24

Paul shared with the elders at Ephesus that he was compelled by the Spirit (verse 22) to go to Jerusalem. And yet Paul only had partial clarity revealed to him by the Spirit. He says that he knew he was to go to Jerusalem, but he didn’t know what would happen to him there. In fact, all he knew (or in the NIV, was warned of) by the Holy Spirit was that in every city he spread the gospel, he would face adversity (verse 23). It’s as if Paul was saying:

“I don’t know what will happen to me for obeying the Holy Spirit but quite frankly, I don’t care about what might happen to me! I am not worried about what might happen to me. I only care about following the leading of the Lord and obeying Him.”

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit’s warning to Paul wasn’t the kind of warning that meant ‘Do not go!’ or ‘Keep Out!’. The Holy Spirit had already demonstrated that He had the power to physically keep Paul from going somewhere He didn’t want Paul to go to (Acts 16:6). In fact, while the NIV uses the word ‘warns’ the ESV and the KJV translate it ‘testifies’ and ‘witnesseth’. Once again, it’s that Greek verb which is partly rooted in the word ‘Martyr’. The Holy Spirit was not leading Paul away from adversity or even just into adversity, but through adversity…for the witness of the gospel. Adversity wouldn’t hinder the gospel witness but enrich and authenticate it, even. Adversity was part of the plan – it had purpose.

God uses adversity!

Later on (Acts 21:4 and Acts 21:12) the disciples – which included Luke, because it says ‘we pleaded’ – urged Paul – even ‘through the Spirit’ – not to go to Jerusalem. So what’s going on? Who is right? The Spirit doesn’t act to divide but unite, doesn’t He?

When you look at Paul’s response in Acts 21:13 it seems that the disciples’ reason for not wanting Paul to go, was rooted in not wanting him to come to any harm. Just like the elders in Ephesus, perhaps they feared losing him and never seeing him again (Acts 20:38). Those elders from Ephesus and those disciples from Caesarea were both grieved over Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem. The difference however, between those disciples and those elders, was that the disciples tried to stop Paul from going whereas the elders didn’t appear to make any noticeable attempt to stop Paul. The elders in Ephesus seemed – perhaps – to understand and accept that a road marked with suffering and adversity was no indication that Paul shouldn’t walk that path. What mattered was that the Spirit lead, for the witness of the gospel and for the increase of the Kingdom.

This reminded me of what the Lord was saying through my brother Dave yesterday as he preached about the narrow gate and road in Matthew 7. Dave reminded us that the narrow path funnels out to ‘life’ – whereas the broad path funnels into ‘destruction’. That ‘life’ doesn’t always look like an easy path. What makes the path so blessed and full and wide is that Jesus leads it and walks it with us. Even a tightrope can look as wide as a highway if Jesus is on that path with you. He won’t let you go. He’s the God who can sleep on a storm-tossed boat (Matthew 8:23-27). He’s the God who can walk fearlessly among His adversaries (Luke 4:28-30). He is the lamp for my feet and the light on my path (Psalm 119:105). Where He is, there is the wide space, the peace, the joy; where He is, there is the life abundant.

All this brings me back to that one verse in Acts 20 that stood out to me most as I read that chapter yesterday afternoon.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. – Acts 20:24

It wasn’t that Paul was reckless, depressed or suicidal about life on this earth. It wasn’t that he had low self-esteem. He knew he was a child of God! It wasn’t that he lacked respect or thankfulness for the blessings of life and breath. He knew that his body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t just that Paul didn’t buy into any kind of prosperity gospel; or even that he was into some kind of adversity gospel! It was that he was so committed and focussed on the Lord’s work and the Lord’s leading that neither prosperity nor adversity inhibited nor motivated him. The great thing about doing the Lord’s work according to the Lord’s will was that the Lord promised to be there!

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. – 2 Timothy 1:12

Paul didn’t know what would happen to him next but he knew he could trust the Lord’s leading and he knew that faithful proclamation of the gospel truth had the power to change lives! Jesus had conquered sin and death. And Paul knew – time and time again – the Lord Jesus would be with him.

The Apostle Paul knew a lot about ‘what’ he believed and ‘why’ he believed. But there were some ‘whats’ and maybe even ‘whys’ that he didn’t know. For instance he didn’t know what would happen to him in Jerusalem. But his soul was anchored on ‘whom’ he believed and trusted and followed.

There a really lovely verse in Acts 23:11. Sure enough, Paul goes to Jerusalem and he walks into great adversity. He proclaims the good news of the gospel, he shares his testimony but he is violently opposed and arrested. This is the narrow path. It’s the path that will take him to Rome where he will testify the good news of Jesus in the place where all the ancient world’s roads lead to and from and where Paul’s road would end. But that narrow path was wide. Paul walked it alone but he was not lonely:

The following night the Lord stood near Paul… – Acts 23:11

Right now, there’s no verse in the bible as comforting to me as that verse. In the midst of adversity – not prosperity – the Lord Jesus came and put His arm on Paul’s shoulder. It might have seemed that the whole world was against Paul – and perhaps, at times, even the some of the church – but Jesus came and stood near him. Jesus wouldn’t even have had to have spoken…but He did!

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said: “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” – Acts 23:11

When Jesus spoke, He didn’t tell Paul it was going to be easy. But Jesus came close and spoke and that was all that mattered. As a Pastor in Brooklyn recently said to me, when Jesus is near to you and He speaks to you, He can say anything He likes and it will be enough; it will be more than enough. He could say one syllable to me and that would be enough on which to meditate and from which to motivate me through any adversity.

How often in life and ministry I try to justify disobedience with my pursuit of comfort. How often periods of worldly prosperity and peace can be so loud and so dark that I can neither see nor hear the Lord. Being faithful and obedient to the Great Commission in my neighbourhood is not going to be without adversity of some kind. But Jesus has promised that He will be with me. That’s where I want to be!

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19, 20

Lord, I want what Paul had. I don’t want my life to be directed or inhibited by the pursuit of prosperity or the fear of adversity. I want to go out further and deeper and wider into my neighbourhood with the Good News that you have taken the punishment for sin on the cross, so that we might have forgiveness and abundant, eternal life because of You and with You. I don’t want to care so much about my life, my home, my finances, my image that it influences and shapes my choices, my obedience. I don’t want to preserve my life so much that I keep others from witnessing You. I want to live and show, in the way Paul did, that my life is worth nothing to me if it is not solely, entirely, about You and for You. You’ve taken my Annie but You have risen from the dead and not left me lacking! Please come nearer to me Lord, that I might hear You more clearly and follow You more sincerely and dearly. I love You and I trust You.

In His Arms,

r

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2 thoughts on “Monday, September 23rd 2013

  1. Pingback: Wednesday, September 25th 2013 | Broken Chariots

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