Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Unwrap at Your Own Pace

We all remember those times as a kid when we wanted to open or at least know what our gift was before we could open it. You know, those times when you’d try to sneak a peek inside the wrapping paper of the gifts under the Christmas tree or the birthday gifts your parents hid in the top of the closet. I’m more patient in waiting for my gifts these days. But I absolutely cannot stand to wait when I have a gift that I want to give to someone else. My wife has to make me keep her gifts until Christmas or until any other special day arrives on which I plan to give her a gift. That’s because the very moment I get her gift I can’t wait to give it to her so she can go ahead and use it, enjoy it.

Sometimes it’s the same way with preaching and teaching. This past Sunday was one great example. A smarter man than me would have had the forethought to teach for 3 weeks on Acts 16 because there are so many gifts wrapped up in the story of that passage, all of which are incredibly encouraging and helpful for life. But as a teacher, sometimes I get over-eager and want to give all the gifts at once, right now. I get so excited about helping people unwrap the gifts God has given them, use them and enjoy them that it’s hard to pick just one then wait to give the others next week. Since I dumped all of Acts 16 with all of its wonderful gifts on folks in one sitting last week…more than most people can unwrap and carry with them at one time, I thought it would be good to give them again in a form that you can unwrap at your own pace. Use them all. Enjoy them all. And take some time to find the ones still tucked away in the passage. I'm sure there are more, but here are some that we touched on:

1. God tends to steer moving vessels

  • Paul was actively searching out God’s will, not passively sitting still until he understood perfectly the next 10 steps he was supposed to take. In Proverbs 3:5-6, we are told “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.” God will bend your road where it needs to go if you are genuinely seeking Him and His will. Or as in Paul’s case, God will redirect you: “You’re cold. No, getting colder…let me give you a hint”. This seems to be what he did for Paul.

2. We can assume that the needs of people, especially their calls for us to come and help, are also God’s command for us to GO AND SHARE CHRIST WITH THEM.

  • The man in Paul’s vision said “come over to Macedonia and help us” and Paul and his fellow laborers “conclud(ed) that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them”

3. Act NOW on what you know for sure of God’s will

  • “Immediately” after Paul had the vision and understood it to be God’s call to go and preach in Macedonia, “(they) sought to go on into Macedonia”
  • We spend so much time waiting on what we do not know before moving, when God in all likelihood is waiting on us to act on what He has shown us before revealing the next steps.
  • Knowing God's will for sure can be tricky if you don't know how to discern it. Soon you will be able download from a "checklist" that I have used for discerning God's will in every major decision of my life over the last 10 years.

4. God’s will for you is not mutually exclusive of intense suffering

  • Paul obeyed God’s call to go to Macedonia and share the good news of Jesus. As a result, Lydia and her whole household believed in Jesus (and with her family & trade connections in Thyatira would take the Gospel to Asia where Paul had been prevented from going). In addition to Lydia and her household, an exploited slave girl who was in bondage to a demonic spirit was freed. All of these are incredible God-sized results! Nevertheless, obeying God’s command and being an instrument of God’s love still landed Paul and Silas in the hands of angry magistrates and an angry mob who stripped them, beat them, and threw them in the bowels of a jail and placed them in stocks.


  • Beaten, bloodied, naked, and bruised while in stocks in the bowel s of a Philippian prison, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing! It surely was not because they were masochists who loved being beaten and abused and placed in chains! It was because they were in the center of God’s will! They could rejoice in what God was doing in and through them—Lydia’s whole household had come to know Jesus, a slave girl was free of a demon—THEY WERE IN THE SWEET SPOT!
  • Furthermore, when an earthquake opened the prison doors and broke loose the stocks that held them in bondage in the prison, Paul and Silas did not bolt through the door interpreting it as a windfall for them to be relieved of their discomfort. Why? Because they were in the center of God’s will. Therefore, why would they leave?
  • We tend to look for joy and happiness in situations that are comfortable, convenient, and pleasant, but Paul and Silas had joy that most modern Christians don’t know—joy that sings in dark smelly prison cells, from lips swollen by beatings—joy that transcends circumstance.

6. “Suffering is God’s megaphone”—C.S. Lewis

  • It’s not that God speaks louder to us when we are suffering. Perhaps to us, our own suffering might be said to be our hearing aid, helping us to listen for God and hear him like we were not able or willing to hear him before. But through our suffering, if like Paul and Silas we are singing and not complaining, God shouts to people around us who see where we are and hear our songs!
  • Acts 16:25 not only tells us that Paul and Silas were singing, but “the prisoners were listening to them”. Are you going through something difficult, something painful? People are listening to you. What are they hearing? A song? Or a complaint?
  • As a result of their song and their staying when they could have escaped perhaps, the jailer and his entire household came to hear of and believe in Jesus!

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