Discouraged in Sin City

vegasActs 18:1-22

This blog will complete our trip with Paul and Silas on what has been called “The Second Missionary Journey.”

Paul begins Mission Corinth… discouraged.  His second journey had netted little by way of results.  He was fatigued… having just walked 53 miles from Athens to Corinth.  He has yet to stay in one city that long.  Converts were scarce in three of the four venues thus far.  And he is alone when he wanders into Corinth.

If there is anything harder than reaching Athenians with their intellectual pursuits it is reaching Corinthians with their lustful ones.

For Paul has just entered the red light district of the ancient world.  Central to their pagan worship was worship of the love goddess, Aphrodite.  Illicit sex was rampant with worship including state run prostitution. If you’ve ever walked through a wild alcoholic party, you’ve walked down main street Corinth.

This was challenging for Paul.  It is one thing to argue for the defense of the Gospel in a debate club and quite another to attempt it at a drunken gala.

And for the first time, I see in the Scriptures, Paul was a little scared:  In First Corinthians 2, he is honest: “When I came to you, … I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling;” {1 Cor 2:1a, 2:3 RSV}. Paul was tired, stressed and a little frightened as he rolled into Corinth.  He could use a little encouragement.

Heard the story of a band that had what they thought was one die hard fan.   They were performing in a park before an audience that had gradually dwindled down to one lone man.  After pounding out more songs, one of the tired musicians finally suggested to the music lover that if he left they could all go home.

“Do whatever you want,” said the man.  “I’m just waiting around so I can put away the chairs.” (“All in a Day’s Work,” Reader’s Digest, August 2007, p. 54.)

Do you ever get the feeling that no one is listening to your music?  If only someone could lend you a little encouragement.  But where do you go to find encouragement?     Where is the reassuring voice that everything is going to be alright… that despite the trying times that God is with you and will see you through?

Paul found encouragement the same way we can.

1.  Encouragement through ministry friends.

Verses 2 & 3 of Acts 18 say:

2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Fellow Christians with the same ministry goals and the same secular vocation!  What a find for Paul!  Or perhaps the Lord knew what he needed in just the right time.

You will have a lot of friendships in your lifetime, not all of them will be, or should be, with just believers.  But friendships with Jesus as your focus will be among the most encouraging.

2.  Encouragement through Small Victories

Corinth was tough… but not impenetrable.  Verses 7 & 8 say:

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

After initial rejection… there is some response.  Paul couldn’t convince the majority of the synagogue, but he did convert the head guy.  Crispus and his whole family came to know the Lord.  The ruler of the synagogue!  Small victories like that keep you going.  What small victories are you overlooking in your life?

3.  Encouragement through Prayer.

Sometimes when you friends and small victories can’t help, you need to run to the Father.  He knows what to say to get you back on your feet.

God speaks to Paul during this trying time:  “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  (v.9b-10)

Simple direct words for the discouraged:  “Don’t be afraid.”  “Keep going.”  “I am with you.”  “I am not finished with My work that I want to get done through you.”

Paul kept at it.  His band of missionaries played on in the midst of a hostile environment.  And guess what?  For all of Paul’s fear and trembling… He spends more time in Corinth than any other place on the second journey! (1 year and six months)  He settles in and does significant work for the Kingdom.  The scariest city ends up being one of the most fruitful.

Where does God have you right now?  Frightened?  Hang in there… God still has many people in this city.  Keep going.  He’s not finished with you yet.

The Creative Companion

finger crossActs 15:40-41

40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Quick:  Do a friend count?  How many close friendship can you name in 5 minutes?  Guys, your wife doesn’t count no matter how close the two of you might be.  I mean companions that you don’t share a breakfast table with.  As the old saying goes:  “…someone when you make a fool of yourself doesn’t think you’ve done a permanent job.”  Someone that sharpens you and makes you a better you.

Paul had that in Silas.  What do we know about him?

We learn from earlier in chapter 15, that Silas was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church that delivered the compromise at the recent counsel held there.  He is called “a prophet (v. 32).  We learn later that Silas is a Roman citizen (which would aide Paul in his travels) and in the book of 1 Peter that he served as an amanuensis (in other words… took dictation) for Peter.  1 Peter is some of the finest Greek in the New Testament… which meant Silas was skilled in the Greek language.  Silas is the obvious choice of a traveling companion for Paul

He’s experienced.  He’s talented.  He’s like-minded.

Now we all need people like Barnabus in our lives… mentors that call us out when we are wrong.  But we also need someone like Silas, one who comes along side us to laugh with us, cry with us, share a night in jail with us (see Acts chapter 16)… I’m talking about a Christian friend that shares life with you.  Do you have one for your journey?  Can someone call you such a friend?

A recent sad statistic I read was that 70% of pastors say they have no close friend.  These are our leaders… that provide direction, comfort and protection for the flock.  And they are… lonely.  And they are… complacent.  They have no one to sharpen then…  encourage them… strengthen them.

So how did you do on the pop quiz earlier?  Did you come up empty?  I believe God is calling us to deepen our relationships.  Recently my wife Janine read a Facebook post from a friend in another state.  She was excited about her church and put it this way:  “I am  so happy that I get to grow old with these people.”  Wow!   Jesus said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  That is a call to a “can’t wait to grow old with” kind of love.

Seek to get to know someone today.  Break down the barriers of fear and mistrust.  Laugh with somebody.  Enjoy the God given gift of camaraderieRalph Waldo Emerson once wrote:  “We force no doors in friendship, but like the Christ in Revelation, we stand reverently at the door without, to knock.  And only if the door be opened from within, may we welcome in to sup with our friend and he with us.”  Whose door do you need to knock on today?

Whatever Happened to…?

church directory22 Timothy 4:11

VH1 used to host a show devoted to today’s question:  Whatever happened to… Christopher Cross or M.C. Hammer… etc. ?  Several magazines I’ve seen recently have asked:  “Whatever happened to the cast of [insert television show of yesteryear]?  We seem fascinated to solve these mysteries.  Here is one you can research on your own today.  Pull out a church directory that is over 2 or 3 years old.  Look at the names and faces.  Who is missing from the sanctuary these days?  Did you know they were gone?  Ever wonder what happened to them anyway?

Chances are they didn’t run into a Barnabas.  He was the Apostle to the lost cause.  He once stuck his neck out for a man name Saul who was facing a Christian community scared witless over his recent “conversion.”  Everyone stayed clear of him… that is except for Barnabas.  Fast forward a few years and you have this “son of encouragement” standing with a man named Mark.  Mark had deserted Paul and Barnabas the first go around, but now wants to get back in the game.  Paul (formerly Saul) says:  “No dice!”  But Barnabas is willing to stick his neck for yet another “lost cause.”  He takes his cousin Mark and they sail to Cyprus.

We need men and women like Barnabas in the church today.  People that aren’t so quick to update the directory.  They are aware that there is a story behind every photo… and some of those men and women are redeemable.

Barnabas’ faith was later vindicated by Paul himself.  2 Timothy 4:11 reads:  “Only Luke is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.   … When you come… bring my scrolls, especially the parchments.”  What do you get when you put Luke (author of the Gospel Luke and the Book of Acts. a master historian), the scrolls and parchments of Paul, Paul himself and Mark together in the same room?  You get the second book of the New Testament.  The one that bears the name of a one time  “quitter.”  God love Barnabas for not giving up on this kid!

Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley shared this story about a “Barnabas” type named Ruth Graham:  “Disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker testifies of her kindness.  Despite the fact that Bakker’s public scandal, which involved sex, hush money, and defrauded investors in a real estate scheme, had brought suspicion and scorn on all evangelists, both Grahams maintained a friendship with Bakker throughtout his imprisonment and afterward.

Moreover  “the first Sunday out,” Bakker said, “Ruth Graham called the halfway house I was living in at the Salvation Army and asked permission for me to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning.  When I got there, the pastor welcomed me and sat me with the Graham family.  There were two whole rows of them—I think every Graham aunt and uncle and cousin was there.  The organ began playing and the place was full, except for a seat next to me.  Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham.  She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-059.  I had only been out of prison forty-eight hours, but she told the world that morning that Jim Bakker was her friend.  -Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley  (The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, p. 323.)

Who is that person you see missing from the pews?  Could they be the next Mark?  Don’t be too quick to quit on a “quitter.”  He or she might just surprise you just how far they can go with a little encouragement from you.