The Hidden Strength of the Servant

foot washing2Acts 18:1-3

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.

I can’t speak more highly about Aquila and Priscilla…  Paul’s co-workers in tent making as well as in the Gospel.  They traveled with him, taught with him, and even risked their lives for him. (Romans 16: 3-4),  but what I like most about them is that they were just every day, hard working folks.  They loved and served their Lord Jesus with vigor… and yet they both had a 9-5 job to get in as well.

I have worked bi-vocationally and know first hand how exhausting it can be.  Where does one find the energy to please a secular employer and to employ their spiritual gifts?  What right has a pastor to ask a church member working 40-60 hours a week to commit to a ministry at church?

Peter in 1 Peter 4 wrote about two types of spiritual gifts:

11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; …

The “speakers” are the upfront people… the pastors, teachers, etc.  They are to be careful to speak the words God gives them and not just what they know will cause people to like them.

The other group are the “servers.”  These are the behind the scenes people, the servants… people like Priscilla and Aquila.  Their spiritual gifts often go unnoticed and don’t get the praise and recognition that the “speakers” receive.  Add to that that these servants also work full time and it can be difficult to muster up the energy required.

Someone asked to work in such a role might say:  “Pastor, I’m tired.  I work everyday until exhaustion.  I don’t have any energy left for Kingdom work.”

Well, Priscilla and Aquila in the first century were involved in tiring work.   And yet they served the Lord with “the strength which God supplies.”  You don’t know what kind of energy you will have until you put your hand to the Lord’s work.  HE provides the strength you need WHEN you need it the most.

The Scriptures teach:  “23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,”   This means when you punch the time clock… or when you fill out your timesheet… it isn’t just for your earthly employer… you are also “Working for Jesus.”  Your job is more than a means to feeding and supporting yourself… God wants your job to be leveraged for the advancement of His kingdom.   And He promises to provide all the strength you will need.

 

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.

Reaching Out to an Unreachable World

earthActs 17:6-23

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

How do you preach the Gospel in a knowledgeable, trendy, pseudo-intellectual world?  The circumstances we face today in the 21st century seem overwhelming in regard to witnessing for Christ… but we can learn a lot from the first trail blazer for Christ, the Apostle Paul in the 1st Century.

What did he do then that we should be about today?

1)  Follow the Spirit!

Now if we look at Paul’s journey into Macedonia, we see he has a plan.  He begins in Philippi and the moves on to Thessalonica… these are two stops on what was called the Egnatian Way!  It was a paved roadway across the Roman Empire.  Paul’s plan seems to make sense!  Stay on the sidewalk and set up churches along the heart of the land.

But persecution in Thessalonica sends the team to Berea… which was a good thing because many people were saved there.  But then more persecution hits and they are further turned away from the Main Highway and their team is fragmented.  While Timothy and Silas stay behind to strengthen the young church in Berea… Paul departs alone for Athens:  the philosophical capital of all time… home to greats such as Socrates and Plato.

Now Paul was more than ready to minister to Athens, it just wasn’t part of his plan… Rome, the capital of the empire, seems to have been the target.  But by the movement of the Spirit he came to Athens, the capital of philosophical thought.

Is the Spirit leading you to place of witness that you haven’t though of before?  Maybe a class at a local university or a seat on a community board, or a volunteer position at a local hospital would shake up things in your world.  Stay open to the Spirit’s lead and follow the Lord’s call.  You may have to get off your chosen sidewalk… but that’s okay.

2)  Open Your Eyes!

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

A.T. Robertson notes: “Pliny [the Roman writer] states that in the time of Nero [A.D. 54-68], Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius [a Roman satirist] sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, notes on Acts 17:16).

That sounds to me like 21st Century America.  We aren’t tripping over marble statuettes, but we do live in a land of religious plurality.

Chuck Sackett in his sermon “At Ease in Athens” wrote:  “I was reading an article from Newsweek recently: “In Search of the Spiritual.” Apparently, the religious website Beliefnet sends out more than 8 million daily emails of spiritual wisdom in various flavors to more than 5 million subscribers. Generic inspiration is the most popular 2.4 million emails, followed by inspirations from the Bible with 1.6 million.  But there are 460,000 subscribers to the Buddhist thought of the day, 313,000 Torah devotees, 268,000 subscribers to daily Muslim wisdom, and 236,000 who get spiritual weight loss messages.

Even nature worshiping pagans are divided up into: Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Platonism, and the God of Spirituality folk. And in case you can’t find one to suit you on that list, there’s Eclectic Paganism.

If I were to walk through Beliefnet’s website, I would draw this conclusion: we are very religious people. In fact, 79% of people in the U.S. under the age of 60 would categorize themselves as spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual.

For all of the choices, many chose not to chose.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know if that God is Jehovah, Buddha or Allah.”  – Actress Halle Berry

She is not that different from a lot of your neighbors.  Open your eyes to the belief systems of those around you.  And from that, see… truly see… their desire to find God… All this belief points to the fact that they are questioning and seeking the Almighty.

 3)  Strike up a conversation!

In Athens Paul is without his support team, but cannot remain silent.

17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Jews and God fearing Greeks in the synagogue were his typical audience.  But Paul also took advantage of the Agora (the marketplace) where ideas were sold as plenteous as groceries.  Paul took the Gospel to whoever would listen.  Verse 18 states at least two groups took note of Paul.

Epicureans –  Now they believed that life was 100% chance… and death was the end.  The other group was the Stoics – They believed that everything was god, that everything that happened was of god and had to be accepted without question.  Hince, we refer to one that doesn’t show emotion in a situation that calls for it, as someone who is very Stoic.

These groups hear Paul’s preaching and say in verse 18: “What is this babbler trying say?”

The Greek word for “babbler” here originally was used of birds picking up grain and then of scrap collectors searching for junk and then of people that stole other’s ideas and peddled them as their own.  This was not a flattering label they were putting on Paul.

To top it all off.. they also thought Paul was advocating new deities:  Jesus and Resurrection.  The Greek word for resurrection has an uncharacteristic feminine ending.  Meaning, they thought Paul was saying Jesus and Resurrection were a couple.  They apparently weren’t listening that well to Paul’s message.

What can we learn from Paul here about striking up a conversation in a diverse religious setting?  We should expect to be misunderstood, mislabeled and at times, belittled.  But that shouldn’t cause us to run away into our Christian subculture and hide… we need to find our feet shod with the Good News of the Gospel and firmly planted in the marketplace of our time.

But, you ask, how do I engage today’s culture?

>Read the paper, watch the news, if only to gain a frame of reference to talk to others.

>Talk to people:  where you work and where you go to school.

>Talk to people of other faiths, other races, other economic statuses.

You can’t make people believe in Jesus… but that’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway.  We just work to impact  people toward Him.