This past Sunday we completed our series The Baby, The Bathwater, and the Spiritual Life. Stay tuned for a follow-up conversation in our Deep Dive Digital podcast. That should be out next week. You can learn how to subscribe to “deep dive digital” podcasts as well as to our regular message podcasts at wkc.org/community/sermons.
The message this past weekend was on the subject of guidance. We took Acts 16:6-10 as our text, which almost becomes a lesson in ancient mid-eastern geography. Here is the piece of the story we focused on (have fun with the names):
Paul and his friends went through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit would not let them preach in Asia. After they arrived in Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they went on through Mysia until they came to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision of someone from Macedonia who was standing there and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" After Paul had seen the vision, we began looking for a way to go to Macedonia. We were sure that God had called us to preach the good news there.
The story has a simple structure, even if the place names are not familiar. Paul and his traveling companions attempt to continue their work of spreading and consolidating the message of Jesus, but find themselves hindered in getting their good intentions done. We are not told how this happens, just that their attempts to go where they wanted were somehow hindered or frustrated. Finally, however, they come to realize the road forward lead in another direction, which becomes the lesson for why they went through what they did. We find in this elliptical story a few very important ideas about guidance.
First, it is helpful to see that this text is found in the middle of an ongoing story. A lot has already happened, a lot is still to come. This stands as a moment within the lives of active people. By active I do not mean busy (busy-ness can be one form of living out of control; busyness can actually be a waste of precious time). When I say active, I mean that one acts, that one considers the meaning of life and takes steps toward a higher and better meaning. The principle is this: God directs active people, while stationary people are harder to move (wondering what God’s purposes are for your life? how long have you sat and wondered? do something!).
But guidance is probably the thing we need most in the middle of our faith stories. After the ease and joy of a good beginning, it is that season I like to call “the long middle” that creates the greatest challenge. We launch into this Jesus life, we get involved, serve, contribute; but what do we do when our circumstances fail to line up the way we hoped they would? What do we do when certainties wear thin and expectations are unmet?
If you bore down a little deeper into this story, you would find that this moment represents a critical transition. It is right here where, through several misfires, Paul and his fellow travelers are released into a bigger vision and a higher purpose. Paul has been trying to revisit familiar territory but the Holy Spirit was about to demonstrate that he had other plans for him. We too should realize that it is possible to be stuck in a mindset or model that God wants us to move beyond. Sometimes that is revealed to us by frustrations and hindrances. Whatever the case, we have to be wise in discerning the meaning of our circumstances.
So after two frustrating “no’s” (which are not explained to us but only stated that God was somehow in them), the band of travelers waste no more time but hurries along to the port city of Troas. Are they confused? Perhaps. But this new place becomes the gateway into God’s bigger yes.
Paul has a vision, a dream, and the vision has a face attached to a place: a man from Macedonia, just over the Aegean Sea from where he was, calling “come over and help us”. The mystery of why they have been stalling dissipates into it is specific and do-able opportunity. The guidance God gives is remarkable clear and understandable. And so it is that if we are open to guidance, it tends to make itself plain to us. If life is an endless mystery, it is more likely that the cloud of confusion is in our hearts, or between our ears. Mark Twain famously said, “It is not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me, it is the parts that I do understand”.
This is the first of the so-called “we” passages in Acts and is probably the point at which Luke, the author, joins the group. Here is the exciting conclusion to this brief story of transition: the word translated “conclude” (GK: bibadzo) literally means “to bring together” and suggests several things: that after all of their circumstances and experiences (the frustrations and hindrances, the renewed sense of possibility), they were, at that point, able to “put it all together”. They could see the meaning of what had happened to them, and they could see the road forward. The word also suggests that they were able to consult with each other and in community decide on this new direction; they concluded that “God had called us” through the vision God gave to Paul.
This Sunday is Baptism Sunday, a special celebration of faith and commitment which is meaningful for both the candidates and for the whole church. Join us at 9:29 or 11:11 am.