A couple weeks late, but grace abounds in this season!
We have come to the end of our Acts journey. It is incredible to look back and see all we have covered and learned about the early church and those who helped lay the foundation. We end Acts without any real resolution on Paul’s life. We find him in chains in Rome waiting to speak with Caesar.
He spent up to two years under house arrest in Rome. Paul wanted to go to Rome before, but was detoured several times. It was a desire for him to go and preach the gospel, but not under arrest. Still, he saw the higher purpose in his chains and so moved through trials and shipwrecks with a solitary focus. God told Paul he was going to suffer for His name. Remember in Acts 9 when the Lord spoke to Ananias, ““Go! This man (Paul) is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
I was reading Alan Redpath’s “The Royal Route to Heaven” the other day and he writes about how many of us say we want to lay it all down to serve God. We say we are willing to forgo the accolades of men, the status, perks, followers, etc. for the sake of doing what God called us to. But are we really? Are we really willing to be persecuted, rejected, challenged, abandoned, and beaten (or killed) for this God we claim to love?
We might never have to make so bold a choice as Paul did (over and over again). But we choose in what we say or don’t. We choose in how we treat people. We choose in what we give our time, attention and resources to. From Facebook posts to how we treat those in our communities, our lives are a testament to who or what we truly value.
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6).
“Paul was glad to count himself as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, completely submitted to His authority, happy in the Master’s service. A one-time leading member of the Sanhedrin, the man who boasted of his religion and intellect, a proud Pharisee among Pharisees, now he delights to say, “I am nothing – simply a slave of my Lord Jesus Christ.” (Alan Redpath)
Paul was simply following the example of One he loved – Jesus.
Jesus – fully God – left it all behind to be mocked, scorned, abandoned, bloodied and murdered. He left heaven – something our wildest imagination cannot even start to comprehend. He left the service of angels, perfection, being the King of Kings – to be born in a manger and come so you and I might, even for a moment, say, “I acknowledge you, Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy and peace.”
Much of Paul’s writing in the New Testament focuses on how this reality marks his life. As much as he once was “a Pharisee among Pharisees” he became a servant to God – a slave as some passages translate. He realized that much of what the religious order hung its hat on was useless in the face of God and His immeasurable power and love.
If Jesus was the example, Paul was the instruction manual constantly pulling our eyes off distractions and putting them back on God. His letters repeatedly tell churches (and people) to get back on mission, to stop letting it be about anything other than God.
If you lose everything (and everyone!) will you still love the Lord? Can you languish in prison, be beaten unjustly, give your freedom because of arrogance, fear and hatred – and still keep the faith and not lose heart?
Put another way, will you risk the approval of your friends, co-workers, or fellow moms? Are you willing to be thought foolish, old-fashioned, and out of touch? Will you see those hurting around you and instead of looking away, lean in? A cup of coffee or lunch, welcoming someone new, reaching out to the outcast. Will you demand the church be more than it has become? Are you willing to set your gaze on the horizon, fully claim your citizenship in heaven, and run a race with that as your end goal?
Jesus left it all to show us how to live. He came poor and nondescript. His words and actions point us towards a life of pouring out, of being refilled through the Word and prayer, so we can love those around us above all else.
Paul left a pretty nice existence to spread the gospel. He left his status, income, security, reputation, friends and family behind, and spent the rest of his life waiting for heaven to come, realizing if he was still here then God had more for him to do.
Paul was under house arrest for two years before he was released. He was re-arrested a few years later and then he and Peter were martyred for their faith.
I don’t know how to have a trust like Paul. I don’t know how to nose dive into the deep end with God and be willing to forsake all else knowing whatever God offers in the end is better. Redpath said, “Isn’t it amazing how people are far more scared of holiness than they are of sin?” And it is true.
We make it so complicated when really it is a matter of priorities. Paul had to make a hundred choices every day to keep his focus on God.
He chose how to spend his time and what to give his attention to. He weighed public opinions and claims of the churches he planted against what he knew of the Old Testament and who Jesus was. He read the same words we do that say God is for the immigrant, the poor, the widowed, orphaned, abandoned, sick, and hurting and not the powerful.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn and the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, those pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers, who are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of God. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (see Matthew 5)
A hundred daily choices. A life dedicated to time with God, to prayer, and to reacting in love (not fear, power, control, on auto-pilot, for popularity, fame, or approval). It is surrender to God’s way, realizing all that is lost here will be worth it in the end.
Paul’s life showed us how to walk the narrow way. It also reveals the cost.
What does this post stir up in you? What push back comes? Spend some time in the Word and prayer, letting God tell you who He is and what He is calling you to.
I acknowledge you, Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy and peace. Show me my distractions. Make the things I use to hide like dust in my mouth. You are a kind and loving Father, show me how to live more for you and less for the little idols I’ve let define me. No shame or guilt will come from you – only love! Correction may hurt, there will be loss, but You, O Lord, are sweeter than any distraction or attention this world can give. I am yours. Amen.