31/97 21.9.97 Scripture: Acts 15:36-16:10
TO whom do you turn when you have nowhere to go? I constantly meet people who are troubled by that problem. They desperately need guidance and direction but they do not know where to go. I met two people with desperate needs. They had no money. They had no food. They had used up their last resources and would not receive their pension or allowance cheques until the next Wednesday or Thursday. They came to our Mission in their extremity to see if we could help them for the next few days. There are many who reach a crisis point and do not know where to turn. Some are unemployed young people who have tried for months to get jobs and have now lost spirit and feel helpless. There are older folk who, in later years, have met difficulties and find life at a dead end. I have met a number of business men in their middle years, put off work in their 40s and 50s, and, having tried every avenue to gain alternative employment, now do not know where to turn. In the old days you went to your family doctor, your solicitor, your bank manager, or your minister. They were well-placed people who would listen to your need and give direction for you to follow. Today it is more difficult. People are like cars trying to get on to a freeway. They can see other cars roaring down the freeway, but every time they try to join them they face signs which say: "Wrong Way - Go Back." "No Entry," "Stop." They spend their time going the wrong way up an off ramp. No way seems to open for entrance to the fast lane. To make matters worse, their Christian friends, say "Ask God and He will guide you." But God remains silent. The Bible promises God will guide you. Psalm 32:8 states: "The Lord says, `I will teach you the way you should go; I will instruct you and advise you!'" There are many passages where God promises guidance to those who believe in Him. The question as we approach the 21st century is, "How does God guide us today?" Acts 16 gives us some clues. At first sight, verses 1 to 10 seem to have little to do with us. Let us tour with the Apostle Paul around the Agean Sea. It may start off as a geography lesson, but will soon become a lesson about living. From Acts 16, 4 As they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas." Twice in our reading we noted that Paul wanted to go somewhere and the Holy Spirit would not let him: `they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.'" Paul and his companions moved through the centre of what is now Turkey, wanting to turn right into Azerbaijan, but the Spirit of Jesus said, "Turn left!" Then Paul wanted to go south to Ephesus which was on the coast, but again the Spirit of Jesus would not let him. Instead, "Go north!" So he moved north. Paul was prevented from going into Central Asia but was propelled into Greece. Christianity, instead of spending its future in the continent of its origin, Asia, took a giant step into Europe. Paul did not realise it, but the few verses of our reading are hinges that swung the Christian faith from the east where it was born, into the west where it was going to take root. It changed the direction of the Christian church. Paul was to go to Troas, city of Helen of Troy, then known as Troas. "During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, `Come over to Macedonia and help us.' After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.'" The Macedonians are a proud race of people to the north of Greece. Some of the roads travelled by Paul are known to many Australians. They are not the roads of the normal tourist route, but Australians are familiar with some of the names. Every year thousands of Australians make a pilgrimage to the Dardanelles, over the Razorback Hills and down to Anzac Cove in the area of Gallipoli. Here Australian troops landed April 25th 1915 at Anzac Cove. This is the area that Paul came to in our Scripture reading. The Apostle Paul went through those same mountains, through the same coves where Australians fought and died. Then he crossed into the northern part of modern Greece. What guided Paul to go left instead of right, north instead of south, west instead of east? We are told simply: "they tried to...but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to." The Spirit guided them. How does God's Spirit guide today? Here are five ways God guides us in this passage.
1. EXPECTANT LIVING
This means living in such a way that you expect God to guide you. Do you expect God to give you guidance in what you are doing? If you are facing a problem, do you expect God to show you that one way is better than another? If you do not expect it, you will not find it. Paul and those with him were going about their daily tasks, but they were expecting something to happen. "Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia." Prevented from doing what they wanted, they went on with their normal tasks. They visited people in their homes, strengthening in their faith those who had earlier become Christian. They went and visited Eunice and Lois and others in Galatia. Eunice was Timothy's mother and Lois his grandmother. They had instructed Timothy in the faith. "He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." Timothy now joined the band of missionaries as they went about their normal work. While doing so, the Holy Spirit gave them guidance. They were looking for guidance and were prepared to wait for it. This was a part of the promise of Jesus. (John 16:13) "When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, He will lead you into all the truth." The Holy Spirit would lead. Had the Holy Spirit let Paul go to the east he would have reached the Gobi Desert! There was not much future there!
2. CLOSED DOORS
Instead, the decision was to go north and then west into Europe, and that opened up a whole new future for Christianity. When the way is closed against us and we can't get through, search for some other way. The Spirit of Jesus may stop you in one of two ways. Sometimes it is external. You walk into a closed door. A visa does not arrive in time so you cannot go. The door is shut in front of you. Sometimes the closed door is internal. You realise that the way you wanted to go is not what God wants you to do. But God uses closed doors. In 1948 the Chinese Communist Government expelled all missionaries. The doors were shut. Neither money nor missionaries could enter China. People feared China would be lost to the Christian faith. Three million Christians could not survive the persecution. But now the doors have opened. In the last forty years, the church in China, having been thrown back upon its own leadership, has grown in numbers to over 60 million Chinese Christians, committed to Jesus and worshipping Him. Men close doors, but God still gives the growth. Paul said "We know that in all things God works for good with those who love Him." (Rom 8:28). Men once took the best man who had ever lived and spat on Him, jeered at Him, put a crown of thorns upon His head, thrust a spear into His side, and nailed Him to a cross. But God took that cross and it became a door that opened up into life. It became the way to forgiveness of sins, the redemption of the soul, and the gift of eternal life. Man had slammed the door shut, but God turned the closed door into an open way. A closed door means God has a better way.
3. REVEALED NEEDS
While in Troy, Paul had a vision or dream. He heard a young man calling to him to come to Macedonia to help. Can we identify this young man? We can. There is a significant change in the telling of the story of Paul's missionary journey at this point. There is the change in the style of the narrative. "After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." These words "we" and "us" are not previously found in the Book of Acts. Luke wrote the book. He told us what had happened in Jerusalem and Samaria, what had happened to Peter, what had happened to Stephen, and what occurred when Paul was converted. He told the story in the third person. Now the writer is in the action. "We got ready" "God called us." Luke is now in the story personally. It was here at Troas, the missionaries met Dr Luke. Luke came from the north of Greece. There was a great medical school in Macedonia at Philippi. At the time Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, Luke turns up in the story and stays with him. Paul's vision grew out of a fact that earlier in the day he had met Luke, the Greek doctor. Immediately afterwards they decided that they would cross the Dardanelles, go to Philippi in Macedonia, and commence a ministry through northern Greece. God speaks through other people. God calls through the needs of people. God is calling people at this time to many Third World countries where Christians are urgently needed in every vocation. One of the clearest ways in which God guides is through the needs of others.
4. WILLING RESPONSE
God moves with those who are moving and when you move, God will guide you where you should go. God moves when you are moving. He does not let you sit around while He does all the work. You have to start off in faith. That is exactly what happened in our story from Acts. "After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." There is now an eye-witness account of those who were moving forward, with God moving with them. God will guide you through each of these ways: through expectant living; through closed doors; through seeing a need; and from being willing to follow in response to Him. There are always wonderful opportunities to serve the Lord. In our Mission we need helpers in our service ministries among the poor, the destitute, the alcoholics, the homeless, the disabled, the aged, among lost children, youth and teenagers. We need those who will say, "I will come over and help you." Wherever you are, there will be calls coming to you for help, and if you will respond, opportunities will open for you. God still guides people today. But you must expectantly await God's direction. You must understand that a closed door may be a message to you. God has a better direction for your life. You must look to where needs await being met. And you must respond with willingness. In these ways God's opens what Paul called later "an effective work." (1 Cor. 16:9). He also wrote "Pray for us, also, that God may open to us a door for the word." (Col 4:3). That is how God still guides us today.
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