God on the Move: “Standing on the Promises” – Acts 18

repellingIt is no secret that I am not fond of cliffs, and aside from a single moment of insanity when I agreed to go repelling, my height sensitivity and general gravity based insecurities have kept me safely from the edges of high places. From time to time, I find myself sweating at the sight of someone on television that appears to be clinging to the side of a massive mountain with a sheer drop beneath them. I wonder what part of the brain has been sufficiently dulled to allow such insanity which is termed by some as bravery and courage. I get weak at the sight of such raw fearlessness.

Let me offer a brief example: Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls is a British adventurer who has shown his survival talents on shows like “Man vs. Wild” on TV. A few weeks ago, I was waiting to get my hair cut, and on the television above the reception area I found myself watching as Bear was teaching another man how to survive on a mountainside with few helps of the modern world. He showed the man how to eat incredibly gross looking things I could not really identify, and how to scale a sheer cliff with almost no tools. Why one would deliberately place their body in such danger is a complete mystery to me, but I admit that I was spellbound as I watched the men pick clean the remains of a little rodent they had just cooked on a tiny fire along a cliff on the side of the mountain to which they were clinging… and then make their way down the steep slope with almost nothing in their hands. Bear kept saying, “When you don’t have much, you find out that you don’t really need much! At first I thought that sounded profound, then I thought about it.. and it didn’t. When I don’t have much, I end up wondering who packed for the trip! Nevertheless, that saying stuck with me as I began to study for this lesson in Paul’s ongoing journey to follow God.

We have been studying Paul’s life, and for the last few lessons, we examined Paul’s arrival in Corinth and took the time to examine his writing of the first and second letters to the Thessalonian church. We noted they were written as he was recuperating from a tough set of setbacks during the “second mission journey” in the end of Acts 15 to chapter 18. God seemed to have left Paul for a time – but the harsh circumstances were actually God sculpting the Apostle into the man of God he was to become for God’s glory and use. Tough times do that – they tear away the rough edges and reshape the way we think. Paul experienced pain and trouble, but God hadn’t left – He was very much at work. Paul learned a critical lesson in Corinth that is worth stopping to recall today…we’ll call it the “Bear Grylls minimalist” lesson….

Key Principle: When everything seems to be falling apart and the promises of God are all you have, you will find they are all you need.

The promise of God didn’t become clear until everything else fell away:

Sometimes in busyness and noise of our lives, we can learn to cope with issues of life without really turning much to God at all. We can, it seems, make it on our own for a bit. We place our lives on “cruise control” and let everything slide. We don’t DEFECT from our faith, we just don’t ENGAGE LIFE through our faith. Things move along, plans come to fruition, and life keeps moving ahead… until trouble comes and we find ourselves reeling back in pain.
The truth is we can never know for sure how another person is coping with troubles and changes, but the Bible story of the second mission journey is clearly a record of a period in Paul’s ministry that was rife with trouble, and the probability that it played into the team’s attitudes and progress is not all that uncertain. Take, for instance, the troubles the mission team has passed through on the way to Corinth:

• The disputes of the past left their mark (the breakup with Barnabas). Why didn’t God show Barnie how wrong he was?

• The untested team left an uncertainty in their interactions (adding Timothy). Is this new recruit going to be better than John Mark was?

• The lack of clear direction left doubts in the team (the Macedonian man vision). Why isn’t God letting us move forward?

• The physical pain of beating and emotional pain of unlawful imprisonment lurked in the background (Philippi and the jail). Why does God let evil men get away with hurting us?

• The constant haranguing of the team and the pressure on Paul’s extended family made the victories seem more uncertain and soured a sense of progress (Jason at Thessalonica). Why doesn’t God protect our family while we are doing a work for Him?

• The “singling out” at Berea could easily have made Paul feel like the attack was very personal (left alone). Why won’t God step in and defend me?

• The stirring in Athens seemed less a response from prayer and mission and more a reaction to what he saw in the square, and it didn’t go well (Mar’s Hill). Doesn’t God see that I am fully invested here?

Admittedly, some things went well along the journey. Lydia, a jailer, Damaris and others were added to the family of followers of Jesus. That is no small thing. These were lives moved from darkness to light! Yet, the cost per soul was incredibly high, and the story seems to pose a discouraged and beaten up Apostle – not a victorious soldier arriving in Corinth on the shoulders of his championship team… Look at the setting for God’s promise revealed…

Acts 18:1 After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 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, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Paul kept going: “went to Corinth” (18:1) – no one finds God’s promises true when they quit on God. Paul’s experiences weren’t victorious, but he was following God and delivering the message he had been given. To the man who journeys through the troubles and pains, there is the moment when he can look back and see God’s guiding hand. To the quitter, they can only see the failure. Paul didn’t quit when the team broke up. He didn’t quit when he wasn’t sure why God wasn’t leading him as clearly as before. He didn’t lay down the task when he was physically attacked. He kept going, kept hoping, kept trusting that God’s plan was playing out and his life was accomplishing God’s ends.

In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. The satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph it and its moons, and beam data it collected about this giant planet back to earth. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, because up until then no satellites had gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it would ever get to Jupiter. But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Flying past Jupiter in November 1973, the space probe continued its incredible journey toward the edge of our solar system. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past the planet Uranus, then past Neptune, at nearly three billion miles, and Pluto, at almost four billion miles. By 1997, 25 years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun… still going…Commenting on the Pioneer 10 in Time magazine Leon Jaroff says, “Perhaps most remarkable, is the fact that those signals emanate from an eight-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night-light, and take more than nine hours to reach Earth.” “The Little Satellite That Could” was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of only three years. But it has kept going and going and going. By simple longevity, its tiny eight-watt transmitter radio accomplished more than anyone thought possible. So it is when we offer ourselves to serve the Lord. God can work even through someone with only eight-watt abilities. God cannot work, however, through someone who gives up and quits. (Craig Brian Larson, Pastoral Grit: The Strength to Stand and to Stay; Bethany House, 1998).

Let me ask you something. Would you have blamed Paul if he threw in the towel and headed back to Tarsus for a break? Isn’t it reasonable that he had been through many troubles, and a good rest would have worked well…Don’t you think? Yet, God picked a man with a tough shell and a tender heart – and he kept going.

Don’t quit if you want to understand what God is doing with you…just don’t. God will be there at the end on the last day…don’t quit following, don’t quit working, don’t quit blessing others with the life God has given you. Don’t stop ministering because others aren’t opening their arms to you. They aren’t lost – they are lost right now… and you don’t know about tomorrow. Not only that, but…

Paul got strengthened: The text reminds he “found a Jew” (18:2-3) – sometimes it is two weakened people that build one another to strength. In Paul’s case, God out three together to make each one whole. Aquila and Prisca were both new to the place, moved by God’s hand to be waiting for a hurting Paul. When Claudius ordered them to leave their home and business, they probably had no idea why – but God was at work through the difficulties of their lives as well. They were Jews, and they were tentmakers – a perfect match for Paul at that moment. Sometimes we need people who are LIKE US in some ways, to help us get things together. At the same time, we need people who are ABOUT what we are about. Paul needed a couple that wouldn’t miss a synagogue service on any Sabbath – new in town or not. Finding someone who will encourage you begins with finding someone who shares your values. Someone has said: “Until we walk in agreement nothing can be done”. I like the old African proverb that makes me smile: “The man who tries to walk two roads, splits his pants.” God brought like people together, and paired the couple with the beaten Apostle at a key moment in all their lives. Finding a friend to share with is always a key to gaining balance in tough situations, and God opened the way for Paul to have just what he needed. Often the best place to find a friend is to look for another person in need.

Paul eased in: He taught and reasoned “every Sabbath” (18:4) – he didn’t dedicate all the time he had to preaching yet. Though growing in strength, Paul needed to work during the week to make ends meet. That doesn’t sound very exciting, but it was probably emotionally helpful and spiritually very important. God did not drop a big giver in his life and enable Paul to handle the full need of those days in advance – neither financially nor physically and spiritually. Paul’s needs were not his weakness – they represented his healing time as he depended on God to meet his needs through hard work with his hands For a man, that can be a great blessing – to use your hands to meet your needs. I love the fact that God took him to something familiar, something he could have a measure of control over and gain a predictable outcome. The “reasoning” and “debating” that took place in the services would drain some men and women, but after a week of heavy sewing and leather work, they were a recharging point for Paul. He could work all week, meditate on God’s Word and pray – and on Sabbath he could offer a passionate defense of truth. The process was helpful to the expansion of the kingdom, but also to Paul’s inner healing. When you get knocked down hard – don’t be overanxious to get back in the ring…wait on the Lord’s timing and heal a bit.

Paul read the signals: He waited to more heavily invest in the teaching and preaching “when Silas and Timothy came” (18:5). After the arrival of the full team, Paul found it possible to press forward with the Gospel in the synagogue and have at his back a team to help support the work. He seemed more healed; he was more assured – and he saw that it was time to press ahead in full. Healing is necessary, and scars are real – but we mustn’t pick at the past so much that the scars become scabs. Counseling may be necessary for your healing, but there comes a time to graduate and move on. I have observed a number of people who receive a label in counseling, and then allow their problem to name them – and limit all the things God can do in their life. Get healed, but let God send the signals when it is time to move ahead anew. Sometimes forgetting the things that are behind includes setting aside the old hurts so that God can take you in a new direction.

Paul handled new opposition: He got to the place where “he shook out his garments” (18:6). He tried to reason with people, but recognized there was a time to move on. He came back to his former confident self, and knew that God’s closing of one door was the opening of another. He was able to meet the challenge directly, and knew how to keep his balance in the face of opposition. Earlier he would not have been ready – now he was. Believers must prepare to meet opposition – especially in the days we live in now. The rising tide of unyielding naturalism is moving people back to old animism. On television the hunter will bow over the prey and thank the dead animal for “giving its life” when in fact the animal gave nothing. The hunter took, but the segment sounds more and more like something from an old native American ritual. It is the revival of animism – the sense that the earth is sacred and we are merely a part of the “circle of life”.

Opposition to Jesus and the Scriptures will turn otherwise smart people into a series of contradictions that make no sense.

• We live in a time when some seem more morally indignant about contaminating the environment with a plastic trash bag but they are utterly unconcerned with the destroyed parts of the unborn baby the bag contains.

• We now have doctors that will swear to us that one’s sexual identity is a mere social construct that can be changed at will, unless they desire the same sex – and then it is morally wrong to attempt to alter that desire, even if the person seeks treatment to change it.

• We are invited to hear critics charge that believers are waging a “war on science”, while they quickly hide behind the notion that scientists cannot determine exactly when life begins.

• We are preached to that campus feminism is designed to free women to have it all, as long as raising children, being a monogamous marriage partner and providing a stable home are not their idea of what they want to become. Those choices are considered demeaning – and have been summarily stricken from the list of acceptable goals.

• Our own government will insist today that teens and preteens are sufficiently responsible to decide whether to have sexual relationships, but are not mature enough to be expected to pay for their own health insurance until they are 26 years old.

• We live in a time where people will be quick to say it is wrong to harbor prejudice against anyone because of their race, sex, religion, or ideology while they are calling a believer an ignorant, closed-minded, sexist, homophobic Christian. They see no contradiction in their freedom to swallow our freedom. (Ben Johnson of Lifesite News produced a much fuller list, I have liberally paraphrased these points).

I am not grousing, I am trying to make a point. The pilgrims arrived here to escape the very persecution that is now being mandated by some of the northeastern states they first landed on to settle…and more is coming. Naturalism, animism, pluralism that applauds every spiritual concept in the public square except that which comes from the Bible – this is on our horizon. For that we will suit up, armor up, joy up, celebrate each other and walk with Jesus into the fire if that is where He calls us. We will not be sullen, because that would bring God’s enemy joy. We also need not be surprised when logic is reduced to name calling and sarcasm in place of rational argument. There is no consistent rationale for morality without God. Extract Him from the picture, and all the great arguments are reduced to ashes, and we fight about mere petty technique instead of grand reason.

Paul opposed false thinking. He stood up to the resistance to the truth of God –and we must raise a generation that are ready to do that as well.

Paul sensed the problems growing: The text recorded that Jesus told him to “go on speaking” (18:7-9). Paul was tempted to back away and shut down when new troubles appeared on the horizon. He was aware of the new converts and the growing sense of trouble in the city, Paul was fighting within a decision to pull back. The team was there, but the pains of the past were overshadowing the gains of the present. Didn’t that make sense? Cool down. Don’t get too political Paul. Haven’t you seen the stats – things are going in a different direction. People aren’t following what you are saying…only a few are on board.

Just remember that in the history of man, the many were often on the wrong side of the equation:

“Isaac’s Storm” is a very interesting book about the hurricane that wiped out Galveston in 1900. One of the main plot lines of the book is about how everyone was convinced that a hurricane could never strike Galveston, even as one approached. The author vividly describes how as the streets began to flood people went about their business as if nothing was wrong. Children played in the water, men gathered for breakfast at the local diner, and no one fled from the storm that was about to strike. Some didn’t worry because Issac Cline, the national weather service officer in Galveston, assured them it would not be a severe storm. Other’s simply believed that Galveston was invincible. Some thought that since they had never seen a hurricane strike Galveston one never would. So for a number of reasons, people assured themselves nothing bad would happen. And as a result over 6,000 people died one September day in 1900. Today we can see storm clouds forming on the horizon. There is a moral and spiritual decline that continues to erode our national life. The warning signs are there for us to see–the signs that Jesus is coming soon. They beckon us to return to the Lord and seek refuge in Him. How will history look back on what we did as the storm approached? SOURCE: Steve Hanchet. Citation: “Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History,” by Erik Larson and Isaac Monroe Cline. Vintage Books; ISBN: 0375708278; (July 11, 2000).

God met Paul at the point of his withdrawal (18:10-11). Note that the Holy One made it plain: “Stay here and do what I told you to do!” Could we do that in the face of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria if God met us in that place? Our brothers and sisters in Christ have been called to do so. God will keep them until He has used their lives to His glory – and then they will be in His comforting arms forever. They have no lustful vision of virgins in the afterlife – they have the promise that their God will wipe every tear from their eyes and show them into an eternal home that will offer comfort beyond compare.

In Paul’s case, God told him the needed protection would be provided, for God had a work He wanted completed in that place. Paul’s job was to trust God and take His Word seriously – and so is every believers job.

Remember the principle of the lesson? When everything seems to be falling apart and the promises of God are all you have, you will find they are all you need.

Paul withstood a beating, and now trouble was coming anew. The critical lesson for Paul and his mission team was this: no amount of strength, no amount of physical comfort, no amount of provision would make them feel completely secure. Our real sense of protection comes from deep within when the promise of God becomes our foundation. Security doesn’t come from distance from troubles – but from closeness to the Savior. Life is too hard, troubles too strong, hurts too deep to live only with physical and human comforts as our prize. Real security comes from walking with God Himself. It is offered in His promises – the greatest of which is His close presence. To the promise of God’s protection, Paul’s response was to remain in the city for one and one half years – probably the remainder of the term of the consul Gallio. It seems God made clear to Paul that he was under a protective Roman hand while operating in the city of Corinth. He also saved on his bill at the local barber during that time… it looks like he vowed to stay, but not cut his hair!

The promises of God didn’t mean troubles would cease, only that His work would persist.

Don’t miss that God was at work, but the bullet flew close to Paul in the midst of his obedience. That is important…

Acts 18:12 But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15 but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” 16 And he drove them away from the judgment seat. 17 And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things. 18 Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. 19 They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, 21 but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch.

In short order the troubles revisited (18:12-13), but Paul was protected by God through means Paul could not have seen available. God has an arsenal much larger than we can imagine. Did you notice the way Dr. Luke recorded the story? He said that Paul was ready to speak (obeyed) but God stepped in (and kept His promise – cp. 18:14-17).

Paul completed the vow he made to trust God’s promises because Paul knew that God is faithful (18:18). He began a work in us, and He will complete every project He ever started.

You can find hope in your darkest hour through the faithfulness of God. Harry Teuchert knows this is true. For years Harry had been a successful publisher of materials for churches. Everything in his life seemed to be perfect: A lovely home, a family, a solid future; but all this suddenly collapsed. Harry’s wife told him she was leaving him. She was in love with someone else. Devastated, Harry tried to cope, work, continue with his life, but this tragedy was too overwhelming. Despite all the other good things in his life, Harry felt like a complete failure with nothing to live for. He was on the road to meet with a church about their anniversary publication. Arriving early, Harry sat down in the fellowship hall. Suddenly, he began to think about suicide. His life was over. All was finished. As he sat at a table, he began to cry intensely, holding his head in his hands. The more Harry wept, the more he was convinced that his life had ended. He would continue no more. He was beaten. It would be so easy to end it all. In total despair he looked up, and noticed a faded poster on the far wall. In that picture was the image of a man in the same despair Harry was going through — Head in his hands in complete anguish. Then, as Harry studied the poster further, he noticed a smaller image in the lower right corner of the poster: Three crosses, on a hill, surrounded by a dark sky. Beneath the center cross these simple words were inscribed, “I know how you feel; I’ve been there myself.” While staring at those words, Harry fell to his knees and prayed, “God, help me.” Suddenly God touched Harry with a new flood of hope. He got up telling himself, “I’m going to beat this thing. I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” Harry got on with his life. And today he is serving the God who came to him in his moment of greatest trial. (Original source unknown – found in christianglobe.com sermon “Help Me Make It Through The Night” by King Duncan – John 3:1-21 – 2005). When Pastor Rick Crandall told the story, he commented: “The Lord used a faded poster to remind Harry of God’s great faithfulness. And I hope He uses Harry’s story to remind you.” (taken from sermon central.com).

God not only protected the Apostle, but offered Paul one more chance to see him at work: “Paul left them [the team] there and walked into the synagogue to reason with the local Jews” (18:19-22). It is obvious that being alone – without the team – was no longer a problem for Paul – because he saw God’s hand of protection in His promises. He knew a new level of God’s presence, and that gave him a new bravery.

Men and women, in the last 100 years we have split the atom, and made a household industry out of the movement of electrons that were only discovered at the dawn of the twentieth century…we have reached to the stars and left footprints on the moon. We have eradicated many diseases that plagued mankind for centuries and raised the number of years we expect to live by a substantial margin. We have made having a baby a routine experience, no longer the perilous danger women experienced for generations. We have created pain relief in cheap capsule form. We can place you on an operating table and in seconds move you to unconsciousness, allowing us to probe deeply into your anatomy to solve once intractable defects and wounds. We have gathered humanity in massive aid projects. We have broken the back of some huge slavery rings. We have made clear that every child should have clean water to drink and sufficient food to eat. We have gained ground in science, technology, economy and medicine. We live in a world of fast jets and pocket computerized connections.

Yet, in all of these things, man’s deepest problems have not evaporated. Savage men behead servicemen and media reporters, while groups march through London and Paris in support of their right to wield a sword against foes. We save whales and seals but exterminate inconvenient children – we have lost an entire generation of more than 50 million American babies to a ruthless and barbaric industry. We watch in horror as our streets are filled with rampaging and angry men and women who believe injustices against them have justified uncivil behavior and looting. We marvel at how the world’s most famous atheist Professor Richard Dawkins, claimed it was “immoral” to allow unborn babies with Down’s syndrome to reach natural birth. The Oxford professor told would-be parents who learn their child has the condition they have an ethical responsibility to “abort it and try again” since in his words “foetuses do not have human feelings”.

In the face of incredible advances, it seems the savagery of our past lay just beneath the surface. Are you ready to trust science for your future? Do you believe educators will lead us to peace and happiness? Will technology solve the ultimate issues and conquer the inner human sickness? I don’t think so. What’s more, the Bible makes clear that will not happen. Man lives by the promises of God – Jesus said that. It isn’t food, fun and fellowship that makes life worth living – it is the integrity of a God that has loved us and promised us a certain future. It doesn’t matter what life brings your way. It doesn’t matter if it seems fair, or if God seems to be “on top” of all that hurts you. You have His promise for how life will change for you when this body is finished its journey – if you know Him.

When everything seems to be falling apart and the promises of God are all you have, you will find they are all you need.