Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Tribute to Hope

Today is my wife Hope's 44th Birthday; & as a part of our families celebration of the gift of her life, love & faith, I am re-posting this blog:


It was one of the proudest moments of my life. It ranks up there with becoming a Christian, championship football seasons, passing the Camp Ridgecrest “Little Chief” test, my wedding day, becoming a father, a few special ministry moments and glorious experiences with the Living God.

Some of the neighborhood boys had decided to start a club (6-10 yr olds). So, after extensive planning and intense preliminaries….they set out to build a tree-house …their club-house. After the basic construction from scrap wood and spare nails was done, they put the finishing touches of childhood craftsmanship in place…their stamp of authenticity, -graffiti. There were some splotches and lines of various colors, a few signatures (if you could call it that), a couple of ? symbols, and the crowning achievement…the club-house credo writ large on the exterior wall for all to see.

Now, if you are a parent, have been a summer camp counselor, or did a lot of babysitting (say 2nd to 6th graders); then, this is nothing new to you. The list of “club” rules and members is a normal part of learning to both write and relate (I think). And, I must admit that our daughters tend to be much more serious and creative while universally embracing the “no boys, and especially no brothers allowed” doctrine during those early years.

However, nothing could have prepared me for the neighborhood boy’s club-house graffiti credo. No, it wasn’t your traditional “No Girls Allowed,” nor a more conventional no sisters or adults clause. It was a new, radically different, undeniably bold and revolutionary statement…..”No Sam’s Mom!!!”

WOW! The elementary exclamation of exclusivity, the kid’s key to liberty…the club-house commandment and battle-cry…the castle rampart for protection. Do you get it? This was not a prohibition of all women or parents, but of “1.” Somehow in the infant, imaginative and warrior obsessed minds of these youth; they had focused in on the “1” ultimate opponent they did not want to have to face…“Sam’s Mom,” my wife Hope.

They knew (as I do) instinctively and experientially, this “1” woman was there and would get involved if needful. That’s it! Involvement, concern, action was her character; and she had and would serve as a boundary to adolescent whims and attitudes, while providing a voice of wisdom and conscience. How often our souls and our children are threatened spiritually and we need someone to discern, speak up and get involved to stave off the assault.

The world’s system, postmodern culture and media constantly promote ideas and images that place children’s lives at risk by making false beliefs and sinful activities appealing and applauded. Worse still, is the corresponding spiritual fascism that labors to erase parents, disdain all authority figures and eliminate the Christian faith and God from “normal” life experience. The biggest lie is humanistic, and proclaims that we may live this life on our own, for selfish pursuits and pleasures, and with no reference to either the Almighty or our want…need of piety or devotion.

But not on Hope’s watch. Every neighborhood needs a “Sam’s Mom,” and every family needs an initiator of conversation about values and consequences. Please understand, I in no way am suggesting the oft experienced religious, controlling or condemning parenting; but rather the grace and truth that says, “Have you thought about what that would feel like if it was you? Could we talk and pray about that for a few minutes?” What I’m endorsing is the Pr. 31 “virtuous woman;” the Christian mother whose “kindness brings conviction” and whose “gentleness makes greatness!”

Hope, that’s who you are. You are beautiful, holy, awe-inspiring and lovely beyond compare. Solomon saw and said it by Spirit-inspiration, the neighborhood boys experienced it and I know and love it, “Who is this who shines like the dawn; as beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awe-inspiring as an army with banners?” She is the “1” coming up out of the wilderness, leaning on her beloved, full of ardent, unrelenting passion (SOS 6:10, 8:5-7).

Hope Buhler, I am forever grateful for who you are. As a gift of life, graced with wisdom and beauty, you are uncommon…precious, priceless. Your faithfulness is a pillar in our love and family. Your strong convictions, fierce loyalty and fiery faith anchor me. Your spiritual sensitivity, personal vulnerability and brutal honesty refine me. Your depth of devotion, high aspirations, width of counsel and the length of your sacrificial-love has touched Heaven and reached my soul…marking my life eternally.

Words cannot express my gratitude for who you are, what you do….how you live, love, believe and serve. You cared and got involved with me, our children, their friends, our neighbors and the innumerable company of souls that have benefited from you “fearlessly diving in.” I will never forget you watching me, writing me, worshipping next to me, our times of spiritual wrestling and soul-wrenching prayer, waiting in desperation…hoping in the Lord, and wondering together. You have been to me and all who truly know you, God’s goodness and truth. You are tried, trusted and treasured. You are pure joy, and can only create unhappiness by being absent.

With all my heart and sincere thanks, Your Husband, Chip.

“Je t’aime plus qu’ hier moins que demain.”
I love you more than yesterday, Less than tomorrow!

P.S. Hope...Sarah and I have 2 words for you………. “kindness!”

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Andrea: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero."
Galileo: "No, Andrea...Unhappy is the land that needs a hero!"
--Bertolt Brecht, Galileo
"The fate of the hero is linked to the secularization and disenchantment of the modern world. Ours is said to be an age without God, without heroes, and ultimately, without selves... A great many of us have lost our sense of self. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are unable to articulate who we are... ours is an age without heroes or in which heroism is reduced to mere celebrity... without cultural heroes common to all, who represent ideals, we may lose a common sense of what binds us together so our culture itself begins to fragment.

Heroes serve as centers of moral space. They signal to what one's life is called to or committed... (they) are more than figures we admire... in some way, we emotionally identify with a hero... they are further along on our journey, because they have responded to the same call to which we respond... We stand with our heroes, to uphold the values they uphold. For those who have them, heroes are an important inner marker of identity. They are a part of the landscape of the soul.

If it is true that we lost our sense of heroic calling, then the 3 losses---the loss of God, the loss of heroes, and the loss of selves---seem to go together. God, heroes, and selves all partake of the sacred while the central tendency in the collective life of modern/postmodern culture is profoundly profane and secular... Moral vision is essential to selfhood (identity). Traditionally, in the west, God was the source and foundation of the good (godly)... the heroic is itself closely tied to a religious sensibility, a sensibility, we are seeing, that seems on the wane. The word hero comes from the Greek 'heros' (as referenced by Dad in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), meaning "God-person," the person charged with the charisma of the holy and sacred... for those who have them, heroes (usually) symbolize (embody) moral (godly) ideals... humility, integrity, dedication, vision, and courage." ---Douglas V. Porpora

"No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men." -Carlyle

According to Marshall Fishwick, "the search and need for heroes is inherent in human history... (but) heroes have become increasingly attenuated (reduced in force and value) with secularization (worldliness, irreligious). In ancient times heroes were demigods, in the middle ages they were God's representatives, in the Renaissance they were truth-seekers, and in the 19th century=self-made men. Today, there has been a kind of leveling of heroes (with the rise of capitalism). The charismatic (godly) hero, the hero bespeaking transcendental horizons, is (as) dead..."

“The modern world worships heroes of talent, beauty and power. But this is new, a change from days gone by. Previous generations honored heroes for what they possessed that others could emulate.” –Mansfield

Leo Lowenthal documents, "a shift during the early 20th century in the kind of heroes celebrated by the media. Whereas before, American capitalism lauded 'idols of production,' people who actually do something...after WWII, media heroes became mere 'idols of consumption,' athletes, movie stars, and entertainers. This shift reflects a greater cultural orientation toward leisure lives." "Celebrities have replaced heroes in modern culture. Whereas heroes were famous because they were great, clebrities are great because they are famous. the celebrity is a person known for his well-knownness (and moral neutrality or negativity). Celebrities are not moral beacons that fill us with purpose, but empty receptacles into which we pour our own purposeless (fitting heroes for an age without metanarratives=big stories w/ absolutes, truth and reference pts)" -Daniel Boorstin

"We continue to clamor for the very qualities we're rendering impossible. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst." -C.S.Lewis

"Let us not be complacent about our supposed capacity to get along without great men. If our society has lost its wish for heroes and its ability to produce them, it may well turn out to have lost everything else as well." -Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The purpose of this blog is to ignite hope and inspire heroism. Every life story and truth testimony told here may serve to invite us to intimacy with the Living God, while calling us to courageous action.

''Christianity has survived and thrived miraculously, in the midst of terrible dangers, chiefly because it has found concrete embodiment in human lives of persuasive quality, and the most persuasive of all qualities is that of genuine affection. One demonstration is worth a hundred arguments, for though doctrines may be impressive, it is experience that is convincing." -Elton Trueblood

Brothers and sisters, "hear the word of the Lord... the people who know their God shall be strong (courageously loyal), and carry out heroic deeds -Dan.11:32 ...return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope (God dreamers). Even today...I will restore double to you. For I have bent Judah (praise and thanks), My bow, fitted with Ephraim (fruitfulness and harvest), and raised up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and made you like the hero's sword -Zech.9:12-13 ...keep your eyes open, stand fast in the faith (hold to your convictions), be brave (heroic, be strong with relentless love) -1Cor.16:12-13.

 “We need to remember and search for our roots in the luminaries, risk-takers & movements of the church through the neglect them is to fall victim to a narrowing amnesia that leaves us floundering." -Timothy Jones

“My eyes shall be on the heroes of the land, the faithful!” –Ps101:6
“Who thru faith obtained promises…out of weakness were made strong…of whom the world was not worthy!!!” - Heb11:2, 33-38

My desire is the same as the journalist on "Enemy at The Gates:" give you "hope!...another way-a way of courage, a way of love...We must publish again the magnificent stories that exalt sacrifice and bravery-that make us believe in victory and give hope... Yes, we need to make examples-but, examples to follow. What we need are heroes!!!.....'Do you know any heroes around here?'...YES, comrad...I KNOW ONE!" 

Friends let's "look unto JESUS!" ...and "be diligent as followers of them who through faith and patience inherited the promises of God." -Heb.12:1-2, 6:11-12

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Paul's Ministry in Thessalonica" -Acts 17:1-9

Acts 17:1 – Amphipolis was the capital of the eastern province of Macedonia which was (30 miles) southwest of Philippi, almost surrounded by a bend in the River Strymon. Apollonia (place of Apollo, the Greek sun-god) was a Greek city on the Egnatian Way of Macedonia (28 miles or a days journey) west of Amphipolis, known for its trade.

I. THESSALONICA was the chief capital of Macedonia, situated on the northernmost tip of the Thermaic Gulf. It was capital of the 2nd division of Macedonia and the residence of a Roman governor. At Thessalonica we are in a Greek commercial city and a seaport. It was a “free city,” enjoying a certain autonomy and its own constitution. Thessalonica was populous and wealthy, an invaluable center for the spread of the gospel. It was important as a harbor with a large import and export trade, but also as the principal station on the great Via Egnatia, the highway from the Adriatic to the Hellespont (Asia to Rome).
            Here we find a large number of resident Jews and a synagogue. The Thessalonian church was to become strong and flourishing, composed of Gentiles rather than Jews. This we may gather from the tone of the 2 Epistles addressed to them, the absence of quotations from the Old Testament, and the phrase "You turned unto God from idols" (1Thess.1:9; 2:14). These are the earliest of Paul's Epistles (A.D.52-53), and show us that the apostle was eager to revisit Thessalonica very soon after his enforced departure. He later sent Timothy from Athens to visit the church and confirm the faith of the Christians amid their hardships and persecutions (1Thes.3:2-10). Almost certainly Paul returned there on his 3rd missionary tour (Acts20:1-3), and also during his journey through Macedonia after his 1st captivity (1Tim.1:3).
            Acts 17:4-5 speaks of Jason (same as Hebrew Jesus or Joshua), who was a Christian in Thessalonica that opened his home to Paul’s mission team; perhaps the same mentioned in Rom.16:21 as Paul’s “kinsmen” (relative; fellow countrymen). Aristarchus and Secundus were probably converted at this time (19:29; 20:4). Acts 17:6-9 mentions the city’s “rulers” (politarchs), used of a town-officer, magistrate; a ruler of a city or citizens.” Thessalonica was a "free" city and the citizens could choose their own politarchs. This word used by Luke is supported by inscriptions discovered at Thessalonica which mention Sosipater, Secundus, and Gaius among the politarchs, names occurring as those of Paul's companions later. Gaius is mentioned with Aristarchus also. The only other mention of this town occurs when Paul writes that Demas had forsaken him and gone there (2Tim.4:10). All these names and references show the power and strategic significance of friendships in team ministry and leadership.

ARISTARCHUS was a Macedonian, among the converts of Thessalonica (17:1-9) who accompanied Paul on the 3rd missionary journey through Asia Minor (20:4). A faithful companion and friend, he was with Paul during the riot at Ephesus (19:29), where he was seized and nearly killed. He left that city accompanying Paul to Greece, then to Asia.  Later, he preceded Paul to Troas, and accompanied the apostle to Rome (27:2), where he attended Paul and then shared his imprisonment. In 2 Epistles, written during captivity, Paul refers to Aristarchus as still with him, his fellow-prisoner (Col.4:10; Phile.1:24). According to tradition, Aristarchus was martyred during the persecution of Nero.

The Account of Acts 17:1-9 in 1st & 2nd Thessalonians:
            (1Thes.2:9; 2Thes.3:6-10; Phil.4:16).
            (1Thes.1:5, 9-10; 2:1-12).
            (1Thes.1:1-8; 2:13-16, 19-20; 4:9-10).
            (1Thes.3:6-13; 2Thes.1:1-6, 11-12; 2:13-17; 3:1-5)

II. Profound Insights on Heart Devotion:
Take a look at 17:4, and notice the emphasis on the “large number of devout Greeks” that were “persuaded, believed and joined” Paul and Silas. This emphasis seems to be a theme throughout Acts that reveals both the power of true devotion and God’s favorable attention and desires towards such a heart. Let’s look through Acts to see the “devout.”
            Luke 1st mentions this same word when speaking of Simeon in Lk.2:25, as a “just and devout man.” At Pentecost, there were “devout Jews from every nation” and we know the result of that (Acts 2:25). At Stephen’s burial, “devout men carried him” (8:2); and its believed that some of these were the faithful witnesses that then went forth preaching (vs.4). Cornelius the Italian Centurion and influential Gentile convert was “a devout man that feared God;” and the same is said of his family and even some servants and a specific soldier in his home (10:7). Acts 13:50 seems to serve as a warning, by suggesting that devotion, prominence and ignorance combined may be either susceptible to deception or emotionally led astray. We find here among the Thessalonians, a huge positive response to the message of Jesus Christ, His cross, suffering and resurrection by many “devout” Greeks. In Athens, Paul reasons with “devout persons” in the marketplace daily (17:17). And finally, we learn that Ananias, the disciple that ministered to Paul at his conversion, was “devout…and highly respected” (Acts 9=22:12).
            This truth of sincere heart devotion stands in sharp contrast with a religious or hypocritical heart. Scripture is clear that God does not see or judge like we do: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” -1Sam.16:7. There is a clear distinction between a sincere, unfeigned faith and insincere, religious pride; and there is a great difference in a heart truly desirous and devoted to knowing God and HIS will, and a hypocritical heart that performs, portrays and pretends as a manipulation of people’s opinions to curry favor or get what you want. In other words, “Are you going God’s way when HE goes your way? Going your own way and calling it God’s way? Or going God’s way no matter what?” The first is religious pride, the second is hypocritical, but the third is “devout”…sincere faith and true Christian discipleship.
            When it comes to believing God, the religious and hypocritical always complain and argue that there’s not enough proof. However, the truth is that the issue is never the paucity of evidence, nor the veracity of Biblical claims, but the hypocrisy of human hearts…an insincere desire to search for or find truth! It appears that God is attracted to devout hearts, and it would be wise for us to be intentional about ministering to the devout, spiritually hungry, truth seeking people we may come in contact with also.

III. Following Biblical Ministry Examples:
Jesus responded to questions with questions to engage people in the process of seeking and finding truth…real answers. One of the best ways to witness and minister to people effectively is to learn to ask questions and listen intently. By asking questions we can gather important information and be sensitive to discern how to minister to them. It also let’s them do the hard work in the conversation by reversing the burden of proof.
*Some good questions: Really? What do you mean by that? Can you explain that to me? Now why do you think that? How did you come to that conclusion? Why do you believe that? What if…Isn’t it possible that? How do you know that? 

Now let’s take a closer look at Paul’s example in Thessalonica. Notice these 6 key insights from Acts 17:1-5 about witnessing or ministering to people (some of following notes are from a R. Newman lecture):
1.      Like Paul, our ministry might be more ongoing. He returned 3x to the same place, so you should seek to connect with people and witness on an installment plan.
  1. Like Paul, we should have some Bible convictions and knowledge.
3.      Like Paul, sometimes our witness may be more dialogue than Bible. See the verbs reasoned, explained, proved, persuaded. Use these and questions to discover what and how to share Biblical truths.
  1. Like Paul, our purpose in sharing should be about Jesus Christ!
Paul’s passion, priority and purpose in ministry was to preach Christ. His witness and work was to bring the revelation of who Jesus is, what He did and what that means for us. The glorious Gospel of God’s Eternal Son…the deepest, most complete and crowning revelation possible of the only-begotten Son is always spoken of by Paul. Paul’s apprehension, comprehension and service of God’s Son was the most complete and fruitful revelation of Jesus Christ in history. As scholars and critics have said, “Paul gave us Jesus Christ!” Jesus is the issue! Make HIM the main thing.
5.      Like Paul, our ministry to people might get mixed reviews. Some scoffed, others were interested yet uncommitted, some believed and others rioted violently. Just faithfully sow seeds. If you plant and water, then God will give increase.
6.      Like Paul, our witness may be bad news for some before its good news. Jesus death and suffering shows that sin is so bad it needs an extreme solution. The cross makes sin intensely personal. Besides, most people don’t like to accept responsibility, admit when they’re wrong or are in need. Just speak the truth in love, trust the Holy Spirit to work on them, continue to pray for them and look for opportunities to share with them again. Lastly, you may find that our ministry/witness may even cause other believers to be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, let us trust God, not focus on people’s responses, but be faithful with the relationships and opportunities the Lord brings us.

*Note: “It cannot too strongly be stressed that the content of the earliest Christian preaching was not a set of ethical rules, philosophical theories, social programs, or a series of phenomenal events-though it did herald the most outstanding happenings! The distinct content of the earliest Christian preaching may be summed up in 1 word—CHRIST! Now, ‘preaching Christ’ is a pregnant phrase. It is so much more than preaching about Christ (you can preach about Confucius, Socrates, Buddha or Mohammed). But that is not preaching in the New Testament sense. Christian preaching is not just the speaking of words; it’s infinitely more—the communication of the Word. Preaching and witnessing are both a spiritual and supernatural act—‘the transmission of a Person through a person to a group of persons, the Person so conveyed being the everlasting Jesus…Your primary duty lies here: you are to be bearers of the burden of the Lord. You are to carry Christ to the people” (I.Macpherson). Through you, God is to come in Word and Spirit to the world and the hearts of men and women.
            Lastly, notice (17:2-3) the apostolic insistence on Messiah’s suffering (His death) and exaltation (His Resurrection) as the 2 basic facts of the Gospel (see Acts 3:18; 23:6; 26:23; Lk.24:26-27,46; 1Cor.15:3-4; 1Pet.1:11). Paul showed that Jesus (1) was born at Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2); (2) was of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10); (3) was descended from Jesse, and of the royal line of David (Isa. 11:1,10); (4) came at the time predicted (Dan. 9:24-27); and (5) was marked by an appearance, character, and work that corresponded with the O.T. predictions (Isa. 53); and surely taught many other Scriptural examples and fulfilled prophecies like these.
“We preach always Christ & Christ alone, true God & true man.” –Martin Luther

IV. Discussion Questions:
1.      Is witnessing to others a point of tension for you? Why do you suppose that is? What are some ways of connecting with others to tell them the gospel?

2.      Paul had a “custom” of going to a Synagogue on the Sabbath and discussing Scriptures and ministering/witnessing to others there (vs.2, & Jesus did also, Lk.4:16). Do you have any Christian “customs”…daily, weekly, annual commitments to church, Bible study or ministry to others? What are they?

3.      Have you ever read a great book about Jesus, or done an in-depth Bible study about who HE is, what HE did, what the Old Testament says about HIM, or what HIS life, words and redemptive work means to us? If so, share a truth you learned about Jesus Christ that was life-changing:

4.      Have you ever experienced the fruit of witnessing or ministry to someone over an extended period of time? What was the situation, how did God work through these times, and what was the resulting fruit?

5.      Have you or someone you know ever suffered persecution or encountered difficult opposition because of Christian life, convictions or witness? How?

"Paul at Philippi" -Acts 16:11-40

This is the beginning of the history of all that resulted from the strange circumstances that allowed Paul to discern the Spirit’s preventing their progress as a means of Divine guidance for re-directing the team to Troas. Immediately following the supernatural vision of “the Man from Macedonia,” they “concluded” that God had called them to Europe…so they set sail from Troas. Luke says they “sailed straight” (lit. a straight course), a nautical phrase which means “sailing before the wind.” The voyage only took 2 days because the wind was with them. Later on, we find the same voyage taking 5 days against a contrary wind. Sometimes, the wind is with us…what a blessing!
            With this statement, we notice a stark contrast with their previous experience in Asia Minor (our last lesson). We have seen Paul and the team perplexed, stuck, hindered and pushed…but now they sail before the wind. The same Spirit is now seen cooperating; showing favor by the direction of the wind driving these men onward to Divine appointments. This consciousness of the very forces of nature helping the purposes of grace must have been a source of great encouragement that strengthened their faith!      
            Sailing NW from Troas, they 1st anchored for a night off of Samothracia; a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, about 35 miles off the southern coast of Thrace. They next reached the mainland at the port of Neapolis, 120 miles from Troas. This seaport in NE Macedonia near the border of Thrace, served as the port city of Philippi. At Neapolis, Paul picked up the Egnatian Way (the major road of Macedonia) to journey inland 10 miles to Philippi, the chief city of that part of Macedonia.

This is the 2nd Missionary Journey of Paul and Silas. They had met Timothy, who was held in high regard in Lystra and Iconium; and Paul had invited him along as a traveling companion. Their round-about journey had brought them to Troas, where the vision of the “Man of Macedonia” brought the team to Philippi, a Roman colony. Luke the beloved physician also joins their party (16:10). Lydia the businesswoman, along with her household, get saved and baptized here (16:15). The deliverance of a demonized girl then results in Paul and Silas being beaten and thrown into prison. Their supernatural release at midnight, precipitated by fervent prayer and praise brought salvation to the jailor and his whole house. The rest of the chapter narrates their wise and peaceful departure from Philippi to continue the mission to Macedonia. Their ministry travels will take them to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth (where Paul would stay nearly 2 years) before returning to Antioch once again. This entire 2nd mission journey would take 3-4 years.

MACEDONIA, is the focused and fruitful mission field on this journey. It’s mentioned 10 times in Acts and 16 times in the Pauline Epistles, was a mountainous country north of Greece, afterward enlarged and formed into a Roman province. Some of its chief cities included Berea, Neapolis, Philippi, and Thessalonica.  Philip II of Macedon (ruled 359-336 B.C.) established his capital here at Phillipi. Several of Paul's companions and fellow workers were Macedonians: Lydia (16:14, 40); Jason (17:5-9; Rom.16:21); Gaius (19:29); Aristarches (19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Col.4:10; Phile.1:24); Secundes and Sopater (20:4; Rom.16:21); Epaphroditus (Phil.2:25;4:18); Clement (Phil.4:3); Euodia and Syntyche (Phil.4:2); and Syzygus (the “true yokefellow” of Phil.4:3). The Macedonian Christians' support of Paul’s needs and others is mentioned often by Paul (Rom15:26; 2Cor8:1-5; Phil4:15-18). What a profound blessing these friends of faith proved to be!

PHILIPPI was a fortified city of Macedonia located near the northern coast of the Aegean Sea between the cities Neapolis and Amphipolis. The Via Egnatia, the main road between Rome and Asia, passed through it. Philippi was named for Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. A miniature Rome, its official language was Latin, but knowledge of Greek was a necessity for all. Its population was mixed:  the Roman colonists, the dominant and ruling class; the old Macedonian stock was numerically the strongest section; and a mixture of Orientals. The second epistle to the Corinthians may have been written in this city. The first church in Europe was planted here. There was no synagogue here (not enough Jews), as at Salamis in Cyprus (Acts 13:5), Antioch in Pisidia (13:14, 43), Iconium (14:1), Ephesus (18:19, 26; 19:8), Thessalonica (17:1), Berea (17:10), Athens (17:17) and Corinth (18:4). The number of resident Jews was small, their meetings for prayer took place on the river's bank, the worshippers were mostly or entirely women (16:13), and among them were proselytes. 

NOTE: A striking fact of the Macedonian Churches, beginning here in Phillipi (16:13-18; Phil.4:2-3), and in Thessalonica and Berea (17:4, 12), is the prominence in them of women. This is possibly due to the higher social position held by women in this province than in Asia Minor; but regardless of reasons, would continue to be a distinguishing characteristic and means of blessing in these churches. It is perhaps the most common distinctive of mission oriented churches throughout history that they continually provide opportunities for women to serve in their God given graces and ministries.

II. The Miraculous Breakthroughs in Philippi:

1. The Conversion of Lydia (16:11-15):
Apparently there was no synagogue in Philippi, but Paul and his companions heard that some Jews gathered on the Sabbath by the riverside outside the city. Reaching the spot, they found a group of women praying, including one named Lydia. She was probably a convert to Judaism. Originally from Thyatira, a city in western Asia Minor, she had moved to Philippi where she sold purple-dyed cloth. Thyatira was famous for its dyes.
            Not only was her ear open to the gospel; her heart was open as well. After receiving the Lord Jesus, she was baptized and her household. The members of her household had, of course, been converted also before they were baptized. There is no mention of Lydia's being married; her household could have consisted of servants.
            Lydia was not saved by good works, but she was saved unto them, that is, in order to do them. She proved the reality of her faith by opening her home to Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy. Phillip's translation says: ‘When she and her household had been baptized, she appealed to us, saying, "If you are satisfied that I am a true believer in the Lord, then come down to my house and stay there." And she insisted on our doing so.’

2. Demonic Deliverance of a Fortune-Teller (16:16-18):
Another day, when Paul and his companions were going to the place of prayer, they met a young woman who had a spirit of divination. Possessed by a demon, she was able to foretell the future and to make other astounding revelations. In this way she brought considerable income to her masters.
NOTE: “DIVINATION” =“Python” in Greek mythology, it was the name of the Pythian serpent or dragon that was said to have guarded the famous oracle at Delphi and which had been killed by Apollo. Later the word was applied to a spirit of divination, or to refer to soothsayers.  Since demons are the agents inspiring idolatry (1Cor.10:20), the young woman in Acts 16:16 was possessed by a demon instigating the cult of Apollo, and thus had “a spirit of divination”—“a spirit by which she predicted the future” (NIV); “who was a fortune-teller” (TLB); “claiming to foretell future events and to discover hidden knowledge” (AMP); “she was a psychic” (The Message Bible).
            When she met the Christian missionaries, and for many days after, she followed them, crying out, "There men are servants of the Most High God, which show unto you [not us] the way of salvation." What she said was perfectly true, but Paul knew better than to accept testimony from demons. Also he was grieved because of the wretched condition of this enslaved maid. So, in the all-powerful name of Jesus Christ, he commanded the demon to come out of her. Immediately she was freed from this dreadful bondage, and became a sane, rational person.

3. Paul and Silas Arrested and Imprisoned (16:19-24):
Instead of being grateful that this young woman was no longer demon possessed, her masters bitterly resented the resulting loss of income. They therefore dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates, and trumped up charges against them. Basically, they accused them of being “troublemaking Jews” who were trying to upset the Roman way of life. The mob reacted violently, and the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten. After a thorough beating, the missionaries were sent to jail, with special instructions to the jailer to guard them securely. He responded by putting them into the inner prison and fastening their feet in stocks. Paul refers to this beating elsewhere (2Cor.11:23-25; 1Thess.2:2; Phil.1:29-30)…it must have been severe.
            In this passage we see 2 of Satan's chief methods of attack. First, he tried false friendship--the testimony of the demon-possessed girl; but when this failed, he resorted to open persecution. "Alliance or persecution--these are the alternatives: false friendship or open war" (F.W. Grant). "How the Devil must have triumphed as he thought he had brought the career of these devoted servants of Christ to an abrupt close. His triumph was premature…in this case, it turned out for the furtherance of the work of the Lord. The unexpected happened" (A.J. Pollock).

4. Songs In the Night & Supernatural Release (16:25-34):
The midnight hour found Paul and Silas praying and singing. Their joy was completely independent of earthly circumstances. The source of all their singing was not only in heaven above, but was “Present” with them!. “Any man can sing when the prison doors are open, and he is set free. The Christian soul sings in prison. I think that Paul would probably have sung a solo had I been Silas: but I nevertheless see the glory and grandeur of the Spirit that rises superior to all the things of difficulty and limitation" -Anon.
            As the other prisoners were listening to their prayers and hymns of praise to God, the prison was rocked by an unusual earthquake. It opened the doors and unloosed the stocks and chains, but it did not entirely demolish the building.
            When the jailer awoke and saw the prison wide open, he assumed that the prisoners had made their escape. Aware that his own life might have to be forfeited, he drew his sword to commit suicide. Paul assured him that there was no need for him to do that because all the prisoners were still present and accounted for.
            Now a new emotion swept over the jailer. His fears of losing his job and perhaps his life gave way to deep conviction of sin. He was now afraid to meet God in his sins. He cried, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" This question often precedes genuine conversions. A person must know they are lost before they can be saved. The people in Acts who were told to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ were convicted of their sin and the reality of the One True Living God that is separate from them. Now, the jailer was thoroughly broken up over his sins, so he was told to believe in Christ.
            "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved-you and your household." Many people today seem to have difficulty knowing what it means to believe. However, when a sinner realizes that he’s lost-helpless, that God is real, and then is told to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior…he knows exactly what it means. It’s the only thing left that he can do. Lastly, notice the Gospel of the Kingdom reaches all classes (16:27-40): the upper class –Lydia the businesswoman; the middle class –the jailor and his family; and the lower class – the demon-possessed slave girl. “God does not show favoritism!”
            After Paul and Silas had a teaching session with the household, the jailer demonstrated the genuineness of his conversion by washing their wounds, and by being baptized without delay. Also, he brought them into his house and fed them, rejoicing all the time with his household that they had all come to know the Lord.

5. The Magistrates on the Defensive (16:35-40):
Apparently the magistrates (court judges) had a change of heart during the night, because in the morning they sent the police with instructions to release the 2 prisoners. When the jailer announced the good news to Paul, he refused to leave under such circumstances. After all, Silas and he, though Jews by birth, were citizens of Rome. They had been tried and punished unfairly. So, let the magistrates come and release the prisoners.
            The magistrates did come, and rather apologetically! They urged Paul and Silas to leave the city without further disturbance. With the dignity of sons of the King, the Lord's servants left the prison, but they did not leave the city immediately. First they went to Lydia's house, conferred with the brethren, and comforted them. How wonderful! The ones who should have been comforted were comforting others. Then, when their mission in Philippi was accomplished, they left for Thessalonica. Paul would later re-visit the Province of Macedonia (20:1-3; Phil.1:26; 1Tim.1:3); and the saints at Philippi would never forget what Paul had done for them (Phil.4:15-16).

III. Discussion Questions:
1. Have you known anyone like Lydia: a godly woman of excellence, a business-woman that was also an intercessor? Notice the ministry of opening her heart and home so others benefit from the hospitality. How has your life been influenced by someone similar?

2. Tell of someone you know that was miraculously healed or delivered. Have you become aware of the business of religion, or seen financial greed hinder-oppose faith?

3. Have you ever been encouraged or convicted by the testimony of another Christian’s persevering faith through intense persecution or imprisonment? Who, when and how?

4. Remember a time in your life or the testimony of a friend that turned to God in prayer, gratitude and praise in the most difficult of circumstances. Now share how God revealed Himself and turned the tragedy into a triumph of grace:

"The Macedonian Call" -Acts 15:36-16:11

"In the pursuit of one’s life purpose, there providentially occurs defining moments in the form of refining crises, freeing us from confining limitations, and enabling us to grow in godliness…and perhaps even empowering us to step into greatness!” –Chip Buhler

"Faith never knows where it’s being led, but it loves & knows the One who’s leading." -Chambers
"I have no faith in my faith. My faith is in the faithful God!" -Ravenhill

            The story of Paul’s mission adventures in Acts 16 are commonly referred to as “the Macedonian Call.” This statement refers specifically to the spiritual vision and invitation Paul received 1 night at Troas (16:8-10). This vision was the culmination of a series of strange, unplanned events that providentially served to re-direct the team to Troas; and to convict them of God’s calling to go to Europe together and preach. Also, sometimes the phrase “Macedonian Call” is used generally of an individual’s sense of calling to missions or ministry leadership. For the purpose of our study, however, we will look at this more broadly as a topic that deals with God leading us through difficult or unforeseen circumstances, into a transition or change of life direction and calling. I call this a “Redemptive Realignment,” and it is usually experienced by every believer (1-2 times) in their life and faith journey.
            Acts15:33-41 tells of the plans and preparations made for the 2nd Missions Trip. Barnabas and Paul had sharp contention over the issue of taking John Mark again. Why did John Mark leave the team on the 1st mission trip and return to Jerusalem, his childhood home (12:12, 25)? Was it the attraction of his earthly home, his wanting to see his mother and old friends, or his being upset that cousin Barnabas was becoming the "second" man as Paul was ever coming to the forefront as a leader? Regardless, this young man who wavered under the pressures of ministry and spiritual warfare would persevere and obtain glorious victories in Christ. He was not unwilling to go on this 2nd journey, and would accompany Barnabas back to Cyprus, the place of his vacillation (15:39). Nor did Paul always retain an unfavorable judgment of him. John Mark had promising qualities which would later develop and be appreciated (“receive him”-Col. 4:10; “my fellow-laborer”-Phile.1:24; “he’s useful to me for the ministry”-2Tim.4:11).

This is the beginning of the 2nd Missionary Journey of Paul with Silas. Early on this trip, they meet Timothy, who was held in high regard in Lystra and Iconium; and Paul, desiring to take him along as a traveling companion, circumcised him (16:3). Then after some travel through Phrygia, the team was prevented from continuing because of Paul’s sickness. This illness necessitated a change of direction to Galatia for ministry. Not long after that, they say, ‘the Spirit kept them from preaching in Asia.’ However, shortly thereafter, they turn back again, and come to the border of Mysia. This was a province in NW Asia Minor. There, feeling the lure of Bithynia, they intended to go this way…but “No!” Luke records, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”  So, Paul passed through Mysia, and pressed on westward to the coast. There, 1 night in Troas, came the vision and voice of a man from Macedonia to Paul. The vision was shared with the team and they “concluded God had called” them to preach there. So, they embarked from the chief port of Troas on the first mission voyage to Europe.
Note: Onesiphorus, a Christian from Ephesus, who was martyred some time between 109 -114 A.D., is supposed to have later evangelized this part of Asia (2Tim1:16-18; 4:19).

TROAS (a Trojan, area near Troy) was the chief city on the coast of Mysia in NW Asia Minor (modern Turkey), visited at least 3 times by Paul (Acts16:8, 11; 20:5-6; 2Cor.2:12; 2Tim.4:13). It was 10 miles SW of the ruins of ancient Troy. It was here that God would later restore to life a young man named Eutychus, who had fallen from a 3rd-story window while Paul preached late into the night (Acts20:5-12; compare 2Cor.2:12; 2Tim.4:13). The vision at Troas of the “Man of Macedonia” brought the team to Philippi, a Roman colony; and Luke the beloved physician also joins the team there (Acts16:10).

II. TIMOTHY, introduced here in Acts 16:1, was Paul's friend and chief associate, who is mentioned as joint sender in 6 of Paul's epistles (2Cor.1:1; Phil.1:1; Col.1:1; 1 Thess.1:1; 2 Thess.1:1; and Phile.1). Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish-Christian mother named Eunice, and the grandson of Lois (Acts16:1; 2Tim.1:5).  Birthed under Paul's ministry, he is called “beloved and faithful son in the Lord” (1Cor.4:17), and “true son in the faith” (1Tim.1:2). Timothy played a prominent role in the remainder of the 2nd missionary journey. When Paul was forced to leave Berea because of an uproar started by Jews from Thessalonica, Silas and Timothy were left behind to strengthen the work in Macedonia (17:14). After they rejoined Paul in Athens (18:5), Paul sent Timothy back to the believers in Thessalonica to establish them and encourage them in the faith (1Thess.3:1-9). During Paul's 3rd missionary journey, Timothy was also active in the evangelizing of Corinth. After that, Timothy is listed as one of the group that accompanied Paul along the coast of Asia Minor on his way to Jerusalem (20:4-5). Timothy later appears as a companion of Paul during his imprisonment in Rome (Col.1:1; Phil.1:1; Phile.1:1). From Rome, Paul sent Timothy to Philippi to bring back word of the congregation that had supported the apostle so faithfully. Timothy's strongest traits were his sensitivity, his affection, and his loyalty. Paul commends his proven character and faithfulness (Phil. 2:19-23; 2Tim.1:4; 3:10). Yet Paul's warnings to “be strong” (2Tim.2:1) suggests that Timothy may have struggled with fear (1Cor.16:10-11; 2Tim.1:7) and perhaps youthful lusts (2Tim.2:22). But in spite of his weaknesses, Paul was closer to Timothy than to any other associate. Some believe that Timothy later became the Sr. Pastor/leader of the large-growing church at Ephesus.
Note: Acts16:1-8; 2Tim.1:5; 3:15: Paul had refused to circumcise Titus at Jerusalem (Gal.2:1-5+Acts15:1-6). Here, Paul circumcises Timothy as a Jew and not as a Greek Gentile. He did this as a voluntary act of expediency for the purpose of making Timothy more useful among the Jews, who had a claim on him as the son of a Jewish mother.  Otherwise, he would not have been allowed to teach in a Jewish synagogue without this token of membership. In the case of Titus, a pure Greek, Judaizers had demanded circumcision as a principle and as a condition of justification and salvation (21:23-26).

III. DIVINE GUIDANCE: Acts 16:10, 2Cor. 2:12
The early church and its leaders depended on the guidance of God in their lives and ministries. They believed in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and were open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in everything they did. This story is deeply suggesting that Paul was left to consider what would be best, and yet stayed open to the Spirit’s leading to keep him from what might not be God’s will. If we desire God’s ways and are seeking His will for our lives, we too should have faith in God’s ability to make His voice known to us; and  believe it’s His responsibility to convict us if we are going the wrong way (Jn.10:3-4, Is. 30:21, 50:4-5). “It is surely safer to walk by faith in God, than to be led by my whims. I choose what is most agreeable to me; but God chooses what is most advantageous for me -and proves, in his disposal of me, that his love to me is greater than my love to myself”  (J.Meikle). Let’s take a closer look at some unique ways God guided Paul’s team:

1. Separation-Acts15:36-41
The Spirit was working in and through the separation of Paul and Barnabus. As painful and disturbing as it was for them, and is for us who read this (or experience separations of mature adults or Christian leaders because of “sharp disagreements”), God clearly used this to accomplish some distinct and wonderful things through their lives. The separation gave freedom to 2 leaders’ different convictions of the will and purpose of God for that season of ministry. The separation gave 2 godly men opportunities for mentoring young leaders with lasting results (Bible books of Timothy/Mark written). The separation gave 2 missionaries for “the work” of revisiting churches and going to the regions beyond. When studying this situation, you may see that Paul and Barnabus seemed to be both right and wrong concerning different aspects of this disagreement. However, the results that God would bring about through both of these godly men will prove that the Lord Himself was guiding them and using it all to grow them in maturity, and even to teach us. We too may find that the Lord has directed our lives through a difficult time of separation from close or long-term relationships. Out of the darkness of broken relationships may come the light of fresh vision, renewed hope for the future, and maybe even new-stronger bonds of friendship or purpose. These may even prove to be the greatest opportunity and blessing of our lives and ministry, when we look back upon them years later.

2. Salvation –Acts16:1-5
“Special Redemption”…at Lystra, the place of Paul’s stoning (14:19), he finds Timothy. When did Timothy become a Christian disciple? It probably was in the days of Paul’s previous visit on the 1st mission journey. When younger, Paul had once watched the stoning of a saint called Stephen. He had heard his dying prayer and the vision of the face of Stephen had fastened into his heart and mind. Then at Lystra, Paul had gone through a similar experience, but had miraculously survived. Perhaps another young man had seen this, and so it’s commonly believed that Timothy’s life was changed and faith began by seeing and receiving from Paul’s testimony. Now, Paul returned, scars still hurting and memories vivid and intimidating, but this time to find Timothy at the place of the stones. Then and there, from that moment on, began a rare and wonderful friendship that would become an encouragement and example for Christians and leaders through history. We too must face our fears and failures, trusting God for His special redemptive purposes and fruit. Believing for Him to turn it for our good, and bring salvation to and through a  hurtful, disappointing situation or place. Our God is able…and ever bringing redemptive surprises into our lives. “How often God’s servants return after years of absence to some rough, rugged place of battle, blood, agony and find the fruit” –GCM.

3. Sickness-Gal.4:13-14
After finding Timothy and inviting him to join the mission team, they tried to go to proconsular Asia, but they could not do it, because Paul was sick. The missionary apostle had become ill with an infirmity of the flesh so bad, that he could not go on. It then became necessary that they take another direction. So, they go to the Galatians to preach instead. The Spirit guided through Paul’s illness, which necessitated him taking another direction, and serving as a bridge to an as yet unforeseen destination by the Providence of God. Notice, we are not saying that God caused this illness, or that Paul deserved it, etc. We are saying that God used it in a rare but real way. We too may find that a sickness or physical problem is used by God to bring about a change in direction or lifestyle that opens doors for God’s purposes and special ministry opportunities. This was true of Paul, and has been the experience of some who through injury in 1 profession heard a call to another…or even to ministry; or by an experience of sickness may have redirected their life into medical, teaching or other fields. Sometimes being sick or stuck, with an inability to move forward with commitments or desires, becomes a turning point in perspective, priorities or life toward future blessings and benefits.

4. Spiritual Restraint-Acts16:6-7
Most of us view the leading of God’s Spirit in a positive light, as the search for Divine confirmation of purposes. Yes, it’s normal to receive guidance from God proactively through His word, promises, personal convictions and even applying wisdom or counsel to our decision making and direction in life. It’s also, however, true that God may lead us by saying “No,” or by allowing circumstances or conscience to make it uncomfortable or even impossible to move ahead as planned. We may not even discern or understand this until some time later, when we realize He guided us reactively toward His desired destination. God’s word and Spirit can work powerfully as a restraining force in our life decisions, if we will discern and allow it. As you read this story, you notice that the declarations concerning the guidance of the Spirit are put in points of great difficulty, where the Spirit’s leading conflicted with their own intentions. This insight can be a helpful outlook on life. You may look back and say, ‘There was a point where I desired to go a certain way, and circumstances prevented it.’ But Paul and Luke say, ‘the Holy Spirit prevented it.’ There is a time when, perplexed and unsure, difficulties and an uneasy conscience turn them back from the direction they have; and years later Luke writes that “they were forbidden or kept from…the Spirit of Jesus would not allow us to” and Paul would write “a door was opened to me by the Lord” (16:7, 2Cor.2:12). We too may have a time in life where God prevents or does not allow us to continue a certain direction; and we may also experience a series of closed door circumstances that we later call the Lord’s open door!” Every “no” in life may eventually serve as a shout “yes” for something better! HE only takes away to establish (Heb.10:9).

5. Supernatural Vision-Acts16:8-9
There actually are times in Scripture and possibly in our lives, that God does not leave the decision or inspiration for something to us. HE reveals His will supernaturally in visions (5x in Acts). Also in Acts, God’s guidance is sometimes clarified through prophets, Angels or personal-subjective-inward communication or sensing. Here, Paul is lead supernaturally through a vision into the center of God’s will. “What we need then is the confidence—the faith in the guidance of the Spirit in the hours when no voice is heard--no vision is seen. If we will follow then, the hour of vindication will come, there will come the vision, the man from Macedonia, His voice distinctly heard;”(GCM) and then “we” shall “conclude” that God would have us go in a specific direction.

6. Synergy-Acts16:10
This is the 1st mention of “WE,” indicating that Luke, author of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1), is included in these historical events (with Silas and Timothy).  This “first person” continues until Acts 16:40, and resumes again in 20:5-6 (Luke stayed in Philippi). From then till Acts ends, Luke is with Paul! Tradition records that Luke came from Antioch in Syria; others feel that he came from Philippi. He apparently was a humble man, with no desire to sound his own horn. More than 1/4 of the New Testament comes from his pen, but not once does he mention himself by name. He was a careful historian, and Luke’s Gospel reveals his concern for the poor, sick, and outcast; so Paul called him “the beloved physician” (Col.4:10; Phile.1:24; 2Tim.4:11). Dr. Luke was to be a constant companion of Paul, and the eyewitness to his incredible life and ministry (note the "WE" of Acts16:10-16; 20:6, 13-15; 21:1-17; 27:1-7, 15-37). We too may find that God sometimes uses the synergy of friendships, unity and committed partnerships to either confirm or lead us into HIS will for our lives (2Cor.2:12-13).

7. Sailing Faith-Acts16:10-11
Tacitus said, “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” Sometimes, we may know the direction of God, simply because we have come to the “conclusion” that it’s God’s will. The readiness to take a step of faith and risk it all; the conviction to go forward into the unknown after a season of difficulty and uncertainty, may be the confirmation. The actual act of launching forth in a new venture may itself be the proof that it’s in fact the culmination of a long process of discerning God’s best. If life has been an uphill climb, or a series of dead-end streets, and suddenly you sense the season changing and the confidence ‘to release what’s behind and reach for what’s ahead’…you’re likely being led by the Spirit. When the conviction within, call without or “conclusion” we agree on carries more weight than the fears and hindrances that have held us…it’s time to obey God and set sail for Macedonia by faith alone.
We should “never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God!” –CTB.

A Concluding Thought:
How can we know that God has used some unique (negative) things in our lives to guide us into His will? Probably by the results! This is not “pragmatism,” results that are seen immediately or from a temporary, short-term view of “success.” This type of pragmatic measure is usually not Biblical or spiritually accurate. These “results” that prove God’s faithfulness are from a Providential perspective. That means we may look back years later and discern God’s gracious superintendence. We then recognize God’s sovereign, circumstantial guidance through dark or difficult experiences as an “open door” into a most fruitful time of life/ministry. When looking back on separate incidents in our lives, we may see these strange, contradictory and troublesome events merging into a mosaic; until a pattern stands clear, and the beautiful tapestry of our lives reflects the glory of God’s Divine government. When Luke wrote this, years after it happened, he told what they did not know then. The “Spirit” kept, forbid, did not allow…to lead them to Troas. The fact of the Holy Spirit’s guidance is demonstrated by all that follows –vision, faith, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth; salvations, deliverances, church-plants, leaders mentored, books of the Bible written, making life-long friends & ministry partners, godly affections & genuine commitment to peoples & places, etc. All these resulted…all this was Heavenly fruit! The Divine blessing of fruit that remains!

 “If we make up our minds that the way of guidance is the way of flaming vision, rolling thunder, articulate voice, and a lifting to a height of spiritual ecstasy; then, we may never be guided…HE may lead us differently. What we need then is the confidence—the faith in the guidance of the Spirit in the hours when no voice is heard--no vision is seen. If we will follow then, the hour of vindication will come. Oh, to go, not where I may choose, even by my love for the Lord, but where I am driven by the Lord’s command. Circumstances of difficulty are opportunities for faith, and the measure of our perplexity in Christian life and service is the measure of our possibilities. Know that God’s shortest way to (our) Troas (open door) may be against our inclinations...”
“It is better to go to Troas with God than anywhere else without Him!” –GCM

 IV. Discussion Questions:
1. Have you ever had to trust God by faith, and step into the unknown, believing it was God’s will? When, and how? What was the result?

2. Looking back, have any broken relationships or separations from people through disagreements or difficulties ever been used by God to re-direct you into new, godly  relationships or purpose? Reflect, and briefly describe:

3. Was there a time in your life that all the natural circumstances seemed to be allied against you; but in reality, you later discovered that God’s Spirit was guiding you in transition to an unforeseen purpose, place or blessing?

4. Have you ever sensed the “no” of God, been convicted to stop and change course through an uneasy conscience, or found yourself re-directing from a “plan or desire” toward a new way because of a Spiritual or Scriptural restraint or boundary? Explain:

5. In the decisions of your life, have you ever had a supernatural dream/vision, clearly heard God’s voice, or discerned God’s “still small voice” or peace within as a means of Divine guidance or confirmation? Remember and tell of the Living God’s faithfulness:

"The Pattern Life of Paul the Apostle"

Paul is to be an inspirational example for all who are believers (1Tim.1:16). He tells us that Christ made him a pattern for Christians, and he frequently challenges leaders and churches to follow his example. Paul was a man like us…and what Christ has done for him, HE can, does and will do with us. Paul is a trophy of grace, revealing God’s great mercy and patience. His life and faith serve as a pattern that we can learn from and follow (2Tim.1:13-14, 3:10-17). Although Paul’s experiences in Bible stories are unique, the life principles found in them are not. In Paul, we find a tangible model for conversion, calling, Christian Life, missions, life development, visionary leadership, writing, mentoring, suffering, apostleship, etc. Paul was a blueprint! His life is a pattern showing the value of providence, personal encounters, preparation and serving God’s purposes. Let’s take a closer look at the pattern life of the Apostle Paul:

I. Providence
“TARSUS” was “no ordinary (insignificant) city” (Acts 21:39, 22:3). It was the birthplace of the apostle Paul, formerly known as “Saul of Tarsus” (Acts 9:11). Tarsus was the chief city of Cilicia, a maritime province of southeast Asia Minor (modern Turkey). This important city was situated on the banks of the Cydnus River 10 miles north of the Mediterranean Sea. Because of its strategic location, protected on the north by the Taurus Mountains and open to navigation from the Mediterranean, the city of Tarsus was a prize location for the Hittites, Mycenean Greeks, Assyrians, Persians, Seleucids, and Romans. During the Seleucid period, Tarsus became a free city (about 170 B.C.), and was open to Greek culture and education.  By the time of the Romans, Tarsus competed with Athens and Alexandria as the learning center of the world.
            Paul was also born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), as was his father. PAUL was part of his Roman name; but he was also given a Jewish name, SAUL, perhaps in memory of Israel's first king, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, to which Paul's family belonged.  His Jewish heritage meant much more to Paul than Roman citizenship. Unlike many Jews who had been scattered throughout the world, he and his family did not become assimilated into the Gentile way of life which surrounded them. SAUL’S parents wanted their son to be well-grounded in the best traditions of Jewish orthodoxy.  Because it was the custom among the Jews that all boys learn a trade, SAUL learned tent-making from haircloth supplied by the goats of his native province.
            In all this we can see the providence of God. Providence is God’s foresight and timely care in acting to provide or prepare for future use. It’s the superintendence God exercises in our lives and history. Here, we see God’s sovereign plans unfolding ahead of our understanding of them. Even before Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, the Lord was preparing him for a great ministry work and missionary task—particularly to the Gentile world.
            Paul’s preparation for Christian ministry actually began the day he was born.  He grew up in Tarsus, a multi-cultural city.  His early religious education was intensely Jewish because of his family, but he was later educated in Greek culture and philosophy.  In fact, Tarsus was noted in the Roman Empire as a great center for secular and pagan learning.  Consequently, Paul had unique insights into a non-Jewish worldview.
            Paul’s education for ministry continued in Jerusalem, again before he was converted. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the greatest Jewish teachers who ever lived. 
At the proper age (around 13) Paul went to Jerusalem to pursue his studies in the learning of the Jews. Here he became a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), brought up in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel,” the most illustrious rabbi of his day (Acts 5:34; 22:3). In Jewish faith, a man was a Jew who traced his descent from Jacob and conformed to the religion of his fathers; but he was not a Hebrew also unless he spoke the Hebrew tongue and retained Hebrew customs.
            Gamaliel was a Pharisee and celebrated doctor of the law, who gave prudent worldly advice in the Sanhedrin respecting the treatment of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 5:34-40). This very celebrated Jewish leader was the mentor of Paul and the grandson of Hillel. Candor and wisdom seem to have been the features of his character, for we read of him in Acts 5:34, where he was “had in reputation (honored, esteemed, beloved, respected) among all the people.”  His method of teaching in these divinity schools was Scriptural exegesis, the power of the verse-by-verse exposition of the scriptures. Because of this, Saul knew the scriptures inside and out!
            Saul’s zeal for Jewish Law found a ready outlet in his assault on the infant church of Jerusalem. The church presented a threat to all that SAUL held most dear.  He is first introduced to us in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution that followed (Acts 7:58; 8:1-4). He was approving and active in these persecutions.
            Though he became steeped in pharisaical legalism, his knowledge of the Old Testament laid the foundation for instant insight into who Jesus Christ really was once Paul was born again.

II. Personal Spiritual Encounters
The story of Paul’s personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus is told 3 times in Acts (9, 22, 26). “Only an event of the greatest importance would merit such repetition by an author whose hallmark is brevity.”-Willimon
            Then “suddenly” there was a great light shining from Heaven as bright as the sun. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?!?” Saul asks, “Who are you Lord?...and the voice says, “I AM JESUS!!!” (Acts 9:3-5)
            Jesus was not dead, but alive; and not disgraced but in Heavenly Glory. Jesus spoke in Hebrew, and brought the 2-fold revelation that was to mark Paul’s life and ministry: Jesus is Lord and HE is one with the Christians…the Church. In that moment, the long battle was over…Saul became Paul, and surrendered to Christ.
            With astonishing “suddenness” the persecutor of the church became the apostle of Jesus Christ. Saul the religious zealot became Paul the Christian. This dramatic conversion has become a standard for radical life changes, which are often referred to as “Damascus road experiences.” It’s also a witness of the necessity, power and profound influence of personal spiritual encounters.
            Paul’s real-life, spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ and conversion experience was a gift from God that enabled him to look at life in a new way. A revelation of who Jesus is, the risen Lord of Heaven and earth, is the key element of a true conversion and fruitful Kingdom living. Lordship produces a changed heart and different perspective of everything in life.
            “Christianity is not just an add-on to our lives or a self-help plan; it is a total transformation of who we are, how we see the world and where we are going. When we (like Paul) see God for who HE really is, when we reinterpret our lives and world in light of that revelation, our response can be nothing less than whole-hearted, entire life devotion to God.”

III. Preparation
Here we look at the most powerful and profound season of Paul’s life. This 10 years spent in Arabia and Tarsus is not even mentioned in Acts (between 9:30-11:25). However, Paul writes about this time of intense preparation, mind renewal, Biblical revelation and spiritual formation in the Epistles (Gal.1:17-2:1).

In Arabia: “Wilderness Revelation”
“We all need to go to Arabia to learn lessons like these. The Lord Himself was led up into the wilderness. And in some way, every soul who has done a great work has passed through similar periods of obscurity, suffering, disappointment or solitude.”-F.B.Meyer

            Following conversion, Paul evidently spent three years in relative isolation in Arabia, overcoming his feelings of prejudice and dealing with his incredible indoctrination into Judaism.  After all, he was proud of his heritage, which he certainly alludes to in his letter to the Philippians.  “If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, “ he wrote, “I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:4-6).
            Even though Paul evidently overcame his prejudice more quickly than Peter (see chapter 1), he still had to go through a process of renewing his mind and his conscience—the very thing he years later taught the Roman Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). Furthermore, and most importantly, it was during this time that Paul received more direct revelations from Jesus Christ regarding his mind and his conscience—the very thing he years later taught the Roman Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). Furthermore, and most importantly, it was during this time that Paul received more direct revelations from Jesus Christ regarding the gospel of God’s grace (Gal. 1:15-17).  However, it would be another seven or eight years before he was ready to actually carry out the task God had chosen him to fulfill: to become the great apostle to the Gentiles.
"Through men the worldly count as fools, chosen of God and not of man; reared in Thy secret training-schools, moves forward Thine eternal plan. And now, though hidden from our ken, in Midian deserts or Sinai hills; Spirit of God, Thou hast Thy men...waiting Thy time to do Thy will." –Bishop F. Houghton

In Tarsus: “Waiting on God”
The apostle Paul spent his early years at Tarsus (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3), but returned after his conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:30; 11:25). Here, Paul was waiting and working for a long time. *Excerpt from Charles Swindoll:
            “If you go back fourteen years, from the time Paul wrote the second letter to the believers at Corinth (2Cor.12:2-6), that places him at the time he was waiting in Tarsus.
            He refused to boast in his giftedness. Instead, he confessed, “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:9-10). That’s true humility…incredible perspective. He learned to boast in nothing but his own weakness. And, remember, he learned that in the shadows . But nobody knew about it. His transformation never made the headlines.
            Your time of God-ordained waiting will never be all that significant in other people’s minds. All they may know is that you dropped out of sight. You’re gone from the scene. It may begin with a bankruptcy. It may start with a horrible experience you go through, such as a tragic accident or a devastating illness. You may endure the pain of a torn reputation caused by someone who didn’t tell the truth. All that devastation has a way of breaking you. The Lord uses the disappointment to lead you to your own Tarsus—otherwise known as His waiting room. There He begins to work deep within your soul until you, like Saul, gain such a renewed perspective, you can honestly confess, “When I am week, He is strong.” When that happens, as it did with Saul, you will be ready to come out of the shadows. Saul was now ready. Not surprisingly, God moved.

In Antioch: “A Dynamic Internship”
Paul’s final stage of preparation involved one year of intensive ministry experience working with a veteran leader who had already proven himself as a man of God (Acts 11:24). Barnabas became Paul’s mentor as together they established the Gentile church that was planted in Antioch (11:25-26).  Ironically, this church was born shortly after Stephen’s death, a murder that Paul had condoned.  At that time, a number of men “who had been scattered by the persecution” traveled to Antioch in Syria and preached the gospel to Gentiles.  This also means this church was born approximately the same time that Paul was miraculously converted.  Little did he realize then that ten years later he would work alongside Barnabas, helping to establish this church and at the same time continuing his preparation to become a great missionary to the Gentile world.
The Time Had Come (Acts 13:1-3)
            The Lord had designed a unique ministry for Paul. However, to carry out this plan in a very specific way, he had to go through a lengthy period of preparation. But then the day came—obviously unexpectedly. He and Barnabas and several other spiritually gifted men were worshiping the Lord together.  As the Holy Spirit often did in those days, He spoke directly and made it clear that they were to commission Barnabas and Paul and send them off for an expanded ministry among the Gentiles. John Mark, a young disciple who lived with his mother in Jerusalem, accompanied Paul and Barnabas on this special mission trip.

IV. Purpose
God has a plan and purpose for your life!!!
            Before encountering Jesus Christ, Paul had been doing what he liked or thought was best. Now he was being shown, led, told his assignment and taught what to do. The Christian disciple is someone who knows and follows the Lord. We obey HIS command and commission, and have ceased doing what we want to seek God’s will and ways. The disciple is committed to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ. To learn of and live for the Presence, pleasure and purposes of God.
We are all on a search for significance. We struggle with questions of identity, meaning and direction like, “Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do with my life? Where am I going?” We want to make a difference and “leave the world a better place.” Deep within our hearts, we desire to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves. The call of God gives you the answer to those questions and both the inspiration and aims for your life. The answer is in knowing Christ and serving the purposes of God in our generation!”

*We will study, look into and discover more about finding and fulfilling God’s “purposes” in later lessons when Paul testifies on trial in Acts 26.

V. Discussion Questions

  1. As you look back on your life, can you see how God prepared you for a special spiritual task—even before you became a Christian? How?
2.  Have you had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus? List 3-4 times/ways you’ve had “Spirit” encounters that brought comfort, changed your life or gave you new direction:

 3.  Have you ever been in an extended season of waiting on God? Share some reflections about that time, reasons why-when-where? What was the fruit of patiently waiting on God?

4. Can U remember a time when U sensed U were ready for a new spiritual opportunity & challenge in your life? How did God confirm this to U, & who was involved in encouraging your transition?

5. Can U see/sense that God is still preparing you for future ministry & opportunities that it is not time for or you are not ready to participate in yet? What do you believe are some of your possibilities or God’s promises for your future?