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August 18, 2011

I don’t want to sound like a guy making excuses…everybody is busy…everybody has work that they have to do…but this summer has been a weighty challenge for me on several levels.  And listen, you know, that’s just how the summer months often end up.  They sort of tease you with the idea of rest and renewal and then work you to your limits just before reality of school and a normal schedule sets back in.  You soccer moms, dance moms, coaches, students, and anyone who has to sit in morning traffic behind a yellow bus know what I’m talking about.

Take just a few moments…maybe a few deep breaths (nothing too dramatic…I’m not going new age on you) and read through Acts 15:36 – 16:15.

It struck me this past Sunday morning that many of our students would be leaving this week for school.  It’s not that I didn’t remember they were leaving; it’s more that I just hadn’t considered fully that the time was so close at hand.  Scrambling, I borrowed a notepad from someone in the group to get the contact information for everyone.  At the top of each page in the notebook was the word, “strive.”  That’s it…one word…strive.  That word almost sums up this passage perfectly and it has been sort of haunting me this week.

In this passage, Paul has just completed his first missionary journey, just finished his time in Jerusalem with the other apostles and elders, and now, “after some days” he is ready to get back to work.  He’s ready to make that journey.  He is ready to devote serious effort and energy to the work of the Gospel…and that’s the definition of striving.  And listen, it sort of goes bad for him.  I know we have this rather Disney idea of what it was like to be Paul…just sort of cruising from town to town…breaking out into sporadic songs of praise while choruses of random citizens joined in…perfectly in tune of course (maybe even a spunky old lady for comedic effect).  But right out of the gate, Paul encounters a conflict…not with the mob, but with his companion for the previous journey.  And what we see is that he and Barnabas go separate ways.  More importantly, despite the pride and the wounds that were revealed in that moment…God used it for His glory…to the praise of His glorious grace.  Now there are two teams.

Paul grabs Silas and they’re off on the next journey.  It is on this path that they meet Timothy.  Timothy has an interesting past.  He has a Jewish mother and a Greek father and Timothy is already a believer.  Paul sees that Timothy has been gifted for the work of a pastor…so he brings him along.  But before they go, Paul circumcises him.  Now that might seem strange because in chapter 15, the Council of Jerusalem had effectively said that wasn’t necessary for salvation (rightfully so).  Remember now, Timothy was already a believer.  What Timothy did, in that moment, was willingly give of himself (literally), so that he would not be used as a stumbling block for those that he would serving.  This is striving for the sake of the Gospel.

As they continue on their journey, they pick up Luke and they are beckoned into Macedonia.  When they get to Philippi, there is no synagogue to go to…as had been the custom.  So they go down to the river and see people praying.  It is at this point that Lydia is converted and the church in Philippi is started.  But before all that, they hit several roadblocks.  In fact, Luke establishes the involvement of the entire Trinity in verses 6-10.  But what is really amazing is how they keep going…how they keep striving.  I wonder; what’s your response when hardships hit?  What about when things just don’t turn out like you hoped?  Later on in Paul’s life, he writes to Timothy, “To this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially to those who believe.”  Let us strive together…for the Gospel…it’s not just a story…it’s our hope…and it’s true.

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