Sermon Series: Things that make a Difference
There are things we all want to do and places we want to go. The greater the desire, the more persistent we will be in our endeavors to reach and accomplish these things. In the 18th century as the Atlantic Costal States became heavily populated with settlers from Europe there was a desire to go west and expand. However, their desire was met by opposition, they were confronted with two roadblocks one was natural and the other was imposed. The natural roadblock they faced was the Appalachian Mountains and the other was the Proclamation Line imposed by the British Government.
As we wrestle with idea that there are things which may stand in the way of our ability accomplish what we set out to do or reach places we want to go, we are faced with answer the question what next? What are my next steps and what is my next move?
The desire for Westward Expansion in the 18th century was met by a landscape that offered and impediment to forward progress. To compound matters they also had to deal with the fact that someone other than themselves was imposing additional obstacles and barriers in their path. I suspect they felt much the same way the apostle Paul and his companions felt as they tried to enter the province of Asia and were met with imposed obstacles and barriers that were impassible. One of the things that the early settlers discovered was that natural roadblocks are much easier to get around than roadblocks that have been imposed by someone else. History tells us that Daniel Boone and other pioneers found openings in the mountains. These openings allowed Daniel Boone and others to go around the seemingly natural roadblocks. Sometimes we have to work around natural roadblocks. We must be patient and at the ready so that when an opening presents itself we can get around the natural obstacle in our path.
The apostle Paul and his companions encountered a different kind of obstacle. The roadblock they faced was not natural, but imposed by God. Paul and his companions had in their mind that they were going to go into the province of Asia and preach the gospel, but God said no. Imposed roadblocks present a different kind of challenge. First of all, they are not challenges that we would naturally encounter, but rather they have been placed in our path to deliberately impede our forward progress. Imposed roadblocks remind us that not everyone supports our ideas or desires to do and accomplish the things we wish to do and accomplish. They point out that others also have ideas about what we should and should not do, and what is good and not good for us.
As the apostle and his companions repeatedly attempted to enter the province of Asia they were met with challenge after challenge. Roadblocks and challenges that we face are an indication that perhaps we should pause and re-evaluate our present course or the course that we are pursuing. When I much younger I used to love to drive. Today, I drive more out of necessity than desire. When I do get on the road I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible. Two things that absolutely unnerve me are traffic jams and road repairs. Both of them can bring an easy free flowing ride to a screeching halt. Many drivers today rely on GPS devices to help them navigate the route to their destination. GPS devices are very helpful especially if you are not familiar with how to get to where you are going. While GPS devices are helpful they are also limited. They do not necessarily factoring in the variables that drivers encounter on the road, things like traffic jams and road repair jobs. Therefore it is incumbent upon drivers to be aware and read the signals of what is happening on the road in front of them. For me, I am always cognizant of brake lights and slowing traffic ahead of me. These are indications that something is happening up ahead and I need to be prepared to respond to it. A GPS feature that amuses me is the route recalculation concept. If you deviate from the prescribed course the computer recognizes that you have gone off course and then recalculates the route to get you to your destination.
Paul and his companions came to the conclusion that God is our GPS. The came to the conclusion that the impediments in their path were an indication that the course they wanted to pursue was not necessarily the path that God wanted the to embark upon at that time. Every decision and choice that we make has attached to it a divine variable, what is God’s will? As we survey the landscape and go through the days, weeks, months, and years of our life are we aware and do we realize that God has something to say about the choices we make and the courses we wish to take? Do we stop to consider that the opposition that stands between us and our desired destination may have been placed their by God for the express purpose giving us pause to consider, is this something that God wants me to do or approves of me doing at this time?
Another thing to keep in mind is that opposition or roadblocks that have been imposed are not necessarily intended to stymie or stop us, but they are intended in part to alert us that we need to recalculate our route. Paul and his companions were probably frustrated by the fact that they could not continue along the path they intended, but instead of allowing their frustration to completely halt their progress they in-turn were open to the idea that it was better to “Try something different” and go in another direction. There are students in my math class who are not mathematicians’, but have the ability to be successful. Part of the problem is their fear of math has so closed their mind that they cannot grasp that if they only tried a different approach they would attain better results. Imagine if we open our minds to the idea of trying a different approach to familiar problems how much better results we might gain. The apostle and his companions help us to understand first and foremost that God has the final say in terms of the direction and course that our lives will take. Secondly, it is fruitless to continue trying to move an immovable object. If an object will not move that is fine. We do not have to allow it to stop us, but keep going in a different direction.
Michael Guido a columnist for several newspapers wrote about an artist in Mexico who lost his right hand while working on a statue. But he did not give up his work. He learned to carve with his left hand. His beautifully finished masterpiece was called ‘In Spite Of.’ Like this artist instead of allowing a roadblock to stymie us we too must look for our opening and “Try Something Different.”
This past week former President George Bush was on the Oprah show. He was discussing his new book “Talking Points.” Oprah asked him about the lead up to the war in Iraq and he said that as far as he was concerned the mission was to get those individuals who were behind the 9/11 attack on America. As the Commander and Chief, former President Bush’s statement was consistent with the powers outlined in the constitution for the president, “To protect and defend” the shores and borders of the United States. The events of 9/11 created the need for former President Bush to fulfill his mission and exercise those powers afforded him under the constitution. While his mission did not change, his focus did change. It changed from taking a domestic view of carrying out his mission to carrying it out abroad.
The apostle Paul’s mission was to proclaim the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. Paul’s desire was to proclaim the gospel in the province of Asia, but God redirected him to the city of Philippi. While Paul’s direction changed his mission remained the same. For us, it is important to understand that when we experience a change in the course or direction our lives take it is not a sign that we should abort our mission. It could simply be an indication that God desires to meet a greater need in a different location. A few years ago I interviewed with a church in Chicago for an Associate Minister position. One of the reasons they were interested in me was because I am an African American and they wanted to reach out to a growing African American community surrounding their church. As I assessed the situation, I was completely comfortable with it because my mission would not change. I know that God has called me to serve Him. Therefore, it did not matter to me whether I served Him in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or anywhere else.
There are some who wonder aloud what is God’s will for my life and what does God want me to do within His kingdom? The text points out that before God changed Paul and his companion’s direction God provided them with a vision. We can be comforted in the fact that whatever God wants you and I to do, God will reveal it to us and wherever God wants us to go, God will direct us to that place. The challenge is to be open to God’s revealing and God’s direction.
We can only speculate as to why God did not allow Paul and his companions to enter the province of Asia. What we do know for sure is that a need existed in Philippi that God wanted to meet. I believe this is an important point that should not be missed. God’s redirection for the course that Paul and his companions set out on was based on need. R. C. Sproul once said, “Ministry is when divine resources meet human need.” God was directing the apostle and his companions to a place of need. One of the struggles of every church is to identify what ministries to develop. The answer is what needs exist? Effective ministry is need based. Ministry that is driven by need creates opportunities for people to make the best use of their spiritual gifts. There are some who speculate that if Paul had gone into Asia he would not have experienced the same results he experienced in Philippi. Ministries are judged by their results and the fundamental question every ministry must ask itself is, are we meeting the needs of the people we are ministering to? As God directed the apostle to the place of need God also directed Paul to the place where he was supposed to be at that time. If we are struggling with finding our place in God’s kingdom, I want to suggest that we identify the need that exists around us and then we will find our place in God’s kingdom. We will find the place that has been prepared for us so that we can exercise our God-given gifts.
Change is not easy. In fact it is down right difficult sometimes. Our text highlights that there are benefits allowing God to direct and redirect us. As far as the apostle Paul was concerned he was simply fulfilling his mission. However, by being willing to go with God and the changes that God imposed on him and his companions, we see that Christian service is a two-way street. When we give we will receive. Paul gave the gospel to Lydia. Lydia in-turn provided for Paul and his companions creature comforts.
There are two components to Christian service they are obedience and sacrifice. Christian servants are called by God to follow Christ in our lifestyle, conforming our life to reflect Christ’s life on earth. We are also called to follow the path that God lays out for us with all of its twists and turns and for every twist and turn we are to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and direct us. How do we do this? We do this by being willing to try something different. We have to be willing to give up what we want to do and allow God to use us to accomplish His will in and through us. This is called sacrifice.