ODYSSEYING WITH PAUL – FOLLOWING THE INNER GPS!
June 18, 2017
On Father’s Day, we gentlemen often take a good bit of good-natured grief for our various idiosyncrasies. For example, we are often stereotyped as pigheaded people who are devout cheapskates and who refuse to ever ask for directions. And, in my case, that’s quite true!
Many years ago Allison and Tyler were begging to go to New York City, so we made plans to do so following the week after Christmas. In hopes of saving a few bucks, I did my research and found us a hotel a across the Hudson River in Newark, NJ. We would commute by train to Manhattan each day.
For Christmas that year my kids gave me a Garmin GPS device. They figured this would save me from running up on curbs trying to read roadmaps and screaming at their mother. Mind you, this was an early generation GPS model, and the technology had not been fully perfected. I installed it on the dashboard of our car and off we went on our urban odyssey.
And what an odyssey it proved to be! After turning off of I-78 toward Newark, I did not notice that the sultry female voice on the GPS machine had stopped speaking to me. It seems that back in those days thick clouds could hinder the operation of such devices.
I just kept driving and driving, and things started looking worse and worse! We were driving through what resembled downtown Beirut. Razor wire covered most every building. Everything was gang-tagged, including a faded plastic statue of Ronald McDonald outside a boarded up fast food joint. I swerved around potholes deep enough to swallow compact vehicles. And my wife was convinced that, at each stoplight, we were going to die given the unwelcoming glares we were receiving from the local Newarkians.
Fortunately, a break in the clouds came, and Ms. Garmin reawakened: “Rerouting! Rerouting!” I was never so glad to hear her sultry voice! We were now being directed through the bowels of inner city Newark. We were no longer lost. And finally, after running a several block gauntlet of nerve-wracking sights and sounds, we arrived at our cheap hotel unhindered and unscathed!
In today’s passage from the Acts 16, we are odysseying with Apostle Paul and his friends at the beginning of his second missionary journey. Paul possesses no Garmin device. Rather, he relies on an inner GPS—an uncanny sense of direction for his life and his mission that emanates from the indwelling of God’s dynamic Spirit. Let’s hear the account and what truth it holds for us:
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.
WHEN SEEKING GOD’S WILL FOR OUR LIVES….
Detours often pop up. When Paul set out to share the Good News of Christ, he and his companions Silas and Timothy had intentions of traveling northeastward toward Asia. It seemed the logical direction to head in. However, for various reasons unbeknownst to us, they kept running into roadblocks. Paul kept hearing the inner voice of the Lord saying, “Reroute! Reroute!”
How often has that happened to you? You were certain God was leading you to a certain vocation or location but then the door slammed shut. You encountered obstacles impossible to overcome. And you had to turn around and head in a different direction.
Have you ever considered that God’s “no’s” allow God’s “yesses” to happen? And we can’t always see how the “yes” will happen until we first accept the “no” and redirect.
Bryan and Brittany Davis are a young couple who worshiped with us here at VOH for two years while they were attending JMU. Brittany finished her degree and was employed as a therapist at VMRC.
Bryan believed that God was leading him to become a physician’s assistant, and he began applying at schools across the country. Unfortunately, he was denied admission again and again to that highly-selective field.
Meanwhile, Bryan was working part-time at RMH as a nursing assistant on the orthopedic floor. Patients responded well to his caring, encouraging personality as he helped them rehab joint replacements and other debilitating conditions. In time, Bryan realized that this was where God could use his skills the best. He entered an occupational therapy program.
Today Bryan is a highly-respected member of the therapy team at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital and Retreat Hospital in Richmond. He is very much fulfilled in his line of work. Experiencing and accepting God’s “No” enabled Bryan to find God’s “Yes” for his life.
Yes, when seeking God’s will for our lives, detours often pop up.
And consequently, destinations remain fluid. Paul doesn’t panic when his mission plans to Asia fall through. We don’t hear him voicing endless despair and frustration when doors close. Paul trusts that God has a Plan B or even a Plan C or D in mind. Let’s read what happens next:
9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi….
Yes, God has now revealed a different destination for Paul to head toward. He, Silas and Timothy will be crossing the Aegean Sea to take the Good News of Jesus to Europe. It’s an entirely different course than they would have ever considered.
And guess what, as they prepare to embark for this new destination, God adds a member to the missionary team. Did you notice the change in pronouns from they to first-person we? Yes, Paul, Silas and Timothy have met Luke, a fellow Christian and a physician, who will now share in their journey and record it all for posterity’s sake, not to mention authoring a gospel as well! God indeed works in mysterious ways!
Paul knows what it means to FROG. People often wear various rubber bracelets today to call attention to various causes they support. A few years ago I started seeing bracelets that had the letters F.R.O.G. imprinted on them. I asked a kid what the letters meant—and she told me, “Fully Rely on God!” She said the bracelet was her constant reminder to fully rely on God.
I like that. Paul wears that bracelet on his wrist and with his heart. He fully relies on God. He’s willing to redirect and adapt to new destinations as his inner GPS–the Spirit of God—leads. He is flexible—his agenda is always second to God’s agenda.
And yes, he welcomes surprises along the way—such as finding a new friend and missionary cohort in Luke.
When seeking God’s will for our life’s journey, we have to come to terms that detours will often pop up and destinations will often remain fluid….
SO HOW DO WE KNOW WHICH WAY TO GO?
My brother-in-law Ed is an amazing angler, a good friend and a decent human being. Whenever we canoe and fish the Shenandoah River, I trust him to pilot the boat and guide me to where the fish are biting. It never fails that we will fill up a stringer with smallmouth bass. Ed is part-Cherokee. I call him the Fish Whisperer. And along the way he also points out eagles’ nests, turkeys, bear, deer and all sorts of nature’s wonders that I would miss on my own.
Following our inner GPS becomes second-nature as Christ, our Guide, becomes a trusted friend through prayer. Paul is able to discern direction for his life because he knows his Lord as an intimate friend.
We must spend time in conversation with our Lord daily, sharing, listening. In doing so, the familiar inner presence of his Spirit nudges us in paths that are beyond mere coincidence. It can be something as gargantuan as making a career change or as small as simply texting a neighbor whom we later find out has had a loss in her life and needs an encouraging word.
In following Christ, in seeking to know what would Jesus do, we also recognize his Word provides guardrails. There is nothing God would ever call us to do that would contradict the themes of his eternal Word to us. Paul is a student of scripture—it is the sure and solid foundation of his life.
Thirdly, we discover which way to go through collaboration with mature Christian friends, clarifying our motives and direction. Did you notice how Luke notes Paul sharing his vision of a man from Macedonia needing help, and it is not just Paul, but Luke, Silas and Timothy who decide together to make the trip across the water. We need such good advice.
From the pages of the Preacher’s Cheesiest Stories is the classic yarn about a young Indiana farmer named John who had grown quite bored with his life. One afternoon, while plowing the north 40, he gazed up in the sky and saw a peculiar cloud formation that spelled what appeared to be the letters GPC.
Now John was an extremely devout Christian fellow, and he interpreted this as a sign from God to Go Preach Christ.
He immediately hopped down from his tractor and headed off to seminary to become a Baptist preacher. Upon graduation, he was called to his first congregation—a tiny rural Baptist church in Kentucky.
Poor John couldn’t preach a lick. The congregation soon was dwindling. The elders of the church had a meeting with John and gently and prayerfully informed him that maybe preaching wasn’t his thing. John protested, “But God called me to this! I saw it plain as day in the sky while I was plowing a field—clouds spelling GPC—Go Preach Christ!”
One of the wise elders said to John, “Did you ever consider God was calling you to Go Plant Corn?”
In discerning God’s will, we must have the honest feedback of mature Christian friends.
37 years ago this week I began the odyssey of a pastor. My parents helped me unload a few boxes of belongings and a TV in the parsonage of Stanley UMC at Stanley, VA on a hot day in June 1980. And then they left. I was scared to death. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting into, just some crazy gut-notion that God had called me to be a preacher.
As I stand here before you some 37 years later, in hindsight I can see the Lord’s hand in the adventure. My wife, my family, my friendships with hundreds of dear Christian folk, including you, became possible because I somehow managed to take that leap of faith long ago. It’s been an amazing ride, especially during the times I did my best to follow the indwelling of God’s dynamic Spirit.
Following our inner GPS–trusting our future to God in faith–is a foreboding thing. But it is also a most fulfilling and fantastic thing! It’s an adventure of a lifetime and an eternity!
Praise be to God for the Apostle Paul, who has gone before us as a shining example, showing us how to let go and let God lead us!