Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

God Sent Me

September 18, 2019

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and in all manner of unexpected timings.

The woman who slipped into the door of our Bible study classroom this evening, for example.  She must have just come from some sort of exercise class, wearing leggings and a tight sort of spandex workout top thingy.  I’m not a fashion expert so I don’t know the terms for these things.  Age is difficult (and dangerous) to surmise with a woman, but I’d put her anywhere from 40-ish to her early 50’s.  A thick Russian accent but good English.

Wednesday night Bible studies are mostly for a small group of ladies in an addiction recovery program.  Others have come and gone but don’t last very long.  These ladies have time on their hands and a mandatory weekly Bible study requirement to fulfill.  We have another woman who has been coming recently, a nonagenarian living in the retirement housing next door to our church.

So to have a complete stranger show up saying God had sent her to my Bible study was unexpected.  She stayed, she participated.  We talked after.

From Moscow originally but I get the impression there have been more than a few stops since there.  In our local area for over a dozen years.  Christian, but dissatisfied with the Bible studies she attended in any given place.  She worships at the Mission but says she hasn’t really connected with anyone there, a situation no doubt accented by her admitted shyness.

I gave her my card and wrote down our worship time and the other weekly Bible study opportunities.  She was pleased and surprised to learn there are three separate, different Bible studies each week.  I hope she’ll come back.  She elaborated that a friend told her while she was lamenting the lack of a good Bible study in town that this church was where to go for Bible study.  I’m wondering who that friend is and how they know about us.

She exited the building about 10 seconds before me.  As I locked the door, I glanced to see where her car was.  I didn’t see either her or her car.  I peered around, up and down the long parking lot towards the sidewalk.  Maybe she walked, lived in the area close by.  Curious, and she couldn’t have gotten out of sight so quickly.

Maybe….

The idea flitted through my head briefly.  Would it be beneath God’s dignity, during a time of professional weariness, to send an outsider with a word of encouragement?  Certainly not, but to speculate on angelic visitations seemed a bit premature.  But still, where did she go?

A second later I heard a car door.  As I peered further I saw a car parked on the other side of our church van, all but invisible behind the larger vehicle.  I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me wasn’t disappointed.  But the larger part of me was grateful.  A real flesh-and-blood visitor might come back.  Might tell others.  Might…might…might.

The near future is never very certain, but the recent past of this evening was a nice reminder that miracles come in different forms and accents.

Dangerous Grace

September 16, 2019

Here’s a good (thought-provoking) article challenging the latent notion in most Christians that the faith is primarily about them doing good things and not doing bad things, rather than about the perfect and final act of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

In the Beginning

September 11, 2019

My denominational polity held it’s triennial national convention this past summer.  I studiously avoid these sorts of affairs, preferring to allow others more inclined and perhaps of a better temperament to go and represent our local congregations.  We had a brief report at one of our monthly pastor meetings from the guy who went on our behalf, and there wasn’t much to report.  At least, I don’t recall him mentioning this – our denomination has once again (first in 1932) affirmed the Genesis account of creation in Chapters 1 & 2 to mean a literal six-day creation process utilizing six 24-hour days.  This was based on Scripture’s use of evening and morning to indicate a single day.

To begin with, I lament the difficulty of even finding the full text of  resolution 5-09A.  The LC-MS web site has a variety of links, but none I’ve been able to find states the full text of the resolution.  This page describes the intent of the resolution, which is helpful. This page gives a sense of everything that happens on a day of convention, which is overwhelming but not what I’d hoped for.    Maybe somebody better informed (or with more time on their hands) can find the specific wording for me?

 

***** Edit – thanks to Doug for providing this link.  The precise wording was broadcast on Twitter during the convention, and final documentation is still pending from our Synod. *****

There was, of course, debate.

Opponents criticized the resolution for being somewhat vague, centering on the use of the word natural as an adjective for days – six of them to be precise.  If the sun (and moon) wasn’t created until the fourth day, how can we speak of 24-hour days with any certainty or preciseness?  This critique has been voiced by others critical of the LC-MS position.

I find this hostility to the resolution and the theology behind it problematic.  Yes, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day.  Does that mean that God’s use of the word day throughout the six-day creation account is incorrect?  Did He misspeak?  Did He decide it was far too complicated for Moses in 1500 BC to understand anything differently so He just said days?  Would that mean God didn’t take into account our current scientific climate and assertions about the origins of everything that directly contradict Scripture on this particular point?  Was God incapable of maintaining a consistent 24-hour cycle without the sun and moon in place yet?

I find Mike  the Geologist’s certainty to be rather fascinating.  How is  it that you “know better”?  Are you that positive that a six-day creation is “nonsense”?  You presume that current understandings or theories of human origins  are superior/more accurate/more trustworthy than the Biblical account.  Would you then argue that the resurrection is not real because everybody knows better than that now?  Is it not possible that evolutionary explanations for the universe and our planet might be flawed –  unintentionally – and subject to correction down the line?  Is there a place for that sort of humility, or should we immediately jump to mocking those who prefer to take  God’s Word in this respect just as they take God’s Word for their forgiveness and hope of life eternally in Christ?

I understand this is complicated – and awkward – discussion.  And I agree, this is not necessarily the difference between heaven and hell in and of itself.  But if you suspect God wasn’t fully accurate or truthful with us in one regard, it’s not a big leap to think He wasn’t in other regards.  Or in no regards, because He isn’t really there.

 

Definitions

September 10, 2019

An interesting little piece on real estate and ministers.

I certainly admit to thinking ministers of Christ should think carefully about the decisions they make in regards to where they live – as well as most other areas of their lives as well.  This article raises some interesting questions that are not often asked (or reported on).

At some  point there was apparently an acceptable rationale justifying a 9000 square foot house for the residence of an archibishop.  Many people think that’s funny or unseemly now, but I’m curious as to the original rationale.  Was it an emphasis on the archbishop’s position and authority/influence/prestige?  And here I mean the office of archbishop, not the person who might happen to hold that office at a particular point in time.  Does real estate have a valid role to play in such a commentary?  I imagine a lot of those answers have to do with aspects of Roman Catholic theology I’m not familiar with, but I presume they exist.

It’s easy to point fingers and say that’s too ostentatious, that’s too big.  Except that those notions are acculturated in and of themselves and therefore not necessarily any better than the original assumptions behind building/buying the house.  I applaud the new archbishop’s commitment to “examine everything – including the home that I live in that the people of God provide me” in terms of Christian witness.  But I question a too-hasty, knee-jerk reaction that says any domicile over a certain size or monetary value is automatically inappropriate.

It all depends on how it is used.

There is a nod-wink later in the article to the parties hosted there.  That quote clearly seems condemning of the place and it’s at least occasional use, though the new archbishop specifically says his refusal to live there is not a condemnation of his predecessors.  Were the parties entertainment, as one might think of a wealthy person providing for amusement, or did they serve other purposes?  Does the Church necessarily need to hold meetings in a Denny’s?

Does the archbishop have a staff that supports him in his work?  Cleaners?  Secretaries?  Administrative assistants?  Do they live in the house as well?  Could the house be utilized for multiple purposes, or more appropriately perhaps, could more people live there than just the archbishop?

In other words, it’s easy to look at a price tag or a size or a zip code and pass judgment.  But judgment should take all aspects of the situation into account, both historically, for the present moment, and with an eye towards the future.  It could turn out that renting or purchasing another smaller place might in the long run by more costly than just living in the current building, especially if the current building could be thought of in terms beyond just one person’s abode.

To be certain, there are abuses of the collar and some of the other examples in the article seem to be good examples of this.  But size or cost is only one aspect of considering the appropriateness of a house – or a car, or clothing, or food – utilized by a minister of the Gospel.  Having a large space can provide other options if people are willing to explore and consider those sorts of things.  And I’d have to say if anyone is capable of doing a good job in thinking through sacred space or the use of space for the people of God, it’s probably the Roman Catholics.  I pray they have some good folks working on this situation, and that the resolution is definitely a reflection of the Church’s mandate to equip people (including clergy) to daily think through how to love God and love their neighbor.

Book Review: Environment & Arts in Catholic Worship

September 3, 2019

Environment & Art in Catholic Worship from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy

The second of my (current) forays into Roman Catholic theological materials.  This is a short statement on art and environment in Catholic worship released in 1977.  In the wake of Vatican II, it became necessary to clarify and guide the increased freedoms available to congregations and worship leaders & planners.   What does it mean – in terms of worship environment and art – to interact as Roman Catholics with the modern world?

This is a very brief (under 50 pages, not including photos) introductory guide to considerations for  worship space and the use of art.  This includes the design of a worship space, the kinds of objects within it, artistic embellishments, etc.  As might be expected from a statement on the topic to a worldwide organization, the guide is rather thin, you might say.  It doesn’t make proclamations about what can and can’t be done, as planning a worship space in Africa is probably a lot different than planning one in Finland, as  far as aesthetics  go.  But there are underlying principles applicable to both environments.

There is a strong emphasis on the use of qualified professionals, whether in terms of planning a worship space (architects, etc.) to obtaining or creating the items that will fill that worship space (artists, design experts, etc.).  This guide attempts to reiterate the importance of doing things well, as opposed to doing things quickly or inexpensively.  Worship is a fundamentally different act than any other human act.  It is both individual and corporate, human and divine.  Holding together these various tensions requires careful thought (and prayer), and shouldn’t be plunged into without appropriate forethought.

Again, there is an emphasis on quality and authenticity,  ensuring that those items which fill a worship space are appropriate for such a space and of such a quality to bear their symbolic purposes.  If you’re in the process of designing or redesigning a worship space, or just updating artistic or liturgical elements within that  space, this is a helpful read-through.  It provides good theological reminders of both the gravitas and joy that worship embodies, and the unique attentions necessary to physical objects  in order to facilitate those things.

 

 

Book Review – Liturgy Made Simple

September 2, 2019

Liturgy Made Simple by Mark Searle

 

I recently inherited a small trove of Catholic theological books.  I was able to winnow the boxes down to about a dozen or  so books I thought might be helpful or interesting to look through, and this was the first.

If you’ve never really given much thought to why you do the things you do in worship, this is a great introductory resource to stimulate thought.  It presents the liturgy from the Roman Catholic perspective, which is not too terribly different from my own Protestant denomination’s understanding of it.  There are a few differences that someone with an alternative theological background to Roman Catholicism will pick up on.  And of course, if you aren’t already somewhat familiar with or sympathetic to the centuries-old pattern of worship and liturgical elements, this may be  confusing to you.  But it should provide a good means of thinking through certain things.

I particularly like his emphasis on the importance of authenticity.  This is a word that is getting more traction these days, particularly among younger generations.  Searle questions the propriety of changes made in the  liturgy or Sacraments in the name of convenience.  The one which particularly stood out to me was his criticism of mass-produced Holy Communion wafers.  Those terribly thin and terribly tasteless things that are, technically, a form of bread, but which bear more resemblance in all sensory forms to styrofoam than bread.

Yes, it takes time and effort to bake bread for Communion.   But I argue (having re-instituted actual baked, unleavened bread for our congregation’s Eucharist) that  it is an investment of time and energy more than worth the effort.  For the central celebration of the Christian community, how can we accept mass-produced products as somehow appropriately representative of the Body of Christ?

This is a short (under 100 pages) and easy read with questions for reflection and discussion afterwards.  It was likely used as a classroom resource for a seminary or pre-seminary program and would be ideal in that setting.  Some terms are taken for granted and not defined, but with a minimal amount of Googling, even the most contemporary-oriented, hipster pastor or worship team should be able to make use of this resource.

Book Review: A Lutheran Primer for Preaching

August 30, 2019

A Lutheran Primer for Preaching: A Theological and Practical Approach to Sermon Writing

by Edward O. Grimenstein

 

Over the past several years I had the honor of supervising a deacon in our area who was responsible for the majority of preaching and teaching at his small parish about 30 miles from ours.  The irony is that despite him being much older than myself, I was supervising him since I am an ordained pastor and he was a trained deacon – two different roles in our polity.  As part of a process to allow him to be ordained and continue serving his small congregation, he was assigned a rigorous reading and study schedule and I assisted him in that.  One of the books he mentioned he was reading is this one, so I decided maybe I should read it as well.  Belatedly, I have.

I expected it to be a 50-60 year old book, but was pleasantly surprised it was published in 2015.  It is intended for a small group or classroom use, with questions for both in-class and out of class discussion.  Each chapter is very short (3-4 pages) and focused on one particular topic, beginning with the more abstract, theological topics and moving to more practical ones.  Grimenstein’s writing style is very accessible and easy to understand.  His theology is thoroughly Biblical.  His purpose is to guide potential (or current) preachers into doing what preaching should be – allowing people the opportunity to believe Jesus is the Christ and, by believing, have eternal life (p.49).  Considering the many other things that preaching can easily devolve into, this is a worthy goal!  At just over 100 pages this is an easy introduction or brush-up on some of the basics of preaching as Biblical Lutherans approach this sacred task.

Overall  the book is helpful, particularly if you’ve had little to no homiletical training.  There are places where Grimenstein strives to forge theological supports for the homiletical task and falls short, such as Chapter Six as he struggles to relate tangibly the Holy Spirit’s role in homiletical work.  Of course, this is difficult! I also question his assertion on page 74 that sermon preparation should “not be work” for the preacher.  I don’t know many preachers who would agree with this statement.  There are times when things come together easily and nicely and times when they don’t.  Good preparation is of course helpful but no guarantee that when it comes down to writing the sermon it will come together easily.

This is a good resource.  He takes issue (rightly so) with the move in the last 50 years of homiletics to shy away from the Bible as the primary text for sermon writing.  Whether this is a novel concept or not for you will likely depend on your theological training as well as your view of Scripture.  If it’s the authoritative, inspired Word of God there can be no other appropriate book to base Scripture on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Gathered

August 27, 2019

Thanks to Lois for shooting me this article.

I can’t find a previous post I’ve done on this topic – non-religious Sunday morning gatherings.  But I’m not surprised to find that it is a difficult thing to sustain over the long haul.  Seeing Christian community as a good thing but thinking that you can take God out of it and still have the same sort of experience reveals a naivete that is almost humorous.  Then again, given our devotion to the gods of psychology, it’s hardly surprising, either.  But this idea is pretty clear at the outset of the article when church is defined primarily as people, psalms, and stained glass windows.

Of course a key difference that the author of the article as well as the people she talks to are not able to articulate and would likely reject outright even if they could is that Christian community is not a matter of choice, but rather obedience.  This is painfully easy to forget, and is likely at the heart of how many congregations go through splits and divide.

We are called together, we don’t simply decide this is what we feel like doing.  The reality is there are plenty of Sunday mornings when we’d rather sleep in or  enjoy a leisurely and casual breakfast or get a head start on the yard work.  And all of those things are fine upon occasion, but we are called to gather together in worship.  Why we gather is a matter of great debate among Christians in the past century, and perhaps accounts for why fewer and fewer Christians are attending  at all.

Traditional Christian understanding is that we are called by God to gather together, because in public worship we receive the gifts of God in his Word and Sacraments.  In the many times and places where Christianity was or is actively persecuted, this understanding of worship is very comforting and encouraging.  To gather with others who believe the same as you, to be taught the Word of God so that you can apply it to your life, to remember what matters most as opposed to what the world or your local community wants you to believe is important is crucial.  Small wonder that even under brutal, intolerant regimes, Christians still risk imprisonment or death to gather with other believers for encouragement and strength – which comes first and foremost from God himself and secondly from those you gather with.

This is important because sometimes, you may not be thrilled  with everyone you gather with.  Community is hard – a mantra of mine – and nearly always your community will have at least one person in it you don’t see eye to eye with or whose personality grates on your nerves.  That’s human nature.  So if it’s all up to me whether I put myself with that person over and over and over again, I’ll eventually quit doing it.  But if I understand that I’m called to be there, that it is an act of obedience and not simply a personal preference, then I ideally have to figure out how to deal with that person in love.

But in times where the faithful are not persecuted or a minority, it becomes easier to think of worship as something I do, as something that I offer to God.  Worship becomes almost exclusively a matter of me praising and thanking God, rather than being fed by Him, or  it becomes a time where the main focus is how I feel.  Do I feel uplifted?  Do I feel as though I’ve given adequate thanks to God?  Those are some pretty subjective questions and the law of diminishing returns seems to indicate eventually those emotional highs will become more sporadic.  At which point it’s a lot easier to just forgo the whole  thing.  If worship is a matter of what I give to God rather than what I receive from God, then the popular argument that I can worship God anywhere makes a lot more sense.

Yes, you can worship God anywhere.  You can talk to him and sing to him and think about him anywhere.  And you should!  But is that what worship is?  Is that all worship is?  And if that’s my only form of worship, at what point does my conception of God begin to slip into a God of my own understanding rather than the God of the Bible?  At what point do I slip into any number of misunderstandings or heresies about God, which could ultimately lead me to reject him completely?

Christian worship very quickly becomes more than just something that’s fun to do.  It might not be very fun at all.  But it is an essential part of the Christian life of faith, and untold numbers of people over several thousand years have known this and preferred the risk  of torture or death to giving it up completely.

Tastes and preferences change.  Very few people maintain something on a weekly basis over the course of their whole lifetime – except for worship.  It’s not surprising that something that has no basis other than personal preference is hard to sustain over the long haul.  You might really enjoy listening to U2 and love the opportunity for a communal karaoke event, but without a deeper  meaning and purpose, that music doesn’t ground you in anything deeper, doesn’t call anything from you, doesn’t demand anything from you, and can’t offer you more than a few moments of nostalgia or some other emotional fix.

 

 

 

Authority

July 29, 2019

We sit chatting at our Sunday night happy hour open house.  She’s  leaving this week for grad studies out of state and this will perhaps be the last time I see her.  She has an impossibly beautiful smile and a keen mind overlaying troubles and doubts and fears that walk with her through the rooms  of her life.  A friend has come along tonight.  He’s visited once or twice before, roommates with her boyfriend.  He asks me a curious question – what is a change you can think of in your theology?

The question strikes me as curious immediately.  What changes in my theology?  Is theology mine?  Am I free to change it?  Or is theology something I have received, that I can build upon and expand and grow in my depth of understanding and appreciation, but which I am not free to change outside of discarding error as I uncover it in myself?  A million thoughts flash through my mind.  What is he really getting at?  What changes has his theology undergone?  And what do you want to learn or know by asking a pastor about how his theology changes?

I bring up a theological doctrine of sorts  I was introduced to in Seminary that I have grown in my fondness for, even if I can’t substantiate it in this lifetime and may never even in eternity, touching as it does on the inner workings and relationships of the Trinity.  I talked about how amazed I was the first time it was suggested that Jesus did not perform signs and wonders within his own power and authority as the Second Person of the Trinity, but rather God the Holy Spirit performed signs and wonders through him by the directing of God the Father.  Essentially similar to how the apostles and other followers of Christ have performed miracles – not on their own power or authority but through the  power and authority of the Holy Spirit.  Though of course Jesus was the perfect conduit for such power in his perfect obedience to the will of God.

She brings up almost immediately how she still struggles with the role of women in the church.  It’s not relevant, but it’s on her mind.  She flashes her smile as I respond that her issue isn’t so much with the Church perhaps as it is with Scripture.  Heretic here, remember?  I’m the heretic.  She smiles again.  I know a bit of her story, raised Christian but with experiences and doubts that haven’t been addressed or remedied.  And now recently graduated from a local Christian university where, she admits next, she was taught to be a feminist.  The smile and the heresy comment are  meant to defuse and deflect.  No need to really grapple with what might be truth in this regard because we can just dance around the heretic term as though it doesn’t really mean anything.

I believe her assessment is accurate – she arrived at this Christian university with one set of ideas and understandings, and those were altered or added to during her four years there.  In part a good university should do this.  But in the realm of theology this becomes tricky, as I suppose it is in any realm.  But the ramifications of changes or additions in the realm of theology have potentially eternal consequences – something very unique to this realm.

I ponder as the conversation eventually trails off.  Raised for the first eighteen years of her life with one set of beliefs, she has now set those aside because of things she was presented with in four years of undergraduate schooling.  Because these things were presented as the intellectual, educated position, no doubt.  Because she was challenged I’m sure, to adopt these not just for herself but for her entire gender.

And so a person’s theology changes.  But doesn’t just change, in this instance.  Changes so that the source and foundation of that theology ceases to be the revealed, sacred text it derives from and becomes something else.  Something personally dictated.  Authority switches from the Word of God expressed in human language to the personal beliefs or preferences of an individual or a larger but transitory culture.

So perhaps her response was more on topic than I first assumed.

This has over and over and over again been the point of conflict and disagreement in theological discussions on Sunday night.  What or who is your authority?  And over and over and over again it has become very clear that even for professing Christians, the Word of God is not their authority.  It is their personal emotional concerns or worries.  It is the cultural expectations they are inculcated with, expectations of how you define things like equality.  And that if the Word of God doesn’t back their definitions or ideas or even directly contradicts them, they’re more apt to discard the Word of God – or at least that particular part of it – and hold on to their own feelings and ideas.

Now, to be sure we all do this in small ways, most likely.  There are aspects of God’s Word that confuse or frighten us, that we avoid thinking about and reading.  This is sinful, of course, but it is different than outright confronting these issues and seeking to faithfully adhere to God’s Word even if it means discarding our own ideas and preferences.  This trend that I see and hear so often now is very dangerous indeed.

And others recognize this as well.

The role of the Church is to teach and reinforce the faith, as conveyed to us through the Word of God, and as made sense of in both doctrine and practice.   The Church should equip men and women with these abilities so they in turn can instill them in their children, not simply as rote memorization but in an active and alive sense so that their children grow to be men and women who, assisted and strengthened by the Church, are able and willing to pass these things down to their children.

But this process has been disrupted  in our American Christian culture – or at least parts of it.  Christians are increasingly unfamiliar with the Word of God, resistant to doctrines and practices grounded in it, and increasingly willing to discard all of this in order to cobble together a set of beliefs and practices that better support their authority – themselves.

Here is just one recent example of another article saying exactly the same thing.

Note several paragraphs down how younger people are discarding organized orthodox religion (doctrine and practice) for a smorgasbord of other  concepts and practices, often drawn together from diverse and contradictory traditions.  Not that they necessarily believe any of this, it’s a matter of convenience, of serving the purpose of reinforcing their own authority.  If they find that it no longer does that, they can discard it without any feelings of guilt or any concerns about eternal ramifications.  None of that is real, anyways, right? is the basic gist here.  If there is anything greater than us out there, it probably likes us and isn’t very interested in what we do beyond wanting us to be nice and happy.  And if there’s nothing greater than us out there, well, might as well be the me I’d like to be, right?

She  leaves this week for graduate school and starting life in a new place.  She’s bright and beautiful and has a wonderful boyfriend and likely a future together with him.  I’ll pray for her and him and them.  Not simply for their relationship but for their authority, that it would be not  simply the faith of their fathers, so to speak, but the faith as revealed in the Word of God.  Even when they don’t like it or it feels restrictive or when it clashes with societal notions.  Even when their professors (at a Christian university) won’t back it or support it but put out their own ideas and their culturally formed notions instead.

Authority matters a great deal, and you can’t claim to be Christian if you reject the authority of the Word of God, just as you can’t claim to be a good Muslim if you reject the Quran.  We can have theological discussions or debates about interpretation to some level, and this is good and helpful.  But to skip that quest and grappling for truth  in favor of just ignoring the bits we don’t like so we can do and think and be the things we prefer, that is a big problem.  For the Church, for families, for the world, and possibly for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

Acts 16:6-10 and Change

July 23, 2019

By all  accounts it was a successful trip so far.  Wonderful reunions with congregations Paul founded on his first mission trip.  Congregations in Derbe.  Lystra.  Iconium.  Psidian Antioch.  How the Holy Spirit was at work!  How much more might be accomplished!  Plans were made to build on these successes by further mission work in the area to the north.  But such plans came to nothing.

What does it mean to be forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (v.6) ?  Was it clear to Paul and his associates that this was the case?  Did the Holy Spirit reveal the divine will in this matter?  It would seem not.  They attempted to go to Bithynia and were unable to.  Confusion.  Frustration.  They had the will and the ability, why couldn’t they make good on their plans?  Why did they reach nothing but dead ends despite all the good work accomplished thus far?

More time should probably be given to considering verses six and seven, to the simple statements that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul and his companions from sharing the Gospel in certain areas.  What a strange thought to us today, who are so certain that we control evangelism, we make our plans, we execute them!  Confident that the Holy Spirit desires all to hear and be saved, how can we make sense of the possibility that for the purposes of God, and without conflicting with the reality of a good God who desires that all would be saved, God the Holy Spirit might for his unrevealed reasons frustrate the plans of faithful Christians to share the Gospel with certain others?  I’d argue we can’t, and we don’t even try any more.  But that’s a secondary consideration for me right now.

In the midst of confusion and frustration comes a vision.  More than a dream, perhaps.  Something visible, and something with supernatural overtones.  Paul can see this man.  Perhaps he can hear him as well.  He understands him despite an accent perhaps.  He sees the different clothing.  Somehow Paul understands where this man is from, where this man represents.

Morning comes.  Paul reports his experience to his associates.  Silas.  Timothy.  And based on the sudden change of pronouns in v.10, many presume also Luke himself was there, the author  of the book of Acts.

What to make of it.  The message is clear – an appeal for help in Macedonia.  Moving from the Asian continent to the European continent.  An entirely different arena for sharing the Gospel.  The vision was clear, but what to do about it?

I imagine that the men were hesitant at first.  After all, they’d had such success in the area of what we call Turkey today.  Thriving congregations!  Certainly, they hadn’t been able to travel north as they intended, but surely that would resolve itself in short order and they could continue with their plans.  Surely there were other opportunities closer to hand.  They weren’t doing anything wrong, but what they were doing wasn’t working the way it had previously.  Was it clear to them this vision came from God?  I presume not necessarily, as we’re told in v.10 they concluded it was.  There was some level of analysis, consideration, prayer.  And the result of all those things was a determination that God was behind this and it was time to follow.

Change is hard.  It isn’t what is expected.  It isn’t what is familiar.  Yet small changes can yield incredible results.  A diversion from Asia to Europe – such a small matter in the moment and yet the history of the world is changed no doubt as part of that change.  Would the Holy Spirit still have worked through Paul and his associates if they came to the conclusion that while the vision was interesting, they really were better suited and preferred to stay in Asia?  Of course.  They might have been mistaken, but that certainly wouldn’t have made them bad or evil.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit would have sent a clearer indication of the proper path.  Perhaps He would have worked with them where they were.

It’s good to remember ultimately that the Church claims that God the Holy Spirit is behind everything we do.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t prone to error, it doesn’t mean we don’t interfere.  It doesn’t mean that things are always clear and simple and easy.  But we have to trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through and at times despite us.  And this should foster a level of humility, a willingness to acknowledge our limitations and brokenness and therefore the very real possibility that we might be mistaken.  And it should drive us to hear in others the possible voice of the Holy Spirit, even if we don’t like or agree with what they say.

Change is difficult.  So is staying the course.  Such forks in the road are an opportunity for faith to work itself out in surprising ways.  Not necessarily pleasant ones, but surprising ones, with the trust and confidence that the Holy Spirit is working things out to the glory of God regardless of what is motivating us and our decisions.

Humbling indeed.  But comforting as well.  Sola dei gloria.  Always and in all situations.