Do you know where Jesus is leading you, what his plans are for you for right now or in the future? How can you be sure that your plans for your life are Jesus’ plans for your life? As a church, we went through the Church Renewal journey for 2 years and a big part of church renewal is listening to God, to each other and to the community to figure out where Jesus is leading us. What did you hear and where are you praying for Jesus to lead Bethel or your own life? Jesus often leads us through our passions; the things that get our hearts and souls going and yet it’s also important to make sure that it’s Jesus we are following rather than us leading Jesus where we want to go.
Paul’s living out of his passion for Jesus. He’s travelling through Asia Minor, sharing the gospel and good news of Jesus everywhere he goes. The places Paul’s going to are places where he’s most comfortable because of his background and culture. He was raised as a Jew but, in his training, he was also influenced by Greek philosophical and rhetorical training. Paul wants to head to the northeast of Antioch into Asia, but is stopped by the Holy Spirit from going there. He heads to Troas on the coast and is then prompted by the Holy Spirit in a vision to go to Macedonia, into Europe, which is a different culture and place than Paul was planning on. Paul is being called to go in a new direction different from his plans.
I wonder sometimes what went through Paul’s head when he gets a vision to head to Macedonia? “God, I’m not ready to go there, I don’t really want to head there, what’s wrong with my plans? Do I have another choice, do I have to?” A question I keep asking myself is, “How open am I to changing direction and focus, both personally and as a pastor?” How open are we as Bethel to changing our focus and direction if Jesus leads us somewhere different from where we want to go? I love country music and one song that keeps challenging me is Carrie Underwood’s song, Jesus Take the Wheel. In the song, Carrie cries out to Jesus to take the wheel of her life after her life falls into chaos. Does Jesus have the wheel to Bethel’s car or have we placed Jesus in the passenger seat, offering directions but with no control over where we are heading?
Jesus creates opportunities for us to partner with him, has ways of opening doors and calling us to join him and do unexpected things for him and our community, to become a church and people that we might never have thought we could be. It begins with listening to Jesus and examining our passions for Bethel and for our community, looking at what the things that get our hearts beating faster because we can’t stand the way things are because they can be so much better, looking at ways of being a blessing that brings tears to our eyes because there are so many people around who are crying out for someone to see them, to hear their heart cries, to come alongside them to bring hope and relief.
Are we asking Jesus to create a passion in us for what he wants, for a desire to follow where he’s leading us? When we do, it often becomes clearer where Jesus is leading us. Yet, even if we’re not exactly sure where Jesus is leading us, we continue doing the work of blessing, of growing deeper in our faith, learning about Jesus and inviting others to join us in following Jesus as we continue the ministry we’re already doing.
As Paul listens for where Jesus is leading him, he keeps sharing the gospel wherever he is. Paul, with his friends and companions, head to the city of Samothrace and then to Neapolis and finally they end up in Philippi. Philippi’s an important city on a major trade route, meaning people from all over the empire could be found here. It was made a Roman colony by Augustus and given Roman rights and status, a huge honour. Here in Philippi, the Roman Empire was powerful and popular, a little bit of Rome in Macedonia. In this area, there are few Jewish people to be found, which meant Paul’s normal starting place for preaching the gospel, which was the synagogue, isn’t going to work here because there wasn’t one.
Paul waits until the Sabbath, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he makes his way to the river where he hopes to find a few Jewish people worshipping God and instead he finds a group of women. Again, imagine what Paul must be thinking, the vision he had was of a man from Macedonia and instead he finds a group of women. Among the women is Lydia, a follower of God and a dealer in purple dye from the city of Thyatira, a city from the area Paul has just come from in Asia. Paul has got to be confused, wondering if he understood the vision properly, but Paul trusts Jesus and shares the gospel with these women and the Lord opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. Here’s an echo back to the resurrection of Jesus where it’s the women who first meet Jesus and who then take the message to the rest of the disciples.
Paul’s expectations may be messed up, but the reality is that God often works in mysterious unexpected ways, using people and situations we would never think of to accomplish his plans. The Lord opens Lydia’s heart. This is not a story of the first church in Europe, though Lydia’s home becomes the first church in Europe, but this is another story of how the Holy Spirit is crossing cultures and social boundaries to grow the church and God’s kingdom. It’s not about what we’re doing, it’s about what Jesus is doing.
Brian Peterson writes, “This text stresses that it is God who is in charge of the mission, God who sets the direction, and God who determines its results... Social and cultural barriers crumble, and this corner of the empire is beginning to be changed by God’s grace.” God’s mission moved forward because his followers listened to his moving and were willing to put God’s mission first over their own plans and desires. I don’t know yet what Jesus’ particular plan is for Bethel. There are many churches in Lacombe and the greater area, and there is a divine plan for each of us. How willing are we to take the time and put in the energy to listen to God in prayer, in taking a deep look at the passions that live in our hearts, souls and lives for Bethel and the people of Lacombe. We need to listen to each other, we need to listen to our community to hear the needs within our community so we’re able to bless them with acts of service and then offer invitations to join us, invitations based in shown love and concern for them. Eric Barreto writes, “learn to find opportunities to do God’s work in unexpected places.”
Jesus is all about people, he has placed us here to reach people. Jesus went to the cross, taking our sin, the sin we each do each day, to the cross to wash it away in his death. Jesus did this for people, not church projects, in order to draw us back to our heavenly father who loves us unconditionally and wants the world to know this. This love shapes our lives as we respond in love to God and offer our neighbours the greatest love we can give them, the love of Jesus.
Bill Hybel talks about a holy discontent, a discontent that lives inside because we can see that there are things that just shouldn’t be in. For Hybels it was the church’s lack of caring for the souls of those in his community, he couldn’t stand seeing churches meeting every Sunday and not caring enough for those who don’t yet know Jesus and taking the chance of rejection and inviting them to join them in their journey of following Jesus. He couldn’t stand seeing churches put more energy and passion into the colour of carpet for the sanctuary, or what brand of coffee for fellowship time after church than for their neighbours who desperately need to know Jesus.
Our main mission is to show the world who Jesus is and it begins with the people we already know. Who is Jesus leading us to, who are the people Jesus has placed in your life who need to see Jesus’ impact on your life, how he has transformed your life and who you are, who need to feel Jesus’ love through you, who need to hear an invitation to follow Jesus with you as you go through life and see how God’s story, your story and their stories are all intertwined in Jesus.