Sunday, December 15, 2013


As the year nears its end, I am nearing the end of my Chronological Bible.  Last week I read Acts, interspersed with various letters of Paul to the fledgling churches he had planted. 

The momentum is astounding, the Gospel spreading out and out and out from those first disciples in Jerusalem and then into Samaria and Judea and into all the major cities of the Roman Empire.
As you read, you get the feeling that it’s going to be possible to wrap up the Great Commission before Acts is done.  Paul is passionate about heading to Spain, and from there, who knows?  Perhaps Britannia?  And then, truly, to the ends of the earth!

But, something stops his forward motion.  Really, Someone does. 
Reading those final chapters of Acts, where Paul appeals to Caesar himself, it kind of feels like it is all over.  Instead of continuing strong, the book ends with Paul’s long, difficult journey to Rome.  And then, he sits in chains, under house arrest.  For two years. 

Two years while his friends drift away.  Two years while Christians undergo persecution.  Two long years.

The end of Acts feels anticlimactic.  Instead of the vast canvas of the Roman Empire, Paul’s ministry seems to have shrunk down to four walls.  Sure, Luke tells us he’s still proclaiming the Gospel boldly, but what about those stadiums filled with new believers?    
What was God thinking?  He had miraculously saved Paul on more than one occasion.  He had opened prison chains, and prison gates.  He had kept Paul from drowning, from being stoned to death, from being captured.  Why, now, did God choose to stand back and let this happen?

I wonder what Paul thought about it all.  His plan to go to Spain wasn’t a bad plan.  In fact, it was great. After all, he had been called to preach to the gentiles.  Wasn’t planting the Word in Spanish soil exactly what Jesus had commanded?
And, what did others think?  We get glimpses of their opinions through the letters Paul wrote while in prison.  It seems, the longer he sat there, the more friends abandoned him.  Were they disappointed, feeling betrayed by Paul and his seemingly truncated ministry?

The first thing in my Chronological Bible after Acts 28 is Philippians.  Oh, how many times have I turned to this short, rich book, when I need to be reminded of our joy in Christ Jesus? 

How many other believers throughout the centuries have been renewed by its powerful words?  Would Paul have had the time to write this letter (as well Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Titus) had God permitted him to travel to Spain?

As I have noted, Jesus called Paul to preach to gentiles.  By writing these amazing letters which became part of our Bible, Paul has continued to preach to gentiles for two thousand years!  In languages and cultures, in countries and peoples, far beyond the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire. 
As Paul himself wrote, God did immeasurably more than he could have asked or even imagined (Eph 3:20)!
Sometimes it feels as if our lives, our ministries are not going according to plan.  We have good things in mind, we want to serve our Lord, sharing His Good News.  We pray and plan and move forward, confident that God is with us. 

And then, something changes.  Suddenly, it feels as if nothing is right.  We can begin to question what we’ve heard Him say.  Friends try to help, but they, too, can echo our own feelings of discouragement and doubt. 

What a comfort to read Paul praising God for his prison chains.  To see Paul locked up, yet continuing to share hope and joy.  To benefit from Paul’s ‘failure’ to reach Spain.  To know that God was at work, despite appearances to the contrary. 

I pray that if you are experiencing doubts and frustrations about how your life is going today, you will take comfort in the life of Paul.  That you will read Philippians, and be renewed and refreshed by the truth written there. 

That you will not be anxious about anything, but instead, with prayer and thanksgiving, you will bring your hopes and doubts and prayers and requests, to our loving Father.  That you will have confidence that He is with you, and that by seeking Him and His kingdom first, all the rest will be added.  Not in the way the world sees things, but in His perfect way.
"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  (Phil 4:19-20)  

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