Thursday, January 25, 2018

Suffering is part of following Christ

For eight years I served at a great church in Las Vegas. One Sunday night we had planned an outdoor baptism at a local pool. It was a beautiful May evening; perfect for a baptism service. We had set up a small sound system and our worship leader just led our church in a few songs. After that another pastor, Rob, took the microphone to explain baptism and the decision that a number of people standing behind him were about to make. As he was sharing about baptism, commitment to Christ and the good news of Jesus a disgruntled neighbor walked into the pool, came over to Rob, grabbed the mic and pushed him out of the way. It was crazy!

The man started yelling into the mic that we weren’t supposed to be there. The lifeguards froze in shock. The people getting baptized had no clue what was going on. Thankfully we had a few police officers, who attended our church, and they stepped in. The man was arrested that night for pushing Rob and disrupting our service. Rob was given the choice to press charges against the man. Do you know what he did? All he asked was to share the love of Christ with him.

I don’t know if this man surrendered his life to Christ or stood for his actions. This encounter reminded me that people will oppose the gospel. Rob modeled what Jesus told the Disciples about turning the other cheek. Rob’s heart was to share the love of Christ in word and action. How do you respond when times get difficult in your walk with Christ? What is your natural reaction to a story like this. Most of the times we think suffering for Christ is done, but it happens daily.

For a year our church has been studying the book of Acts (with a few breaks). At the last third of the book, Paul and his companions are making their way to Jerusalem but the trip will require a few stops (read Acts 21:1-6). At the end of Acts 20 Paul was on the shore weeping and praying with friends when he and his travel companions got back into a boat heading for Jerusalem. They made the 400 mile trek across the sea from Miletus to Tyre and later in the text we will see how they finally made it to Jerusalem. Instead of taking a ship that stayed near shore and landed at several ports they believers took an off-shore boat capable of long sea voyage.

The group stayed in Tyre for a week but unlike their time in Troas, Luke provides no very few details about their week ashore. It appears there was no Jewish Synagogue in Tyre because the men had to seek out the disciples. I’m not completely sure if Paul has been to Tyre before or not. Some scholars think he visited it on his second missionary journey while others think this is his first visit. I lean more towards this being his second visit but I don’t think his first visit was a substantial visit, possibly just a port landing.

While in Tyre Paul seeks out the believers and spends seven days with them while the ship they are traveling on unloaded its cargo. Imagine sitting around the table with old friends belly laughing, telling amazing stories of God working and listening to how the gospel spread. This is how I imagine the story beginning. The disciples in Tyre might have expressed to Paul what a blessing he has been to them. They might have told him how the gospel changed their life. If this was Paul’s fist visit they might have shared their faith story and how they trusted in Christ.

Maybe you’ve experienced a time like this in your life, a time when someone shared how you impacted their life. Think about the last time you sat around the table or in the living room with friends you’ve known for years or decades. The stories are easy to share, the laughter is constant and the love is overflowing. This is the picture that I’ve painted in my mind about Paul’s seven’s days in Tyre. There is joy in their shared belief in Christ and comfort in the call God has given the believers. The stories of life change and where God has worked in these people’s lives are not on short supply. This is what the life of a Christ follower is about!

But it wasn’t only a great reunion of believers, there was a warning for Paul. These dear friends warned him by the Spirit of God not to go to Jerusalem. They had an inkling of what awaited Paul there. Paul had an inkling that suffering awaited him (read Acts 20:22-23). Even though Paul was being warned not to go he felt that he needed to go to Jerusalem.

Paul was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem while the believers in Tyre tried to compel Paul to avoid Jerusalem at all cost. Paul was unwavering in his dedication to get to Jerusalem. After a week in Tyre the ship was ready to put out to sea. The believers gathering and we almost have a repeat of the end of Acts 20. They are kneeling by the shore, praying and weeping. What I like most about this part is the family unit involved in the prayer for Paul and his companions. Being a parent with young children I often seek advice from parents with kids older than mine on how to involve them in the life of being a Christ follower. Charity and I are constantly looking for ways for our kids to minister at their age level.

Too often the church says, “come and watch us” but Jesus said, “Come and follow me!” Jesus modeled to His disciples by letting them live out the gospel not by watching others live out the Gospel. Those of us who are parents needs to bring our kids into serving, prayer and worship. But parenting is tough and draining. Sometimes we just need a break and I feel the same way. Listen to what Reggie Joiner said: “No one has more potential to influence your child than you.” If you’re a parent with children under the age of eighteen, get your child involved in what God is doing. The parents at Tyre modeled prayer and support to Paul and his companions.

As we follow Paul to Jerusalem we see that belief in Christ and suffering are inseparable. If you are a Christ follower, suffering will come. If you are not, suffering will come. The question is who will suffering with you and comfort you in your pain?

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