From Birmingham to Seattle
FROM BIRMINGHAM TO SEATTLE
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, I invite you to open to Acts 20. Today is great day for the church. Almost two years ago, I found myself in a communist nation spending time with pastors who were planting churches like wildfire. As we talked to these pastors who were planting all of these churches, they would all say to me, they’d say, “Well, as you know, the church is not healthy if it’s not reproducing.” I’d say, “Yes, I know,” and then I would walk away just hanging my head because, the reality is, we as a church have not been reproducing. That is a picture of lack of health.
So, I came back and shared with the elders, and then we began to walk through the Word, and we, as a faith family, began to talk, “All right, what does this look like in the midst?” We began a church-planting residency. We said, “We’re going to be intentional about training up men from within us to go out and lead teams of people from us to go into unreached contexts in the world and unreached contexts in North America.”
So, almost two months ago now, we sent off our first church planter and his wife, who will be leading a team going to the Arundo of North Africa, a dangerous unreached people group, taking the gospel to them. We, as a faith family, adopted those people groups, and we want to be a part of church planting there. Then, this morning, we have the privilege of commissioning out, not even just a church planter and his wife and his family, but a whole team of people whom God has called out from our midst to go to the Pacific Northwest to go to Seattle to plant a church there.
So, in just a few minutes you’re going to have an opportunity to hear from the pastor of this team, Andrew Arthur, who has been involved in this church-planning residency. Andrew is going to share with us from the Word, and a little bit of a glimpse into how we can best be praying for this team, and then I’m going to come back up, and I want to challenge this team, specifically, as they prepare to go to Seattle.
Now, before I introduce Andrew, and he comes up here, I want to set the stage for the text that is before us. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we find ourselves in Acts 20, a time when Paul is meeting together with the leaders of the Church at Ephesus. They are spending time with one another before they part ways, really, in this text, never to see each other again. This is a tearful, emotional, powerful time between Paul and the leaders of this church as they prepare to part ways. So, the parallels are not exact, but I think there are many parallels between what we’re about to read in Acts 20 and what is happening today.
So, what I want to do is I want to read this text, and I want to lay a couple foundations and let that lead us into hearing from this team and this pastor who we’re sending out, and to challenge them. So, I want you to look with me at Acts 20:17, and we’re going to read through what happens between Paul and the Ephesian elders.
I just want you to imagine this. I want you to imagine...we spent last week in Ephesus; Paul spent three years there. So, he has close relationships, and now Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, and he stops in Miletus, which is near Ephesus, at a port there. He says, “Call for the Ephesian elders to come.” They come, and they meet him there. So, this is Paul’s concluding words to these elders, whom he had loved, whom he had spent time with as they’re about to part. So, I just want to look into Paul’s eyes and just see his face as he says this to his elders.
Go ahead and look at verse 18. It says, “And when they came to him, he said to them...” This is Paul speaking to these leaders, he says,
You, yourselves, know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I’m going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if I only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Underline verse 24. That is one powerful verse:
I do not account my life of any value nor as precious of myself, if only I may finish my course, the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And, now, behold, I know that none of you among who I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after him. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
And when he said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
We are serving God together.
Okay, with this text in Acts 20 and with this picture in this room, I want to lay two foundations, and then I want to introduce this team to you. Two foundations; they are prevalent in Acts 20, and they are prevalent in this room. Number one: we are serving God together. Paul starts this passage...he says in verse 18, “You, yourselves. know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord...” That word “serving” comes from “doulos”, which means slave. That’s the word for “slave” in Paul’s day, and this is what the word that Paul uses all throughout the New Testament, and right here, to describe who he is, and who we are.
In this room, we are slaves of God. We are not church attendees, we are not routine religionists; we are slaves, and it is good to be a slave of God. This is who we are. We’re serving God together; slaves of Him. Our lives belong to Him.
We are spreading the gospel together.
So, foundation number two: we’re serving God together, and we’re spreading the gospel together. So, this is what Paul says: as a result of serving God, he is preaching from house to house, publicly, privately testifying, verse 21 says, that “both the Jews and the Greeks have repentance toward God and a faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s what we’re doing as a church. We are testifying all throughout Birmingham, and wherever He leads us. We want to testify repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re here in Birmingham. That’s why we have jobs in Birmingham. We don’t have jobs in Birmingham, primarily, to make money and to be comfortable; we have jobs in Birmingham because these are avenues through which we testify to the gospel. We are here for the spread of the gospel. That’s why we’re in Birmingham. That’s why we’re in the positions that we have all around this room, for the spread of the gospel.
This means if the Lord, at any point, says, “You can better spread the gospel in another context,” then we gladly go. I mean, we don’t cling to Birmingham or cling to this job, or cling to this reality here. No. Our lives are here for the spread of the gospel. This is why we have breath. Therefore, we are free to go wherever he leads in the world. That’s what we’re doing. We’re spreading the gospel together. The more and more we realize this, and the more and more we put blank checks on the table, the more and more the Holy Spirit of God is going to set certain ones of us apart to spread the gospel in different contexts around the world.
So, here’s the reality that is facing the church right now. As we become active in sending one another...and that’s what we want, okay? We want to be active in sending one another. I know that seems counter-intuitive. The name of the game in church, today, is to bring as many people as possible in, and we’re saying we want to send as many people as possible out. That’s exactly it. We want people leaving all over the place for the spread of the gospel in other places. So, here’s the reality, though. As we become active in sending one another, we will experience the pain of separating from one another.
If we are going to put our families and our lives on the table for the spread of the gospel around the world, then we are going to have to give up our notions of nice, lifelong relationships with one another in the same place, in the same church, in the same comfortable context. The reality is, as the Lord sends out, that will lead to separation from one another. That is not going to be easy. It’s not easy for this team that we’re about to send out to go to Seattle. It’s not easy for people who know this team well. It’s not easy as we commissioned a sister out from our faith family to go to India last week.
This sending implies separation, and this huge for us to realize, because as long as we as a faith family are going to be abandoned to the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth, we are going to have to sacrifice relationships with the people who are sitting right next to us. I want us to feel that in this text. I want us to feel that, because the reality is, if we are open to being sent, then we will necessarily be open to being separated, and that is not easy.
However, here’s the beauty: we have all of eternity ahead with each other. We have hundreds of trillions of years. We have time. We have nothing but time in the future. We have 70-80 years here max, and we have job to do here. So, we want the spread of the gospel here. We want those 70 or 80 years, if the Lord gives that much, we want to make those count not for comfortable ease here. No, we’re living for another world. We’re spreading the gospel like wildfire here. So, pain of separation means nothing in the ultimate eternal sense because we will be together.
I want to introduce you to this team that we are sending out, and in a sense, separating from. Then, Andrew Arthur is going to be up here, and he’s going to lead us to this next part, verses 22-25, and he’s going to speak to us, to the church. He's going to share with us how we can be praying for them and give us a glimpse into this text and how it applies to them going to Seattle.
[Video begins to play.]
Andrew Arthur: My name is Andrew Arthur.
Kim Arthur : And I’m is Kim Arthur.
Andrew Arthur: And this is our four-month-old little girl, Delaney Elizabeth Arthur. Pretty soon, on March 14, we’re going to get in the car and drive across country to Seattle, Washington, where we will be relocating our lives for the purpose of planting a church. We’ve been incredibly encouraged in seeing how the Lord has brought an interesting group of people, a phenomenal, energetic, faithful group of people to come together to seek out whether or not the Lord was leading them to move to Seattle, which is a huge decision.
Chris Jones: It’s been an interesting journey for sure.
Peggy Gumbel: A very scary thing but also very exciting.
Katie Haas: We weren’t looking to do anything like that. We’ve never even been on a mission trip.
Member: That inspired me to really think about what I was doing with my life and where I was going.
Wes Moore: Actually, Casey’s doing her residency at Children’s Hospital. One of our final choices on that was Seattle. Both of our programs end at the same time, so we’ve been wondering what God was going to do with that. We’re both done at the same time. Then the church introduced us to Andrew and Kim. We thought, “Maybe we’re headed to Seattle.”
Katie Haas: We were absolutely shocked when we learned that less than four percent of the people out there were Evangelical Christians. A place in the United States that is so under-reached was just absolutely convicting. When you have people going to North Africa and East Asia, it seemed like, why can’t we move to a place in our own country?
Chris Jones: I looked at Suzanne, my wife, and asked, “What do you think about Seattle?” And just asked her what she thought about moving to Seattle. We both had tears in our eyes and just wept. It’s been a process since then of trying to follow God’s will and making sure it’s not our own.
Peggy Gumbel: I’ve been looking into grad school, and that all happened before I heard about Andrew, Kim, and the church plant in Seattle. So when I heard about that, I thought, “Wow, what a cool opportunity to already have an idea of going to school out there and a church opportunity to start something completely new in a new city.” Brook Hills has been this huge support team. It’s this whole new group of people to work with, to share the gospel with.
Andrew Arthur: I hope that Brook Hills, and the relationship we have going forth will continue for the duration of this journey.
To the Church in Birmingham …
[Andrew Arthur begins preaching.]
I am Andrew Arthur, and this really is an incredible group of people. It’s amazing to think that over a year ago, none of us even knew each other, and yet, within the process of walking through this church planting residency in preparation to go and plant, the Lord has brought these people together, knit their hearts together, and has put them on the same page for their journey. So, we’re going to be heading out at different times over the course of the next year to Seattle. My wife and I will get in our car, and we will make the drive across the country starting tomorrow, and we will be joined thereafter at different times of the year by the rest of the crew.
It’s an incredible group of people. They’ve encouraged and challenged my faith in many ways. Perhaps none more encouraging than knowing that this is a group of people who understand that the one indispensable condition for following Christ is that it must be free from all conditions. A true disciple cannot say to Jesus, “I will follow you in this direction, but not that direction.” A true disciple of Jesus cannot say, “I will follow you under these conditions, or if this set of criteria is met.”
Jesus Christ isn't someone that we bargain with to become His disciples. He isn't a peddler of goods on a city street with whom we can negotiate. The Lord Jesus Christ is the God of all creation, who says to us and everyone else, “Forsake all for the sake of all.” He says this with absolute integrity because He, Himself, forsook everything for the sake of everyone, and the Holy Spirit has seized my heart as He has seized many of your hearts with that reality.
So, He’s constraining us to echo Paul’s word in Acts 20:24; to say, “But we do not account our lives of any value. Nor is precious to ourselves if only we may finish our course in the ministry that we’ve received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” So, I want to thank you this morning for supporting and commissioning this team of people that we might be able to finish our course, that we might be able to follow our course, which leads from here, a faith family we dearly love, to Seattle, Washington, where we have the privilege of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
In preparation for this journey, I’ve been doing a lot of things. Perhaps, some things I shouldn’t be doing as much of, but I have certainly been returning to my literary roots. I’ve been reading some of my favorite adventure stories. One, in particular, is written by a guy of the name of J.R.R. Tolkien called The Hobbit. Now, if you’re familiar with the famous Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit was the prequel to that story. In The Hobbit, Tolkien introduces us to Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is a short, hairy, big-footed, always hungry, who lives in a place called the Shire with a bunch of other hobbits.
Like all of hobbits, Bilbo valued comfort and predictability above all else. Hobbits love the security and the safety of the Shire. They cherished casual routine. They were perfectly content living in the Shire with their backs turned to the bigger world around them, and that was the case for Bilbo, until one day he encountered the mysterious wizard known as Gandalf: Gandalf the Gray. When he met Gandalf, that changed everything because before he realized it, Bilbo found himself swept up into a much bigger story, launched into an adventure that involved the Shire but extended far beyond the Shire.
So, after traveling to many strange lands and experiencing some incredible things, he eventually returns to the Shire, and when he does, he is a changed hobbit. He’s not the hobbit he once was. That’s exactly what Gandalf said after greeting him upon his arrival. He says, “My dear Bilbo, something is the matter with you. You are not the hobbit that you were,” and other hobbits began to notice it too. Other hobbits found relating to Bilbo to be a little bit more awkward because they found that Bilbo’s priorities and his values had changed, that his journey opened his eyes to a whole new world. They felt him strange because he was in love with life beyond the Shire. So, as the hobbits began to relate to him, it says, towards the end of that story, that they start shaking their heads and touching their foreheads and saying to themselves, “Poor old Baggins.”
I want to live the kind of life that causes onlookers to shake their heads and touch their foreheads and say, “Poor guy.” Not because they pity me, but because they have a hard time understanding what my life is all about. I know David and the rest of the leaders of this faith family want nothing more than for people looking in The Church at Brook Hills to shake their heads and touch their foreheads and say, “Those poor people. Why do they spend their money the way they do? Why do they do the things that they do? Why do they go to the places they go?” Just utterly confused by why we prioritize what we prioritize, and value what we value, confused by a group of people who are in love with a life that extends far beyond this world.
For we know that through the gospel, God has called you and me out of the Shire. He’s called us out of the place of comfort and predictably, and he has launched us into a much bigger story. He’s swept us up into a story that, yes, concerns life here in Birmingham, but extends far beyond Birmingham to the ends of the earth. The Apostle Paul understood this dynamic reality. He understood this better than most. You remember in Acts 9, when he was traveling on the road to Damascus, he encounters the resurrected Christ, and Jesus flips his world upside down. For not only in that moment did Paul experience the grace of salvation, he was commissioned by Jesus to take the message of God’s grace and extend it to all nations.
So, he receives this commission, but then he receives this qualification as well, as Jesus tells him, “You go forth and you reach the nations, you will suffer. In fact, you will suffer much.” What’s amazing about the Apostle Paul is whenever he heard those words, I love that he didn’t raise his hand and object to Jesus. I love the fact that he didn’t try to negotiate a better path. I love the fact that he said, “Okay, Jesus, I understand that you really are the Messiah; you are the Savior.” Not, “I’ll follow you, but I’ll only follow you in this direction, not that direction.”
Paul did not do that, and we see a glimpse of why that is in verse...in this passage, particularly verses 22-24, when we see something of Paul’s desire and his chief ambition in life is to spend it in service to his Savior; a willingness to endure anything that he must endure in order to take the gospel to the nations. For Paul was the kind of guy who cherished, above all else, a life that is spent serving faithfully his Savior, one that doesn’t take the grace of God for granted, but one that takes the grace of God and goes with it. That’s exactly what he’s doing.
Check it out in verse 22. He says, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course in the ministry that I receive from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Things are about to change for Paul. His course is running through Jerusalem, and his one desire above all is to be faithful. So, in light of this text, I want to encourage you as our faith family to pray for our team in a couple of ways. All of these ways are related to our desire to be faithful. We want to go and serve Jesus faithfully.
Please pray that we would be faithful in the midst of uncertainty.
So, would you pray in a couple of ways for us? Would you pray, one, that we would be found faithful in the midst of uncertainty. Paul was certain about some things, and he was less certain about other things. He knew what he was supposed to do; he says that, at the end of verse 24, he’s supposed to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. In this moment, he knows where he is supposed to go; the Spirit is constraining him towards Jerusalem. He has a general idea of what’s going to happen to him there. He knows it’s going to involve some kind of hardship and struggle, some kind of persecution and suffering, but he doesn’t know the details; he doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen to him when he gets there.
Isn't that sort of the rhythm of the Christian life? We kind of live our lives in this strange interchange between certainty and uncertainty. Every Christ follower can be certain about some things. For one, we can be certain about our directive. God always gives the directive. We know what we’re supposed to be about in this life, that what we’re supposed to do...Paul gets that at the end of verse 24, testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. His words there echo exactly what Jesus said in Act 1:8, whenever He appeared to His disciples, and He said to them these words, He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you be my witnesses.” Witnesses testify; witnesses of Jesus testify to the gospel of God’s grace. This is our directive.
The good news is that as this story unfolds throughout the book of Acts, that we see over and over and over again is a primary reason why the Holy Spirit is given to disciples, why He fills believers lives, a primary reason is so that they can fulfill this directive. The Holy Spirit is a witnessing Spirit. He testifies to us, assuring us that we experienced grace; that we are saved, but then He empowers us to testify to others, to speak up, and share our message and tell this story. This is why the Holy Spirit has been given to us.
Now, I want to encourage you or remind you this morning that this activity is fundamentally a verbal activity. It requires the use of words...always has, always will. I know some of us are more comfortable with non-verbal forms of communication. We like to serve, we like to give, we like to meet practical needs, and that’s great. In no way do I want to diminish the compassion that the gospel creates within our hearts to meet needs and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The gospel certainly creates that. The grace of God certainly compels that, but I want us to remember that our primary directive is verbal. If we’re engaging in those kinds of activities without ever speaking up and sharing this story, our lives will look more like philanthropists than disciples. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to be witnessing, testifying disciples. Now, that might make some of you uncomfortable, because maybe you don’t feel very confident in your ability to speak and communicate the gospel to your friends, to your families, to your co-workers. I want to encourage you that that’s okay.
In fact, that’s a better place to be than somebody who is confident in their ability to communicate the gospel, because what that will do is force you, it will drive you into a deeper sense of dependency upon the Spirit of God. You will find yourself praying over and over and over again, “God fill me with your Spirit, so that I might speak.” Then, just be faithful to open up your mouth and do so. The reality is that some of you are going to do this in Birmingham for the rest of your lives; you’re going to be testifying to the gospel of God’s grace here.
Then, there are others of you, when me and my team members return to visit Brook Hills, months, years from now, you’re not going to be sitting in these seats because God is going to lead you to do this elsewhere, to fulfill this directive in another context. God always gives the directive, and He sometimes gives people specific direction. I mean this is definitely Paul’s example. He knew that his course runs through Jerusalem, and we stand before you as a group of who believe that our course runs through Seattle.
I’m not suggesting that we have as much clarity on this decision and on this direction as the Apostle Paul. I’m not saying that, but I am saying that God has used a variety of things to pull this team’s hearts and minds together and turn the trajectory of our lives towards that city. We believe He’s directing us there, but then some of you may get frustrated by this whole idea of God directing people to certain places, in part, because you over-analyze your own life journey, and you’re perhaps thinking right now, “Well, what about me? I didn’t make a conscious, spiritual decision to come to Birmingham. My job brought me here. My school brought me here. My family brought me here. I was born here.” Perhaps, you’re wondering if faithfulness is a possibility for you? Can you be faithful without having a certain destination and direction in mind that’s been impressed upon you from God? The answer to that is, “Absolutely, yes.”
This is Paul’s example when he shows us what faithfulness is. Faithfulness to Jesus means that wherever you are, you will be all there, regardless of how you got there. Wherever you are, be all there. The whole time Paul was in Ephesus, he served the Ephesians. He invested his life into those people. He served them. He loved them. He taught them. He shared life with them. He did not waste time fretting over why he was there as opposed to somewhere else.
I wonder if some of you are so paralyzed in your journey with Jesus because you can't get out of your own head. You’re constantly wondering, “Well, should I be here, or should I be elsewhere? Do I belong here, or do I belong somewhere else?” You’re so busy asking yourselves these questions and praying through those questions that you’ve paralyzed your service in the present. The reality is that faithfulness says that, wherever you are, be there; faithfully discharge your ministry now.
Then, others of you, as you’re praying these prayers, you’re trying to see God’s direction for your life, you feel that something is starting to change, that you have an itch to be elsewhere, but then you look at your life, and you see that God hasn’t quite orchestrated things for you to be where you want to be yet. If that’s your situation, then let me encourage you to not allow your desire of a future ministry in another context to overshadow your present investment. Faithfulness occurs in real time. It is a present day reality. So, as long as you are here, be here. Don’t wait to be elsewhere to start testifying to the gospel of God’s grace; do so now.
Then, as your heart begins to turn, the Lord begins to determine your steps to another place, to another context, then like Paul, wherever you go, be all in; turn your attention to the Lord’s direction, and follow it in faith. However, know that as you do so, God rarely gives the details. He always gives the directive; He sometimes gives the direction, but He rarely ever gives people details on what their journey is going to be like, especially on the front-end. Our God gives our details in stride.
My team is learning this right now. There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered, a lot of details that are unaccounted for. “When will our houses sell? Where will we get jobs? Where will our kids go to school? Who will be our next-door neighbors? Where will we gather together to worship Jesus together? How will we scatter throughout the city to serve the people of Seattle?” There are so many details unaccounted for, but that does not mean that we stop moving forward. Certainty is not a necessary prerequisite for mobility.
So, once you begin to feel led by God, follow God. We know that God has given us a directive: testify to the gospel, and we’re a team of people who believe it has given us direction at this point in time. We’re going to Seattle, and we trust that He’s going to fill in the details in stride. This is why we have such incredibly, rich passages such as Proverbs 3:5-6. We’re told to “trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, and to lean not on our own understanding, but in all of our ways to acknowledge him, and he will make our paths straight.” That’s why we have Proverbs 16:9, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord determines the steps.” Our God gives the details in stride. So, what we do in faithfulness is to move on what we know and refuse to be slaves to the unknown. Don’t be a slave to the unknown, and pray that we won't be as well. Pray that we’d be faithful in the midst of uncertainty.
Please pray that we would be faithful in the midst of difficulty.
Then, secondly, pray that we be faithful in the midst of difficulty. Paul knew that going to Jerusalem would be hard; the Holy Spirit assured him of that. He would face imprisonment and afflictions, literally, chains and tribulation, yet, knowing this, he still moved forward. He was the kind of man, we learn in verse 24, who valued faithfulness to Jesus above and beyond even the preservation of his own life. This is the kind of guy who said, “If I’m going to Jerusalem, and if going there means I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.” This is the kind of guy who said, “I’m going to be faithful to the Savior, and if faithfulness leads me to an early grave, then so be it. Because what matters to me more than my own life is faithfulness to Christ.”
Notice in verse 23 that when he talks about these afflictions, these imprisonments; notice how he qualifies it that the Holy Spirit testifies this to him that in every city this is going to happen. Afflictions await him. He’s not, necessarily, applying this to Luke and his travel companions. Surely, they’re going to be swept up in those struggles. Surely, they’re going to experience some of the pain and persecution that Paul is going to face, but he’s focusing on himself.
So, what I want us to do is think about how this text...the analogy between Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, and our journey to Seattle, and your journey to wherever the Lord may lead you in the future...I want us to see that the analogy between verses 23 and 24 and our lives isn't necessarily found in the promise of Paul’s persecution. I mean, persecution is certainly part of a Christian life as David will point out in a few moments, but where verses 23 and 24 really intersect with our lives, I think, is in the passion of Paul’s perspective.
The fact that he saw that serving Jesus was more valuable than his own safety; that faithfulness to Christ was more valuable than life itself. This is the perspective of a man who’s in love with the life beyond this world. That’s the only explanation of Paul’s perspective. So, I’m wondering if this is going to be our perspective as well. Do we value faithfulness to Christ more than life itself? Does faithfulness to Jesus matter more to us than the lives of comfort and predictability? Does faithfulness to Jesus matter more to us than safety and security, or do difficulties too easily sidetrack our service to Christ?
If they do, then we may not be embracing the perspective of Paul in this passage. We may not be seeing what he’s seeing. Now, we know we’re going to Seattle; we’re not going to Sri Lanka. We know that Jesus is leading others of you to contexts where risking your life is a bit more overt, a bit more explicit, where you know that stepping into a certain country, and ministering to a certain people group will come at great risk to your own life, but at the same time, we’re not so naïve to think that we’re not going to face our own fair share of difficulties moving to Seattle to plant a church.
Serving Christ in any context will introduce and open the door to a variety of difficulties. It will be hard knowing that my four-month-old, Delaney, will grow up on the other side of the country without having as easy access to her grandparents. The stress and the strain and the fatigue that this kind of move can have on families and marriages is something that we must seriously consider. All of that can open the door to various sins and temptations, so would you please pray that we would be faithful in the midst of whatever difficulties arise throughout this journey.
Pray that we’d have a proper perspective when difficulties come up. The temptation that I think every believer faces when difficulties arise in their lives and start challenging their faithfulness to Christ, whether it be us going to Seattle, you staying in Birmingham, whatever the case may be, the temptation we face when difficulties arise is we lose our perspective. We don’t follow Paul’s eyes in verse 24. Instead of focusing our attention on our Savior, we’re tempted to turn our eyes and focus on our circumstances, our difficulties, our inconveniences, our hardships.
So, when we turn our eyes towards Him, and we start looking at them directly, I fear that we render too much dignity. Faithfulness doesn’t pay attention to the difficulties directly. The perspective of a faithful follower of Christ is to say, “No,” as difficulties arise. “I’m going to keep lifting my eyes, and I’m going to focus my attention, my faith, my affections, on my Savior. I’m going to trust that knowing Him, serving Him, loving Him, obeying Him, is more valuable than life itself, and no matter what difficulty comes, my eyes are fixed on the prize.”
That’s what I’m going after. Would you please pray that our team would go after that? That we would fix our eyes on Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Would you give us grace for that perspective? That we’d see Jesus and the joy of serving Him to be far more valuable than any difficulty that we may experience along the way.
Please know that as you pray this way for us, we are praying this way for you.
So, would you pray that we would be faithful in the midst of uncertainty, but would you also pray that we would be faithful in the midst of difficultly? We want you to know, church, that as you pray these things and in this way for us, we, too, will be praying in these ways and through these things for you. Thank you.
To the Church in Seattle …
[Pastor David begins preaching again.]
So, this is the brother and this is the team that we are sending out. What I want to do is I want to close our time in the Word by speaking, specifically, to them, to the church in Seattle. Now, that does not mean that everyone else is kind of excused from the end of this time, because the reality is these are things that would certainly say to us from the Word and the reality is, as they go, we are going with them. That’s the whole picture in Acts 13. When we lay our hands on them in just a second...what we’re about to do...it’s a picture of identification with them.
So, this is not something that is outside of you; this is something that is directly a part of you, of us, together as a people. So, I want to speak, specifically, to them. This passage concludes with Paul giving exhortations to the elders here. Obviously, it’s not exactly parallel and not everyone who is going is an elder, but the reality is everyone who is going is a leader of this church, because, well, they’re the only members of the church, so they’re all leaders in the church. I want to speak to them as leaders in the church and to us in the church as well. However, these are the exhortations I want to give them as they go.
Go for the salvation of others.
One, as you go, go for the salvation of others. Paul says in Acts 20:26, “Therefore I testify this day that I am innocent of the blood of all...” What does that mean? “I’m innocent of your blood.” Well, I want you to turn back quickly to Ezekiel 33. I want to show you this picture, this image in the old Testament that Paul is referring to in the New Testament. Ezekiel 33. This is huge for understanding why this team goes to Seattle.
For Paul to look at these folks from Ephesus and say, “I’m innocent of all your blood,” what does that mean? I want you to look at Ezekiel 33:1, and I want you to listen to what the Lord said to Ezekiel. Ezekiel 33:1 says, “The word of the Lord came unto me,” Ezekiel talking. This is what the Lord said to him, “‘Son of man, speak to your people and say to them,’” now follow this through verse 2.
“If I bring a sword upon a land and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make them their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes anyone of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you heard a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
So, this is the picture in Ezekiel 33. Then, we see Paul saying, “I’m innocent of your blood.” In fact, if you look in Acts 18:6, once Paul was in Corinth, he was kicked out of the synagogue with the Jews, and he turned around and said, “I’m innocent of all your blood. I’ve preached, you kicked me out; I’m innocent.” The picture is: if you have news that can save someone from destruction, and you give that news, you give that warning, you sound the warning and people don’t listen, someone doesn’t respond, well then, you’re innocent of their blood. Ezekiel 33 has given us a picture of...if you have news of impending judgment, and you stay silent, then this person will die in their sin, and their blood will be on your hands. That’s a heavy text.
So, if you are in Japan, and you are in charge of sounding the siren, the alarm, and you saw a tsunami coming, and you didn’t sound the alarm when you knew a tsunami was coming, and that tsunami came and wiped out that town, their blood would be on your hands. So, we hear Paul saying this, and in turn, exhorting us, exhorting this team, “You go to Seattle as watchmen.” We are not sending you to be silent; we are sending you to sound an alarm. The tsunami of God’s wrath is aimed at sinners, and Christ paid the price in the place of sinners. You know that. So, go and sound the alarm, and be innocent of the blood of the people in Seattle, and do the same of Birmingham, right? See, this is for all of us. We want to sound the siren of God’s mercy all across the city, and in the process, be able to say, “Innocent of blood.” That’s the picture here. So, go for the salvation of others.
Go with the Word of God.
So, how do you that? Well, you go, second, with the Word of God. That’s how Paul was innocent. He says he’s innocent in verse 26, and then in verse 27, he says it’s because he did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. That’s what he said earlier when he went from house to house publicly and privately declaring/teaching the Word of God.
So that’s the picture; that’s how you sound the alarm, this Word. Like, you go to Seattle with this Word, you don’t have a lot else to bring to the table but this Word. You have nothing else to bring to the table in Seattle but this Word, but this Word is good, and so sound it. Every chance you get, sound it. Go for the salvation of others with the Word of God.
Guard your hearts.
As you go, third, guard your hearts. Verse 28 says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves.” Turn one more place: Revelation 2, the very last book in the New Testament. Guard your hearts. So, Revelation 2 is the letter from Christ to the Church at Ephesus later on...one of the seven churches. This is what Christ says to the Church at Ephesus...now, Paul told the elders, “Guard yourselves. Take care of your own hearts,” and listen to what Jesus says to the Church at Ephesus not long after.
Revelation 2:2: “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who called themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.’” They were strong in doctrine and warning against heresy. “‘I know that you’re enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.’” So, they seem to be thriving but then listen to verse 4. “‘But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.’” Some of your translations say, “‘You have abandoned your first love.’” This is the picture that most definitely is for most of us. We are busy people who do a lot of good things, even in the church, doing a lot of good things; in Seattle, doing a lot of good things, but the key question for all of us in this room is, “Where is your heart? Where are your hearts?” Christ has your heart.
To this team going to Seattle: guard your heart. Guard intimacy with Christ because, the reality is, the adversary will come into this team, will come into this church at every turn and try to pull our hearts away from Him. Once our hearts are away, then he can destroy; reek havoc. So, guard your hearts.
Care for the church.
Then, as you guard your hearts, then care for the church. So, pay attention to yourselves and to the flock, to all the flock, which is a great image. It’s what we see all over Scripture. The people of God, oftentimes, refer to it as a flock. It’s the flock of God, which is key.
He’s speaking to these elders, and he says, “He has made you overseers to care for the church of God.” Key church leaders: remember that the church belongs to Him. So, even though those who are leaders in the church are not ultimate in their leadership, they are under-shepherds. There is a Chief Shepherd, Good Shepherd, Great Shepherd, who is over the church. The church belongs to Him. This is the whole picture here. 1 Peter 5, Hebrews 13, God takes His people; He is shepherd over His people, and He entrusts them to under-shepherds, to pastors to overseers, to oversee the care of their souls.
So, do this, care for the church because the church belongs to Him. It’s not your church in Seattle; it’s not my church, our church in Birmingham; this is His church. We are His church. So, remember that the church belongs to Him, and remember that the church was bought by Him. The church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. What an astounding statement; a reference to Christ, obviously, His divinity, and the fact that He has purchased the church with His own blood.
When we see that, it radically transforms our perspective of the church when we realize how highly Christ has valued the sheep that He has bought. You know, what’s interesting about this whole imagery Scripture gives of the people of God as sheep is that we have this tendency to think of sheep as nice, cute, cuddly animals. They are not. If you have that image, it is clearly because you have not been around sheep. Sheep are dirty animals filled with worms and lice, and all kinds of worms. They have to be washed in different chemicals to cleanse them. They are obstinate, senseless, dumb animals, which is humbling when you realize that this is the image that God has used throughout Scripture to describe us. Scripture never says, “They are lions and tigers or jaguars or stallions.” No, we’re the dumbest of all animals. “My people are sheep.” Sheep, as a result of these things, are not always easy to get along with. This is the beauty. Christ came to die, not for the strong and successful, but for the weak and sinful; not for the clean, but for the dirty.
That makes life in the church challenging sometimes, because you will be a part of a church full of dumb, obstinate people. If I could let you in on a secret: this church, is full of dumb, obstinate people, of which I am the foremost, but Christ has paid for them with His own blood, and so I want to love them, and charge you to love them, as the Savior who bought them with His blood would love them.
Care for the church, and as you do, be alert. So, shepherds, yes, have to feed the flock and care for the flock, but shepherds also protect the flock. This is what Paul says; he says, “After my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
Here’s the deal: Satan does not take vacations, so neither can you guys. Not in the sense of, yeah, spend time away resting with your family, but you can never let the guard down in Seattle, and we can never let the guard down in Birmingham. The adversary is always attacking; always, at this moment is attacking. So, leaders in the church guard; they’re alert. Verse 31 says, “Therefore, be alert.”
On all sides, you’ll face persecution from outside the church. Absolutely. There are self-professing pagans in Seattle, who are not longing for more Christians to come to Seattle to find a church. So, Paul is saying, “Go with eyes wide open.” Like, it will not be easy. You will face persecution from outside the church, and you’ll face...now this is where persecution outside the church...that could be blatant. Now, this can be really subtle, dangerously subtle. You’ll face opposition from inside the church. This is what Paul is specifically addressing, “And fierce wolves will come in among you.” Verse 30 says, “From among your own selves.”
Can you imagine that? This is Paul speaking to this group of committed elders, and he says, “From among you, some are going to be raised up to try to pull people away.” I mean, isn't it awkward for me to look at this team and say, “Some of you guys are going to try to pull others away.” It’s almost like Paul was saying, “You can't even trust yourselves.” That is in a sense what he is saying.
It leads to the next thing here: be devoted. He says, “In light of the dangers ahead, outside and inside, now,” verse 32, “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace.” That’s Paul’s answer.
So, I’ll give you to God and to the Word of His grace. So, be devoted. This is the picture we saw way back in Acts 6, right, when the church was growing and the apostles said, “We need to make sure to guard, two-fold, the ministry of prayer and the ministry of the Word. We have to be with God, and we have to be in His Word.” These twin pillars the church must be devoted to.
So, my encouragement to you guys is to keep those twin pillars strong, to the ministry of prayer...be tireless in prayer. To the person of God, what can you do in Seattle in your own power? You can do nothing. So, let prayer never become supplemental among you. Let prayer always be fundamental among you. Have faith in God, rest in His power, in His greatness, in His wisdom, and His knowledge. Know Him deeply and trust in Him wholeheartedly. Be devoted to God in prayer, and be devoted to the ministry of the Word.
It’s the Word of grace that will do the work in Seattle. So, this Word has power to build up a church and to give inheritance among all those who are sanctified. So, have confidence in this Word of grace; have confidence in the gospel. People say, “Well, in a city like Seattle, there’s so much cultural trends or demographic sort of this or that, that are new challenges to the gospel.” I don't doubt that there are certainly challenges to the gospel, but the reality is this gospel has been working very well for 2,000 years, and Seattle is not about to stop it. So, have confidence in this gospel. This gospel cannot be stopped.
Last two exhortations: give selflessly. Paul says, right after this, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel,” which almost, when it comes upon it, you almost...it almost seems a little bit out of place, but then when you think about it, this is huge for the team in Seattle; this is huge for them because, certainly, financial sacrifice is part of this picture for them. It’s also huge for us. This is Paul saying, “Greed and covetousness and materialism will destroy the church.”
So, guard against it all. Guard against materialism, gain, desire for more stuff, greed and covetousness. Guard against it all. Give of yourself, selflessly. It’s better to give than to receive. Let that be your mantra.
And finally, go sacrificially. This last part, this is where...oh, just picture the emotional intensity. It says, “When he had said these things, he knelt and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him.” This is a picture of them coming together.
This is what we’re about to do. We’re not going to get around Andrew and kiss him, but we are going to gather around, and we’re going to pray together. The reality is, what we’re seeing here at the end of Acts 20, is the agony of separation amongst the people of God. Separation for the spread of the gospel, which is where we come back full circle to where we started: two conclusions.
We temporarily separate from one another for the progress of His gospel.
One, we temporarily separate from one another for the progress of His gospel. That’s what Christians do. That’s what Christians who want the spread of the gospel do. They don’t cocoon themselves in easy lives and relationships that are always comfortable. No, we’re moving with the gospel. There’s more people who need the gospel, so we’re moving. In some cases, moving in ways that we’ll never see people again. That’s what Paul said here in Acts 20. Now, obviously, we, by God’s grace, have modern communication, modern travel. The reality is, we will likely, Lord willing, see these brothers and sisters’ faces again, even if by Skype. Paul didn’t have Skype, and we’ve got Skype, so it’s not as harsh, so to speak, of a division here, a separation.
However, when you think about it, even if we didn’t have those things, and even the statement, “They were weeping because Paul had said they’d never see his face again,” when you think about it, in an ultimate sense, it is only part of the picture. Yes, they would never see his face again here, and yes, there’s likelihood and possibility that we could never see faces on a team that we send out from here again, but we temporarily separate from one another for the progress of the gospel.
We will eternally join with one another for the praise of His glory.
We will eternally join with one another for the praise of His glory. For trillions and trillions and trillions of years, we’re going to be with one another with a host of people from Seattle and Birmingham, and North Africa, and everywhere in-between, singing His praises. So, we long for that day, as we separate and send out.
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