What You Don’t See

My Dear Shepherds,

In my old Bible I penciled the date 8/91 next to Acts 18:9-10 where the Lord Jesus told the beleaguered Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking.” I went back to my journal for August 1991 to see what I had been facing.

I was anxious about a troubling letter. I’d done a funeral for a 36-year-old woman. A family told me they were leaving the church. I was discouraged by my sins. One entry said, “I’ve been awake since before 5.” You probably know the feeling.

When Paul trudged the fifty miles from Athens to Corinth he was hurting and alone. He recalled later, “I came to you in weakness and fear, with much trembling.” He’d been beaten nearly to death in Philippi, violently rejected in Thessalonica and Berea, and had faced the cool indifference of philosophers in Athens. Ahead of him was Corinth, a salacious and intimidating city where more trouble waited.

All believers face painful tests of faith, but I think the fiery darts absorbed by pastors are often poison-tipped. The enemy targets us, eager to wound us to the soul. What’s more, our people are watching, even when they don’t know specifically what we’re facing. We must be their examples. We’ve all felt “weakness and fear, with much trembling.”

But over and over Scripture proves that behind-the-scenes God co-opts evil intentions for his kingdom purposes. Take Aquila and Priscilla whom Paul met soon after arriving (Acts 18:1). They were refugees, uprooted from their home because Caesar Claudius “had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” But that’s how God positioned them for Paul and, later, for Apollos.

Soon Paul came under a withering attack by the Jews for preaching the gospel. They kicked him out of the synagogue but God turned the tables when Crispus, the synagogue leader was converted and “many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.”

Later, the Jews took Paul to court, telling the proconsul Gallio, “This man is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” But before Paul could even speak, Gallio ruled them out of order and “drove them off.” God not only sabotaged the attack but he gave the fledgling church the protecting cover of a legal precedent.

We shepherds are a fellowship marked by scars and limps. We all have our war stories. We can tell each other of God’s table-turning victories yet we also know that some wrongs won’t be set right till God makes everything new. But rest assured, God is always at work, co-opting the schemes of the devil.

I served a church for fourteen years in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. In the church’s early days, before I came, the congregation purchased a piece of property in a new subdivision. To their surprise, neighbors organized fierce opposition, citing traffic concerns. Believe it or not, the newspaper editor wrote a front-page editorial asking what kind of neighborhood wouldn’t want a church. But, to keep the peace, the church gave up the property. However, a man who read that editorial called to offer the church a much better, larger plot, fronting on an expressway.

Nearly twenty-five years later, as I was preparing to move, Tom invited me to breakfast. He and Martha had come to faith at our church. He asked if I’d ever heard the story about the neighborhood’s hostile reaction to the property purchase. When I said I had, he said, “I led that opposition.” It was so like God to not only give us better property, but to go back to the old neighborhood to save Tom!

Be ye glad!

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