Hidden Opportunities

Message:  In Acts 16 Paul met Timothy. He had an excellent reputation but because his mother was Jewish and his father was Greek Paul circumcised him in order to bring him along to travel. This seems like a contradiction to the fact that they were literally travelling to tell the gentiles that they didn’t have to be circumcised. My own personal speculation about this is that Paul did it for the sake of acknowledging Timothy’s ethnicity as a Jew. Paul was very proud of his Jewish heritage. He came from a well-respected Jewish family of Pharisees and was highly educated and respected. His education meant that he had the entire Levitical Law memorized since he was a young child. Because of all this he often used his Jewish status as leverage when he preached to the Jews. He may have wanted to include Timothy in this way since he would be mentoring him. Paul’s usual approach was to show up in a town and begin his ministry by first speaking to the Jews in the synagogue and continuing on with those who were interested and willing to listen. This time around Paul said he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak in Asia, then forbidden by the Spirit of Jesus to go to Bythinia so they went to Troas. That night he had a vision of a Macedonian man calling for help so they went to Macedonia. There was no synagogue in the town and ironically no Macedonian men to speak to either. When they met at the known place of prayer they instead found a group of women so they ministered to them and a prominent woman named Lydia opened her heart and her home to the gospel. This may have felt like a run-around, but I love that Paul listened to God and kept moving. I’ve pondered this many times because sometimes we feel like God is leading us in particular direction, but when we follow it turns out nothing like we would have expected. For many of us this is where doubt creeps in, but Paul was literally on a mission and he didn’t have time for doubt. He turned every situation he landed in as an opportunity for the gospel as long as he wasn’t forbidden by God. We learn more about Lydia in further chapters and books of the New Testament, but her salvation led to the beginning of a thriving church in Macedonia. If Paul was hung up on his vision showing him a Macedonian man, he might have missed out on this amazing opportunity. The sad and funny part is that when they continued on they met a slave girl who was a psychic. Paul got annoyed by the demonic spirit within her calling out every day so he cast out the spirit. This caused her slave master to lose his lucrative business of using her for fortune telling. The master was very angry at the loss of revenue so he stirred up the town and this landed Paul and Silas in jail. This may have appeared as another hiccup of defeat, but it was yet another opportunity! They sang in jail, the prison gates shook open and because of their testimony the jailer got saved! What really catches my attention through all of this is that most of us tend to sulk and get stuck when opposition hits our lives. We want to act persecuted when things don’t go our way or when people or government opposes us. Instead of fighting for our rights (remember Jesus gave up his rights) we need to use these as strategies and opportunities to share the gospel. If we are bitter, speaking negatively and complaining we won’t have a testimony to offer.  People around us are paying attention and when they see us respond differently to opposition they will be willing to hear the truth of the gospel. We are currently in a pandemic in our world and we are in a messy election season. Times have changed and where it may feel like we are all oppressed victims to situations and rules, we need to ask ourselves what fight is important. How we respond to our surrounding circumstances determines who we are able to reach with the gospel. People need hope and truth and we will not be able to provide that if we are distracted by opinions about wearing masks and promoting our opinions about government candidates. This reading is a reminder to me that we have to stay on track and look for opportunities that are all around us.

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