You Have Arrived. . . again

Paul, you’re going to Rome, you’ll arrive—eventually.

Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar. . . Acts 27:24

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.  The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Acts 28:1-2

Have you ever noticed that on the way to where you are going there are a lot of steps, and stops? Many of which you did not expect? Or that even when you get to where you are going, you don’t get to stay there as long as you thought you might?

What struck me as I was studying chapter 28 here at the tail end of Acts, much of which has been devoted to Paul’s ministry, is that he was always heading somewhere, and when he got there, he always seemed to be being prepared for the next adventure. All of his arrivals, whether planned or not, led to another journey and another arrival.

Yet, for all his itinerancy, Paul always made the most of whatever time he had wherever he found himself, working like he only had a short time, and investing like that was his home and these were his people.

 He never looked at any stop in his journey as just another distraction or delay in getting to his ultimate goal, and the people he found himself amongst were never a bother—except maybe for those who tried to kill him, and they were plenty. But even then he tried to convert them, to open their eyes to Jesus.

Here in Acts 28 he finds himself washed up on the shore of a random island on his way to Rome. He has to ask, where am I? And then he soon finds himself ministering to the whole island, simply because he kept putting one foot in front of the other while looking for opportunity to bless and help people.

He always had his eyes on the prize, but he always kept his hand to the plow along the way. Tilling, seeding and harvesting. That was Paul’s life. And he planted many a field along his way.

If you think about it, nearly every significant person in the Bible was moved from place to place, usually many places. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the whole nation of Israel for that matter.

King David, Elijah, Ester, Ruth, Jeremiah, Mary and Joseph, even Jesus. All of them lived as sojourners on this earth, their home being wherever they set their feet as the Lord led them knowing that ultimately, this world was not their home.

And that may be the very reason the Lord does things that way—because this world is not our home. Our home is the Kingdom of Heaven and in this life, the kingdom of heaven makes its home in us, and is wherever we are found.

Reflecting back, that’s pretty much been my life, the always moving around part. Always having a goal in mind yet being amazed and even dumbfounded at how I got there, often just to find out after a season that the goal has moved. The Lord is calling from down the road saying, ‘Alright, it’s time to move on.’

‘Oh by the way, there may be some side trips, mishaps and storms along the way, but it’s all good. We’ll use them as opportunities to grow and plant more seeds.’

We are just passing through, this world is not our home. Yet, our home is always in our hearts, and we share that home with those who share that heart. And that is a beautiful thing.

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth 1:16

Oh that we would all have the faithfulness to follow, the discernment to see the wisdom of God’s plan before us, and the courage to follow—or stay, and to choose the right.

Really, here in Plevna?

How he knew where I was, why he was even in the area—I still don’t know. But here he is, the building inspector…

one of many churches in Plevna

Years ago I was sent to a little town in eastern Montana called Plevna to do some work on a church. Unless you are from that area you have probably never heard of it. It’s just east of Ismay. . .which should clear that right up.

The project manager told me to just load up and head over there. (over 200 miles away) He couldn’t remember the name of the church but, he said, it’s a tiny town you should have no problem finding the church, it’s the white one with the bad sidewalks.

Guess what, there are six churches in Plevna, and they were mostly all white with old sidewalks that looked like they needed replaced. In fact, it turns out that the name Plevna is an eastern European word (Turkish, Bulgarian?) that means many churches.

Anyway, after a phone call back to the office for a little more information I found the right church. It was the Baptist church, and we went to work replacing sidewalks and improving the drainage from the site to keep the water out of the basement.

Now, I am in the middle of nowhere by most reckonings. A couple of miles off of a secondary highway on the back side of a small town, working at a small church— and after a couple of weeks on the job, guess who shows up. The State building inspector.

The first thing you see coming into Plevna

Now, aside from the few bigger towns who have their own building inspectors, there are two state inspectors that cover the entire state, one the western half, and the other the eastern half.

That’s a lot of territory. How he knew where I was, why he was even in the area—I still don’t know. But here he is; “I heard there was a project going on here so I thought I had better check it out. I don’t think anyone pulled a permit for this did they?”

Um, I don’t know. Excuse me, I need to call the office. The office told me that the value of the project was under the dollar amount that required a building permit. When I told the inspector that he said, “Well that might be true, but when you are doing anything that changes an egress, you have to have a review and a permit.”

For those of you non construction types, an egress is the way you enter and exit a building. So I told him, well, we are not changing any doors or paths of travel inside or out. He saw all the new concrete around the front door and just assumed that we had changed everything.

No, all we did was bust out the old and put in new, it’s all exactly the way it was before—without the big cracks. “Oh, okay, I guess your good then, have a nice day!”

The moral of the story is, no matter how far away and tucked away you are, you can’t hide from the building inspector. But I was not doing anything wrong, in fact, I was diligently doing my best and that little church got a nice new sidewalk among other things. A few Baptists in Plevna MT were blessed and I have since been entrusted with much larger projects—and have a great rapport and trusting relationship with the state building inspector–who never fails to find me.

You never know when the chief shepherd is going to show up, so you had best be found playing by the rules.

Obscurity

And take care of that with which you are entrusted.

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 1 Peter 5

There is a phrase, more of a concept really, that has been on my mind and heart a lot lately. I first heard it about two years ago, a prophecy with a promise, that those who are diligently laboring in obscurity will be the ones God uses in a mighty way to accomplish his purposes in the great harvest to come.

Pastor Mario Murillo https://mariomurilloministries.wordpress.com/ is the one who has been speaking this message. But the Holy Spirit has sealed that word in my heart.

I have certainly felt at times like I am laboring in obscurity here, in my little Red Lodge church, diligently toiling away, fixing broken things at a small church in a small town that few know even exists let alone try to find. But there is one who sees, one who knows, and he will reward us, all of us who are quietly working, doing the best we can without thought to what we can get out of it or our own advancement.

For all of you, my fellow shepherds and bond servants of Christ, toiling in dry fields far from the lights of notoriety, in the Ismays, Plevnas and Red Lodges of the world, hear this;

In that quiet humility and eagerness to just do what God asks us to do, because we love him and his, and for no other reason, we will be blessed with grace and favor that will one day turn into a crown of glory that will make us forget all about the days of frustration and doubt that we may have had.

The chief Shepherd is watching us, and he knows exactly where we are— and he is pleased.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/barbarians-in-the-kingdom-dan-swaningson/1127708082?ean=9781683144762