Embrace Change

As students are being sent out into a brand new season of their education full of uncertainty and unknowns, they are also being reminded that they aren’t getting sent out alone.  They are also being sent out with the Presence of God and with hope; an eager expectation that good things are awaiting them in the midst of the uncertainty.

God’s word teaches us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a time and a season for everything.  Although change is a part of our everyday lives, most of us remain very uncomfortable with it.  Leaving behind what is familiar and consistent is challenging to do.  However, we would not have the very familiar things that we love right now in our lives had we not at one time let go of our previous season of life and entered into this one.

Our last kiddo is moving on from elementary school to high school next week.  That means no more PTO or class parties or birthday snacks.  That means leaving behind rec leagues with their pay-to-play policies and onto school sports with tryouts and the potential for rejection.  For us, that means merging with two other elementary schools and meeting all kinds of new people, new teachers, new administrators, a new building, lockers, schedules, and so much more.  That means going from being top-dog in the school to being the little kid again.

If we don’t take risks in life, we miss out on the abundance that life has to offer.  If we try to keep things the same, we’ll find ourselves frustrated and fighting a losing battle.  Learn from the wisdom of that great animated, native-American woman named Pocahontas who Disney had sing, “You can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing.” 

You just can’t stop change.  Over and over again, God says in His word that He is doing a new thing, calling us to sing a new song, and leading us into new revelation.

Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, who absolutely is consistently our Healer, rarely healed using the same method twice.

If God wants to do something new, why would we try so hard to cling to the old and miss out on Him?  That’s certainly not being Spirit-lead!

In our spiritual lives, trying to keep things the same is what leads to man-made religion with rules and traditions and end up like the Pharisees who didn’t recognize God when He literally stood right in front of them. 

It leads us to miss out on the move of the Holy Spirit and can even lead us to call what God is doing evil or demonic.  After all, that’s exactly what the religious people of Jesus’ day said about Him.

We now turn to Acts 18 to see how God leads us by the Holy Spirit through the changing of times and seasons.  We’ll also consider how detrimental it would be if any one person chose to be a stick-in-the-mud and refuses to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead through change.

We follow the missionary journeys of the first apostles, an apostle simply meaning “one sent.”  All of us have a degree of an apostolic ministry.  We are all sent by God to seek and save the lost to some degree.  These apostles, however, were called to travel throughout the nations leading people to Christ, displaying His miraculous powers, and planting churches.

The journey that we are primarily following this morning is that of the apostle Paul’s, however, we’ll quickly see how none of us minister alone, we all need each other to fulfill their purpose in the body of Christ.  It’s only when we work together and fulfill our role that we are truly effective at leading people to Christ and equipping them to serve and to reach others as well.

Paul was a unique individual.  He was a Jew of Jews and was fully convinced that he was doing the will of God as he oversaw the murdering and imprisonment of those following Jesus.  He was determined to put an end to the early church and to silence those sharing the gospel.  After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, his life was changed.  He gave his life to Jesus and became the greatest man to spread the gospel message.

His passion was to reach his own people, the Jews.  He often started in the synagogue of a town debating with Jews in an attempt to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah that they were waiting for and to lead them to put their faith in him.  This was his heart and desire and although he longed to see all of his fellow Jews give their lives to Jesus.  He did have a degree of success in doing so as well.  Everywhere that he went, he lead a group of them to Christ.

However, the true and unique calling that Jesus had given to Paul was to reach out to non-Jews, the gentiles.  The very people that Paul spent his life looking down on and not even associating with, he was being called to reach.  He was being called to invite them as brothers and sisters into the family of Christ, to live life together with them, and to convince Judeo-Christian leaders that salvation was available to both Jew and gentile alike.

Talk about change, just look at what Jesus did in the life of Saul converted to Paul!  Our God is a constant and unchanging God Himself, but He is ever changing and redeeming His creation calling us back to what He created it to be.

While we read through this account, take note of how each person’s life is changed either by receiving ministry or physically moving.  Note how they were moved either by the Spirit’s leading or being forced to do so through adversity.  Regardless of the circumstances, take note of how God worked through their willingness to simply embrace change and follow the Spirit no matter what.

Acts 18:1-4;18-28

1 After this (I encourage you to read back through Acts 17 to learn for yourself what “this” was!), Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Paul left Athens by the leading of the Spirit.  Priscilla and Aquila left Rome by the force of persecution.  God used both to orchestrate their meeting in Corinth and to forge their friendship and ministry together.  God did more than just arrange for them to meet and work together by trade, He planned to use them to plant a church there and do great things! 

God did this all as they simply followed His lead through simple changes, leaving behind familiar and beloved people and places and meeting new people in new places.

4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. (perhaps this was one of the first, “I’ll shave my head if we reach our goal of 50 new salvations?”) 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.

Such a simple statement, but this had to be such a difficult decision which we know little about as they parted ways.  The name of where they parted ways should ring a bell as a church was about to be planted here in Ephesus as well.  Paul followed the Spirit wherever He would lead.  Natural logic would have been for Paul to stay where his ministry was being effective and where the people wanted him to be, however, God had different plans.  We’ll soon see what God was up to through this all.

22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.

23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

God knew something that Paul did not.  Paul was a devout Jew and an awesome apostle.  However, God planned to bring another Jew to the people in Ephesus and had Paul not left, the Jews there may not have received the ministry that this other Jew was bringing to them.  Also, if Priscilla and Aquila had not stayed in Ephesus, this other Jew would have missed out as well.  As Paul left, Apollos arrived:

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

Apollos was teaching what He had learned.  He was accurately and truthfully and passionately and effectively teaching others about Jesus and about being water baptized as John had taught.  God’s purpose in leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind, as we’ll learn about soon, was so that Apollos might also learn about the other baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the role of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Again, what Apollos was teaching was not wrong by any means, just incomplete and inadequate.  There was just more information that he had not yet learned about nor experienced.  When we minister together, we learn together and we grow together and we become far more effective in reaching the lost as a result.

The believers in Ephesus had lost Paul against their will, now Apollos was also feeling lead to leave as well…

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

Acts 19:1-10

1 While Apollos was at Corinth,

That name might ring a bell as well.  We often associate Paul with the planting and growth of the church in Corinth, however, we read in the second letter from Paul to this church that there was an issue where some people claimed to follow Paul and others Apollos instead of all of them following Jesus.  Had Apollos not left Ephesus, he would have missed out on leading many to Christ in Corinth.  In that second letter, we read that Paul planted and Apollos watered, but God made them grow.  They each played their part, but it was all in service to God as they were lead by the Spirit.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus.

Don’t you just love how God works?  Paul and Apollos are making a full circle as they follow God’s lead.  Paul said that he would return to Ephesus if it was God’s will and it apparently was.  Paul started a good work, Apollos built on that good work, now Paul was going to build on Apollos’ good work.  Recall what I mentioned earlier about Apollos being taught more adequately regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

See what God did here?  He lead Paul and Apollos and Priscilla and Aquilla in and out of Ephesus at just the right time to build and equip and encourage the believers there in Ephesus to build them up into a great church.  Had either Paul or Apollos or Priscilla or Aquilla resisted the Spirit’s lead and chose to stay in that familiar and comfortable place with people they knew and loved, so many others would have missed out!

8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

Paul loved the synagogue.  It was where fellow Jews met to seek after God, to pray and to learn and to grow and to minister together.  However, Jesus had bigger plans than Paul had.  Jesus was forcing Paul out of his comfort zone and out to where he needed to be.  The gospel message was not just for the Jews, but Paul was anointed to also take the gospel message out to the gentile.

Sometimes, it takes us running into a brick wall of opposition over and over again before we realize that we need to change.  It’s not that this is God’s will for us, it’s just that we don’t like change and we try to resist it and stop it from happening.  Paul was once extremely effective in this comfortable environment with like-minded people who share a common culture and faith foundation.  God began limiting that effectiveness to lead him out to where he ultimately needed to be.

It reminds me of a toy car that Nathaniel used to own that was designed to drive forward as fast as it could until it ran into something, then it would backup, turn slightly, and run forward full speed again.  Of course, it would just hit the same wall that it ran into before.  It took lots of hard hits and small changes before it was forced to make a big enough change of direction before it could move forward unhindered again.

Why do we do this so often as Spirit-filled believers?  Why do we preach life transformation to the lost, but live religiously as sticks-in-the-mud personally?  Why do we not embrace transformation and change as a follower of Jesus, holding on to nothing but Him and allowing Him to give and take away anything from our lives?  Perhaps it is a lack of faith and trust on our part?  Perhaps it is still a bit of our flesh hanging on to what is comfortable and familiar?

It’s only when we let go and let God that we can reach our full potential and move forward unhindered in life.  It was only when Paul left the four walls of his “church” and went out to the public that all of Asia heard the gospel.

God took a great apostle out of the church and placed him to minister in a public school.  He taught and reasoned with people during lunch time – this was a time when no classes were occurring, but many gathered there to eat and rest.  If he were still working as a tentmaker on this trip back to Ephesus, it meant that he would have also been ministering during his own time off work.

It wasn’t inside the walls of the synagogue where he was most effective, but instead, being where Jesus had truly called and anointed him to be, among the gentiles, that his ministry reached the multitudes – ALL OF ASIA!!!  He reached all Jews and Greeks in the province in Asia in merely a two year period because he simply moved from the synagogue to a public school.

Let’s back up a step here and we’ll see that this is not the first time that this occurred.  Like most of us, Paul seemed to have a difficult time embracing change and learned to change most through opposition than through the guidance of the Spirit.  🙂 

These are the verses that we skipped earlier right after Paul met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth.  A few other ministry team members came in on the scene freeing up Paul from his bi-vocational job of tent making to full time ministry.

Acts 18:5-11

5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

There is a time and a season for everything and the only way to transition in and out of those God-ordained times and seasons is through change.  As Spirit-filled believers, we should be the most flexible of people willing to embrace change as a lifestyle and trusting our entire everything into God’s hands.

Our breakthrough might be far closer than we think.  We may be spending our time getting frustrated and abused when all the while, our breakthrough is next door.  This LITERALLY was the case for Paul in Corinth!  The same message that he preached in the synagogue that was opposed was embraced next door.

By simply walking next door and sharing the gospel message, a church was planted in Corinth starting with one household, then spreading to many others.  By simply walking next door Paul went from being frustrated in ministry to being effective in ministry, from throwing his hands up and leaving in frustration to staying for a year and a half in joy.

Our breakthrough may be closer than we think.  Our breakthrough might be as close as next door.  However, are we willing to change?  Are we willing to try something new?  Are we willing to walk away from what is comfortable and familiar trusting that God is leading us into something even better?

What new friendships are we missing out on?  What new experiences are we lacking?  What miracles are not taking place all because we are unwilling to do something different?

A thirty-year-old sitting in a sixth grade classroom for the 21st time is just awkward.  Don’t be that person!  Celebrate your graduation and walk away from that school, those classmates, those teachers, that administration and move on up into something new.

Sure, it’s scary!  Sure, there are so many unknowns and so much uncertainty!  However, where there is no risk, there is no reward.  Who knows what you might be missing out on simply because you are not willing to walk out of the door of this season next door into the new season.

God is doing a new thing!  Where He calls you, He will protect and sustain you!  Where He guides you, He will meet you!  Who knows what new friendships and new ministry and new experiences and new provisions await you as you simply take that next step.  Change is a normal part of the Spirit-filled life!  Don’t fear it, embrace it!