Where Faith and Uncertainty Meet
Topic: Faith Passage: Acts 20:17–20:25
I’m a big fan of the comic strip Dilbert – I even downloaded a Dilbert app on my cell phone so I could keep up with daily events in the cubicle. Recently I came upon a comic where an employee named Alice is meeting with the pointy haired boss (who as far as I know has no other name but “pointy haired boss”) for an end-of-the-year review:
The pointy haired boss says: “I can only give you a two percent raise this year, Alice, because your job wasn’t very challenging.”
Alice is stunned and asks: “How could you possibly think it wasn’t challenging?”
The pointy haired boss explains: “You exceeded all your goals without complaining. Compare that to Wally’s performance. He complained all year. And he missed every goal! Now that’s a challenging job!”
As we come to the end of 2012 whether we hit all our goals without complaining, or, like Wally, succeeded in missing all our goals with a LOT of complaining, we all have this in common: the New Year provides a unique and yearly opportunity to strengthen our grip on a biblical perspective of our lives because today we stand on the dividing line between two years.
In a few hours 2012 will be history. Some of us might look back and feel like we made good use of the year, and others might look back with regret at missed goals and opportunities, but we will all have this in common: it’s gone and there’s nothing we can do to retrieve it or relive one single day of it. And in a few hours we will be standing on the brink of a brand new year and all that it holds. And some of us will make resolutions and some of us won’t bother. And some of us might think we know a lot about what the year holds and others might be in a place of real uncertainty about what the year will bring, but the truth is that 2013 is unknown and uncertain for all of us. Even if you have every day of the year planned out, life doesn’t always check our calendars before it schedules an unexpected curveball. Now it can be a wonderful curveball – some good news or happy opportunity that we didn’t see coming, or it can be a challenging curveball – some bad news or that is, at this point, pretty much unknown and uncertain. If you’re a planner you might think you pretty much know what the year holds cause you’ve got every day mapped out in your planner, but life has a way of throwing curveballs that even the best planners can’t plan for. For the most part 2013 is unknown and uncertain. That’s not necessarily a bad thing– it might be very good – but it’s uncertain because we can’t peer into the future and see the next 365 tomorrows.
And yet, for the Christian, there is a way that we can be certain of what lies ahead.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
There was a moment recorded in Acts 20 when Paul stood at the brink of the unknown and uncertain and displayed a trust and obedience to God in that moment that we can learn from and apply to our lives.
I’ve entitled this message: Where Faith and Uncertainty Meet.
Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, where he has been warned by the Spirit that imprisonment and affliction await him, and on the way he calls for the Ephesian elders to meet him in Miletus. On the shores of Miletus they say an emotional goodbye as Paul reminds them of his faithful ministry to them and then charges them as elders to care for and feed the flock entrusted to them. Finally he warns them to be alert because savage wolves will enter in to ravage the flock and commends them to God. It is a final and emotional goodbye between friends and they weep mostly because he said that they would never see his face again.
Paul has poured his life into the elders of Ephesus. It is the church he spent the most time with. Now he wants them to see how he views and faces the future. There are things that are uncertain, but life isn’t uncertain. There is a strong and unshakable foundation of faith which enables the Christian to be certain about what really matters. The Christian life is where faith and uncertainty meet. Two simple points for us to consider this morning:
I. Life holds uncertainty
Paul was standing on the brink of uncertainty – and it was a divinely ordained uncertainty. Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he is being led by the Holy Spirit – in fact so strong is the leading of the Spirit that Paul actually says he is “constrained” or bound by the HS - to go to Jerusalem. But he does not know what is going to happen to him there, except the Spirit testifies that imprisonment and affliction await him. Those are things we usually go out of our way to avoid and pray real hard that God protects us from them, but the Spirit is guiding Paul into those very trials!
What does 2013 hold?
Will we go over the fiscal cliff? What will happen if we do? How will it affect the economy? How will it affect our lives? Will it be a year of peace for the United States, or will we be drawn into another war somewhere in the world? On a personal level think of all the unknown’s this year holds. In this congregation there will probably be people who change jobs, lose jobs, gain jobs, some who get promoted, some who get relocated, some who get laid off.
Some might face problems with their health, others might find relief from health problems. Some will make new friends, others will see dear friends move on. Some might graduate from high school or college and face the unknown. Others may go back to school and face the unknown.
ï‚Ÿ Adversity - Some will undoubtedly experience winds of adversity. Adversity means to act against or in a contrary direction – in other words adversity is when stuff goes against you. In 2013 some of us will find either circumstances or people going against us. Adversity tests the strength of our faith like few things do.
ï‚Ÿ Prosperity - Others will probably experience prosperity – which can be a much harder test of our faith than adversity. But there’s a good chance that some here find that what they’re doing prospers. That business starts picking up and money, once so tight, is coming in faster than you know what to do with. It sounds so good – “bring it on!” but prosperity can tempt our hearts to wander away from God, to grow cold and distant from God because we don’t feel our need for Him anymore.
ï‚Ÿ Disappointment - We will all experience disappointments of various types and sizes. I am dealing with a minor disappointment right now. A month ago the Giants were seated securely on the top of the NFC East Division. Today, the only chance they have of winning their division is if both the Redskins and the Cowboys lose today’s game – which is extremely unlikely since they’re playing each other. Disappointing. That’s a light-hearted (but real) disappointment, but disappointments can have a way of hitting at our faith in a unique way, because we think things are gonna go one way (maybe even think it’s faith rising up) and then they go another way.
ï‚Ÿ Opportunities – and then we will all have opportunities come our way. Opportunities that we might not even see right now. And we will have to determine what to do with those opportunities – do we seize them? Do we pass on them? Do we miss them?
Point is this: there is always much uncertainty in life. There was for Paul. Will be for us. Being a Christian doesn’t remove the uncertainty in life, sometimes it creates more uncertainty. But while there will always be uncertainty in life, for the believer there is much more that’s certain, and that’s my second point.
II. Our faith is built on certainty
Ultimately it wasn’t uncertainty that defined Paul’s life but God’s sovereignty which makes some things very certain, and for the believer that is always true. Our faith is built on the certainty of God’s sovereignty over all aspects of our lives – including that which is unknown to us. Three aspects of that certainty this morning.
1. God has given us all our own course to finish (vs 24)
Read with me verse 24.
Looking with eyes of faith, Paul saw that life wasn’t a series of circumstances unfolding randomly – it was a course sovereignly designed for him by God. God has given us a course to run and finish as well. Paul calls it “my course” – it’s not a one-size-fits-all course, not for Paul and not for any of us. What does 2013 hold? Another lap of the course – a course that God has called us to run and finish.
Talking legacy over a latte
This week I met Mike R at heavenly cup and he brought up a book that was he was reading about Thomas Jefferson and how he was intrigued to find how intentionally and carefully Jefferson thought about what legacy he would leave behind, and Mike was sharing with me how it stirred in him the realization that we should also be intentional about the legacy we want to leave behind us.
Sometimes when people talk of leaving a legacy, they mean it in how they want to be remembered – and that’s not wrong and it’s a part of what a legacy is – but the fact is that most of us won’t leave huge footprints behind us when we depart this earth. But for Paul (who left a massive footprint) he defined his legacy in terms of ministry and testifying of the grace of God in Christ Jesus and of living a life that didn’t contradict the gospel in a way that would hinder others from coming to faith in Christ.
I think that, much more than pride, motivates Paul to remind them of how he lived when he was among them – not to make them think highly of him, but to remind them of the authenticity of his life so that his life testified rather than countered the authenticity of the gospel.
Notice that it was the gospel of the grace of God. Oh, how desperately this world needs to hear of the grace of God – not a grace that denies our sinfulness or God’s righteous wrath over our sin, or the reality of hell – no, a grace the affirms all these frightening realities and then proclaims what Jesus has done to save us from them. A grace that magnifies the Suffering Savior and the terrible cost he paid to forgive us of our sin. A grace that calls the sinner to repentance and faith in Jesus with the assurance that no one is too far and no life is too twisted that it cannot be restored into the beautiful thing that God intended.
We may have different courses but we all have the same message, and that course runs right through…
Our homes. Our friendships, our jobs, our neighborhoods, our church. Relationships.
2. God will guide us on that course by His Holy Spirit
Paul experienced the Holy Spirit in directing him so clearly and powerfully that he resolved to follow it in spite of the Christians urging him not to go to Jerusalem. Now, as an apostle, Paul experienced the power of the Spirit to a degree that we may never experience. But every child of God knows the leading and directing of the Spirit – and we can grow in our sensitivity to His leading in our lives.
As we look at the uncertainty of 2013 – how can we know that we won’t miss the Lord’s will? How can we know that we don’t make a mistake and run a wrong course? End up in Jerusalem when should have been in Antioch?
ILL: in my life, I’ve come to crossroads of decision several times. Like every married couple, Janice and I have stood at crossroads and sought to discern what direction the Lord was calling us to take. As a pastor, I have on occasion the privilege of advising people who are standing at similar crossroads. When consider the ramifications of some of the decisions we make and the long lasting effects that not only accompany the road we choose, but also accompany the road we don’t choose by their absence – it can be frightening!
ï‚Ÿ We can know genuine fear – what if’s?
ï‚Ÿ Tempted to think we just need to take control and step out in spirit of self-sufficiency
But there is a third alternative that is biblical choice: faith. Lean upon the Lord, call upon the Lord. Listen to the Lord through His word and counsel from mature and wise believers.
I always feel confident to encourage people in that place of crossroads, if you are seeking to be wise –and seeking to be obedient to whatever the Lord is calling you to do, then trust that He will lead and guide you.
Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd. He leads His people well. He is better at leading us than we are at following.
Danger is when we are in disobedience. When we are hardening our hearts to His voice – either in willful disobedience or passive disobedience where we are simply ignoring His voice and keeping ourselves out of position to hear from Him. Just plowing ahead with our own plans and will.
"I said to the man at the gate of that year, --'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way. “~The end of a letter by King George VI. Christmas 1939.
Begin 2007 with prayer – that’s why canceled normal care groups and scheduled corporate prayer gatherings and a time to fast and pray. Put our hand in hand of God through prayer and ask Him to guide us and use us for His glory and for salvation and growth of many.
And when the day is done and when the race is won I will bow down before God’s only Son. And I will lift my hands in praise for all You’ve done, and I will worship You my Faithful One. ~ Selah
Closing song: Jesus, Lover of My Soul