Summary: How the occurance of stopped or stuck places can shape your life.
Overcoming the Stuck Places
Acts 20:22-27, 21:27-33
We all encounter “stopping places”, places where the obstacles are so huge that they stop our forward progress in life. Often these become “stuck places”, places where we never get moving again. In today’s scripture, the apostle Paul came to a possible major “stopping place”, possibly a “stuck” place that tested his resolve for his God-given mission and a place where his ministry was radically changed.
To put Paul’s experiences in contempory contexts, here are three very likely examples happening today.
A bright young man from an extremely dysfunctional family married a beautiful lady and, as a bonus, he was included in a wonderful, loving family that taught him so much about marriage and family. He and his wife visited his family often with very brief visits but the occasion came that they must make an extended visit. During those days they endured arguments and word fights that were hard for them to sit through. On one of those occasions, the young man tried to settle the quarrel. A fight broke out, the police were called in and he was arrested as the trouble maker.
A student went away from home for his first year of college. He had been raised to faithfully attend and participate in a very formal, ritualistic, liturgical church. When he arrived at college, he began to attend a spirited, joyful Christian gathering very different from his church experience. He discovered he could have a personal experience and relationship with Jesus and he enjoyed the free, charismatic worship services they held. He came home for a vacation time and returned to his home church. He began to talk with members and leaders about what he had experienced, how things were done in his group and asking why that could not happen there. Soon the church officials tired of his talk and questions and asked him not to come back.
A bank officer of an older, traditional bank was being groomed to be the next president and was sent to a banker’s training course in a major city. There he learned how other, more progressive banks were doing things that made sense and were good business practices. When he returned home he began to talk up these changes, implement those he could and debate with his fellow junior officers why these things could not work. Soon his peer officers, not wanting change, accused him of embezzlement, had him arrested and fired.
Paul’s story, wrapped around these scriptures, was remarkably similar. He was raised a loyal Jew, educated by the very best teachers, entered the ranks of the Pharisees at a young adult age and began to prove his leadership abilities by persecuting Christians. God had other plans for him! God had met Paul on the Damascus Road, dramatically saved him and called him to the pioneer task of becoming a missionary to the Gentiles.
At this time in the story in Acts, Paul had conducted two missionary journeys to Gentile lands and gathered a strong supporting group of both Jews and Gentiles. In his heart he felt the need to return to Jerusalem, the center of his past life and of Jewish religious heritage, and plead with them to consider accepting Jesus as their Messiah. His friends tried to stop him, knowing the danger he faced. Ray Steadman, a respected New Testament scholar, has declared that Paul made a major mistake in doing this.