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.
Paul visited with James, the leader of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. A plan was accepted that Paul would go to the temple, the Jewish holy place, participate in a renewal dedication ceremony called a “Nazarite Vow” and sponsor four others who wanted to do the same. This was Paul’s way of being acceptable to his old friends and peers in the Jewish hierarchy. He was quickly recognized by the leaders of the group that contested his teachings in the synagogues in the Gentile territories. The leader and others organized a massive revolt to his presence in the temple. The Roman guards were called in to restore peace and Paul was arrested.
Paul’s ministry was radically changed. He spent the rest of his life going from jail to jail, defending himself and his faith before governors and kings, writing to people he had hoped to physically visit and later marched to his death an older, weakened man. Paul spoke of being “bound by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem. He left the city bound by Roman chains. The contrast he offers is the difference between “religion” and living with Jesus. The word religion comes from the Latin word “religie”, which means “to bind.” Everyone is bound by their convictions, culture and interpretation of life. The Book of Acts describes a life of spirit-led freedom and the last verse of the book speaks of the gospel preached “unhindered,” that is “not bound”!