Okay, I know, I know. It creeps me out too. But it's difficult to overlook Paul in the roll call of tour guides for the spiritual destiny of this planet.
Paul could have easily developed his own personality cult. Hands down. Instead, it drove him crazy when people said, “I follow Apollos…I follow Paul”. I have a feeling that some televangelists and Christian personalities with grandiose organizations named after themselves—“The So-and-So International Ministry”—would cause Paul embarrassment for the Body of Christ. And while no single personality so shaped the embryonic theology and ecclesiology of the Church, Paul consistently pointed to Jesus as the One deserving focus and worship, even giving his own body for Him…after having it beaten and abused for decades. It’s as if the reward he personally experienced was greater than any debt he felt owed to the One who gave His body for him. At times self-deprecating, maddening and puzzling, it’s hard to ignore the spiritual chutzpah and risk it took to write to the contentious Corinthian church, “Imitate me…just as I also imitate Christ.”
It’s a little sad seeing this current series end. This series came out of a planning season a year ago. It’s necessary for us to chart out series that far in advance so that in an increasingly complex multilayered staff we can plan to take advantage of options and next steps to get the most bang for the buck. And even with spending fourteen weeks in Acts (not counting the Christmas break), Paul’s journeys warrant more attention. But time marches on and we have other issues to cover.
Though there is one overarching thing it’s left me with.
A couple of times in my pastoring VCC I’ve gone on multiple-weeks fasts. I’m not a “fast-er” by nature (uh, that’s dumb…who is?). I like to eat. No, love to eat. I remember once when I felt God wanted us to do a series on the poor for six weeks. I was scared silly, convinced that we’d run everyone off. Who wants to come to church to get depressed and feel guilty? That’s what families are for. I’m just kidding. Sort of.
Regardless, it’s nearly always good advice to do the thing that you at least think God told you to do, if your heart is in a healthy place. And so we launched into a six-week series on poverty with my friend Andy Ransdell (now leading LifePoint Vineyard in Monroe, Ohio) sharing the teaching duties. As we began, I sensed God wanting me to fast. And so for three weeks I had zero food, just water, tea and watered-down orange juice; I was—er, am—too cheap to buy gallons of it, and I was drinking a lot of fluids. It was at the end of that series that we introduced the Healing Center concept.
A year later we started the Luke 4 Challenge to raise millions of dollars to create the Healing Center, the Student Union and the water project in Jos, Nigeria. Once again I felt compelled to fast. When I told my wife, she asked, “For how long?” I told her I think until God says to stop. Little did I know it would last over three weeks of no food at all. On the Sunday we had the commitments come in, Anita and I headed to Nashville after the last celebration to see our daughter…and I felt I was done. We stopped at a Frisch’s in Louisville and I had my first food: a bowl of vegetable soup.
In these two cases, I fasted because of two things: I was desperate to see God move at VCC…and I was passionate about what we were doing.
In Acts 23, we find this same kind of desperation and passion applied…but in a dark way:
The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here."
Can you imagine having forty men strategizing your murder? And so determined and passionate about it that they vow to fast until the job is done? Whoa. Religion can do some strange things…as we know in our current global troubles. And any leader that has a contract on him is doing something different. Just reading about that event in Paul’s life causes me to think about my own in different ways, in more outward-focused ways. Earlier while in Caesarea, a legit prophet takes Paul’s belt, ties his own hands and feet with it and says, “The Holy Spirit says, if you go to Jerusalem, the owner of this belt will be tied up and handed over to the Gentiles.” The people there saw this and pleaded with Paul not to go. Paul told them, “Why are you making this hard for me and breaking my heart? I’m not only ready to go to jail, I’m ready to die for Jesus.”
That’s powerful. Not only is he getting a premonition by the Spirit of what’s coming, he sees no reason to avoid it. This guy is on a mission.
I wonder if I’ll ever become that mission-oriented? Would I do that? When one becomes so focused away from their own safety or concerns that they can genuinely respond like that, it challenges me to want to get to know them…and to imitate them at some level.
And I hope that I can genuinely and honestly say at some point in my life, “Imitate me.”