Friday, March 4, 2011

Reflecting Him: The Work Zone by CARLA MCDOUGAL

Read: Acts 16:1-40
A preacher’s words may strike an emotional nerve, mold or warm a heart not yet cold, but the positive actions of a believer opens the eyes of the most cynical among us. Acts 16:1-40 takes us to Philippi.

Few Jews lived in Philippi. There was not enough to justify building a synagogue. The Jews met outside the city gates near running water to pray. Paul and Silas walked to this place of prayer when a slave girl began to harass them. She cried out repeatedly, “These men are the servants of the most high God who are telling you the way to be saved (v. 17b).” According to the NIV notes ‘Most High God’ was a title, “used by the man possessed by an evil spirit (Mk. 5:7). It was a common title among both Jews (see NU. 24:16; Isa. 14:14; Da. 3:26) and Greeks (found in Inscriptions). But the title is not used of God in the NT by Christians or Jews (cf. Ac. 7:48).”

Impatiently, Paul whirls around and commanded the evil spirit out of the slave girl. Greed motivated the owners of the slave girl. They could no longer profit on the girl’s ability to predict the future and vented their frustration upon Paul and Silas. The owners pressed charges and the authorities of Philippi flogged Paul and Silas and threw them in prison. Paul and Silas spent the evening singing hymns and praying to God. In Acts 16:25b, “…and the other prisoners were listening.” Unjustified prison time wouldn’t have motivated me to sing hymns and to pray. Rather it would cause assertions of rage and passionate declarations of innocence.

The violent earthquake that crushed the prison and released the prison doors did not encourage Paul and Silas to escape. The prisoners might have encouraged it. The jailor ran into the destroyed prison in sheer panic. He had a family. His position in Philippi was not envied. Nasty consequences followed the escape of any prisoner. It meant the Jailor must take his own life in exchange. The jailor rushed in expecting all the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, to have vacated the premises.

Can you imagine the temptation? The authorities imprison you unjustly and God has freed you. Perhaps, any other human being would have taken the open prison doors as a sign to run, but I think the open doors were symbolic of how God would use Paul and Silas’ prison time. The Jailor takes out his sword and prepares to pierce his own body with the blade. Instead, Paul yells out in Acts 16:28, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The prisoners listened to Paul and Silas’ singing and prayers. It was counter cultural and their actions changed the whole mood and intentions of the prisoners.

The Jailor and his family took care of Paul and Silas after becoming saved through the Spirit. He knew they were Christians by their actions. “Learning to live in victory with Jesus despite our circumstances should be one of our prayers as Christians. The enemy tries to entice believers into believing that they are immune to persecution. False! Christians are targets. Not because the enemy can snatch us from Jesus’ hand, but because we are Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth. The enemy works hard to encumber our relationships with Jesus so that we fail to accomplish God’s purposes. God uses these difficult times in our lives to refine us, perfect our faith, and make us more like Jesus. They can be compared to work zones in road construction. One day you’re driving down the highway and come upon a sign like the one at the beginning of today’s study: Road Work Ahead.” Says Carla McDougal.

In the Christian life expect three things: Expect the Unexpected, Slow Down, and Pay Attention to the Signs. Your grasp of the English language may make you appear like a believer, but your testimony becomes your actions. Like Paul and Silas, we can sing hymns and pray carrying a good attitude in the midst of difficulty while bearing our freshly made wounds to the world, or we can pout, throw a fit, or treat someone badly. What do you think is more powerful?

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