Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kingsley chapel message: Romans 15:23-33

I’m not sure what you think of when you hear of Spain. Maybe you think of bullfighting, flamenco dancing, or conquistadors. A lot of people think of clubbing because Spain is one of, if not, the biggest nightclub country in Europe. But when the Apostle Paul thought of Spain he thought of only one thing – the thousands there who had not heard of Christ. To get as far as Spain and to preach the Gospel was the goal and destination of his missionary endeavour. His destiny instead was imprisonment, chains, and death in Rome. (The image in this post is Rembrandt's Paul in Prison)

He had already stated in verse 20-22 that he wanted to preach Christ where he was not already proclaimed (vv.20-22). In order to do this he planned to visit the church in Rome en route to Spain (vv.23-24). But first he had a detour to negotiate as is clear in verses 25-29. He was on his way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. The Macedonians and Achaians had made a contribution to the famine-struck Jewish believers and Paul wanted to deliver this aid, before he went on to pursue his Spanish vocation. Paul seems to have been a person who was open to God’s purposes in any detours that he might meet with along the way.

You may have seen the ad on TV where a group of twenty-somethings jump onto a train somewhere in Europe and they are all excited about getting to Paris or somewhere and the conductor calls out “All aboard the express train leaving for Berlin”! They all look at each other with shocked expressions as if to say, “Berlin! We’re on the wrong train!” But then just as quickly they dissolve into laughter and excitement again, “Oh well, Berlin it is then; It’ll probably be just as much fun!”

If only we could deal with the disappointments and detours of life so well. I don’t know about you but when I have a goal in life that I don’t reach I feel like a failure. I have had a number of pretty major disappointments in life and ministry and I am sure you have also. But would you say Paul was a failure because he didn’t ever get to Spain? I don’t think so. God had other plans for him, plans which were not known to him at the time that he wrote to the Roman believers. By the time he wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6-7 he had greater clarity on his destiny. Assuming Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles (I’m sure you won’t mind me assuming that) they were probably written between the end of his first Roman imprisonment and his likely execution under Nero (A.D. 63-67). By this time he was able to write, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” In Romans he is coming to Rome via Jerusalem and en route to Spain. In 1 Timothy he has come to Rome to die and he never will see Spain. The missionary trip to Spain was a straightforward plan, all laid out and fully in keeping with Paul’s vocation as a missionary. But it was not to play out the way he expected.

What is your Spain? What has God called you to do? Keep heading toward it. But be aware that God may have something else in mind. Paul never did get to Spain, but he sure went a long way in the attempt and he sure did a lot of good along the way. So we haven’t met our life goals yet. So we are not today where we thought we would be five, ten, or twenty years ago. So what? This will only feel like a failure to us if we are self-made, self-directed, career-focused success mongers. But we are not that; we are servants of God and of Christ. We go where God disposes and we do as much good as we can wherever we find ourselves. Have we failed because we felt God called us to a certain thing and we never did get there? I’m not talking about those who are in disobedience because they don’t follow God’s call. But there are those who wholeheartedly set the course of their life in one direction and end up somewhere else. This is not failure at all. It’s simply reassignment.

I was recently reading of a man who left the Catholic priesthood and felt shame and guilt because he had left his vows. While he was still a Jesuit, because he had taken a vow of poverty, he could not give or receive personal gifts, even at Christmas. His niece said to him, “Uncle I bought you a present this year but I can’t give it to you because Mummy said you aren’t allowed to own anything.” “That’s right darling,” he answered. “And that’s because you’re a priest isn’t it?” “Yes sweetheart that’s right.” “Well, that’s OK,” she assured him, “I’ll just keep it and give it to you when you’re a man again.”

To come to the realization that one is allowed to be “just a man” without other identifying or legitimizing features is a liberating thing and if it is God’s appointment that we move from one thing in life to another there need be no sense of shame or failure involved. If your Spain becomes your Rome just remember your God is still your God, you are still his child, and your life remains where it has always been – in his hands.


Ross said...

Thanks for that message. Like you I've had disappointments in ministry and other areas of life. In this midst of all this it's good to be reminded to keep trusting in God.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Glen. Your words are appreciated... all the way over here in NY. - Former Aus. History student.

[soph] said...

i think sometimes people forget about the people who are already IN the church who need attention, rather than people 'out there.' (but of course mission is still important.)
arent u proud i read a WHOLE post?? haha.

[soph] said...

oh no, i think i posted a comment on the wrong post...but uhh it was meant for the 'emergent church' one!

cheri said...

Great insight here! And not just for myself. This is a thought I'll return to again and again as I talk to people whose missionary goals aren't working out as they expected. In fact, I wish I'd had this insight to share over the past 16 years with the people who have come to PNG planning to stay for life and then felt like "failures" when they had to return to their country of origin.


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